Monday, April 12, 2010

GCR Response, Part II: The Things that Puzzle Me.

The GCR Task Force was charged last year with recommending ways that Southern Baptists can do our work more effectively. In my last post I pointed out several things about their preliminary report that made me glad to have voted in favor of this approach. In this post, I'd like to address a few things that both trouble and puzzle me. They trouble me because, as a missionary in the field, the potential damage that could befall our work in North America as a result of some of their recommendations seems plain to me. They puzzle me because the folks I know personally on the task force are good and wise people, and I'm trying to understand why they too don't see the weaknesses in certain parts of their report.

1. The Centralized "de-centralization" of NAMB; I mentioned in the last post that I was in favor of the task force's recommendation that the North American Mission Board be de-centralized. The problem with the preliminary report is that the exact opposite is what will take place. There seems to be an assumption that if NAMB is relocated to seven areas of North America that the entity will be automatically decentralized. But geographic relocation alone does not constitute decentralization. In fact, when one looks at the other recommendations dealing with the phasing out of Cooperative Agreements and the direct appointment of all missions personnel by NAMB, it becomes clear that the goals of the task force are not matched by their proposed plans in this area. In the end, if these proposals are realized, it will not result in true decentralization. The consolidation of money, power, and personnel into one denominational missions board is a "centralizing" move. I'll deal with what true decentralization looks like in my next post, but for now, I'll simply say that it looks nothing like what the Task Force has proposed.

2. The Indiscriminate Phasing out of Cooperative Agreements and Budgets; This proposal has received the most attention, and rightly so. For one thing, we can certainly do cooperative budgeting better, and I'm all in favor of a total renegotiation of ALL budget agreements in light of the new emphases the task force is recommending for NAMB. At the same time, the recommendation to simply "phase out" these agreements across North America would mean the elimination of more than 1700 missionary personnel in NEW WORK AREAS. While some would certainly be retained by NAMB under the new system, it is almost certain that many would not due to the financial restraints that would accompany a strategy in which NAMB could no longer count on state conventions and associations to contribute significant percentages of financial support to its mission force.
Fortunately, the Task Force makes the assumptions behind this recommendation clear in their preliminary report:
-They assume that all state conventions are essentially the same.
-They assume that much of the $50 million now being funneled through cooperative agreements is being wasted on "state and associational employees," and that if that $50 million could just be turned back over to NAMB, it would automatically be invested in "reaching North America for Christ." The irony of that assumption is that I work with many of those "state and associational employees" in an area that is 80% unchurched, and more than 90% non-evangelical. In the past five years, more than 100 new churches have been planted in this area. Ours has been hailed as one of the better church planting support systems in North America, and our assessment process is unmatched anywhere else on this continent. I'm honestly not sure why anyone would consider an investment that resulted in those things a "waste."
-They assume that state conventions are the only entities where "waste" occurs. The obvious belief of the Task Force is that as long as states have a say in how $50 million North American missions dollars are spent, the money will be wasted, but if NAMB controls it all, it will be invested well. Isn't this the same entity that spent $250,000 on a fire truck? I'll let the reader figure this one out, because I simply can't get my head around it.
-They assume that NAMB is better equipped to design church planting strategy than state conventions and local associations. Yet recent research has substantiated that evangelical Christianity is on the rise in the northeast, northwest, and other new work areas (see map here). Much of the reason for this has to do with the fact that NAMB, states, and associations all understand their respective roles. NAMB, rather than prescribing strategy, has developed strategic frameworks, and states and associations have, in turn, developed contextual church planting strategies that fit within that national framework.
To be sure, every single cooperative agreement should be revisited, and either continued, phased out, or adjusted based on NAMB's new focus. But to phase out all financial arrangements indiscriminately will not result in forward progress in North American church planting, and in fact may roll us back a few years while NAMB seeks to catch up to what we have been doing.
Of course, I'm not the first to point out these facts, and I'm aware of how the contention over this point has been answered by those in favor of cooperative agreement phase-outs. In fact, the rancorous way in which the responses have come has surprised me . . .

