Saving the SBC Ship – Part 3

Standard
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

Standard
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

Standard

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

Giving the SBC Back

Standard

default

The way to turn the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and expand its global mission efforts, is to give it back to those who built it. The phrase “take back the ship” has been used by some who have attempted to change the direction of the SBC. For better or worse, some of these efforts succeeded while others failed. However, the best and only long-term solution to unite and “save the ship” of the SBC is to give it back to those who built the ship.

Common convictions, while necessary for unity, are not enough to mobilize a people to advance the Great Commission together. As a pastor, and now leader of a State Convention with hundreds of churches, I have learned that increasing participation builds unity. Pastors work with volunteers, and State Executive Directors do as well. Volunteers can choose to participate, or they can opt out. The choice is often made based on whether they’re included in the process, and whether leaders are transparent and accountable in how they go about the ministry.

Unity and vibrancy in our SBC mission efforts will grow when we give back the SBC ship to those who built it.

“And who built the ship?” you ask.

We need to give the Convention back to the churches, small, medium and large; back to churches rural, town, suburban and city who have faithfully and generously built our Convention through faithful Bible teaching and generous support of missions through the Cooperative Program. We need to give the Convention back to the pew, back to Bob and Betty Baptist, and to Britney, Alex and Briana Baptist, too. We need to give it back to the people who love their neighbor and minister to the sick and send missionaries to the nations because they take seriously the command to obey Jesus’ teaching.

We need to give the Convention back to those whose heroes are missionaries and not Christian celebrities. We need to give the Convention back to widows who tithe from their Social Security because they love Jesus, love their church, love their pastor, and they love their missionaries.

We need to give the Convention back to deacons who pray for their pastor and serve alongside him. We need to give the Convention back to Sunday school teachers and door greeters and the women of the WMU, and all the others who make our Convention of churches work. Let’s give the convention back to the shepherds who love their flock, do the marrying and burying, evangelize the lost, preach the Bible because they believe the Bible, and model a life of joy and gratitude to their community. We need to give the Convention back to those who weep over sin, including their own, and who welcome the repentant sinner.

How do we give the Convention back?

We do it by valuing every church and every person in every church. Respecters of persons cannot lead the SBC to honor God and rebuild a witness to our nation. How do we give the Convention back? We do it primarily through transparency, accountability and broadened involvement through remote access voting at the annual meeting of the SBC.

Transparency is vital if we are to give the Convention back to those who built and continue to sustain it. Entities must open their financial records and provide detailed financial reports, not summaries which fail to disclose crucial information. When tens of millions of dollars are spent to purchase property, provide grants to certain churches, pay monthly stipends to certain pastors, and the details of these expenditures are known to only to a few, it creates the conditions for dividing not unifying. Many financial details are not disclosed to the Trustees charged with oversight. They should be disclosed to every Cooperative Program supporting Southern Baptist pastor and church.

Transparency means that habitual use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) should be discontinued. NDAs are used to suppress speech and information that might be critical, or revealing, of the practices of an institution or entity. NDAs are often used to keep information from being revealed that might embarrass someone or something. Although we don’t use them in the Northwest Baptist Convention, in SBC life they are used by churches, conventions, seminaries and SBC Entities. While NDAs have limited application in Baptist life, they are too often used as part of standard-operating-procedure and this should be stopped.

Regarding transparency, the SBC made an expansive strategic change in the 2010 Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendation, yet the minutes of the committee meetings, which would reveal important details and discussions, have been sealed for all of these years and won’t be unsealed for many years to come. Why should this important information be kept from Southern Baptists? Shouldn’t we operate in the light? Is there some information that should only be accessible to a select few of Baptists, but not provided to the everyday pastor or layperson? According to the numbers, the GCR has actually been a Great Commission Regression, and I think it would be helpful for Southern Baptists to know the details of the internal debate. What concerns did the committee have? Where did the ideas originate and who argued for them and against them? The GCR served to weaken State Conventions and Associations (outside the South) and strengthen the national SBC. How was this debated? It’s been ten years and we still don’t know. It’s time to open the records. And it’s time to evaluate the GCR and re-calibrate (more about that in a future article).

