Do NAMB and the ERLC Believe the End Justifies the Means?

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Most of my writing on Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) issues has focused on our diminished effectiveness in advancing the Great Commission and what we must do to become more evangelistically effective. That is what I care about most, reaching every person with the good news of Jesus Christ. Some of you have learned something of my thinking through a series of articles I wrote in February and March about “saving the SBC ship,” and giving the ship back to those who built it.

My essential contention is that the SBC took the wrong road when it adopted the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendations in 2010 and the annual reports of the SBC prove it. The last 10 years are the worst decade in the 175-year history of the SBC in terms of decline. The GCR put the SBC on a road in which the national entities gained power and financial resources, and local Associations and State Conventions lost influence and resources. The practical effect was that the SBC became more “top-down” as tens of millions of dollars were shifted to the national SBC from more local cooperative partners. Although I serve the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) of churches, and stewardship of the NWBC is my primary concern, most of our churches are affiliated with the SBC and the road taken by the SBC in 2010 greatly affects our work in the Northwest. My most recent article on this, illustrated with charts, can be read at https://randyadams.org/2020/10/14/the-crisis-of-decline-in-the-sbc-why/.

I have urged that we reject the current “top-down control approach” to missions and return to a New Testament missiology which empowers those closest to the field of ministry (Paul wasn’t managed from Antioch, or Jerusalem). We must restore cooperation between the North American Mission Board (NAMB), State Conventions, Associations and every local church (not just a small fraction of larger churches). NAMB not only resists cooperation, but rejects it because NAMB president Kevin Ezell has repeatedly said that State Conventions “shouldn’t even exist,” as a recent letter by former NAMB regional leader, Frank Shope, makes clear. If you haven’t read Dr. Shope’s letter, here is the link: https://gobnm.com/bcnm_news/a-readers-perspective-on-namb/article_66aae05e-2e80-11eb-aeb7-df3fe641a32b.html

Though I have sought to focus on strategy and performance, the truly outrageous actions of NAMB and the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in recent court filings in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals demands the attention of every SBC church member because it poses great danger to every SBC church, Association, State Convention and national entity. Recently the ERLC was caught claiming that the SBC is a “hierarchy” and “umbrella” organization of all Southern Baptist churches and organizations in an amicus brief filed in support of NAMB ( https://baptistmessage.com/5th-u-s-circuit-court-of-appeals-rules-against-namb/).

After the ERLC was caught in their false claim of an SBC hierarchy, Ronnie Floyd issued a statement in Baptist Press attempting to quell the growing concerns among leaders like Randy Davis, Executive Director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (https://baptistandreflector.org/tbmb-leader-challenges-erlc-over-language-in-amicus-brief/). The ERLC privately told Davis that they were “rushed,” but that does not explain why it sat uncorrected for about three months before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and still remains uncorrected. (Shortly before posting this article, the ERLC issued an apology for some of the language in the amicus brief, but they did not address the fact that they deceived the court regarding SBC governance, nor did they say they have filed a correction with the court, nor did they apologize for damaging a brother-in-Christ by deceiving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. They claim that an amicus brief does not establish legal precedent. I’m not an attorney and do not know whether that is true. I do know that their false argument was used against a man in a U.S. court, and it nearly worked, and they have not apologized to him).

It should be noted that NAMB has been making similar claims for years in defense of the lawsuit brought by Will McRaney, without any repudiation or correction by Ronnie Floyd or the SBC Executive Committee. In that lawsuit NAMB claims they have “absolute rights” and “absolute privileges” over State Conventions, and that they are a “supporting organization” of State Conventions, which is the same thing as a hierarchy in the eyes of U.S. law. This means they believe they can interfere in the business of State Conventions, including personnel matters, and they are exempt from legal culpability if they defame State Convention employees (For NAMB’s legal defense and an analysis of their argument see https://baptistmessage.com/concerns-circulate-nambs-lawsuit-response-erodes-historic-sbc-doctrine/).

NAMB’s legal argument, asserting its right to interfere in the work of State Conventions, violates the governing documents of the SBC and directly contradicts Ronnie Floyd’s recent statement regarding the ERLC’s amicus brief:
“The Baptist bodies serving our churches who undertake this great missional vision, such as associations, state conventions and national entities, do so knowing there is no relation of superiority or inferiority among our Baptist general bodies. There is no ‘hierarchy’ in any form or fashion in Southern Baptist polity.”
https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/namb-en-banc-request-denied-by-5th-circuit-confusion-regarding-amicus-brief-addressed/

NAMB and the ERLC deceived the U.S. courts, and put in legal jeopardy 47,000 churches, 1,100 Associations, and 42 State Conventions because each one would lose its autonomy, at least so far as the U.S. Federal Courts are concerned. If the SBC Executive Committee, NAMB and the ERLC do not correct the false statements and claims that have been made to the courts, they prove the corruption alleged by McRaney.

