There may be some trouble brewing between NAMB and the leadership in state conventions.
You may have read about this growing issue in a Baptist Press article entitled, “State Execs form NAMB study committee.” I know from a wide range of personal discussions that there are some folks who are very unhappy with the direction NAMB is taking. I’ve heard expressions of confusion, frustration, and even anger.
The problem is real, as best I can tell.
NAMB, and its predecessor HMB, have worked with state conventions on the basis of negotiated partnership agreements. There is a growing suspicion that NAMB is moving away from the partnership concept to a more centralized approach. Some feel states are being excluded from significant input into decisions that affect the way they do their work.
It is not my intent to lay blame, pick sides or level accusations. I am reporting on a problem I believe to be real, one that is becoming increasingly significant and will become a bigger issue in the future. I have had enough conversations with enough people from enough states to believe that there is the potential for trouble on the horizon between the state conventions and NAMB.
There are several things that are bothering folks out here (and, from BP reports, around the SBC).
- Some are upset at the sense that NAMB is no longer acting as a partner with state conventions, but is making unilateral changes without consultation with its partners.
- NAMB used to help in funding a wide range of ministries – social, student ministries, associational leadership, etc. They are moving to only fund church planting. This was a unilateral NAMB decision that impacts states but was not negotiated with them.
- Because of these changes, ministry positions that have relied on NAMB’s financial support are being cut.
I join with those who hope that NAMB will return to more equilateral negotiations with state conventions on issues that affect the work of those conventions. But there is something that those who are upset with NAMB’s negotiating tactics and belt-tightening must remember.
NAMB cannot print money.
Neither can the IMB. Or state conventions. Church after church in the SBC is making the decision that they can do missions better on their own than in partnership with the rest of the SBC. This seems to be especially true of larger churches. The SBC (especially during the CP years) has been built on the concept that we can do more together than we can separately. Many SBC churches no longer accept that.
And, while every Southern Baptist church has every right to do exactly that if they choose, there are consequences to that choice. The independent, “we-can-do-it-ourselves-without-the-bureaucracy” mindset is undermining our missions program. William Thornton has done a pretty good job of showing that average percentage giving to missions through the CP has fallen nearly 50% in recent years and the trend is not encouraging. The future of the Southern Baptists missions program is bleak if more churches join the growing number of do-it-yourself missions projects.
Southern Baptist entities depend on the money that is given through the CP and missions offerings. When we ignore this, we create lack on all levels of the SBC. We have to expect painful cuts coming FROM our entities when we continue to cut the offerings going TO those entities.
So, a simple solution (or, at least a good start to a solution) is to challenge churches to give sacrificially to missions through the Cooperative Program, even if it means losing a little local control. Give generously to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
We need to:
- Make sure our missions programs continue to be excellent in every way, worthy of passionate support.
- Seek to demonstrate that to convince Baptists that our missions programs have a kingdom impact that they simply cannot have when they try to do it on their own.
It is encouraging that Kevin Ezell, whose church was a prime example of the do-it-yourself model, has now seen the value of cooperative missions and is committed to promoting that concept. Hopefully, more will see the light about the effect of cooperative missions.
Unless Southern Baptist churches give more, the kind of tough decisions NAMB is making will continue to be necessary. We can bemoan cuts in various funding streams, but as long as there is a CP drought, the streams are going to slowly dry up. When churches give less, our ministries have to get along with less.
The solution is a flood of generous, sacrificial giving through the Cooperative Program and our missions offerings. Once the river is back running at full force, there will be more water for everyone. Then we can have some serious discussions about ministry priorities.
Until then, and as long as churches across the convention are buying into the idea that we can do it better separately than we can together, NAMB and every other SBC entity will continue to have to make difficult choices.
Let me sum up my simple points today:
- The foundation of the SBC missions program has been the belief that we can do missions better together than we can separately.
- The attitude that undermines SBC missions is the belief of many churches that they can do more separately than they can together.