Monday, May 4, 2009

Re-imagining the SBC

I was recently able to go on a 'Vision Tour' with the Kansas-Nebraska State Convention and the Kansas City Kansas and Kaw Valley Associations. While we were visiting various mission sites, one of the missionaries we were talking with said something that struck a chord in my mind.

His name is Daniel Goombi, and he's a NAMB MSC Missionary, working with the Native American Nations in Kansas and Nebraska. He said that his work is effectively international missions, because the Nations have separate languages, cultures, and laws that govern life. Even though they are within the US, there is a major difference, and a level of autonomy within the boundaries of a Native American Nation that make it separate from our own.

This got me thinking: Why do we, as Southern Baptists, have a North American Mission Board and an International Mission Board? What purpose do the dual mission agencies serve?

Looking back, the existence of dual mission agencies makes sense in the past. Also, the some of the groups that were absorbed into NAMB back in the 1990s, like the Brotherhood Commission, the Radio and Television Commission, had purposes, and I understand their difference from the IMB.

What I wonder now is, are we running two mission agencies when we don't need them? North American Missions, in truth, can be as cross-cultural as International Missions. Don't think so? Haul a group of students from Arkansas to Maryland and see if you're right. Take white folks to a Native American Reservation, African-Americans to the rural south, Asians to many inner cities. Mix rural with urban, suburban with country, east with west, south with north.

What would we gain from this? First, we could reduce redundancies in adminstration. Rather than having 2 separate mission boards, including the large number of trustees necessary to make it happen, you go down to one. Will you still need as many support personnel? Probably so. After all, we would hope to see an increase in missionaries everywhere by this process. But, rather than transport, house, feed, inform two trustee boards would provide some savings, even if the one agency had a slightly larger board. Also, there would be the cost savings of only operating one headquarters (I think some legitimate questions exist about the locations of both of our mission agency headquarters...Richmond and Atlanta are not exactly the lowest cost areas for corporate real estate or cost of living. Neither are they centrally located. I don't have the exact numbers, but I also doubt that Richmond Airport is that much cheaper or more direct than other international airports, such as Memphis, Kansas City, or St. Louis might be.) The one-time income of selling one of these corporate centers could be used to defray relocation costs for workers that make the move.

Second, we could provide a better focus in missions education. Rather than having to conglomerate multiple sources to create missions education in our churches, we would have one source to go to.

Third, we could streamline special missions giving. There are some SBC churches that already only take one missions offering every year, and then divide it up between the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. A unified missions agency would make that a simple reality for all churches. Then, funds could be allocated strictly on the basis of need, rather than ever dealing with the unthinkable problem of some missionaries being underfunded while another agency is flush (not that we generally have that issue).

Finally, this could help some of our missionaries in the field. How? First, there are missionaries in the boomer generation who are having to leave the field to care for aging parents. This is a legitimate decision for them to make, but just because they can't care for their parents from an international location doesn't mean they couldn't from a location in North America. Take experienced, cross-cultural missionaries, and provide them the opportunity to continue their service in a cross-cultural need in America. Especially when one considers the vast ethnic diversity in America, that many nations of the world that we have missionaries serving have populations in America that are equally unreached. Second, there are those who desire to serve as missionaries, but have health issues that prevent international relocation. These individuals could serve in the US. Unfortunately, by the time they have been far enough in one agency's process to hit that wall, it's very frustrating to start over with another agency. Third, there is a streamlined recruiting process. The IMB has Candidate Consultants, Associate Candidate Consultants, and more. NAMB has their own recruiters. We could utilize one group of recruiters, rather than face competing tables in the halls of our seminaries, with NAMB and IMB folks clamoring for people's attention. Finally, there may be some that are, for a variety of non-medical reasons, unable to live and work outside of the US. They may be former government employees whose backgrounds prohibit, they may be folks that have been saved from a lifestyle that carries baggage, or they may have family issue that keep them from going overseas (for example, family in government service).

What would be the drawbacks?

Some would find a loss of buying power as a drawback. For example, in accordance with National Evangelism Initiatives, NAMB has, in the past, bought media time on behalf of all Southern Baptists. There are a few possibilities here. One is to have Lifeway handle that function. (There's the fringe benefit of not having Lifeway and NAMB competing with each other to sell evangelism materials!) Another is for state conventions to partner to make those purchases. First of all, since America is not a monolithic culture, one mass media buy is probably a very inefficient method to spread the Gospel (even the Mormons don't try to share their religion, they try and get contact info, and they don't advertise near as much as they used to). Second, what networks should we advertise on? Should we support CBS and their programming? NBC, ABC? Do we need to support Desperate Housewives with our Cooperative Program funds? (it's a two-sided argument: lost people watch these shows, and need to hear. But the money from ads help make those shows.) Regional/state purchases, focused on local networks and local ratings guides, could be more impactful. So, while this might be a drawback, it could be avoided.