Accountability. We give the Convention back to the pew, back to those who sustain Southern Baptist mission efforts, by enforcing accountability. Leaders must be held accountable for how we steward the ministry of the SBC and affiliated Conventions. Trustees should be trained by someone other than the entities they are selected to hold accountable. Accountability should include the performance of the Entity or Convention, stewardship of resources, Christian character, and, of course, faithfulness to our Lord and His Word. Holding leaders accountable is the chief responsibility of Trustee Boards, but building trust, and debunking conspiracy theories and rumors, is greatly aided when leaders hold themselves accountable to those who built and sustain the Convention.

Remote Access Voting. We give the Convention back by increasing involvement in the SBC through remote access voting. The last time remote voting was investigated by the SBC Executive Committee we were using dial-up. Ninety-two percent of our churches do not participate in the SBC Annual Meeting each year. The time has come to extend involvement to messengers from tens of thousands of churches, small and large. Involvement in making Convention decisions should not be restricted to those with the money to travel across the country to the Annual Meeting. Increasing involvement will build trust and support for Cooperative Program missions.

The SBC becomes stronger when we increase inclusion and empower each autonomous group, not when we centralize power and control. Today’s technology makes this completely doable.

I am allowing my name to be submitted to serve as President of the SBC because I believe we can unite the convention and save the ship. However, we need to do more than philosophize about the problems we face as a convention. We must discuss and find practical solutions to our problems. Offering practical solutions is what I am attempting to do.

I would urge the various groups concerned about the SBC to host meetings in which conversation can occur. I am always glad to discuss the issues we face and the proposed solutions, especially with those who may disagree with me. Let’s discuss in venues open to our people, whether it is a video conference, livestream, or open forum. We can post them so that every concerned Southern Baptist can have access to the discussion.

Unity and vibrancy in accomplishing the mission will grow as we give the ship back to those who built it. My great hope and dream is that this Convention, which has been built and sustained for 175 years, can be given back to the Baptist faithful. The SBC ship was built to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to every person in every place. I believe that’s why God has blessed the SBC, and faithfulness to that great mission will bring continued blessing in the years to come.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

SBC Pastor’s Conference Controversy

Standard

Several people have asked me to address the most recent issue related to the Pastor’s Conference line-up, and I wanted to take a moment to address it. However, we also need to address the work of the SBC.

The primary controversy on the pastor’s line-up stems from the issue that Hosanna Wong, a female “teaching pastor,” in a non-SBC church has been invited to perform “spoken Word” (poetry) at the SBC Pastor’s Conference. The BF&M 2000 is clear that the office of pastor is to be held by a man. By deciding to give a stage to people who operate contrary to some key southern Baptist beliefs, we have self-inflicted a wound to our unity and convention. The Pastor’s Conference should inspire and unite pastors as they are challenged from God’s Word, and it should point us to the mission God has given us.

Recently, these types of controversies seem to be cropping up more and more. We are in a pattern where we passionately discuss one controversy, but before we can find real solutions to it, the next controversy has arrived and distracted, leaving behind a bunch of unresolved issues in the SBC. We are also in a pattern where we become so distracted by each and every controversy that we fail to discuss, diagnose and solve key threats to our convention and Great Commission advance. We need to address and resolve our theological issues in a manner which enables us to do the Great Commission work Christ has given us.

As a result there are some things we need to keep in mind.

1. We only have a couple of days each year where we can handle important business as a convention. After that, the issues are handed back to the entities to work on. When it comes time to Orlando, and even now, we need to make sure we use our time to tackle the larger important issues, not just the specific controversies.

2. New controversies will always pop up. We can deal with them, but it needs to be clear and quick, and then get right back to fixing the other major threats to our convention and mission.

