Tear Down this Wall!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving the SBC Back

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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

Shine the Light – Building Trust in a Scandal-Plagued World

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“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime” (Romans 13:13a).

We all know that sin thrives in darkness. “Nothing good happens after midnight,” parents warn their kids. But it’s not only physical darkness that provides a covering for sin. Governments, corporations, and even Christian ministries are prone to corruption and various forms of wrongdoing when they operate “in the dark.” What does it mean to operate in darkness if you’re a ministry organization? It means to function without transparency and accountability.

The Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC), which I serve, has a Board of Directors, established by messengers from NWBC-affiliated churches at our annual meeting. I am accountable to these churches through the Board they have established. The NWBC is a ministry of the churches, established by the churches, so that together they can advance the Great Commission. As such, it is vital that the Executive Director and the NWBC staff maintain the trust and goodwill of our churches. How do we do that?

First, NWBC Executive Board members are trained to understand that their primary job is to hold the executive director and staff accountable to do what we have determined to do as a convention of churches. While I’m called to provide leadership to our convention ministries, I am accountable for how I lead. Sometimes board members in the Baptist world think their primary job is to represent the convention or entity to the churches, but that is not the way the trustee system is designed to work. At every level of Southern Baptist life, board members must represent the interest of the churches to the conventions and agencies. This requires proper training, and it requires that board members be reminded of their responsibility.

Second, the NWBC maintains transparency on the budget, income and expenses. We do this in six primary ways. First, the NWBC Board of Directors is involved in composing the budget and meets corporately to discuss and vote to recommend the budget to NWBC messengers at the annual meeting. Second, the annual budget is discussed and adopted by messengers at the annual meeting. Third, the full executive board receives monthly income and expense reports from the NWBC business manager. Fourth, the Cooperative Program contributions of every participating church is reported in each issue of the NWBC Witness. Fifth, salary structures for each NWBC staff position are adopted by the NWBC Board. Sixth, and importantly, specific budget information, including income and expenses, is available to any participating NWBC church and church member. For example, if a pastor or church member wants to know how much is spent in a ministry area, that information is provided.

Third, the NWBC has policies regarding sexual harassment and abuse, and we do not use nondisclosure agreements, or non-disparagement agreements (NDAs), to hide or cover-up abuse or immoral behavior. In fact, we do not use NDAs, period. No employee or former employee has been asked to sign any agreement that prevents them from speaking privately or publicly. Personally, I have never, in 36 years of ministry, asked a staff member to sign an NDA, nor have I ever signed one. Often money is used to entice a person to sign an NDA. In my opinion, this damages trust and goodwill because it lacks transparency and sends the message that something needs the “cover of darkness.”

Fourth, performance reports and long-term trends are provided and are available. Ministry organizations like to promote and provide good news. Of course we do! We all like good news. But the performance of organizations funded by the freewill gifts of God’s people should be made public and explained, whether the information is encouraging or not. Ministry methods and strategies must always be open for discussion. We don’t debate the veracity of Scripture, but interpretation and application are a different matter. Baptists believe we must advance the Great Commission, but how we best do that, and how well we are doing that, is something that requires continual discussion.

Transparency requires that every decision made, and every dollar spent, must be open to scrutiny. Secrecy erodes trust and trust is essential for an organization to thrive. This has always been true, but in a scandal-plagued world, where ministry leaders fail and fall frequently and publicly, it is essential that we go the extra mile, and then some, to protect our ministries, reputations, and, most importantly, the name of Christ.

I am grateful that the NWBC has enjoyed six continual years of growth in mission’s giving through the Cooperative Program, and that baptisms, church starts, and the number of affiliated churches have all grown as well. We now have more than 500 affiliated churches. Our East Asia partnership has proven highly successful as hundreds of Northwest Baptists have served in East Asia, and some have moved to East Asia to serve long-term. We do not take these Great Commission advances for granted. As servants and stewards of our Lord and His churches, trustworthiness is essential if we are to continue enjoying the confidence of God’s churches.