Originally published at From Law to Grace on March 30, 2011.
I’ve never visited Alpharetta, Georgia, the home of the former North American Mission Board and the newly reinvented NAMB. However, it appears that there must be some glitch in the time-space continuum that causes not only months, but years, to accelerate at an astronomical rate. How else to explain how 90 days turned into two weeks or, more recently, how seven years suddenly became 10 months.
There must be some logical explanation for the time warp that the new NAMB appears to be stuck in. When Dr. Kevin Ezell was elected President of the new North American Mission Board, he told Dr. Ed Stetzer that he would take the first three months on the job to get the lay of the land:
I know there are a lot of expectations, but I want to take the first 90 days and just listen. (Stetzer interview with Ezell here)
In less than two weeks as President of the new NAMB, Dr. Ezell started making significant changes. You know what they say about time and having fun? As departments were consolidated and long-time employees “who were already thinking about retirement” were offered incentives to retire early, President Ezell announced — prior to the end of his listening tour — that even more radical changes were on the way:
“There is going to be considerable change,” Ezell said. “A lot of the changes will not be directed to competency of people because we are going to be doing some things so drastically different. What does that look like specifically, I don’t know yet. But we are working on that as fast as we can.”
Even as Dr. Ezell hedged on what the drastic changes were going to look like, he knew before the end of 90 days that the changes would be so radical that he likened the “changes coming to NAMB to a company that had been making washing machines and now will be making cars.”
One does not need to be the engineer on the Star Ship Enterprise to figure out that the speed at which the new NAMB appears to be traveling will result not just in a bumpy ride, but could well cause the disintegration of the Convention as we know it.
That the leadership at the new NAMB has moved so quickly to completely rebuild a new vehicle whose seats will be filled with nearly 100% church planters — everyone else will either be booted off the bus entirely or relegated to sit in a few seats in the back of the bus — should come as no surprise, even though the GCRTF’s Final Report called for
“at least 50% of the ministry efforts of our North American Mission Board be given to assist churches in planting healthy, multiplying and faithful Baptist congregations in the United States and Canada.” (GCRTF Final Report, page 10)
I know that “at least 50%” could mean more than half. But, no one can credibly argue that “at least 50%” means that church planting should receive upwards of 80-90% of NAMB funding. I have heard from reliable sources that this is exactly what NAMB’s understanding and implementation of the 50% number will be in reality. For the leaders of the new NAMB to so stretch the meaning of that phrase much beyond 60% for church planting would not only violate the spirit, intent, and language of the Final Report, but it would also strain credulity.
However, if the new NAMB’s leadership — Dr. Ezell and the Board of Trustees — are willing to disregard the 50% mark for church planting, then they are apparently even more willing to completely re-interpret what the number seven means.
On February 9, 2011, the Trustees of the new NAMB voted to implement sweeping changes to one of Southern Baptists’ two missions sending agencies. NAMB President Kevin Ezell described the changes:
“This is a massive overhaul,” Ezell said. “We believe it’s going to be an historic overhaul.”
While no one that I know of has argued against bringing needed changes to NAMB, there has been much concern over the scope and the timing of the proposed changes, particularly in light of the GCR Final Report and Recommendations relating to strategic partnership agreements between NAMB and the various Baptist State Conventions. After Cooperative Program money is forwarded to the SBC from the various State Conventions, NAMB — a recipient of CP funds — returns a portion of the money to the States to help pay for jointly funded missionaries.