3. We need to make sure we are as passionate about the work of the mission as we are about the theology of the convention. We fought very hard for a conservative approach to the convention, however, if we fail to focus on the work of the mission, and do the work of uprooting and preventing abuse, and building transparency to regain trust, we will end up losing our convention.

These should be our focus as we seek to cooperate to reach the world for Christ.

The Peace of Jesus or the Peaceful Bigotry of Social Theories

Standard

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

Standard

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

My Commitment to Southern Baptists

Standard

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) exists for one grand purpose – to advance the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. I am allowing my name to be entered into nomination for the presidency of the SBC because I believe that we need a clear change in direction in order to fulfill our God-given mission and reverse our present course of decline in every key measurement of Great Commission advance.

I grew up in the small town of Whitefish, Montana. There was no Southern Baptist church in my hometown, but when I attended college in Butte, Montana I met a group from the Baptist Student Union (BSU). They reached out to me and it changed my life. By my senior year I was the BSU Director. I was paid a whopping $50 per month to plan the weekly meetings, teach the Bible study, and build a strategy to reach our campus for Christ. It was a wonderful year in which several students came to Christ and we doubled our weekly attendance. Through that experience God called me to preach, and, after receiving my degree in petroleum engineering, my wife and I moved to Fort Worth, Texas to attend Southwestern Seminary.

I reflect on my BSU experience with gratitude that Southern Baptists cooperate to reach the world for Christ. There was no other Christian group on my college campus – only Southern Baptists – and from that I learned that we must cooperate if we are to accomplish big things, particularly big things in out-of-the-way places.

The growth of Southern Baptists was one of the most important religious developments of the 20th Century. With fewer than 2 million members in the year 1900, Southern Baptists experienced annual growth for more than a century, peaking at 16.3 million members in 2006. The International Mission Board grew to a force of 5,600 missionaries serving throughout the world. A network of over 1,100 local Associations and 42 State Conventions was established to serve more than 45,000 churches and their cooperative mission work. The North American Mission Board (formerly Home Mission Board) largely worked through State Conventions and Associations to assist in church starting, evangelism, mission education, disaster relief, and other missions ministries. Added to these, six Southern Baptist seminaries and dozens of colleges and universities with ties to State Conventions were established to train pastors, missionaries, educators, medical personnel, business persons and others. The numerical and institutional strength of Southern Baptists, coupled with prosperity and religious freedom in the United States, enabled the growth of one of the most potent global missionary forces in Christian history.

While Southern Baptists retain considerable ability to impact the world for Christ, we are currently experiencing our greatest challenge. After waging a decades-long battle for the Bible, we are in danger of losing the war we were founded to fight, that of advancing the Great Commission by making disciples and rescuing the captives of the evil one. In the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL, messengers narrowly adopted the “Great Commission Resurgence Report,” with the assurance that these recommendations would lead to an evangelistic “resurgence.” What has happened in the decade since? Increasing levels of decline. A clear-headed assessment of Southern Baptist mission efforts reveals the steepest decline in evangelistic effectiveness in our 175-year history. In the past decade baptisms have fallen to a 75-year low, with the last four years being the lowest four years since 1947. New church starts have plummeted over 50 percent in the past decade to at least a 40-year low, with the last four years being the lowest four years in decades, and this while the church planting budget grew from $22 million to $75 million in less than 10 years. Some suggest that church plant numbers prior to 2010 cannot be trusted. Please note, however, that the SBC was experiencing a net increase of a few hundred churches per year in the first decade of the 21st century, and in 2018 we experienced a net decrease of 379 churches and church-type missions. A declining net increase in total churches over the last several years, including our current net decrease in the number of SBC churches, demonstrates a significant decrease in the number of new churches being started.

Other indicators of decline include 1,900 fewer IMB missionaries, 1.5 million fewer church members, and about 15 percent fewer in weekly worship attendance (over 850,000 persons). Cooperative Program (CP) giving, as a percent of the church budget, has continued to decline and is now less than half of what it was in the 1980s. These trends demonstrate that the Great Commission Resurgence has not produced the results for which we had hoped. Sadly, we are experiencing a Great Commission Regression. Leaders must confront these hard realities in order to make necessary changes.