-"So it seems we value the status quo over getting the Gospel to the nations."
-"It appears the job of a denominational beaurecrat is more important than an unreached people group on the other side of the world."

As inaccurate as such politically-charged rhetoric is, these statements might actually have some merit, were it not for the fact that NONE of the $50 million is prescribed by the Task Force to be redirected to the nations. It is simply being moved from the state to the national level, but staying in North America. As such, the charge that we are choosing status quo over the nations has no foundation. On this point, the Emperor is indeed naked!

Personally, I'd be highly in favor of part of that $50 million making its way into an investment in international missions, and in my third installment, I'll make some suggestions as to how this could happen. But the current recommendations merely reallocate money that stays in North America. And if I may be so bold as to channel a thought from Timothy George a generation ago, the reallocation of millions of dollars from one denominational beauracracy to another doth not a Great Commission Resurgence make.

3. No Substantive Increase in International Missions Giving. While I'm appreciative of the Task Force making an additional 1% of CP dollars available for the International Mission Board, I'm both puzzled and dissapointed that what started as a rallying cry to "reach the nations" has only resulted in a $3 million increase (which, incidentally, is what the IMB spends yearly on trustee meetings. Maybe the state conventions aren't the only place where fat can be cut.)
To be honest, my most visceral reaction to the report came upon hearing the proposed increase. After all the noise that was made over the past year about getting more resources to the nations (noise that I agree with, and joined in on), I could only think to myself "Only 1%?!? Are you kidding me?!?!?!" Additionally, when one considers what it may cost for the IMB to assume its new responsibility of helping engage unreached peoples on American soil, a $3 million increase seems more like a pentalty than an increase.
I'm truly excited that 51% of Cooperative Program dollars are now going to fund international missions. At the same time, we can do much, MUCH better. In my final post on this subject, I'll suggest some ways in which we could see, not $3 million, not $6 million, but instead $15-$20 million additional dollars on their way to the unreached peoples of the world.

Let me reiterate the respect I have for each member of the GCR Task Force, and the recognition I have for the hard work they have already done. I certainly do not envy them. Additionally, I believe they are listening to Southern Baptists across North America, and I'm holding out hope that the final report will be something around which all of us can unite, and that will actually increase our effectiveness in reaching the world with the Gospel. Many of their recommendations are helpful, but in the end, shuffling $50 million from the state to the national level, and reallocating 1% in CP gifts from the Executive Committee to the IMB is simply not enough. In my next post, I'll suggest some alternative approaches.


Lee Peoples said...

Joel, thanks for the post. I agree overall with the GCR report. However I share many of the same concerns that you do. My thoughts are with NAMB adjustments, are we really just changing one big system to create another big system? Church planting does not need to come solely from NAMB. It first needs to start at the local church level, then move "up" the ladder. The whole SBC is to strong at the top right now, and weak at the local level. Also I am not in favor of phasing out the state partnerships. This needs to really be thought through. There has to be a better way than a complete elimination of those funds over a period of time. Good post!

Joel Rainey said...

Lee, thanks for your comments. I have an earlier post that deals with the things I love about the GCR report that I hope you will check out as well.

Terry Felton said...

Is this entire report ultimately 'much ado about nothing'? This thought isn't original with me.

Joel Rainey said...

If I am correct that the whole point of this Task Force (at least their primary objective) was to get more resources out of North America and reach the nations, then yes, I would agree that this report is "much ado about nothing" because the recommendations don't accomplish that goal.

When Danny Akin was here with our pastors in November, he cited a chilling statistic: that only 2% of the monies given to SBC churches is invested in the nations. The other 98% never leaves the United States. A vision that includes substantive increase in that amount is something our guys would rally around quickly. Unfortunately, the token amount suggested by the Task Force simply doesn't do the job.