Tear Down this Wall!

On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan famously demanded of the Soviet premier, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The Berlin Wall was a symbol of Communist oppression and secrecy. Behind the wall people suffered from corruption and abuse that was hidden from the eyes of the world. When the wall came down in 1989 it marked the end of a tragic era and led to freedom and the reunification of Germany.

The Southern Baptist Convention has walls that must come down. Walls of secrecy. Walls that enable corruption and prevent transparency. Walls that conceal failure. Walls that protect abusers and wrongdoers from accountability. Accountability doesn’t just happen. It requires tearing down the walls and shining the light so that every SBC church is empowered to make informed decisions as they advance the mission of God. Here are a few walls that need to be torn down.

WALL #1 – The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCR) issued a report to the SBC in 2010, but the records were sealed behind a wall until 2025. NAMB’s application of this report turned SBC missiology upside down. For 165 years evangelism, church planting and missions was led by the local church, assisted by local associations and supported by state conventions. The national mission’s agency resourced the state conventions and local associations. Beginning in 2010 NAMB began to “take control” of church planting and hugely defunded evangelism. Missiology became top-down and at least $51,000,000 was kept by NAMB and withheld from associations and state conventions. The result is massive mission failure with steep declines in baptisms, church plants, Cooperative Program missions, everything. It’s long past time to tear down the wall that hides the GCR records. Southern Baptists have a right to know what the records reveal. Several of our key SBC leaders were a part of the GCR and supported this disastrous decision (Ronnie Floyd, Al Mohler, Danny Akin). Is that why the records are still sealed? “Trust God and tell the people” used to be the Baptist way. If we have leaders who no longer believe that, it’s time we find new leaders.

WALL #2 – Forensic audits must be conducted for every SBC entity. Forensic audits can help organizations prevent corruption, fraud, and embezzlement. SBC entities manage huge budgets with billions of dollars in assets. Periodic forensic audits will provide needed transparency and accountability as financial details are exposed to every SBC church, which will empower the churches to make informed decisions with their mission dollars. The wall of financial secrecy and opaqueness must be torn down. The books need to be open for review by every SBC church.

WALL #3 – End Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and cancel existing NDAs. Some SBC entities make routine use of NDAs in order to purchase the silence of former staff. This wall, purchasing the silence of former staff, must be torn down. What are we afraid of? Learning the truth? If you’re on the wrong side of the truth, you’re on the wrong side. Integrity does not fear the truth. Integrity does not fear transparency. Integrity requires accountability.

WALL #4 – Provide full reports on funded church plants. How many new churches does NAMB fund each year and where are these churches located? What is the total monthly funding for new churches? Which church plants receive grants and what is the value of each grant? Where are the NAMB-owned houses and who is living in them? This information has not been published by NAMB for 10 years. It is hidden behind a wall of secrecy that must be torn down.

WALL #5 – Appoint trustees who will ask questions, demand transparency, and hold leaders accountable. The wall of secrecy erected by trustees meeting in executive session when discussing issues and difficulties with SBC agencies must end (personnel issues sometimes require executive sessions). Secrecy has led to diminished trust and confidence for many SBC churches. Tearing down this wall will enable trust to grow and support of the cooperative mission will increase.

Lack of transparency leads to corruption and walls prevent transparency. We must tear down these walls.

Walls protect leaders from accountability. For accountability to happen, the walls must be torn down.

Walls weaken the ability of the churches to make informed decisions. The walls must be torn down so that every SBC church can fully participate in God’s mission through the SBC.

Restoring trust and rebuilding cooperation in the SBC requires that we TEAR DOWN THE WALLS that prevent Transparency and Accountability, and that we expand Participation to every SBC church. We must do this. Our churches deserve this. God’s people who entrust their mission dollars to the SBC deserve this. In the end, they will require this of the SBC or they will increasingly withdraw from our missionary efforts, and this would be a great tragedy. Oh, do not fear, God will accomplish His mission, but He will increasingly do it through others if the SBC doesn’t do the right thing.
We’ve heard an outcry from certain leaders that unity is our greatest need. No. Trust is our greatest need. Trust is built through transparency, accountability and participation. Unity requires trust. Calling for unity without rebuilding trust is manipulation.