I understand that some think we should not engage in denominational discourse about our present situation. Some believe that the hard realities of our current condition should not be discussed openly because it puts focus on the “negative.” If we do not honestly confront issues others will do so, including those who do not love the SBC like we do. Christians must be able to engage in honest discourse, speaking the truth in love.

Although we are in the midst of a great challenge, there is also immense opportunity. If we recommit to the purpose for which we were birthed – advancing the Great Commission – and couple that with a missiology that empowers those closest to the field of ministry, we can return to an upward path once again. With this in mind, please join me in affirming seven commitments that will strengthen the impact of Southern Baptists for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the brutal facts to become blessed realities in the years to come, we must:

1. Prioritize the Mission – The SBC was founded to advance the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Our primary mission must not be compromised by intra-convention politics or pet projects. Secondary issues are not unimportant, and must be addressed at times, but Southern Baptists were founded to advance the mission, not a political agenda.

2. Determine to Cooperate – No single entity or group can accomplish the mission themselves. We must respect and recognize the value that every church, each association and state convention, the Woman’s Missionary Union, Baptist college ministries, and SBC entities bring to the table. People cooperate to the extent of their inclusion and we must start cooperating again. It is a matter of integrity that denominational leaders give strong evidence of cooperation. This includes an impeccable track record of Cooperative Program support which is the primary means by which Southern Baptists fund Great Commission work.

3. Value Every Church – The local church is the body of Christ purchased with the blood of Christ. Whatever its size, the sphere of influence and potential impact of any church is broader than what we can see in a weekend gathering. As such, every cooperating SBC church should be valued, and strategies to increase the engagement of all churches in SBC life must be employed, including use of technology to enable remote access to voting at the Annual Meeting of the SBC. We should not be satisfied with how few of our churches participate in the Annual SBC Meeting. Cooperating SBC churches must not be disenfranchised from participation in the decision-making process because they cannot afford to travel to annual meeting locations.

4. Listen to the Field – Local churches, followed by associations and then state conventions, are closest to the ministry field. Our national SBC agencies should support and work through local and state convention partners, who have local knowledge and for whom the work is most personal because it concerns the eternal destiny of their closest neighbors. There are regional differences within our nation, and within regions there are vast differences from one community to another. Knowing the particulars of a community, as discerned through prayer and local knowledge, is essential to making disciples for Christ and shepherding believers.

5. Operate in the Light – The SBC should be the toughest place to hide corruption, abuse, and poor stewardship, operating at the highest level of integrity and accountability. We must eliminate organizational tools, structures and processes that help hide wrongdoing and abuse. The SBC and its entities should end the use of, and recall, all remaining Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). We must not hide corruption and we will not protect predators at the cost of harming victims. There must be transparency in how we make decisions and how we spend money. Records should be open. Property purchases and ownership should be disclosed and records made available. Annual audits of entities should be open and accessible to Southern Baptist constituents. If we choose to operate in the light, we will maximize the trust and goodwill that are essential to maximizing the Great Commission cooperation of Southern Baptists. Transparency and frank communication regarding challenges and opportunities will build trust and unity in the SBC.

6. Speak Truth – We must love our neighbors and we must speak the truth. There are many lies that are told by the world, and these must be countered by the truth found in God’s Word. Just, righteous leadership engages culture with biblical truth and values, not social or political theories.

7. Believe and Obey God’s Word – We must not compromise obedience to God’s Word in word or deed. The Baptist Faith and Message expresses the biblical beliefs and convictions of Southern Baptists, and it provides the theological parameters within which Southern Baptists work together.