To intentionally deceive the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to win a lawsuit is the height of corruption and an ungodly, end-justifies-the-means strategy. Think about it. NAMB has not only used the resources of the SBC in order to deceive a Federal Court, resources given by church members to advance the Great Commission, they also deceived a Federal Court into using its power to crush the man who alleges NAMB’s wrongdoing. It is especially frightening when you realize the deception almost worked. NAMB came within one vote of prevailing in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (they lost on a 9-8 vote). It brings to mind the image of the lone man in Tiananmen Square who defied the Chinese Communist government when he stood alone in the path of a massive tank over 30 years ago. That image may seem extreme, but it was actually one of my first thoughts. NAMB enlisted three state attorney generals, the ERLC, and First Liberty, among others, in a failed effort to deceive the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. In so doing, they demonstrated a willingness to jeopardize the entirety of the SBC to protect one SBC leader and entity. It’s a classic example of an “end-justifies-the-means” ethic.

This cannot be forgotten and swept aside. There must be accountability for these leaders. A slap on the hand would be inappropriate and disrespectful to McRaney and all Southern Baptists. A slap on the hand would confirm what many suspect, that the Trustees of SBC entities, and the Executive Committee of the SBC, are incapable of holding leaders accountable for even massive failures. You couldn’t get away with practicing such deception in traffic court, let alone trying to deceive the second highest court in the United States, which is what NAMB and the ERLC have done.

So, what must be done? First, the leaders and agencies that were involved in this deception must set the record straight with all courts to whom they lied, including the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of the Appeals, in order to mitigate the immense damage that will be suffered by SBC churches and other SBC organizations. Through their deception, these two SBC entities and leaders have put the entire SBC in danger because future litigants can appeal to their erroneous arguments and make the claim that the SBC has a hierarchy, and therefore the whole denomination can be held liable for the misdeeds perpetrated by one church or one church member. This possibility is already being publically discussed.

Second, SBC leaders must be held accountable for deceiving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Such deception is ungodly and has done great harm to Dr. McRaney. NAMB and ERLC leaders not only owe him an apology, they must make every effort to repair the great damage they have inflicted upon him and his family. It’s become more and more clear that what McRaney has been saying is true. Maybe that’s why NAMB and the ERLC believed their best chance of “winning” was to delay and deceive. NAMB leaders are doing all they can to keep from testifying under oath. In 2017, when I was the President of the State Executive Directors Fellowship, I personally met with two NAMB Trustee officers and Dr. McRaney to try and bring resolution to the situation. Dr. Ezell was not present in the meeting, nor was he present in court required mediation in 2018, and the Trustee Officers said they were not empowered to resolve the situation. It’s clear to me that biblical restitution must be made to Dr. McRaney.

Third, we must reform the SBC. We must drastically improve financial transparency, establish and enforce policies against conflicts of interest, and create accountability for leaders and their performance. Moreover, we must reform the trustee system so that trustees understand they represent the churches, and protect the churches when necessary, not protect failing systems or leaders. Trustees must hold leaders accountable and require transparency from the entity. The trustees of NAMB and the ERLC must hold their leaders accountable for perpetrating this egregious deception. The SBC Executive Committee must exercise its responsibility to enforce the governing documents of the SBC, and to mandate financial transparency through requiring independent forensic financial audits of entities. If you want an independent forensic financial audit of NAMB, you can join me and hundreds of others who have already signed this petition:

https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/namb-forensic-audit-sbc-transparency-of-mission-gifts.html

The next President of the SBC should make reform his priority and platform. SBC entities must submit to measures that will produce transparency in finances and performance metrics. And speaking of transparency, the records of the GCR Task Force must be “unlocked.” The GCR started us down the road of top-down missions controlled by the national entities, and they have sealed the minutes of their meetings so that Southern Baptists are kept in the dark. The GCR has been a colossal failure and Southern Baptists have a right to read the minutes of the meetings held over 10 years ago.

We must implement a new trustee-training system. Trustees must govern in the interests of the churches, not of the SBC entity, as a first priority.

Involvement in the Annual Meeting should be expanded beyond promotion and marketing. Small churches, distant from SBC meeting locations, should be included in SBC decision-making. Participation should not be limited to those with financial means. The best way of achieving this is through remote, or virtual, participation.

The most precious commodities of the SBC mission’s system are trust and goodwill. These have been eroded significantly, but through transparency and accountable leadership they can be rebuilt. Indeed, they must be rebuilt if we are to preserve and grow the miraculous missionary system we have inherited from our forefathers.

Randy Adams
Executive Director/Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention (Washington, Oregon, North Idaho)

Hope and Peace in Jesus – NWBC Annual Report 2020

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In John’s Gospel Jesus commissioned His disciples while they gathered in fear behind locked doors. It was Sunday evening. Jesus was crucified the Friday before. Huddled together, the disciples were considering the words Mary Magdalen had just spoken, “I have seen the Lord!” Her testimony added a measure of hope to their cauldron of fear. We are not told how Peter and the others responded to Mary, but they must have felt bewildered, when suddenly, Jesus “came, stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’” He showed them His hands and side, and said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” He then “breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (see John 20:18-22).

Looking back upon the past year, and attempting to picture what the year ahead might hold, “bewilderment” might be a word that describes us. Fear and wishful thinking have “camped out” in our hearts and minds. But like those first followers of Jesus, we have been “sent,” sent in the power of the Holy Spirit and with the peace of Christ. We have been sent, even as the Father sent Jesus. The fact of our sending, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, provides peace, hope, and certainty in a world that desperately needs all three.