If you elect me president of the SBC, I will represent the churches and demand that our entities do the hard work of rebuilding trust. I will not plead for unity until we show ourselves willing and able to rebuild trust. This will bring glory to God and restore vibrancy to the mission work of the SBC.

Like the walls of Jericho, these walls will come down. Either God will bring them down, or we can tear them down ourselves. I pray we muster the integrity and courage to tear down the walls before God does it as a means of judgment.

Accountability: It’s Time for Action, Talk is Cheap

Southern Baptists are in a struggle for the heart and soul of our convention. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was founded to advance the mission of God, but the last decade has seen massive decline in baptisms, new church starts, Cooperative Program missions, and church attendance. It was the worst decade in our 175-year history. This dismal decade was caused in large measure by the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) adopted in 2010 and applied unwisely by NAMB in the following years. NAMB’s failing application of the GCR severely damaged cooperation and partnership. All records of the GCR deliberations have been sealed for all these years, preventing transparency and accountability for those who cooked up this plan which plunged the SBC into a dismal decade of decline. And more than decline, it created a toxic brew of destroyed partnership, damaged trust, and mission failure.

In addition to massive decline, the SBC suffers from scandals of abuse and corruption with no accountability for those responsible. Rest assured that accountability doesn’t just happen. It requires specific actions. Consider this sampling of questionable behavior:

1. Lifeway’s Trustee Board Chairman gave the outgoing President $1,000,000 without informing any other Trustee. Rather than conduct an independent investigation, Lifeway conducted an internal investigation in which they failed to hold anyone accountable for this action.

2. NAMB funds new churches and works closely with sponsoring churches that are in violation of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Credible stories have been reported, proven, and even admitted by NAMB. More stories will likely be forthcoming. How is this happening, and where is the accountability for Cooperative Program mission dollars being used to fund churches that violate the BF&M? EVERY church should know EXACTLY how EVERY mission dollar is spent. NAMB Trustees must hold leaders accountable for this. That is the job of a trustee.

3. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) filed an amicus brief in U.S. Federal Court in support of NAMB. In this important legal brief, they present an argument in direct violation of the SBC governing documents. Both the ERLC and NAMB are responsible for arguing that Southern Baptists are hierarchical, with all churches, associations and state conventions falling under the umbrella of the national SBC. This puts every church in the SBC at great risk as it can be used to argue for ascending and descending liability for all SBC affiliated churches and organizations. To this date, no individual has been held accountable for this most egregious and dangerous deception of U.S. Federal Courts, and the Presidents of NAMB and the ERLC have not publicly addressed this dangerous deception.

4. Since 2010 the NAMB church planting budget has grown from $23 million to $75 million, while new church starts have plummeted from about 1,300 annually to 552 in 2019. The lowest five years in church plants in our lifetimes are the last five years, with more than $300 million dollars spent by NAMB in five years to start less than 3,000 churches (hundreds of these churches receive no NAMB funding). NAMB provides no details as to how it spends its church planting budget, but we have learned that some churches receive six-figure grants. Some of these new churches have left the SBC and kept the money. The bottom line is there is no transparency or accountability for historically poor performance.

5. SBC entities frequently use Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) with departing staff in exchange for bonuses and benefits, preventing former staff from providing “disparaging” information. NDAs can be used to protect entities from accountability and this practice must end. What does it say about the SBC that many of our leaders use mission dollars to silence former staff, fearing they will expose damaging information about the entity or its leaders? Integrity does not fear transparency and accountability. Integrity demands these things.

6. The SBC Executive Committee (EC) receives funds from NAMB to pay for additional staff. The current President of the EC was the Chairman of the GCR Task Force which recommended cutting the EC budget. Now, ten years later, and wanting to expand the EC, NAMB is providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. This is especially interesting when you know that NAMB eliminated joint funding for personnel in state conventions. Because the EC is charged with enforcing the SBC bylaws to which NAMB is subject, it is an important matter of transparency and accountability to know about this potential conflict-of-interest.