These seven commitments reflect the activity, beliefs and behaviors that made Southern Baptists the missionary force that has taken the gospel of Jesus Christ to tens of millions of persons throughout North America and to the world beyond. Southern Baptists can experience a future brighter than our past, but that is not inevitable. It requires that we put the mission first. It means we must rebuild trust and cooperate in a more complete way. We must love God supremely, and love our neighbor as we love ourselves, with hearts set ablaze by the Holy Spirit. God does not need Southern Baptists to accomplish His mission, but if we are to enjoy God’s favor and remain useful to Him, we must plead for the blessing and smile of our almighty, ever-merciful God. Southern Baptists need nothing more than God. He alone has the power to transform our lives and equip us for His mission.

As we prepare to return to Orlando for the SBC in 2020, these are my seven commitments to you. The challenges that face our convention are too big for any one of us to handle alone. However, through open and honest dialog concerning the challenges that face our convention, we can grow the trust and goodwill which will unite us and maximize our efforts to advance the Great Commission.

Like many of you, I am forever indebted and grateful to Southern Baptists and the missionaries we have sent, including those sent to the small city of Butte, Montana. Thank you Southern Baptists!

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Trust and Partnership – A Recovery Program for the SBC

Standard

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) needs a recovery program.  Followers of Jesus, including those who lead, are not exempt from addiction to power, money, and sex, and we have been reminded of this with jarring frequency over the past few weeks and months.  Deep wounds caused by multiple failures are now festering from infection.  Added to the more public matters is a sick hubris that has caused some to weaponize money and leadership, intentionally hurting others, certain that they are smarter, wiser, or better than “them.”  Much of the focus has been on the resignation of leaders and the firing of a seminary president, and rightly so, but perhaps worse than the headlines is our deficit of trust and partnership that has grown as large as the national debt.  Although trust and partnership have been eroded in multiple ways, the serious erosion of cooperation and trust between the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and denominational partners has led to a collapse in the numbers of churches started and the number of new believers baptized.

Many think that we are in the midst of a church planting boom in the SBC.  We are not.  In the past two years we have tallied the lowest number of new church starts in decades, reaching a new low of 691 throughout North America in 2017.  Moreover, new church plant numbers the past seven years are far below the seven years prior, while the church planting budget is 350 percent higher than it was in 2010!  The truth is we are experiencing a colossal collapse in the number of new church plants while spending far more money from the NAMB budget.  The primary reason that Southern Baptists are planting half as many churches as we were ten years ago is because the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has greatly reduced its cooperation with state and regional conventions in favor of a top-down approach in which NAMB mostly controls church planting outside of the south, and in which NAMB has greatly reduced funding for church planting in the south.

Add to this the fact that NAMB has slashed evangelism funding to about one third of what it was ten years ago.  In 2010 NAMB had an evangelism staff of 52 people, organized into six teams, in addition to hundreds of state convention jointly-funded positions.  In 2018 there are only two people in evangelism (a leader and his assistant) listed on NAMB’s website, and the one evangelism leader is also the pastor of a church with attendance over 1,000.  This is especially striking when you learn that NAMB currently lists 30 staff doing marketing and event planning!  At the state convention level, NAMB has also slashed evangelism funding for personnel, so that we have a fraction of the national evangelism leaders and far fewer evangelism implementers at the associational and state level.

Evangelism funding was reduced because, NAMB argued, the best way to do evangelism is to start new churches.  While that can be debated, there is no debate that evangelistic funding from NAMB was intended to serve all 47,000 SBC affiliated churches, while church planting funding focuses only on church plants.  Most evangelism is done by established churches because that’s where the vast majority of our people worship – common sense!  But we are experiencing a disastrous drop in the number of new believers following Jesus in baptism.  Baptisms have plummeted to a level not seen in more than 70 years.  In 2015 we dropped below 300,000 baptisms for the first time since 1947, and in 2017 a total of 254,122 persons were baptized.  This is a drop of 24 percent from 2011 when 333,000 were baptized.  There is almost no living memory of a time Southern Baptists baptized so few.  As seen in the chart below, we are currently experiencing the steepest decline in baptisms in recorded SBC history (source is the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, Vol. 1 No 2, Fall 2003 and SBC Annuals).