We have seen the evidence of Jesus’ “sending” in our pastors and churches. As difficult as 2020 has been, God’s “sent ones” have served in remarkable ways. Nearly every church I’ve been to in the past few months has seen multiple people come to faith in Christ. New churches have begun, 13 in the past 12 months. In areas devastated by wildfires, churches have served as shelters and feeding centers. When many of our missionaries had to leave East Asia, 70 NWBC families, representing dozens of churches, offered to house them for an extended time period. Presently, we have six IMB missionary families state-siding in the Northwest.

Prior to Covid-19, seven new collegiate ministers expressed a calling to come and serve on college campuses in the Northwest. All seven came and are serving well, even with the Covid-19 restrictions. In the first weeks of school, at least four college students have come to faith in Christ. Gateway Seminary’s Pacific Northwest Campus has seen its largest enrollment gain in decades, with 31 new students for a total of 65 this fall.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the NWBC, and all other State Conventions, is the continuation of diminished partnership with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). The 2021 NWBC budget anticipates a $652,043 reduction in funding from the North American Mission Board, and $64,000 reduction from Lifeway Christian Resources. Although these reductions are substantial, the faithfulness of NWBC churches remains strong and growing, helping to offset some of the reductions. This, together with relocating convention offices to a smaller, less costly, facility, will enable us to serve our churches well. By 2022 it is quite possible that the NWBC will no longer have any meaningful partnership with NAMB, which could be true of every other State Convention. This is tragic and harmful to the cooperative mission efforts of Baptists nationwide. As Southern Baptists awaken to this reality, and its harmful effects, things could change, and that is what we are striving for.

Although the great majority of our churches have shown remarkable resilience, sustained by God’s power, there have been casualties. Some churches have closed their doors permanently. Some of God’s best have suffered severely. Some have momentarily left the front lines for needed R&R. But the Body of Christ has, in most every way, remained strong and persevering. If the “gates of hell” cannot prevail against the Church, no virus can do so! As in every situation, what the enemy means for harm, God works for the good for those who love Him and are called by Him.

Whether you and your church “feel” as though you are prevailing, hang in there. We need you. The Northwest needs you and we need your witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Northwest, and our nation, is experiencing bitter, hateful division. We have witnessed so-called leaders use tragedy to fear-monger and gain power. That is sad. But the weapons of the church are truth, love, prayer, humility, gentleness, kindness, and the peace of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Your family needs the peace of Jesus Christ. Your neighborhood and community needs the peace of Jesus Christ. From the living room to the church house, from the courtroom to the state house, we need the peace of Jesus Christ. In our schools and our workplaces, we need the peace of Jesus Christ. Wherever you and I are, Jesus is, and that means that God’s peace is possible for the communities He sent us to. And when we fail to allow Jesus and His peace to prevail in our lives, the road back is through repentance and restoration. God has a plan for us, even when we fail, especially when we fail. Praise His name!

It is a good day to serve the Lord, and to serve Him in the Northwest is especially good.

It’s Not All Bad News – Good News from the Northwest!

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We’re half way through 2020 and this year can’t end too quickly. That’s a common sentiment in this bad news year. But it’s not all bad news. Good things are happening. Young couples are beginning wedded life together, about 6,300 every day in the U.S. and 2.3 million annually. During these stay at home days my wife found the love letters we wrote to each other in the months leading up to our marriage almost 40 years ago. I’ve been reading them in the evenings, reliving the dreams we had and the love we expressed so deeply. In this troubled year other young lovers are beginning life together with the same love and dreams we had.

And babies are being born, 10,388 each day in the U.S. (3.8 million annually) and 386,000 each day in the world (141 million annually). Babies bring joy today and hope for tomorrow. We do not know their future. Will 2020 yield children who live courageously and serve God faithfully? Will this batch of babies triumph in tribulation and wear the white robes of the martyrs? We don’t know, but we know that every day parents welcome children with the hope and joy parents have always had. That’s good news.

There’s good news from our Northwest Baptist Convention churches too. People in the Northwest have been led to Christ over Zoom calls. New believers are being baptized. A pastor just told me that on their first Sunday gathering for worship following the Covid-19 shutdown, a 67 year-old woman professed faith in Christ and will be baptized. There were 25 gathered on that Sunday, and God was at work! He’s always at work. Our God is always doing more than we know, never less. That’s good news! The Word is being preached and taught. New ways of loving our neighbors are being discovered. God is hearing and answering our prayers.

Incredibly, when we announced that 50 East Asia missionary units needed temporary housing because of Covid-19, about 70 churches and individuals responded with housing offers. This was huge. The only disappointment is that most will not host a missionary because many are going to stay with their family. But the offer to provide housing revealed the huge hearts of our people. All 50 missionary families are provided for. Please pray for them. They had to leave their East Asia home and most will not be allowed back into the country. They will be in temporary housing for several months before finding a new place to serve.

And here’s another good news story. With remarkable generosity during these Covid-19 months, when we could not gather for worship, our people brought God’s tithes and offerings to their churches. The best explanation we have for this is that many of our church members are biblical stewards, not religious consumers. They love God and their church. Pastors and churches have also responded during these difficult days by offering support to churches that are hurting. Several churches have contributed to the NWBC pastoral assistance fund to meet the needs of pastors whose churches are struggling, and several have been helped. That’s the fruit of cooperation with the NWBC.

