I’ve been involved in blogging for a long time – I’m the blogging equivalent of Noah. Marty Duren, of course, is Methuselah. But as a blogger I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions about a lot of things. And I’m also a part of the workings of the Baptist Convention of Iowa.
And I think, in all of this denominational involvement, strategic discussion and methodological argument, I have come to realize what the biggest problem is that we face in steering the SBC away from the iceberg.
I spent 5 hours in the offices of the BCI Saturday in a major strategical meeting as we tried to map out the future. We generally agreed on two things at that meeting.
1) What we have been doing has not been stunningly effective. We’ve had some good leaders at the BCI (anyone who says a word against our last Exec, Jimmy Barrentine, gets a punch in the nose from me – figuratively, at least). We’ve tried. But in the last 20 years our average rate of growth has been around 3/4 of a percent annually, and we are in the same recent statistical funk as the SBC. We are baptizing fewer people now than we did in several years in the 70s and 80s when Baptist work was much, much smaller in Iowa. Southern Baptist work here is hard and there are lots of obstacles, but we’ve been on about a 3-decade plateau and that isn’t good. I would not like to calculate the amount of mission money that NAMB (and HMB) poured into this work, but we cannot swell our chests and point with (acceptable, spiritual) pride to our great success as a convention.
2) We have to change. We have to change to be effective and we have to change because as a NAMB-dependent state, changes are being forced on us. We haven’t liked all of the NAMB changes, but I am glad that our state staff and our officers are approaching this as a chance to redefine ourselves and reorganize our ministries for greater effectiveness, instead of just whining about how good the old days and the old ways were.
But, in both of these instances, in my blogging days and in our state convention wranglings, one problem we face has come up over and over again. At our executive board meeting Saturday, one pastor stated the ultimate problem. It has also been stated here in discussions about the GCR, about the name-change proposal and many other issues. Let me state is as clearly as I can.
The problems we face are, at root, problems of the heart. Nothing we can do as a state or national convention can fix the real problems that we face!
Problems in conventions are really problems with churches, which are problems with people, which are heart-issues we have not placed under the Lordship of Christ. Nothing we do structurally or strategically can fix the ultimate issue – the spiritual issue.
I thought this was one of the strongest portions of the Great Commission Resurgence report, it identified the root of our issues. The structural and strategic issues were controversial, of course. But the analysis of the problem was spot on, in my view. Why do we have convention financial problems? Simple. Southern Baptists have become more selfish and less missional, as evidenced by our trends in giving. Studies show that Christians (SBC included) are keeping approximately 97.5% of their income for themselves and only giving 2.5% to charitable causes (including churches). We can argue tithing all day, but to keep 97.5% for yourself and give 2.5% to God’s work is pure selfishness! And remember there are a lot of people who tithe or give generously, so to make 2.5% the average, there are a lot of Christians who are giving next to nothing to God’s work. Where your treasure is…
But it’s not just a Christian problem, its a church problem. Churches are keeping more and more for themselves and giving less and less to missions. I remember a time when giving 10% to missions through CP was a fairly standard thing. Today, its a miracle! According to the statistics we were shown, churches are keeping 94% of their income for themselves and sharing only 6% to all missions causes.
So people are keeping more and churches are keeping more. The selfishness of the individual which has come to be reflected in the selfishness of the church has led to major problems in the mission of the convention. Convention issues root in church issues which root in personal issues which are heart issues. We love ourselves more than we love Jesus, and that is reflected in the way we give.
So, what can we do about that as a convention? Well, pretty much nothing.
- We can reorganize to spend more on missions and less on administration.
- We can make sure we have effective leadership with integrity, vision and ability.
- We can hone better strategies to do more with less.
- We can fix what is broken and strengthen what is working.
But ultimately, we cannot fix the real issue.
That’s the frustrating part of convention work. The problems we face, the problems that really cause our statistical decline are not convention problems, but heart-issues reflected in church issues that become convention issues.
And the convention cannot fix heart issues. We can identify them, but we cannot fix them.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t try to streamline the convention or make it more effective. But I am saying that it is frustrating to talk over the BCI’s future for 5 hours, knowing that nothing we do can really work unless people’s hearts are changed and churches adopt the mission God set for us!
The hope for our convention is not a name-change (which I support). The GCR (which I thought was a great thing) isn’t going to turn things around. Its not a new program, or initiative, or strategy, or slogan (please), or anything else. Things will change when Christians who attend Southern Baptist churches die to self, bring their lives under obedience to Christ, are filled with the Spirit of God and begin to serve the Savior and the mission he gave us.
Until we do that, all of our discussions and disagreements will be in vain.