SBC-baptisms_1900-2017

The extreme reduction in cooperation between NAMB and state conventions, including the elimination of funding for hundreds of associational and state convention positions, has greatly reduced the ability of local Southern Baptist denominational entities (state conventions and local associations) to serve the needs of our churches, which is partly why we are experiencing serious decline (including a decline in Annual Church Profile reporting because of fewer associational and convention employees working to get the information).  In the Northwest Baptist Convention our convention staff is less than half the number that we were in 2009.  Believing the incendiary charge that state conventions were “bloated bureaucracies,” a handful of influential SBC leaders and influencers pushed for state conventions to give more cooperative dollars to the national SBC (a 50/50 split was called for), and NAMB reduced funding to state conventions at the same time.  These actions, and the accusations that were hurled toward state conventions, have done great damage to relationships, destroyed trust, and damaged our ability to start churches and engage in a cooperative evangelism effort.  Both church plant numbers and baptisms plummeted following the changes that began in 2010, which, ironically, was the year the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendations were adopted at the SBC in Orlando, FL, and in which the GCR called for “the phasing out of Cooperative Agreements” between NAMB and state conventions.  Unfortunately, no effective cooperative strategy has replaced the cooperative agreements, thus we have become less effective at planting churches and doing evangelism than we were prior to the GCR.  I’ve recently noticed that others, too, have recognized the need for recovery in the SBC, including those behind the Reform NAMB Now movement (www.reformnambnow.org).

Some think that talking openly and honestly about the fact of our decline, and the reasons for it, is “not helpful.”  Some fear that if Baptists are told the truth it will demotivate cooperative giving.  Apparently they weren’t taught the old Baptist axiom “trust the Lord and tell the people.”  Transparency is vital.  The truth of the matter is critical if we are to build and maintain trust.  Unity without truth enables bad behavior.  The people who support the work have a right to know the truth.  They deserve an honest reporting of our present condition, and an honest and open debate, even if some leaders find it unhelpful to themselves.

Some might also think that because our entities are governed by trustees elected at the annual meeting of the SBC that it is unnecessary and counterproductive to discuss these matters in a public forum.  But I believe that SBC trustees need to hear from rank-and-file, pew-sitting Baptists whose tithes are paying the bills.  “Brett and Brianna Baptist” should not be kept in-the-dark about the issues and how their Cooperative Program mission’s dollars are being spent.  Trustee boards operate best when the SBC constituency knows the issues and can discuss the issues with the trustees.  Trustees represent Southern Baptist people and Southern Baptist Churches.  They do not represent the entity on whose board they sit.  Therefore, trustees need to hear from an informed constituency.

So, what can we do to build back trust and cooperation at all levels of the SBC?  First, we must be open and honest about our present condition and not suppress “negative information” out of fear that Baptists cannot handle the truth.  SBC entities need to present the reality of their situation and not merely provide reports that highlight the positives and conceal the challenges and failures.  State conventions and associations must do the same.  Acknowledging reality, and dealing with things as they really are, is where leadership begins.  God’s people can handle the truth.  What they cannot handle, and what they deeply resent, is the truth being concealed and covered up.