As evidence that our churches collectively are doing well, missions giving through the Cooperative Program from January–June remains over budget, and even over what was given during the same period in 2019. It’s pretty amazing! This has enabled us to continue supporting missionaries, church plants, and other mission efforts. Although we’ve received significant funding reductions from NAMB and Lifeway, our churches remain strong.

Like you, I want to get past Covid and wearing masks, and I want to shake hands and hug people again. But until that day comes, I’m grateful God is working, doing more than we know. It remains a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest.



Courage

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(Note: I wrote this article for the NW Baptist Witness a couple of weeks before the Coronavirus shut down much of our nation)

“We have given our children for Mexico, and now we will go back and give our lives.” Those words were spoken by Minnie Lacy following the death of all five of her children within 15 days. One-by-one the children succumbed to a horrible fever until each was dead. Her husband, George, didn’t think they could continue their mission work. “My Dear, we will give up and come home,” he said, before Minnie spoke those immortal words. This led to 30 years of heroic and fruitful ministry in Mexico. If you want to read the rest of the story, get David Brady’s excellent book, Not Forgotten: Inspiring Missionary Pioneers, and you will read of 18 such missionaries whose names you don’t know, but whose lives mattered much for Christ, and whose stories will help you live heroically for Christ.

I’ve been thinking about courage lately. My dad, when he was a boy, overcame his fear of bees by holding a bee up to his finger, and letting the bee sting him. His mom was terrified of bees, and he didn’t want to be afraid like his mom.

My dad taught me that courage is something that can be attained. We can grow in our ability to act courageously. That’s important because the time will come when each of us will need courage, and having courage may be more important than you know. Rev. 21:8 says, “But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars – their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Have you ever associated cowardice with unbelief or murder or idolatry and other terrible sins? Though you may not have made the association, our Lord has.
So how can we practice living courageously? How do we become courageous men and women of God?

First, practice courage. Do things to help you overcome fear. I’m not referring to reckless behavior, but putting yourself into ministry opportunities that challenge your fears.

One of my early fears was public speaking. I had a bad lisp as a child. Speech therapy helped me overcome it, but overcoming it “in my head” took longer. I well remember the worship service in which I was asked to pray for the first time. Without warning, the worship leader said, “Randy, would you lead us in prayer?” I was stunned. But I did it. And it served as an important step to overcoming fear.

Second, do something for Christ that you’ve never done before. Share Jesus with someone. Volunteer to offer a public prayer. Visit a shut-in. Just do something. Spiritual growth requires more than knowing the truth. It requires doing the truth.

Third, read stories of courageous people. Missionary biographies are great. Reading how others lived courageously can help build our backbone. Something that has most surprised me as a ministry leader is that many “leaders” are gripped by fear. Fear of what “powerful people” will think if they take a contrary position, or fear of losing position or perks, too often keeps people from doing what they know in their hearts is the right thing to do. One way to overcome such fear is spend time with courageous people, and this can be partly done by reading their stories.

How does a courageous Christian live? They live in fear of God, not men. Obeying God is paramount, not pleasing others and forsaking God by doing so. The stories of Daniel in the lions den and his three friends in the fiery furnace teach this truth.
Courageous people fear God, not failure. Fear of failure keeps people from “attempting great things for God and expecting great things from God,” to paraphrase missionary pioneer William Carey. Scripture is replete with stories of God-fearing people standing up to tyrants, fighting giants, confronting death because they loved/feared God more than anything.

You can add to the list, but I’ll conclude by saying that we must disciple children to have courage and fear God. The evil one is discipling children to fear everything but God. Don’t fail your kids at this point. Help them be a Daniel, or a Deborah!

Saving the SBC Ship – Part 3

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In Parts 1 and 2 of this series I’ve demonstrated that the SBC ship has taken on a great deal of water and is riding low in the sea. Every metric used to chart Great Commission effectiveness has trended sharply downward, especially since the Great Commission Resurgence recommendations were adopted at the SBC in Orlando in 2010. My sources for data are the SBC Annuals which can be accessed online through SBC.net. You can access Parts 1 and 2 of “Saving the SBC Ship” through the following links, which I highly recommend if you’ve not yet read them.

https://randyadams.org/2020/03/03/saving-the-sbc-ship-part-1/
https://randyadams.org/2020/03/05/saving-the-sbc-ship-part-2/

Since publishing those articles I’ve received pushback from leaders at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). More than pushback, and in spite of our growth in baptisms, churches, and CP giving from the churches in the Northwest, and even growth in Annie and Lottie giving, they informed me and our leadership at the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) on March 9 that they will end our joint-funding agreement for evangelism and church planting, and will stop virtually all funding through the NWBC as of September 30, 2021 (we will be able to “request” funds for certain evangelistic and church planting projects). Furthermore, they intend to place NAMB staff to work in the Northwest with no accountability to the NWBC. This has been done in other states as well. This will be interesting, to say the least, because we in the Northwest will not “walk away” from our mission field, the place where we live, and hand church planting in the Northwest to NAMB. We will have church planting staff that is fully funded by the NWBC. We hope that NAMB will reconsider “competing” with us in our own mission field by placing staff here. We value true partnership. But money withheld or given cannot and will not purchase my silence as it concerns the serious issues of decline facing the SBC.
Interestingly, NAMB has not refuted the data that comes from our official SBC Annuals. Nor have they offered a different interpretation of the data, other than to say that church plant reports prior to 2010 cannot be trusted because they are “fake numbers,” a term used from the platform of the SBC Annual Meeting.

