Buckle up boys and girls, this is going to be a long one!
In the last two posts I have listed the good, the bad, and the ugly of the GCR preliminary report as I perceive it from the position of a missionary in a pioneer North American field. Certainly, we as the SBC can do a better job with the resources God has blessed us with to reach our own nation and the world with the Gospel. At the same time, what the Task Force has put forward so far is unlikely to accomplish that goal. From the beginning of this movement (which most would mark as coinciding with the “Axioms” message by Dr. Danny Akin), the rallying cry and rationale for a GCR has rested on the fact that we currently spend 98% of our resources on 5% of the world’s population. Missionaries are called and ready, but cannot be funded, and the SBC must do more to ensure that we play the role God would expect of us, relative to the resources we have, in reaching the world with the Gospel. This was the vision Dr. Akin put in front of the pastors in my association last November, and I saw those men rally quickly behind that vision. I have seen them just as quickly dismiss the GCR preliminary report because it does nothing substantive to meet this goal. How is it that a movement that started with the call to get more resources to the nations can end with a report that does very little for the nations, and in fact concentrates most of its attention on NAMB?
These are the thoughts I am left with as I ponder the implications of the preliminary report, and as I shared these thoughts with our Association’s Executive Board, one of its members bluntly asked “Joel, what would you do if you were in charge of this thing?”
As much as I hate being an armchair quarterback, there are many things I would suggest that would, I believe, make the SBC much more effective in reaching the original goal that was touted at the beginning of this movement. 1.7 billion people on our planet have never heard of Jesus. Each week, more than a million people within this population die separated from God because there is no missionary to share with them how they can be in relationship with Him. If we want to change that we can, but to utilize our resources to reach these people will require more radical moves than the Task Force has recommended. What follows are my own suggestions as to how this goal might be accomplished:
1. Changes at the North American Mission Board. In my last post, I stated that the indiscriminate “phasing out” of cooperative budgeting between NAMB and the state conventions was a bad idea. At the same time, these agreements do need to be revisited. . .ALL of them.
A. All national and jointly funded NAMB missionaries must have their roles examined in light of the new, sharper focus recommended by the Task Force. More pointedly, mission personnel must be directly involved in evangelism and the planting of New Testament churches in order to retain their benefits and any salary subsidies they receive. With NAMB having a more regional presence across North America under the Task Force’s proposal, accountability on this point will be easier to maintain. Those who work in an area outside evangelism and church planting would have their positions phased out over 3 years, starting in 2011. Assuming that this results in a 10% reduction in the cost of cooperative agreements, this would free up an additional $5 million by 2014. However, if the work is to remain "grass roots," missionaries will need to be answerable to local churches through states and associations rather than NAMB, as the Task Force is suggesting.
B. NAMB mission personnel involved in state and associational work in “new work” areas would be expected to model the same move toward non-dependency that they expect of the churches that are planted. Though I have strong differences with Jerry Rankin regarding the "supervisory" role NAMB should assume in the future, I agree with him that the same dependency on outside funding and support that handicapped international work for decades is today having the same effect in North America. (you can read his take on this here.) Independence and self-sufficiency are always to be prefered over perpetual ecclesiastical wellfare. As associations and new work state conventions plant new contributing churches, outside salary subsidies would be drawn down over a maximum period of 10 years. Associations that are more fiscally healthy—such as the one I currently lead—would be phased down over a shorter period of time. These funds would then be “recycled” through the appropriate state convention to start new associations if needed with more missionary personnel. If new associations are not needed, the funds would be converted and aimed at specific church planting strategies. Both the state conventions and associations would be eligible for these subsidies, as would multiplying local churches. In short, rather than eliminating cooperative agreements, make cooperative agreements directly available to partners at all levels of denominational life. Local churches and associations should have the same potential working relationship with NAMB as the state conventions now have, thereby assuring the indigeneity of any strategies that are implemented.
C. The NAMB facilities in Alpharetta, GA would be sold, and NAMB’s regional offices would be shared with the Georgia, Maryland/Delaware, New York, Northwest, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Colorado, and Texas Conventions respectively. In short, NAMB would be housed regionally within state convention facilities. The proceeds from the sale of the Alpharetta property would be used to ensure that adequate space is provided for both NAMB and the state convention in which they are housed, the balance would be deposited, and $1 million in interest annually could be given to the IMB.