Second, building trust and cooperation requires selecting leaders who believe in the cooperative system, including the cooperative funding system that made the SBC the greatest missionary denomination we have ever known.  Southern Baptists have some pastors who are effective leaders for their church, but they are not effective leaders denominationally because they do not sufficiently believe in, or participate in, the Cooperative Program method of funding our ministry and the cooperative structure that we have established locally, statewide, and nationally.  Most Southern Baptists worship in churches of less than 200 on Sunday.  These churches give the most money to cooperative missions and they send the most missionaries.  They believe in, and practice, cooperative missions.  We need leaders who understand this and celebrate the cooperative efforts and sacrifices of these churches.  This doesn’t mean large-church pastors can’t lead the SBC – not at all!  But it does mean these pastors need to believe in the cooperative method of missions from which we have benefitted for 90 years.  If our missionary methods don’t capitalize on the combined strength of the 99 percent of our churches which have fewer than 1,000 on Sunday, we will continue to decline and fail to accomplish all that we could for the glory of God.  In 2017 Southern Baptist churches gave $475 million to missions through the Cooperative Program and $215 million through the two national mission offerings.  Those churches that strongly support the Cooperative Program need SBC leaders who do the same.  SBC leaders must be able to look pastors in the eye and say, “imitate me” regarding Cooperative Program giving.  If an SBC leader cannot do that, he’s like a pastor who implores his people to give generously while he gives miserly.

Third, we must return to a cooperative system between NAMB and state conventions that prioritizes a church planting and evangelism strategy that is formed and led mostly by those closest to the field of ministry.  How can leaders in Alpharetta, GA know what’s best for Syracuse or Chicago or Seattle or Anchorage, not to mention the thousands of smaller communities that are inevitably overlooked by everyone except those who actually live there?  This includes both church planting and evangelism strategies.  In the name of planting more churches NAMB has exploded the church planting budget and slashed the evangelism budget.  The result is far fewer churches being planted and a collapse in total baptisms.  I believe this decline in church plant numbers is largely the result of a top-down national strategy that has reduced missionary boots-on-the-ground, ignored the input and pleas of local leaders, and destroyed the trust we once enjoyed between national and state convention leaders.  It’s not working and the numbers tell the story.  Actually, the numbers tell part of the story.  The rest is told by the wreckage done to relationships and families in the implementation of this terribly flawed strategy.

Is the SBC still worthy of our support?  Absolutely.  We no longer have 5,600 international missionaries, but we still have 3,500 fully-funded missionaries and no other network of churches comes close to that number.  Presently we are not starting 1,200 to 1,500 churches each year, but no other network started the 691 churches that SBC churches did in 2017.  Can God rescue us and revive us and bless us once again?  Without question He can.  He’s done it many times before.  But it’s a fact that churches die, movements die, and denominations have died too.  It is not inevitable that we recover our former effectiveness, and it’s not even certain that we will survive for another generation.  God’s plan is certain.  He will prevail.  Of that we can be certain. But whether the SBC continues to play a leading role in His plan is yet to be determined.

For now, we need prayer and repentance.  We must execute a turnabout, spiritually, relationally, and strategically.  Good organization and strategy won’t move the heart of a holy God.  Only hearts directed toward Him, seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, will bless God and cause His face to shine upon us.  If we do that individually, we’ll be all right, come what may.  As far as the SBC goes, a recovery program requires building trust, respect, and true partnership founded upon truth and acknowledging reality.  If we can do this, we can recover and experience vitality once again.

 

Who Should Lead Southern Baptists

Standard

Who should lead Southern Baptists? Answer: those who fully support the Cooperative Program and have demonstrated their support through the percentage giving of the church they serve and lead. My assertion’s explanation and argumentation is this:

In round numbers, Southern Baptists churches contribute approximately $690 million annually through the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon International Missions Offering and the Annie Armstrong North American Missions Offering. Approximately $475 million is contributed through the Cooperative Program and $215 million is contributed through the two major mission offerings. These numbers vary year-to-year by several million dollars. In addition, many millions more are given through State Convention annual missions offerings, Disaster Relief, World Hunger Offering, and associational mission gifts.

I share these numbers because I fear the average “Brett and Brianna Baptist” SBC church members have little idea of the impact Southern Baptists make because we cooperate financially to send and sustain missionaries, educate pastors, start churches, train leaders, and so much more. Moreover, “Brett and Brianna Baptist” probably do not understand the scope of our cooperative work and the manner in which it is funded.

