Tom Law is the interim executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa. He was brought in after our previous executive retired and is trying to help us restructure and refocus our ministries here in Iowa. He is, to say the least, an expert in how NAMB policies are affecting state conventions.
On March 19, 2012, Kevin Ezell wrote an article titled “CHURCHES, NOT INFRASTRUCTURE, BEST WAY TO REACH NEW AREAS”. This was his attempt to outline the strategy which the North American Mission Board (NAMB) was implementing with regards to the State Conventions that relate to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). These new relational mechanisms were most pointedly focused at the State Conventions outside the South. Since then the “new work” states have been scrambling to understand how this will affect them, most particularly in the area of funding and staffing.
The irony is that I have not spoken with one State Executive Director who disagrees with Kevin with regards to the need for redesigning state infrastructure. Most had come to this conclusion and were in the process of restructuring. In fact, just the week before this document become public I had shared the same concepts with our state leadership as we began designing a new structure for Iowa. Therefore, the difference is not in the concept but in the implementation.
The current structure has been seventy years in the making. It was the best missiology available at the time and seemed the way to get things done more effectively and efficiently. Changing this in a year or even a few years is difficult and will require a lot of working together. That, in fact, is what I am hearing from the State Execs. Kevin stated “Being a missions agency also requires us to think in missiological ways.” The state conventions, especially the “new work” conventions” need a “missions agency” that will help them think “missiologically” developing strategies together that will be transformative.
What I feel we are experiencing is an organization that has decided that planting new congregations is the solution to all of the problems. Although I think that church planting is part of the equation I think that the problem goes much deeper. In fact, I think that it is a discipleship issue, but that is a topic for another article. NAMB, in spite of its denial, is becoming a Church Planting Network and just like the carpenter whose only tool is a hammer NAMB sees every problem as a “nail.” This does not work in carpentry and it certainly does not work in God’s Kingdom.
Unfortunately, Kevin Ezell and NAMB are going down the same road that their predecessor traveled some 70 years ago. Kevin correctly pointed out, “Historically, when Southern Baptists began work in North America outside the South, we sought to replicate state convention structures just like we have in the South. Thus, the same staffing model would be present in both places.” Yet we currently have a push being developed and promoted by those same southern boys who think that they know what’s best for the rest of the country.
There are at least three things wrong with the current strategy.
- Although the NAMB leadership is correct that the cities have become a magnet for people and are growing at the expense of the rest of the country they are promoting old strategies that have proven fruitless in years past. The most obnoxious of these strategies is thinking that throwing money at a problem will solve it.
- The primary question being asked is how many of the resources that are being sent to a “new work” area can be redistributed into church planting and how fast can we accomplish this. No real missiology has gone into this approach other than blindly accepting that more new church plants will automatically produce a healthier convention.
- Finally, rather than come alongside the state conventions to discover what is best in the culture in which the churches are to be planted they have proposed that the “new work” areas generate more funds or redirect funds that are currently coming to pay for outsiders to plant churches in cultures they do not understand using methods that have worked elsewhere but have not proven effective in the places where the planters now works. Although NAMB “tips its hat” at the missiological imperative of indigenous workers it has ramped up the numbers before helping us establish mechanisms to discover, train and launch those indigenous planters, therefore, forcing us to rely on outsiders in order to “hit” their numbers (notice I said their numbers not our numbers).
As I have observed the landscape in the “new work” arena I have discovered a few things that are not being addressed by this new strategy.
1) NAMB has focused on getting more church plants started. It has been decided that the best way to accomplish this task is to put more money into direct support of church planters. This allows for more church planters to be recruited and paid to plant churches. But we don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to support this process much less to make it replicable.
a) Although state conventions in the “new work” areas have been around for as long as 70 years in many places they are still dependent on outside (NAMB) funding and outside personnel. We have not done enough to create the leadership pipeline (or farm club) that will produce the indigenous church planters and church leaders necessary to make church planting replicable.
b) This new strategy only exacerbates the problem by suggesting that we need to make more money available to bring in more people from the outside to plant more churches that in all likelihood will fail in short order because they do not have any indigenous roots. The money will run out. The winters will be too cold for the southern boys. The people too slow to respond and the freshly minted church planter will return to the south where the picking’s are easier (or at least they think they are).
c) Finally, artificial countrywide goals for church planting have been determined without any consideration as to whether there are people to do the planting or places in which to plant churches.
2) So, although we do not need “state infrastructure” like we have in the south we do need some kind of systematic way of developing local leaders, discovering which of these leaders can become planters, promoting their indigenous planting efforts, and helping them develop other church planting leaders whom their churches can send out.
3) Finally, we in the “new work” states need a “missions agency” not a church planting network that promotes church planting and develops “exponential” or “catalyst” type gathering to rally the troop. This missions agency would:
a) Come alongside the state conventions in the new work areas to help us think strategically and missionally using good missiology. There is a world of difference between coming alongside to help and informing to instruct. The latter is what we have now; the former is what we need.
b) Help us know how to restructure and streamline our organizational processes in order to make them more effective and efficient rather than simply saying that NAMB is no longer going to “fund” infrastructure. It takes a level of infrastructure for cooperative program funds to flow both ways. It takes a level of infrastructure to make sure church plants are initiated properly, assessed adequately, held accountable, and who produce disciples that develop disciples and plant new congregations. It takes a measure of infrastructure to cast a vision, challenge the status quo, and draw the churches together to do more as a coordinated body than we can as independent entities.
- i) Help us find those mechanisms for connecting our people with the larger Southern Baptist family so that they do not feel they are living and working in isolation.
- ii) Help us discover ways of collaborating across state lines so that we can pool our resources and not have to “reinvent the wheel” in each of our locales.
- iii) Help us discover ways to doing more with less as the funds are withdrawn from infrastructure and invested in church planting.
c) Help us discover or devise replicable systematic discipleship processes that will produce disciples who disciple others who in turn disciple others and so forth. What we have now is a push to plant new congregations thinking that this will be the panacea that solves all of our problems.
d) Help us discover and devise church planting models that are culturally applicable to our environment and appropriate to penetrate the lostness.
e) Not only have a church planting network but help us connect to the dozens of strong evangelical church planting networks around the country that will help us plant churches in our states.
f) Help us develop leadership pipelines or farm clubs that will grow up leaders, pastors and church planters that are indigenous to our states rather than needing to recruit these from other areas.
g) Work with the seminaries to develop graduates that think missionally and have a strong missiological understanding of how to “parse” culture creating new methods to share the ageless message with different peoples and cultures.
There are numerous other aspects of the “missions agency” that we do desperately need, but this will get the conversations started toward discovering what is best for the “new work” states and how we can bring the transformational message of Christ to the lives of those people among whom we live and work.
Thomas L. Law, III
May 24, 2012