Second, we have many NAMB missionaries that are not fully-funded, but funded in partnership with state/regional conventions. Could there be issues with having some missionaries fully funded and some not? Possibly. I'd rather see us solve that problem by fully funding any missionary serving the Southern Baptist Convention. I can't imagine the difficulty that some of the MSC folks have in raising support, given that we raise people in the SBC to think that we support our missionaries through the Cooperative Program, so they don't have to raise funds. Then somebody shows up to raise funds. It's confusing.

Third, would we risk neglecting an area? Even with 11,000+ total missionaries, we'll miss someone. This is why our mission agencies even now are directed day-to-day by dedicated administrators and executives, but have a board to watch over them, because we all need help maintaing balance in our perspective.

Is it necessary that we do this? Perhaps, perhaps not. Have I missed some opportunities and drawbacks? Certainly. Is this a complete plan? Goodness, no. There are points of how to make this work that will need to be developed by people that understand better how our two boards work. I'd think there is a way to allow nationally collected CP funds to roll back to State Conventions within North America, and allow those state agencies to handle them, to have the state conventions function as regional leadership, as the people who are on the ground, engaged with the culture, and to entrust them with the mission and some of the resources to do it.

This would be a foundation of a Global Mission Board, dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel to All People Everywhere.

How else would I re-imagine the SBC? To be honest, I'd eliminate the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. I think we're about to the point of not trying earthly methods to influence the American government. We need to pray, and our local churches can organize whatever grassroots movements they would like, but with the various Christian political groups around today, I'm not convinced we need our own lobbyist. Missionary in DC? Absolutely! But I think it's time to realize that our political processes are not going to come back to a Biblical viewpoint without a national revival, which is not going to come from Capitol Hill or the White House.

I'd look at ways for Seminaries to partner with state Baptist colleges for ministry training, to reduce the 'total relocation' method of theological education. Moreover, a better partnership is necessary between churches and seminaries to provide both classroom and practical training.

What about the name? I'm not sure what I'd rename the SBC. Anything short of "World Baptists" or "Global Baptists United" would be excluding some of our target population, but until we will invest in the resources to allow distance participation in annual meetings (which we could do), we dare not call ourselves that. On that, we need to do that. More and more, every year, the SBC seems to consist of pastors and their families that have travel budgets. In fact, for the first time in 14 years of SBC service, I'll be going this year, because I now serve a church with the means to help with the expenses. The SBC is going to become an ecclesiastical conclave, and it should not be that. We have access to the technology to host multi-site conventions, and should look at doing so. We'd have to reduce some of the theme interpretations, some of the sermons, and some of the reporting would need to be done more in text than orally. But, since the Resolutions committee prepares their report before the convention now, that could be distributed. Rather than bringing all of the people to the same place, people could be dispersed--Jerry Rankin could be one place, Morris Chapman another, Geoff Hammond a third, and Thom Rainer could tweet the whole thing! The business sessions could be unified, use a digital reporting system, and simulcast the President's Sermon each year. The whole thing could be done on one Saturday, allowing more participation from the people. And that would be necessary if we're going to call ourselves more than just Southern Baptists.

What are your thoughts? What have I missed? Because there's a lot to think through as Southern Baptists. We have tremendous opportunities, and tremendous resources. Let's use the best of them!

Now, a little disclaimer: I am NOT anti-SBC. I've been in the SBC all of my life, except 3 years my family was in the Philippines when we went to the Clark Air Base Chapel. I have a degree from a state Baptist College, and credit from a seminary run by SBC folks. I'm SBC baptized, licensed, and ordained. But we need to think about these things. Recently, Lifeway did a survey (well, I guess it was Lifeway--I think Ed Stetzer's name was on it) about how Pastors feel about the CP. It was found that we pastors overwhelming support the Cooperative Program. I do, but I think we could find ways to streamline our use of CP funds. It's still, in my understanding, the best, most efficient way to fund reaching the world, but that doesn't make it perfect. That was the problem with that survey---to protect anonymity, it was all multiple choice questions, without the opportunity to respond open-endedly. It was a good survey, but don't overapply it. I have happily served churches in the SBC that run under 200, which are the bread and butter of the SBC. And most folks are glad to know what the CP does, but there is a general acceptance that it could always be improved, and that there is always a need for more, clear information getting back to churches. We need to consider these things, and act on them.


  1. Wade on out there, Brother !!

    Part of being a good steward is re-evaluating how we do things. Your suggestions make a lot of sense.

  2. I never left a comment on this, but I wanted to let you know that I love some of the things you're thinking. Great thoughts. Sounds like we're overdue for a java?


To deal with SPAM comments, all comments are moderated. I'm typically willing to post contrary views...but I also only check the list once a day, so if you posted within the last 24 hours, I may not be to it yet.

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