The largest and primary funding strategy for SBC churches is the Cooperative Program (CP), a unified effort for local, regional, national and international ministry and missions. Most churches allocate CP mission dollars as a percentage of their annual budget, though some budget a set dollar amount. According to a report of the SBC Funding Study Committee, issued on September 23, 2003, SBC churches maintained a percentage giving to missions through the CP in the 11 percent range from 1930 to 1980. By the 1980s this average had dropped to 10.5 percent, and by 2002 it was 7.39 percent. In 2017 that number had fallen to 5.16 percent. As a percentage of the church budget, SBC churches are giving less than half to CP missions than they did just 30 years ago.

Various suggestions have been offered as to why CP missions giving has dropped so dramatically. These suggestions range from rising health insurance costs, to more emphasis on local ministry, political infighting, and the desire of churches to do missions directly. No doubt these have all contributed to our decline in CP supported missions. But I want to suggest something different – I firmly believe that the single biggest factor in our decline is the selection of leaders who do not fully support CP as the major way to fund Southern Baptist missions. Thus, they do not – and, really, cannot – share passionately with others a vision for the impact such a unified effort makes.

If a church chooses to support missions directly, and gives a small percentage or zero through the CP, that is their right as an autonomous church. Some pastors and churches may believe they can better allocate their missions dollars than can state conventions and the SBC. Often these are megachurches with huge budgets. I get that. But remember, there are less than 200 SBC megachurches (average worship attendance of 2,000 or more), and a total of 51,000 SBC churches and mission churches. Half of the churches in the Northwest Baptist Convention, where I serve, average 50 or less in worship. Nationally the median number is probably closer to 70, but the normative SBC church has far fewer than 100 on Sunday. That’s partly why CP missions has worked so brilliantly over the years. It makes possible a cooperative missions strategy that strengthens the abilities of the typical church to play a part in the far-reaching responsibilities of the Great Commission. Sure, if your church has 200 or 500 or 1,000 on Sunday, you might have the staffing and finances to do some larger mission projects. But even a large church finds it difficult to have a fully-orbed Acts 1:8 missions strategy.

Recently I visited with the pastor of an independent church that has 3,000 in weekend worship attendance. He was amazed to learn our church planting efforts in the Northwest include Vietnamese, Bhutanese, Korean, Spanish, Burmese and many other non-English language churches. He quickly understood that even given the resources of a large church they cannot penetrate lostness like our 500 smaller churches do through a cooperative strategy. CP missions is just such a cooperative strategy and we should choose leaders who understand it, believe in it and have supported it over the course of their ministries.

Presently, the International Mission Board (IMB) of the SBC is seeking a new president. In addition to the necessary spiritual qualifications, experience, and gifting, the next president should have a background that demonstrates a strong commitment to support missions through the CP. Remember, international missionaries don’t fall off angel’s wings onto the mission field! They are discipled and educated and called out through the ministries of our churches and through CP supported state camps, college ministries, seminaries, and the like. The SBC is a system of missions, ministry, training and education, and we need each part of the system for the global enterprise to remain healthy. Key leaders like the president of the IMB should understand this and support it. If a particular leader doesn’t support the SBC system of CP support (and you will only know he supports CP by what he led his church to do), he should not lead a CP supported SBC entity.

This June Southern Baptist will also elect a new SBC president. The man elected to this position should likewise be someone who has a track-record of strong CP support. How can a person effectively lead Southern Baptists if his church doesn’t support CP with a minimum of the 5.16 percent that the average church gives? Indeed, shouldn’t our leaders come from churches that give above the average percentage? This seems like common sense, but such sense seems less and less common.

Southern Baptists are at a critical crossroad. One road leads to the continuation of decline in CP missions giving and the continuation of the decline of the SBC (that is a subject for another article, but yes, we are in serious decline by most every measure). The other road will lead us to growth in our cooperative missions strategy. Which road we travel will depend not only on what we do individually, but also on those we choose to lead us. As for me, I will do all I can to encourage Southern Baptists to select leaders who generously support missions through the Cooperative Program and have a long history of doing so.