7. Sexual abuse scandals have brought shame on several Christian ministries in recent years. In some measure they have brought shame upon many of us through our apathy and delayed response to scandal. High profile leaders such as Ravi Zacharias, Jerry Falwell Jr, Bill Hybels and Carl Lentz are a few of the most recent examples. Southern Baptists have had our own problems as the Houston Chronicle reported in 2018. Just last month SBC President J.D. Greear announced that the church he serves as pastor, Summit Church, is hiring a third party to investigate Executive Pastor Bryan Loritts’ handling of sex abuse at a previous church. This follows an effort by Summit Church to conduct its own investigation, which it now admits was flawed. It is time for the SBC to cooperate with other ministries and denominations in establishing a database of sexual abusers. Moreover, investigations of sexual abuse should never be handled internally by a church or ministry. Accountability requires an outside investigation which includes legal authorities when the allegations involve possible violations of law. Moreover, in each of the cases mentioned above, the failure involved the trustees and governing boards of these ministries. The trustees failed to hold the leader accountable. This should be a warning to SBC Trustee Boards, and all Trustee Boards that serve Southern Baptists. It’s also important to remember that abuse comes in forms other than sexual abuse. Bullying and spiritual abuse require accountability as well.

Accountability doesn’t just happen. When SBC Trustee Boards act to protect leaders rather than hold leaders accountable the result is predictable and dangerous. The Annual Meeting in Nashville provides an opportunity to rescue the SBC from this spiraling path of decline and diminished trust while restoring the vibrancy of our cooperative mission’s system. This requires accountability.

Some believe the SBC President has little opportunity to create change because it takes ten years of appointments to change the trustee boards. While it’s true that it takes ten years to completely change the boards, the President sits on those boards and he sits on the Executive Committee. I will be an active President, requiring accountability from every SBC entity.

• Accountability happens when abuse and corruption are called out when it occurs.
• Accountability happens when forensic audits pierce the dark shroud that prevents budget details from being seen by the churches that provide the funds.
• Accountability happens through transparent processes that reveal EXACTLY how mission dollars are spent.
• Accountability happens when leaders will not stand for anything less.

The SBC President must represent the interests of the churches and the membership, not the interests of the SBC establishment. I have agreed to allow my name to be placed in nomination to serve as president of the SBC because I am determined to be an influence for change in the SBC. This is where I stand. The time to reform the system is now. We must move with urgency or the decade ahead may be darker still. The headwinds we face are real. But so is the opportunity to take a stand, to face the obstacles with feet forward and faith strong. What we see before us is not pretty, but we are called to live by faith not by sight. It is with faith in God that we must seize the opportunity for renewal and reform. For this work we must have courage, fearing nothing but God alone. If we do this, if we embrace transparency and accountability, and empower our churches through expanded participation, the next chapter in the story of the SBC can be as fruitful as any written in the 175 years of our history.

If you are in agreement with my call for transparency, accountability, and empowering every church through expanded participation in the SBC, please support my candidacy. Together we can bring change to the SBC.

Reform Trustee Training in the SBC

To help trustees avoid pitfalls and perform at a high level in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), we need to reform our current system. An independent trustee training system is an essential reform. Trustee boards elected by messengers at the Annual Meeting of the SBC each year govern the twelve entities of the SBC. The entities include the SBC Executive Committee, International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, GuideStone Financial Resources, LifeWay Christian Resources, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and six seminaries.

These governing Boards have enormous responsibility as they guide our entities to help SBC churches, associations and state conventions advance the Great Commission. They are charged to maintain the integrity of the agencies and hold leadership accountable to the churches of the SBC. They oversee entities whose budgets total a number approaching $1 billion and whose assets are many billions. The overseas assets of the IMB alone are enormous. Does anyone know the market value of IMB and SBC assets? I don’t, but I know it’s a huge number, with 10 or 11 digits, and SBC trustees are responsible to oversee those who administer these enormous assets. Trustees are not charged to represent the entity and its leadership. Nor are they charged to protect entity leadership from the consequences of mission failure, malfeasance, or the squandering of resources.

What are the pitfalls trustees face?