Against the “fake numbers” argument, I offer three points. First, current church plant reports are the lowest we’ve seen in at least four decades. Were all prior NAMB leaders, and Home Mission Board leaders prior to the creation of NAMB, “cooking the books” with fake numbers? Is that scenario more likely than the fact that we have seen a steep decline in recent years?

Secondly, our most recent church plant numbers are about 400 below the number of church starts that were reported six and seven years ago when we were under the same leadership at NAMB. They are asserting that we are planting “higher quality” churches that will prove to be more durable. This has not been proven, merely asserted, and even if true it ignores the fundamental issue that we are starting far fewer churches and spending an extra $50 million dollars to do it!

Thirdly, the net increase in Baptist churches from 2000 to 2010 was 4,139 (2001 and 2011 SBC Annuals), and between 2011 and 2018 the net increase was 1,729. The net increase in Baptist churches has dropped significantly, demonstrating that we were adding more new churches in the first decade of the 21st Century. In 2018 we actually suffered a net decrease of 88 churches, and all indications are that we suffered a decrease in 2019 as well. This has so alarmed SBC leaders that we now have an effort to recruit non-SBC churches to affiliate with the SBC, with a goal of 400 affiliations each year, and we will begin counting new church campuses as churches (http://www.bpnews.net/54364/first-person-vision-2025-a-call-to-reach-every-person-for-jesus-christ). You will also note the “new” church planting goal is to start 750 churches each year. In 2010 that goal was 1,500. When that goal seemed out-of-reach the goal was dropped to 1,200 a few years later. Now the goal is down to 750 new church plants each year.

My suggestion to NAMB leadership was, and is, that if they believe the data I use is incorrect, or my interpretation of the data is wrong, they should make that argument. But it needs to be a fact-based argument, not one based on assertions that we should trust them and not trust those who came before them. Moreover, we have still not received an explanation as to why the church planting budget has increased from $23 million to $75 million in less than a decade, while we are planting far fewer churches and baptizing 100,000 fewer people, have slashed NAMB evangelism funding by about 65 percent, and total assets have increased by tens of millions of dollars in cash and property.

So then, how do we save the SBC ship? First, we must know the truth and we must not fear the truth. Knowing the truth requires transparency and accountability regarding finances and strategic decisions. Knowing the truth means knowing all the truth, the good, bad and ugly. Knowing the truth means we need to ask and answer hard questions. I have been told by some that exposing the truth will demotivate Southern Baptists mission giving. I strongly disagree. Truth, even hard truth, moves and motivates people to do more than they ever thought they could. However, I also believe that concealing the truth, burying the truth, ignoring the truth, and retaliating against those who ask hard questions and expose the truth will demotivate Southern Baptists like nothing we’ve ever seen. I believe we are in a struggle for the heart and soul of the SBC, and a part of this struggle is surfacing truth.

Second, we must rebuild trust. Trust requires truth, honesty and transparency. Trust requires mutual respect and valuing all cooperative mission partners. Weaponizing the mission dollars given by Southern Baptist by punishing and starving local associational and state mission partners who advance cooperative missions and the Cooperative Program is no way to build trust, nor is it a way to honor God. When I moved from being a local church pastor to a denominational leader, I soon learned that establishing trust and respect amongst a convention of pastors and churches was much different than doing so in my church. Pastors lead people whom they look in the eye every week, speaking God’s Word into their hearts, calling them by name when they see them on the street, and praying with them before surgery. In denominational leadership trust is mostly earned in ways that are less personal. Trust is earned through transparency, integrity, forthrightness, and competence, among other things. We have a crisis of trust in SBC life and we must restore it if we are to save the ship.

Third, we need to return to New Testament missiology, which is organic, grassroots and bottom-up, with strategic decisions made by those closest to the mission field. The Apostle Paul was commissioned and sent by the church in Antioch, but they did not micromanage him. They unleashed him and released him as he was led by the Holy Spirit to evangelize the lost and gather them into churches. Antioch prayed for Paul and supported Paul, but they did not seek to control Paul and dictate his work. Everywhere in the world where the church is growing, from China to Africa to the United States of America up until the past couple of decades, the growth of the church has been organic. Top-down control from national headquarters has never worked and it never will. This doesn’t mean that some great things aren’t happening. Of course they are! God is at work. He always is! But when you look to the broad scope of the SBC, the picture is not pretty. We must restore biblical missiology to our mission strategy.

We need to return to the time when Southern Baptists believed that every church matters, not just churches deemed “significant” based on size of attendance or budget. If a local church is the Body of Christ, purchased with the blood of Christ, that church matters, and that pastor matters, and the widow with her mite matters, and maybe she matters more. We need to return to cooperation, not competition; partnership, not power plays; and respect for all, not a “respecter of persons.”

