By popular demand your humble hacker and plodder blogger was in attendance at the annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention yesterday. Actually, the reason for my presence was more marital command (my wife was in the choir for the event) than popular demand, but why quibble over the ultimate cause. I was there, eyes open, eyebrows raised, ears perked.
The meeting was dominated by the retirement of our Executive Director, Robert White, and beginning of a new ED, Thomas Hammond. White’s tenure was over a quarter century and he is an old school patrician Baptist, an indefatigible, tireless advocate for the SBC, the CP, and all of our GBMB and SBC entities. The partially hirsute Hammond (he has the requisite goatee) is a generation younger. Change is in the air. Both good men.
Dr. White isn’t going away. In fact, he’s just going down the hall to the Georgia Baptist Healthcare Ministry Foundation, an organization with a lot more money than the GBMB (something in the several hundred million in assets and which makes several million in grants each year) and a lot less staff.
I heard the best sermon I’ve heard in years from the outgoing GBC president, Mike Stone. The slight of stature, buttoned down pastor had a message on a convention in crisis was absolutely splendid, challenging, and inspiring. His intricate alliterative outline was successfully overwhelmed by his powerful delivery. He declined the traditional second term partly because he is the chairman of the SBC Executive Committee. He pastors in sand gnat country and his wife’s publicity photo has her holding a deer rifle. Kill ’em all sister, I say. Menace to drivers everywhere.
We SBCers are reflexively ironic, congratulating ourselves for good work while almost all measurable church data is declining. Over the past quarter century the population of Georgia has increased by over 50% while the number of GBC churches has inched up at about 6%. We are baptizing over a third less each year. I don’t see the state convention as the blame for this but it seems obvious that in spite of what we are saying and our mission statements the $25 million we keep in this state, mostly CP revenues, is not being used in ways that increase churches and generate baptisms. We do good things, have good people, have good programs, but growth is elusive.
Stone referenced the fact that about half of GBC churches baptize zip, zero, nada annually. Two-thirds baptize zero, one, or two souls. I don’t hold state executives responsible for this but surely someone can come up with some measures that might reduce these numbers. We get a steady diet of concerned megapastors lamenting the fact that so many thousands of SBC churches report no baptisms and I get a little weary of this. Just once I’d like to hear someone make a mention that a good part of the decline in baptisms is because we have less children. Well, I suppose it’s easier to beat up pastors and churches about evangelism than to cajole husbands and wives to do more procreating.
A few random observations:
- I always enjoy visiting with the IMB people and I chatted with a couple about the new IMB CEO and other things. Discussed how IMB trustees are sent overseas to visit our people, expenses paid by the board. I asked one of the mssys if a trustee had ever taken a trip to visit their country and mission. “Nope,” was the answer after a decade of service. This is a disgrace. I know there are a lot of people scattered all over the globe but at least once every decade a trustee should show up to visit, even if it isn’t a glamorous destination. A disgrace and a travesty to effectively say to any of our people, “Work hard…by yourselves. Don’t expect any of us to actually join you on the field in your work, though.”
- Disaster Relief has been busy in Georgia with the hurricane damage. Here’s a tip: DR, for all of the publicity it gets is a very small consumer of CP dollars. Maybe we should put more in DR and less in places that don’t show results.
- We had nominations touting both the UGA football program and that of U of Alabama. Make note folks: The two head coaches combined salary ($16 million or so) is about 2/3 of the entire GBC in-state budget. Well, both Georgia and Alabama had better years than the GBC.
- As usual, there was enough obesity to put the CDC in high anxiety. I’ll admit to contributing a few pounds to the overage but my excuse is genetic: I have a vestigial remnant of my Neanderthal ancestors that causes me to store some extra fat cells before the long winter. I hear it’s going to unusually cold this year.
- Dave Ramsey wasn’t present but still got an infomercial. They guy is a marketing powerhouse. The GBC will put tens of thousands in a partnership to be used by Georgia pastors and members of their churches. The theory is that people don’t give more because they cannot. I think that thinking is flawed. People sometimes restrict giving to their church because they don’t think the money is being used wisely. We might have better results if we looked seriously at providing value to givers instead of sending them to giving re-education camps and expecting the money flow to increase as a result. Nothing wrong with a combination approach.
- The music was scintillating. “The Great I Am” in the arrangment for the 200-voice choir and orchestra was wonderful. Puccini was on the program but got dropped. Bah humbug. I did get to hear it in rehearsal, though. Still looking for a Christian version of Gotterdammerung finale but that would require this man’s convention to feature a powerful female who screams a lot and jumps in a fire. I can think of a couple of Baptist men I’d like see cross dress followed by self-immolation.
- The men’s chorus wears tuxedos. A couple of dozen went to lunch at a nearby Chick-fil-a. As is their practice, they did an impromptu performance of the “Doxology” after dining. It was an authentic moment. Other diners stopped eating, lifted their heads to watch and smile. They were recording it with cameras and gave hearty applause when it ended. Make a note that on a day when the sun didn’t shine, birds weren’t singing, no flowers blooming, gray, dark, wet, and depressing a few people had their spirits lifted by sacred music. They went back to work and talked about it. Might be a lesson there.
- We have in Georgia a president and four, count ’em, vice presidents; a recording secretary and two elected assistants. Is being the 4th VP even resume-worthy? Egad.
- Quote of the day: Mike Stone on what to tell that obstreperous church member, “It’s easier for you to move your letter than for our pastor to move his furniture.” Uh huh.
- Likely to be repeated: Mike Stone on paying your pastor, “You ought to pay him so much the church across town can’t afford to steal him away from you.” I acknowledge that some churches like to keep pay low so the pastor doesn’t stay long.
- Sartorial award winner: They young dudebro in red leather shoes. Yeah, I saw you man. Very kewl…I think.
- Tonsorial award winner: Another young dudebro who had a crew cut except for sort of a knot on top of his forehead. Don’t know what you call that, maybe the Gerber Baby look.
- Note to aspiring megapastors: My observation is that if you take your preppy blazer and get some pressed and creased, faded jeans you’ll soon be called by a hip megachurch. Might need to work on skinnying up your posterior, though. Hey, just humble observations and putting two and two together.
See you next year.