There are two main targets in SBC life these days, Russell Moore and the ERLC and Kevin Ezell and the North American Mission Board. In regard to the latter, NAMB is incessantly criticized for their spending policies. A few observations:
NAMB designed and manages successful national SBC programs in the area of church planting and relief services. Critics would have Southern Baptists believe these are utter failures. The criticisms are often vicious and self-serving. Data used are often fuzzy or false. Numbers have been manipulated in regard to church planting for decades, particularly pre-Ezell. I’ve served in states where anecdotal evidence of funny church plant numbers was rampant. Some alleged plants were merely budget supplements to an established church. Some were grants to connected individuals more or less as a simple income infusion. Some were totally phantom plants. All current NAMB plants are connected to an established SBC church. Some succeed. Some fail. It’s a tough business.
Church planters, seems to me, feel highly valued these days. It hasn’t always been so. Here’s my executive summary of pre-SEND church planting philosophy: Here, potential planter, we’ll give you a little training and the toss you out where you think you can make it and give you three years of modest financial support. After that, you’re on your own. Going from memory, NAMB now has a planter sponsor system, a farm system of a sort for potential planters. NAMB has given grants to all planters to establish a retirement account, has given planters one-time supplements in times of need, has made it possible for planters in some high cost markets to have a decent place to live. Then there was the planter, some no-name, unconnected, selfless servant whose mortgage was paid off by NAMB. In the past, it was a part of the fabric of SBC life that planters would complain about the level of support. Anecdotal, but I don’t hear that at the same level today.
There’s a reason NAMB has these huge SEND rallies: Planters and churches are enthusiastic about the system. Contrast that with anything comparable in SBC life right now.
There’s a reason NAMB’s national Annie Armstrong offerings have been very strong: people believe in what they are doing
NAMB trustees know exactly what they are doing, something not evident in past years. My criticism of NAMB is that they aren’t doing a good enough job countering the loud voices of a few critics. NAMB trustees unanimously affirm cooperation, mission strategy of leadership. “NAMB is doing exactly what we’ve been assigned to do, and we are doing it with laser focus and with an incredibly high sense of stewardship for every penny that has been entrusted to NAMB.”
You’ve got to understand the code words of critics. NAMB has undermined and ignored “historic partnerships” and complain that “collaboration and harmony” are unknown these days. It is lamented that NAMB is slashing evangelism budgets in some states. “Reduced investments” by NAMB is states is ignoring the “context and cultures” of many states while implementing a “centralized structure” etc. etc. All these are code for this: NAMB is spending Southern Baptist churches gifts in ways they think is effective. The talk about cooperation and partnership is code for: “NAMB is no longer giving us money for centralized staff positions, buildings, and administrative support.”
The thrust of critics seems to be an all-out push to return to the status quo ante; that is, let’s fund staff in every place but not worry too much about effectiveness of efficiency in spending funds. As a result, non-performance was standardized and normalized. We have put millions in many areas for years where data show few or no additional believers or churches. Are we funding an evangelism staff positions or DOMs, or a state executives in pioneer states and have little to show for it after decades? Is it our de facto philosophy to claim as success the mere fact that we have paid staff in all these places?
SBC metrics have been declining for generations and this not as a result of the Great Commission Resurgence. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is the motto of critics. They drown a few legitimate gripes with this tsunami about the GCR.
The SBC did vote overwhelmingly to adopt the GCR which gave NAMB the impetus and approval to spend and control their own money rather than throw it around all the state conventions. The convention can vote to undo it if they wish. Critics can gripe either way. No vote needed for that.
The mid-20th century strategy of establishing administrative structures, state conventions and DOMS in cookie cutter fashion all over North America doesn’t seem current with the times.
I’ll freely state here that all the individuals that serve in these outlying states are wonderful people.
Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry, is the title of a 2007 book by former NAMB employee Mary Branson. It dealt with the pre-Ezell NAMB. So far as I know NAMB doesn’t pay for ice sculptures nor charter jets overseas to movies. I read the book when it came out. Gave it to a deacon in my church who was incensed about what NAMB was doing with our offerings.
The NAMB logo, seen in both the featured image for this article and at the top of the article, is the cleanest and best in the SBC. LifeWay seems to have knocked off Komatsu for their new logo. Above my pay grade.
There have been loud calls for a “forensic audit” for NAMB and other SBC entities. I suggest that we start with state conventions for forensic audits. That’s where the money is. My state did an audit, not a forensic audit, just a regular one. Here is what they found: “…longstanding practice of consistent cash overspend for non-budgeted items.” It was ugly but that’s the way we did things here in the Peach State.