I believe our future is bright if we do these things. If we rebuild our convention on a foundation of truth, and rebuild trust, God can bless us in great measure. But we cannot presume growing our Great Commission advance if we continue down our present path. Tragically, ships do sink, even big ones.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Saving the SBC Ship – Part 2

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Part 1 of this series focused on the steep decline in Great Commission effectiveness that the SBC has suffered since the adoption of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendations in the Orlando SBC meeting in 2010 (https://randyadams.org/2020/03/03/saving-the-sbc-ship-part-1/ ). Those declines are represented in the following graphs.


These declines make clear that the SBC Ship is floundering and requires serious attention. Bright spots do exist and many churches are thriving. Church planting in some regions, such as the Northwest where I serve, is doing quite well. It seems the IMB is poised to rebuild our international missions force, for which we are most grateful. But the SBC cooperative mission’s ship has taken on a lot of water. Let me tell you why I believe this has happened and continues to happen.

First, the shift from overwhelming support, and practice, of Cooperative Program missions was eroded by creating the category of “Great Commission Giving.” If you review the records, promoters of Great Commission Giving largely came from churches whose Cooperative Program (CP) giving was far below that of the average SBC church as a percentage of their budgets. Many SBC leaders could not say “imitate me” when it came to CP giving because if the typical Baptist church imitated the churches of many SBC leaders we would have “gone out of business.” This was/is a huge problem.

Southern Baptists have long believed in the “missions system” that included local Associations, State Conventions, and the SBC Entities (particularly the mission boards and the seminaries that train our pastors and missionaries). Historically, we believed the missions system produced better Great Commission effectiveness than simply “picking and choosing” which part of the system you wanted to support. I wrote about this in 2015 (https://randyadams.org/2015/09/13/do-as-i-do-the-big-issue-for-our-baptist-family/).

Although we can debate whether the creation of Great Commission Giving caused the erosion of CP mission giving, the fact that CP has declined by 34 percent since the 2010 SBC Annual Report is beyond debate. Actual dollars given have declined by 11 percent, but because the dollar purchased more in 2010 than it does in 2020, our CP missions support is 34 percent less in terms of purchasing power. That is real and serious decline, and I believe it was greatly aided by the shift toward Great Commission Giving. Certainly, those promoting Great Commission Giving, as well as urging State Conventions to keep less CP dollars and forward more to the SBC, with the “ideal” of a 50/50 split, claimed this would result in more mission dollars given through CP and SBC causes. However, the opposite has occurred. Fewer dollars are being given through the SBC mission system.

I’ll talk more about solutions in Part 3 of this series next week but will briefly say here that we need to choose leaders with proven track-records of CP support. Furthermore, we must include more Baptists in choosing our leaders through remote-access voting. In a future article I will articulate a plan on how to make remote voting work at the SBC Annual Meeting.

Second, the shift from mission strategies in which local leaders (pastors, associational and state leaders) are primary decision makers, to a top-down approach in which decisions are largely dictated from national leaders, was a catastrophic mistake. I believe the large decline in baptisms and church starts is partly the result of moving to a top-down approach.

This shift to a top-down approach was absolutely intended by the GCR Task Force. I quote from their report: “We call for the leadership of the North American Mission Board to budget for a national strategy that will mobilize Southern Baptists in a great effort to reach North America with the Gospel and plant thriving, reproducing churches. We encourage NAMB to set a goal of phasing out all Cooperative Agreements within seven years, and to establish a new pattern of strategic partnership with the state conventions.” For a complete copy of the GCR go to: http://www.baptist2baptist.net/PDF/PenetratingTheLostness.pdf.

This “national strategy” has nearly eliminated the voice of Associations and State Conventions outside the South. It has greatly lessened work in the South, as well. But in most of the non-South this included eliminating funding for associations, most evangelism personnel, Baptist Collegiate Ministry, and has even reduced funding for church planting missionaries. I believe the huge drop we’ve seen in church plants, a 50-percent drop, despite increasing the church planting budget by more than $50 million dollars, is due to nationalizing our strategy and limiting the input of local leaders.

Think of it this way. What if the Federal Government dictated from Washington D.C. how we educate children in all 50 states, thus eliminating the control of the local school boards? Does Washington D.C. know what’s best for schools in Spokane, WA or Augusta, GA or Jacksonville, FL? No, they don’t. And, by the way, the local community may make a bad decision, but they live with the decision they make. And they have greater incentive to get things right, and correct course when they’re wrong, because their own kids are in those schools. I see a similar principle at work in the evangelism and mission strategies of Southern Baptists. Top-down national strategies that do not give deference to local leadership are doomed to fail. Some are unhappy that I am saying publically that the GCR actually led to a Great Commission Regression, but no one has argued that the GCR worked based on the data.