The GCRTF, in their Final Report, said this about the existing cooperative agreements and future strategic partnership agreements:
Nevertheless, we are convinced that the Cooperative Agreements must be replaced with a more appropriate structure and pattern of cooperation. Thus, we call for the leadership of the North American Mission Board to budget for a national strategy that will mobilize Southern Baptists in a great effort to reach North America with the Gospel and plant thriving, reproducing churches. We encourage NAMB to set a goal of phasing out all Cooperative Agreements within seven years (emphasis added), and to establish a new pattern of strategic partnership with the state conventions that will penetrate lostness and ensure greater responsiveness to the Southern Baptist Convention and greater effectiveness for NAMB in the appointment of missionary personnel and church planters. (GCRTF Final Report, page 11)
Also at the NAMB Trustees’ Meeting in February, Dr. Ezell
indicated NAMB hopes to have new integrated strategic partnership agreements signed with each state convention by the end of March.
Might I ask, “March of what year?” March of 2011? Now, I’m no math whiz or Federation engineer (although my last name is Scott), but when did a seven year phase-out become a 10 month phase-out and phase-in? Oh, wait. That’s right. Ten months is “within” seven years. How could I have missed that. There’s just one slight problem with that math — the Progress Report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, issued on February 22, 2010, originally called for a four year phase-out:
Our vision is that the North American Mission Board is to free at least 25% of the cooperative budgets annually in order to penetrate the lostness of North America more effectively. Each partner will be considered individually, rather than collectively. Therefore, at the end of these four years, the North American Board will be completely free from these present agreements. It is understood that state conventions will manage their budgets accordingly. (GCRTF Progress Report, pages 21-22)
Dr. Ezell must not have a clue as to how the State Conventions work. Most Executive Boards, such as the one I serve on for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, meet quarterly. Our next meeting will be the third week in April. It would be impossible for the BCNM to sign a new strategic partnership agreement by the end of this March, even if we wanted to.
In all likelihood, what should have been a seven year phase-out has been accelerated to the original four year time frame, in violation of the intent, spirit, language, and “legislative history” of the GCR Final Report and Recommendations. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that the leadership at the new NAMB was intentionally trying to put State Conventions between a rock and a hard place if not out of business altogether.
What draconian cuts will State Conventions like the BCNM be faced with, even in year one of a supposed
seven four year phase-out? What jointly funded missionaries (59 individuals or couples) in our state will NAMB no longer fund because they don’t plant churches? Will our Collegiate leader have to be let go? What about our Student and Children’s leaders, both jointly funded between NAMB and the BCNM? Actually, since this post was first published on March 30, 2011, the Baptist Convention of New Mexico — one of those western states that the new NAMB was supposed to be concerned about — has been informed that the new strategic partnership agreement calls for an initial cut of 20% or $221,443 of the new NAMB’s funding to the BCNM beginning in 2012. (Be sure to read Executive Director Joe Bunce’s take on it in the Baptist New Mexican online)
Perhaps as the new strategic partnership agreements are rolled out, State Conventions will come to understand — perhaps the hard way — that they will have to “manage their budgets accordingly.” Truer words could not have been written. In two weeks, the BCNM Executive Board, of which I am a member, will meet to discuss the new strategic partnership agreement and how it will affect the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist churches in the Land of Enchantment. Let’s just say that we will be listening to and following our leaders, but they do not reside in Nashville or Alpharetta!
Our church has generously contributed to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. Those missionaries include some of the finest men and women that I have known, both here in the Land of Enchantment and around this great country. They are about fulfilling the Great Commission — which is not just church planting, but so much more. It saddens me to think that this year may be the last year that our church forwards 100% of the Easter Offering to the new NAMB. If 20% of the BCNM funding that it receives from the new NAMB is cut in 2012 (which appears to be the case), then I will ask our Budget and Finance Committee and our Missions Development Committee to “manage our church budget accordingly.” That means that most or all of our annual Annie Armstrong offering will stay in the state of New Mexico, to help fund missionaries who are trying to reach a population that is 90% lost.
The GCR tells us that the local church is both primary and central in the life of the SBC. In other words, the buck stops at the local church. Besides, we can direct our giving away from the new NAMB and help our local association and the BCNM and still call it “Great Commission Giving.” If it worked for the President of the new NAMB, then by golly it can work for our church as well!