The amounts freed up from these changes would be reallocated to the International Mission Board. Total anticipated allocation: $6 million.
2. Changes at the Seminaries: 5% of the amount currently allocated from the Cooperative Program to go to the seminaries would be reallocated to the International Mission Board. As each of the seminaries receives a different amount of the 22.16% of Cooperative Program dollars currently alloted to them collectively, any neccesary budget cuts would be proportional to the amount each seminary received. The average cut across the board would be a bit under $370,000 per seminary--much less than the average new work state convention is being asked to give up under the current proposal. While there are many ways that an academic institution can make up for a budget loss of this sort, one way would be to fill faculty needs with academically-qualified local pastors who would teach adjunctively.
The amount freed up from these changes would also be reallocated to the International Mission Board. Total anticipated allocation: $2.3 million.
3. Eliminate the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. I'll make the case for this one short and sweet. If Southern Baptists really believe that the ultimate answer to society's ills is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then let's put our money where our mouths are! While I have appreciation for the work of the ERLC, and most of the time find myself in agreement with the positions taken, I will also admit that sound political decisions are no substitute for the power of the Gospel. We learn this from the history of the Old Testament itself. King Josiah, for example, enacted wonderful, godly reforms during his rule over Judah. But without changed hearts, Judah continued in its idolatry.
Additionally, we already have SBC leaders who speak eloquently to cultural and political issues, and represent our denomination with truth and grace, chief among them being Al Mohler. Ultimately, if America is to be "saved," it will be by people repenting of their sins and coming to Jesus. That said, I'd recommend we take the monies we have invested in Republican politics for years and years, and forward it on to the International Mission Board to reach the nations.
Total allocation: $3.3 million.
4. Changes at the International Mission Board. I would cut the current number of IMB trustees in half--one per state convention is more than sufficient. (for that matter, we would probably do well to consider this same approach at every one of our SBC entities. Talk about saving money! Another conversation for another day, to be sure). Additionally, move from 6 meetings per year to 3, with only one of those meetings being "face-to-face." Twice per year trustees could meet "virtually" and the investment the IMB would make in the technology for this to happen would be minimal compared to the continual purchasing of airline tickets, hotel rooms, meals, etc. that currently cost approximately $100,000 per meeting.
Of course, the question is then asked "how will we appoint missionaries in a timely manner?" My answer to this question is for the SBC to place its trust in the candidate consultants employed by the IMB. Trustees would still set the parameters for missionary appointment, but individual appointments could be approved by IMB staff within those parameters. The past five years have revealed clearly that IMB trustees not missiologically well-informed often choose to care about the wrong things when considering missionary candidates. Employ people you trust at IMB and then trust them! The monies saved could be reallocated internally and provide needed support to missionaries.
Total allocation: $550,000.
The above suggestions, in addition to the current recommendation by the Task Force to move 1% of CP dollars from the Executive Committee to the IMB, would result in a total increase of more than $12 million dollars to reaching the nations! Of course, churches excited to see 57% of Cooperative Program dollars on their way to resource the reaching of the nations would no doubt increase their own contributions to the CP as they are able.
With this said, here is my very simple question: If the GCR was supposed to be about getting ever increasing amounts of CP dollars to the 1.7 billion who have never heard the Gospel, why then are we not seeing proposals from the Task Force that would send substantively increased amounts to the IMB? Why, after all of the noise about "the nations" is the preliminary report predominantly about the North American Mission Board?
Jerry Rankin is right to point out that the SBC could play a major role in reaching the world with the Gospel, but that our present structure suggests we don't want to. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the Task Force as they now stand do very little in my estimation to change that. My prayer is that by the final report on May 3, we will see the kind of bold, courageous, faith-filled, Christ-centered vision that those of us who voted for the GCR at last year's convention hoped to see. Let us all pray earnestly for the Task Force in these final days. Even more so, let's pray for the courage and faithfulness to do what God expects as we seek our unique role in extending His Kingdom.