In Part 3 of this series I’ll offer practical steps the SBC can take to better advance the Great Commission. In light of that, I’ll leave you with the final statement in the 2010 GCR report, and it’s one with which I totally agree. The report concludes by saying we must “Commit to a continuous process of denominational review in order to ensure maximum implementation of the Great Commission.” As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the GCR it’s time to “review” and steer the SBC ship in a new direction.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Great Commission Advance through the Northwest Baptist Convention

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Yesterday I released a series of messages on social media that contain factual information detailing the decline of Southern Baptist’s Great Commission impact. You can check my Facebook or Twitter to see those messages. I will release a future article that will go into greater detail.

Today I want to briefly share what the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) is doing to help our churches advance the Great Commission. You see, I believe in a cooperative, systematic approach to evangelism and advancing the Great Commission. While it is the local church that does the biblical work of sharing the gospel, preaching the Word, raising up the missionaries, teaching tithing and stewardship principles, the local Baptist Association and State and National Conventions have played an important role in developing a cooperative system of training and sending and developing resources, among other things.

First, when I arrived in the Northwest in 2013 I promised our churches that the NWBC would provide evangelism resources to every affiliated church, without charge, so that every church, from the smallest to the largest, could equip their people to share the gospel and deploy them to actually do it. The reason we can provide the resources at no cost is because our churches have already paid for them through the Cooperative Program and our NWBC Mission Offering. When I was in Oklahoma I led Oklahoma Baptists to do the same, with my team developing the My316 evangelism materials. We have continued to use these materials in the Northwest, and other state conventions have used them too. However, the NWBC also provides other evangelism tools. In fact, we will pay the bill for any biblical evangelism training resource that a church chooses to use.

Second, we provide evangelism workshops and training every year. Our Annual Meeting always includes workshops on evangelism, and we sometimes do them at other times too. Our Pastor Cluster groups make evangelism a key part of their monthly meetings.

Third, the NWBC established an IMB partnership with East Asia that launched in 2015. In addition to dozens of churches sending teams to work with missionaries, volunteers from the Northwest have staffed several major IMB retreats. These have been coordinated by our NWBC staff. For example, in 2016 we sent 163 people from 32 NWBC churches to minister to our missionaries and their children in a huge training conference. In 2019 we sent 113 people from 23 churches to do the same. We have also staffed smaller IMB East Asia retreats, sending up to 50 people from multiple churches. We do this because we believe in Acts 1:8 missions. Our churches could not do these big retreats and partnerships without leadership from both the NWBC and IMB. That’s part of the “mission system” Southern Baptists have established. Additionally, I have personally preached in 9 IMB retreats and conferences, going back to 1993 in Pakistan. Every church and convention I have served in has been heavily involved in missions, both locally and globally. The result of which has been increased support of missions, both in financial giving and in sending missionaries to the field. Three Northwesterners were commissioned by the IMB just last November.

Fourth, the NWBC has a strong and growing commitment to church planting, in partnership with NAMB. I believe in partnership and cooperation and it grieves me deeply that we do not cooperate like we once did. The NWBC is the only State Convention that remains in a jointly-funded partnership with NAMB. We do this because we believe in what NAMB and the NWBC can do together. Churches young and old need local partners, the Southern Baptist system, which historically was highly relational and local, with national partners primarily supporting the local denominational partners. I believe in that system. I believe in local partnerships strategy and methods that are driven and developed as locally as possible. In my experience, locally driven strategies better mobilize local churches than top-down strategies.

This is a fairly brief summary, but I hope it gives you some idea of our commitment to actually do things that help our churches advance the Great Commission. Is it working? Yes. Not like we want it to work. I always want more and am never quite satisfied with what we are achieving. But since I came to the NWBC in 2013 baptisms have increased, mission giving has increased (Cooperative Program and the mission offerings), church plant numbers have increased, and the net number of churches has increased by more than ten percent (60 more churches at last count). As always, I am happy to address questions and provide clarification or additional information. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

The Peace of Jesus or the Peaceful Bigotry of Social Theories

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I once heard an Irish poet say that the peace agreement that ended The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s did not cause enemies to love each other. It did not produce peace in people’s hearts. Rather, he said they had achieved a “peaceful bigotry,” meaning they still hated each other, but they had stopped killing each other. I would argue that “peaceful bigotry” is the best the world can do. We speak of peace in the Middle East. Peace in Afghanistan. Or even peace between political opponents in the Federal Government of the United States. But what the world calls peace is merely a cessation of violence, peaceful bigotry, not peace in people’s hearts.

The Bible tells us peace is found in the person of Jesus Christ. “He Himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). True peace in the human heart, and peace between enemies, can only be achieved as people meet at the foot of Christ’s cross, reconciling with God and then with each other.

This came to mind as I read that some Southern Baptists are embracing aspects of Critical Race Theory (CRT), and other social and political theories, that promise answers to the ongoing problems of racism and racial division. At best, the application of such theories can only produce a “peaceful bigotry.” Peace will not be achieved by embracing theories. Peace is only achieved through Jesus Christ.

To look at this another way, the Bible defines and describes justice and it does so without adjectival modifiers. The Bible doesn’t use the term “social justice,” but simply justice. When you add a modifier to the word “justice” you get something less than true, biblical justice. “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully” (Prov. 28:5).

The message of the church is unique. The uniqueness of our message is the person of Jesus Christ. He is our peace. He is just. He enables us to understand what justice is. And on that coming Day, He will produce perfect peace and justice. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31f).

