Monday, October 13, 2014

Sorry, but that MDiv is not a paying investment

LifeWay and Baptist Press do a good job this time of the year in researching and writing about clergy salaries. BP's story about pastor salaries not keeping pace with inflation is a good example. As churches prepare budgets for the coming year, information about clergy pay is helpful.

According to LifeWay's 2014 Clergy Compensation Survey, pay and pay package increases for full-time senior pastors are going up at a rate less than the rate of inflation. This means that as a group, senior pastors are slightly losing ground relative to the cost of goods of services. Any senior pastor who finds a way to direct his church deacons, personnel, or finance committee to the LifeWay study and/or to this Baptist Press article is doing a good thing. Church people should be informed about such things. It may or may not help, but if the pastor doesn't take some initiative to inform key people in his church they will likely never have the relevant facts to make good decisions.

But I was drawn to another figure given in the BP piece:
Seminary graduates receive, on average, $1,981 more in total compensation than non-seminary graduates and receive more vacation days.
Less than $2,000 more for an MDiv? (I realize that the survey did not distinguish among the various seminary degrees but MDiv is the standard pastoral degree offered by all the seminaries.)

Let's see. You leave a paying job to attend one of the seminaries where you invest somewhere around $25,000 in tuition alone during the three years needed to acquire an Masters of Divinity degree. During that period most students continue to work but suffer the loss of significantly more income than they would have received if they continued in their secular job not to mention expenses related to moving and traveling, etc.

At the successful completion of a seminary education the minister has a shiny new masters degree which enables him to land a larger church with higher income prospects for his pastoral career.

You bet. On average, an extra $1,981 year after year-after-year.

Impressive?

Not exactly.

Do the math. Financially, it doesn't pay brethren. Most will never recover from where he would have been had they not sought to acquire that MDiv. But then, at least theoretically as a better educated pastor, he is a better pastor which is a worthy goal, finances aside, not to mention that following God's will is always a sound investment.

But considering the future of the Christian ministry in America - declining church membership numbers, reduced personal giving rates, and increasing economic marginality of average-sized and smaller SBC churches - maybe it's time to consider that a three year MDiv and the expenses thereof might be excessive.

Is a two-year MDiv program worth considering? I think so.





Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Designated giving UP; Cooperative Program giving DOWN for 2013-2014

The SBC Executive Committee has closed the books on the fiscal year 2013-2014 and Baptist Press reports that "The Southern Baptist Convention ended its fiscal year 0.76% below last year's contributions and missed its Cooperative Program allocation budgeted projection of $191.5 million by 2.58%..."

Here are the relevant figures as compared to the last fiscal year. These are for monies received by the SBC Executive Committee for distribution to the SBC entities IMB, NAMB, the seminaries, ERLC, and EC itself. The figures, in millions of dollars, do not include total Cooperative Program gifts as received by all the state conventions.

                                                         2013-2014              2012-2013          Change
CP Allocation Budget Gifts            $186.6                    $188.0                 -0.75%

Designated Gifts                              $194.7                    $193.1                  0.81%

Designated gifts include Lottie Moon receipts, Annie Armstrong, World Hunger, and CP monies sent directly to the Executive Committee designated for the CP allocation budget.

A few observations:

1. Frank Page believes that CP giving may "have reached the nadir, or lowest point, for national Cooperative Program gifts." While I hope so, I don't know of anything that allows for such a conclusion.

2. We are not a bad off as others. I'm all for finding a positive spin for negative news. The CP is down but, Page says, "the Atlas of Giving forecasts that giving to religious organizations will decline by 2 percent year-to-year, so the fact that  our national CP giving was down by less than 1 percent and overall giving was slightly up shows we are bucking the trend." Another way to say this is that CP giving is down less that one might have predicted and designated giving is up, against the trends.

3. For the second consecutive year, the Executive Committee received more designated funds (almost all Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and Global Hunger Relief) than undesignated money for the CP allocation budget. The proportion is now about 51% designated, 49% undesignated. I'm not sure why this particular statistic is not spoken of more often among Southern Baptists. At the SBC level we follow a societal giving system for most of our money.

4. We are dealing in fractions of percentage points here, but churches are showing a preference for funding the two mission boards directly, rather than the Cooperative Program.

5. Frank Page's one percent increase plan has some success, but not enough to move the needle.

6. As always, it's easy to be negative but one must not forget that the CP is a mammoth ministry funding plan and on the SBC level still divides over $186 million to our mission boards, the six seminaries, the ERLC, with a little kept by the Executive Committee.

The EC has cut back the budget to the goal of 2012-13, $188 million.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

Florida Baptist clergy sex abuse case a game changer?

A church planter comes to Florida to plant churches affiliated with the Florida Baptist Convention. He is not an employee of the FBC but is supported by the Convention through training, administrative services such as insurance and retirement, and is acknowledged through listing of Florida Baptist ministers. The local association assists the planter by giving him office space. The churches he plants are autonomous.

The planter is also a child sex abuser, though not one with any record of arrests or convictions.

While planting churches in Florida he abuses a minor, is arrested, and convicted.

The FBC is sued by the victim's mother and is awarded a $12.5 million judgment.

The FBC appeals, signalling confidence in its case that the man was independent and that they did not supervise the man and are not responsible for his actions.

Buried in a Florida Baptist Witness article of September 26, 2014 are a few paragraphs noting that the lawsuit has been settled out of court. Find the relevant passage beginning at the ninth paragraph in this news article.

The article notes that the settlement is confidential, will not impact the FBC's financial "bottom line," sets no precedent, and "no record will exist".