1. Suppressing bad news to keep the money flowing
A strength of nonprofits is donors who believe in the cause. Southern Baptists believe in biblical stewardship for the individual Christian. We also believe that churches, and organizations that serve churches have the awesome responsibility to steward the resources provided by God’s people with integrity. A danger trustees face is that of suppressing bad news to keep the money flowing. When a ministry fails, trustees can be tempted to “manage the bad news,” or even keep the bad news from the donor base for fear of a decrease in financial giving. This is never the right thing to do biblically and it’s not even the right thing to do strategically. Trustees must play the long game. Transparency and accountability are not only right but smart because the truth will be revealed. If donors learn that “bad news” was withheld from them, the offending organization will face a decline in donors and financial resources.

2. Group think to force conformity and prevent probing questions
Every trustee has felt the pressure of “group think.” Asking questions that leaders find uncomfortable is never easy. Challenging the direction or effectiveness of the organization is difficult – and so it is often not done. This is to our detriment. Courage, the courage of Daniel, David and Deborah, has always been essential in ministry and it’s needed on our SBC boards. We must have trustees willing to ask probing questions and stand alone, if necessary, to raise concerns that must be addressed.

Recently, an SBC trustee board unanimously affirmed its entity and leaders, despite reducing a key mission goal to 40 percent of what it was a decade ago, while spending an additional $50 million per year in an effort to meet 40 percent of the original goal. Remarkably, assertions have been made regarding the effectiveness of this agency, but no explanation has been given for obvious failure and a “shifting of the goalposts.” To be clear, I’m referencing the North American Mission Board, which in 2011 celebrated a goal of starting 1,500 churches a year, only to reduce that goal to 1,200, then 750, and now to 600, while tripling the annual budget from $23 million to $75 million. Don’t you think Southern Baptists deserve a reasonable explanation and an accounting for this? I do. The lowest five years in new church starts in our lifetimes are the last five years. Those who try to explain this away always fail to do so with data. They merely make assertions, supported at best by anecdotes. For example, if the church starting numbers in the first decade of the 21st Century were grossly inflated as some allege, why was our net increase in Baptist churches more than double what the second decade produced? The answer is clear for anyone willing to look at the data reported in the SBC Annual Reports. We were planting far more churches then than we are now. We planted more churches in the 1980s and 1990s than we are now, with far less money. Remarkably, the NAMB trustees are rich with assertions but poor in producing evidence to support the assertions.

Recent actions by the LifeWay Board also reflect what might be termed “group think” and a lack of will to hold leaders accountable. LifeWay’s recent defense of their former board chairman giving the outgoing president $1 million without informing any other trustee was essentially, “He did nothing wrong, but that won’t happen again because we’re changing policy.” Really? Nothing wrong? Why then is LifeWay attempting to prevent it from ever happening again? I guess that’s how an internal investigation works.

3. Lack of relevant experience and competence making boards ineffective
A former SBC trustee told me that he was the only accountant on an SBC board that oversees a huge budget. Individually, SBC trustees love Jesus, their church, and the mission of the SBC. These are essential qualities. However, more is needed on a trustee board. Financial and managerial competencies are essential in addition to a commitment to Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message. Some of our entity boards have good balance on their board, but some do not. I say this based on recent and past actions of certain SBC boards. One recent example of this is the over-spending of the IMB 10 to 15 years ago, which severely depleted financial reserves and led to a reduction of nearly 2,000 field missionaries five years ago. Either the trustees didn’t know what was happening, or something in the board was lacking that could have led to necessary changes that would have prevented the pain of bringing so many missionaries home. I do know that the former president of the SBC Executive Committee said that he was unaware how financially dire the situation was at the IMB. His lack of awareness is disturbing considering the troubles developed over a number of years and did not happen suddenly.

What is the answer for improving trustee performance?

I believe at least three things are required to improve our trustee boards.

1. Trustee training that is independent of their respective entity
This could be administered by the SBC Executive Committee (EC). Additional training should be provided by each respective entity, but trustees must be made to understand their responsibility to SBC churches.