We must not settle for peaceful bigotry. We must not commit to social theories that enable the continuation of hate, bigotry, and division, and deny the gospel as the only power to change hearts, thus producing true peace. The Church only has one message – Jesus. He is our peace.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Preaching for Life in a Pro-choice City

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The divide between pro-choice and pro-life has grown significantly this past year. In 2019, more states enacted abortion laws than in any other year since the Supreme Court decision of Roe v Wade. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2019/07/30/new-laws-deepen-state-differences-over-abortion Many states moved to pass laws that better protect the unborn. However, some have swung horrifyingly in the opposite direction, even going as far as saying a child could theoretically be aborted after they were born as suggested by Virginia’s Governor Northam. https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/31/politics/ralph-northam-third-trimester-abortion/index.html

Adding strain to that divide is the increasing pressure from pro-choice groups to aggressively normalize abortion and minimize its perceived impact through things like the #shoutyourabortion campaign or Michelle Williams’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. To some degree, their attempts to normalize abortion may be having an impact. According to a research project funded by the pro-choice Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, part of UC San Francisco, they claim that most women who have abortions do not regret their choice. The study followed 667 women over a 5-year period, checking with them every six months to see how they were “feeling” about their decision to abort their child. This study has received a great deal of attention in pro-choice publications, claiming that it validates the choice that these women made, and that they have not sustained long-term emotional trauma as a result of their abortion.

I live in a pro-choice state, in a region with pro-choice cities. Seattle, WA and Portland, OR are among the most liberal, pro-choice cities in the nation. Those of us serving Christ in pro-choice cities have learned that appeals to culture and courts and legislatures are not “winning the day” in terms of protecting the unborn where we live. Now the pro-choice community is using this study to argue that those who have abortions experience “relief” and “happiness” as a result of having an abortion. To argue against abortion prevents many women from being happy, so the argument goes. Abortion has been a good thing for these women, we are told, and few experience negative “emotions” long-term.

So where does this leave the church, and the preacher, and all of those believe that abortion takes an innocent human life? It leaves us in the same position that that we have always held, relying upon God’s Word, and the truth about Him and the human beings He created. Although there is an ongoing political and legal battle concerning the protection of the unborn, the preacher and the church have what we’ve always had, the Scriptures, which enable us to speak God’s Word and implant it into human hearts, the hearts of individuals, especially the hearts of young people who are most apt to face abortive decisions. For the Christian, the goal is not simply to “feel happy,” but to do the right thing, the thing that pleases God, and the thing that demonstrates love to those most vulnerable in our world.

When you speak to the heart, with a desire to see God transform the heart, you must speak truth and live truth. The Bible teaches that every person is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and that God’s relationship with a person begins in the womb (Ps. 139:13). The Psalmist said that God “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” God placed His hands on me, formed me, created me as I would create a garment stitch-by-stitch. And He created me, and every human being, in His image. Every color and hue, all peoples in all places, created by God, valued by God. And, moreover, every individual created by God is loved by God, so much so that Jesus came to provide the means by which every person ever born can be adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning work. This is a truth we can preach and live!

Another of God’s truths that must be spoken into hearts is that behaving justly begins with how we treat those who are most vulnerable. The Bible is clear that justice requires we care for widows, orphans, the poor, and other vulnerable persons. No one is more vulnerable than the unborn. The unborn child is totally dependent on what others do or don’t do. This fact is implicit. It is obvious. Life is precious, and those we must protect most are those who cannot protect themselves. God entrusts every child to a mother and father. From conception to adulthood children need parents who nurture and protect, who teach and train, who love and cherish them. This a truth that must be spoken into the hearts of our children. We are sending our children into a pro-choice world, and we must not send them without speaking truth into their hearts so that they will live justly. Studies reveal that 25 percent of women have had an abortion, and many men have encouraged abortion. We must preach the hope of redemption and forgiveness in Christ for this and all sin, but we must seek to prevent sin by putting God’s Word into the hearts of our children.

Preaching life must include the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The Christian lives for others. We live for God, and we put others before ourselves. This includes putting those who are weakest and most vulnerable before ourselves. Jesus said that our love for others must even include our enemies. If we are to love our neighbors, including our enemies, as we love ourselves, surely we must love the unborn as we love our own lives. The greatest choice is that which puts others before self, especially those others who are most vulnerable.

Some might think it is difficult to preach for life in a pro-choice city and to advocate for life in a city that advocates for the death of certain unborn persons. I have discovered that the madness inherent in the human heart (Eccl. 9:3) can be transformed and turned by God’s Word spoken into their heart. Just as light is most beautiful when reflected by a diamond, God’s Word reveals its beauty and power when spoken into a human heart, healing the madness, softening the hardness, and transforming the thoughts and behaviors that emanate from a person’s heart.

Should we preach for life in a pro-choice city? Yes! Yes today and yes forever! Some souls will turn their hearts toward God and find forgiveness and cleansing from sin. God’s Word, planted in the hearts of our children and others, will strengthen them to resist the enemy and live a holy life. And even when we are rejected and rebuffed by some in the pro-choice crowd, we will fulfill our calling to speak the truth in love, as watchmen who warn the city when the enemy attacks.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention