The most amazing thing about Southern Baptist life is how we seem to keep so many entities, programs, and initiatives slogging along for decades and scores of years in spite of great changes in society, church life, and giving patterns and amounts. Consider my use of the word “extinction” to be an example of blogging license. I don’t think I will live to see any of these actually go extinct but there are legitimate questions about their value and relevance for now and the future.
The Annual Church Profile
It’s that time, brethren. Actually, past that time to gather up your data for the dreaded Annual Church Profile. How many did you baptize? How much money did you collect? What’s your membership? How many members did you lose? Was your giving to denominational offerings average, above average, or pathetic?
It’s tough to speak of extinction when around 80% of SBC churches file the ACP. We expect to see ACP promo articles around this time of the year. Here is one from North Carolina, a particularly well done piece in that they quote a certain blogger.
The ACP is alternatively said to have either lower participation than ever or increasing levels of participation by the churches. In that most articles about the ACP attempt to persuade churches of its value, one suspects that the participation rates will be declining.
I’ve heard pastors explain that they dropped it because they were no longer willing to subject their church and personal ministry to being held up to criticism for certain reported metrics – baptisms, receipts, Cooperative Program giving, etc. I’ve heard pastors declare that some information requested (mainly financial) is simply not anyone else’s business. Besides, what is given through the state convention is reported separately.
The ACP, specifically CP giving percentages, is used in our elections and trustee appointments. What happens when outstanding, high-achieving pastors and laypeople in growing and vibrant SBC churches who do not file the ACP are considered for denominational offices, leadership roles, and trustee appointments? They will be asked for certain information and can control the data they use to answer. The ACP cannot be used as a club against certain churches and pastors if it isn’t available for use.
The denominational people tout the ACP as a tool to help churches. I read that the ACP enabled associations, state conventions, and the SBC to check on churches after Hurricane Katrina. Odd, one would have thought that any local association would know who their members are without an ACP. State conventions, an entity that some say lacks a clear future in SBC life and one that has endured years of declining support, declare the ACP to be indispensable in their strategic planning and in helping churches. It is not altogether clear that whatever they have been using to help churches has registered any level of efficacy.
Add the fact that some state conventions rebel against certain questions (Great Commission Giving is the best current example) and retool the form so as not to ask for data comparable to other states and one can see that the ACP faces a more difficult future.
Nonetheless, I’m told that our statistical reporting is the envy of other denominations. Maybe so, but I suspect that many pastors have less and less enthusiasm for reporting on the ACP.
State Baptist newspapers
My state paper, The Christian Index, just did something almost unthinkable in SBC life. It announced major changes in which (a) it will cease actually printing a paper, and, more significantly (b) the trustee board will disband. The Index will be strictly a web-based product, free, and part of the state convention administrative structure and responsibility. In other words, the Index is no longer an independent news source but rather an in-house organ of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Printing and mailing the Index was a $320,000 expense. Poof, it’s gone.
Thirty-five years ago when I was in seminary, reading the various state papers was informative. Each was a bit different and few people other than those around Baptists libraries had access to more than one or two. Things have changed. There are old codgers like me who enjoy actually holding a printed paper, with real ink, and hearing the rustle of pages as they are turned. As for consuming news, the physical paper is unnecessary. Circulation has been declining for a long, long time. I can think of very few news items reported by state papers that aren’t available elsewhere, quicker. I couldn’t justify the Cooperative Program subsidies just to supply a printed paper to the declining audience of mostly older folks.
Whether or not The Index or other state papers can gather and increase readership with their online product, and produce the advertising revenues from such, I do not know. I’m not optimistic. We will see.
Let’s see. Baptist Press is an in-house product of the SBC Executive Committee. My state paper will become an in-house product of the state convention. Wherever will a Baptist go to find news that will be ignored or not carried by either of these? Likely they will go to the news feeds of several religiously oriented national outlets. More Baptist specific stories from Baptist News Global and/or any state Baptist paper which chooses to be an independent voice. I don’t know if there will continue to be state papers that will do much more than report church news and ministerial changes.
Consider it good, bad, or neutral but a considerable number of the brethren/sistren get news relevant to the SBC from, ugh, blogs and bloggers.
The three-year MDiv degree
I have an Masters of Divinity degree. The parchment recognizing the same cost me three full school years and one intense summer and a considerable sum of money in lost wages and actual tuition costs. I do not regret the expense, the relocation, or the study but I do scratch the old noggin over some of the coursework that was required of me for which I have not had the least use as a pastor.
Would I in 2015 embark on the road towards that gold standard of Christian ministry, the MDiv degree? I’m not sure.
If asked for advice from a young colleague about such things I’m not sure what counsel I would give him. I don’t know that churches are as savvy and demanding about the level of education their pastor must have as they once were. I don’t know if the degree has significantly more value than less expensive, less time consuming degrees.
Would I borrow money and relocate to pursue the degree? Probably not.
The average SBC church is a single staff congregation with a hundred or so in worship on a given Sunday. Do they need educated, trained clergy? Yes. Do they need a college graduate with three years of post-graduate study? Probably not.
Will seminaries voluntarily reduce their revenues to provide an adequate education for pastors, prospective pastors and other Christian workers? Probably not. But if institutions can market themselves successfully and we in America have such affluence that we can all have divinity degrees then things may rock along as usual until seminaries price themselves out of the market and/or the Cooperative Program is reduced to a level insufficient to prop up six separate institutions all offering similar degrees.
The future has a definite Darwinian cast to it in regard to our six seminaries…but there are many who know a lot more than I on this subject.
I’m curious about a few things concerning my brethren here:
- Do you file the ACP? Completely? Partially? Not at all? Why?
- Do you read your state Baptist paper and do you think it has value and relevance to you and your church?
- What are your thoughts about the MDiv degree as the standard for pastoral ministry? Too many hours required? Too expensive? About right?