2. The EC taking a more active role in enforcing infractions of SBC Bylaws
To be clear, infractions do occur, and they have occurred in the past year. To date, however, the EC has rarely done more than “advise.” The EC has seemed to overlook infractions of conflict-of-interest policies among SBC entity trustees, for example. A more active EC could provide a “balance of power” with boards that sometimes operate in ways that are not in the best interests of the SBC. We have seen how the actions of one entity or entity leader affects the entire SBC mission’s system. This is inevitable to some extent, but harmful effects can be mitigated through a more actively engaged EC.

3. A press that does investigative and objective reporting, thus facilitating transparency and accountability
Baptist Press (BP) currently serves as the public relations arm of the EC and SBC establishment. Sometimes, however, questions need to be asked of our entities and additional information needs to be surfaced so Southern Baptists have a fuller understanding of performance and finances. Human nature being what it is, people report what benefits them and may “spin” their reporting. This includes our SBC entities. We need a press that asks questions and does some actual investigation and reporting. We sometimes hear leaders lament the content on some blog sites and social media posts. As I see it, some of these sites provide information that we are not receiving through BP. BP could play a bigger role in holding trustees accountable and thus improve trustee performance.

Key to reforming the SBC is to reform trustee training and hold trustees accountable to the SBC governing documents. The press has an important role as it shines the light onto what is happening in our entities and trustee boards. Jesus said that the truth frees us. Light helps us to see reality and determine what is true. When Southern Baptists operate in the light, with finances and performance fully exposed for all to see, and with the reasoning and decisions of trustee boards exposed as well, we will restore trust in the SBC mission’s system and write a beautiful new chapter as Southern Baptists advance God’s mission.

Church Planting in the Northwest

Recently Baptist Press reported erroneous numbers regarding the number of churches we have in the Northwest (Washington, Oregon, north Idaho). I don’t know the source of their information, but no one in the Northwest was asked to verify those numbers. Counting the number of churches has never been simple in the SBC. When I came to the Northwest in 2013 we had 446 total churches and church-type missions. We began 2020 with 508 churches and church-type missions. In the SBC, they recently began counting “campuses” of existing churches in the total church count. They also count new “affiliations” and “replants” of existing churches in the new church count. It can be very confusing.

So, to be as transparent and clear as possible, these are the new church starts that our church planting team has reported at our NWBC Annual Meeting each of the last 7 years. The criteria for when we report a new plant is based on when the planter began funding, or, if they were an apprentice when they became a planter. Apprentices are not included in the church plant numbers while they are still apprentices.

These numbers will differ from the New Congregation report we complete for NAMB each year because those reports require plants to have SBC ID#s before we report them, which the NWBC does not obtain for them before they launch publicly. Thus, the reporting dates for a plant could vary since some plants do not launch until year two or three after the planter has begun the work. It’s important to note that no church plant is reported more than once. Each of the below numbers represents a new, unique church start. Here is the direct report of our church planting ministry assistant when I asked for the numbers:

2014 – 16 new plants (which includes 2 apprentices who became planters)
2015 – 24 new plants
2016 – 22 new plants (including 10 apprentices who transitioned to planter)
2017 – 23 new plants (including 6 apprentices who transitioned to planter)
2018 – 16 new plants (including 5 apprentices who transitioned to planter)
2019 – 19 new plants (including 3 apprentices who transitioned to planter)
2020 – Gary reported 12 in his report, but based on what I have counted in the past, I would count 6 plus several in the works that I would normally report as new plants after they were approved/started.

I would note a couple of things about these numbers. Some of them represent church starts that did not get past the first two or three years. That always happens, and it happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the church planter just “gives up.” Sometimes there are health issues. I just spoke to a highly successful church planter that was asked to apply to be the pastor of a large church in the South that is sponsoring his church plant. I don’t think he is going to do that, but things like that happen. If it does in his case, his 2 ½ year-old church might not survive.

The bottom line is that the NWBC has been growing, even as we have reduced our church planting staff due to reductions from NAMB over the past several years. Evidence of our growth since 2013 includes numbers of churches, a 14 percent growth in Cooperative Program giving (while nationally CP has been declining), and we have even seen growth in the number of people coming to faith in Christ and following Jesus in baptism. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!