Little may be said publicly among Southern Baptist leaders and entities but it's hard to view this lawsuit, even as settled out of court, as not being a game changer for clergy sex abuse liability in the SBC, among our state conventions and various entities.

The insulation from liability that our convention structures have had as a result of local church autonomy is clearly weakened.

The sex abuse victim of an independent church planter and autonomous local church pastor sued the Florida Baptist Convention and won the suit and a large judgment. The convention settled, presumably with a monetary award and the predictable confidentiality agreement. Insurance companies were undoubtedly involved. Perhaps the FBC is not out any cash.

This isn't what a successful defense of autonomy looks like. The wall of separation between the individual pastor and the state convention (or, by extension a national SBC entity like NAMB) is cracked.

Here's what this may mean:

1. Lawyers for victims of clergy sex abuse will be encouraged to sue along the same pattern as this suit. Although the FBC was determined not to be the employer of the abuser, it did have some connectivity through background checks, training, and pastoral support.

2. Those who appoint, approve, support, and sponsor church plants and church planters have a responsibility to be thorough in vetting personnel, even if they are not considered employees. The abuser served previous churches where abuse was suspected and the FBC could have easily found this out by checking references. They did not.

3. Life is more complicated for autonomous Southern Baptists and it should be. If a church, NAMB, state convention, or local association sponsors, assists, encourages, or appoints any personnel they should be as thorough in vetting them as they are with those who are their formal employees.

The goal here is not to protect assets but to protect children from being abused at the hands of ministers, staff, and volunteers in our churches and entities.

One hopes lessons have been learned here. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

The CP and the SQ

My insightful friend and fellow blogger, Bart Barber, has a short article on SBC Voices entitled, "It's the CP, not the SQ", in which he says,
"I write today to disabuse you all of the idea that defending the Cooperative Program means defending the status quo."
I've concluded that our venerable denominational funding scheme, The Cooperative Program, has become an inherently status quo system with little chance of accommodating major changes. This article explains why.

To discuss this necessarily involves dividing the question of status quo into two parts: (1) state convention spending and the percentage of CP revenues that they keep rather than forward to the SBC Executive Committee for allocation to national entities. This is commonly called the "split", (2) the SBC Cooperative Program allocation formula, the percentages of CP revenue forwarded by the EC to the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, the six seminaries, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Executive Committee itself.

I believe the status quo is vigorously defended and quite evident in both.

State Conventions and the Split

State conventions keep an average of about 62% of every CP dollar. There has been little variation in this split with states dipping below 60% only twice (when Truman was president). In the 35 year period I have been either a seminary student, SBC church pastor, or retired SBC pastor the percentage has had a very narrow range, between a low of about 61% (1987-1988) and a high of about 65% (1979-1980). The recent trend is slightly downward, measured by fractions of percentage points.

I recognize a couple of things about the split.

(1) The original CP agreement of yea scores and scores of years ago was that states keep half, plus the expense of promoting the CP; so, states expect to have a floor of 50% and add to that various percentage points for promotion. This 50% plus agreement means a guaranteed and expected floor of 55 or 60 percent, depending on the accounting techniques of the individual state conventions. Even a new state convention like the Southern Baptists of Texas, although free of some the legacy constituencies that the states have accumulate, varies only a little from that. They keep 45%.

(2) Many of the states have declared an intent to move to a 50/50 split, although 50/50 in some cases means 55/45 or so, depending on the promotional expense add-ons individual to each state. No state is talking about major percentage changes. Not one.

When people like Bryant Wright, former SBC president, speaks of state conventions needing to move to a 25/75 split, moving from 62% to 55% or so looks a lot like a lot of resistance to change and some rather aggressive defense of the status quo.  We could all do like Texas and ditch the current convention and get a fresh start with a another one where there would be competition for church CP dollars and then move a bit below 50% in the split but that is unlikely to happen. State conventions could indeed vote to give away a substantial part of their revenue stream. I don't see that happening but if some state wishes to make me a believer, I'm ready for it.

Status quo.

SBC allocation formula

Here's the current allocation formula:

IMB              50.41%
NAMB          22.79%
Seminaries    22.16%
ERLC             1.65%
EC                  2.99%

There have been changes over the years but the three major components, IMB, NAMB, and the six seminaries have always the main recipients consuming almost all CP dollars at the SBC level. IMB has been bumped up a fraction of a percent. NAMB was allocated more after swallowing some smaller entities in a reorganization. ERLC has been given a bit more and the EC relinquished a fraction of a percent to IMB after the Great Commission Resurgence process.

Looks a lot like status quo to me. Does anyone anticipate any large changes in the Big Three? Since the two mission boards have the two major mission offerings, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, any chance for significant change would have to come from the six seminaries. Does anyone anticipate that the seminaries will ever be allocated less than they have now? We have a track record on them, the Great Commission Resurgence, where they successfully defended their percentages.

One could argue that even fractions of percentages involve tens of millions of dollars and that such changes are anything but status quo, but I'm at the place where it looks like we can fiddle with fractions at the SBC level but that's about it. Status quo.

Jimmy Draper, old CR lion, former SBC president, and former SBC entity CEO speaks of the CP needing to be "revised, restarted, reinvented or something" because of the decades long CP giving lethargy. Ronnie Floyd current SBC president raises all the usual questions about the split, the allocation formula, church giving, and individual giving. Both seem to be saying that we need to move away from the status quo.

But CP money, as Ronnie Floyd says, is church money and judging by their giving patterns, churches have looked at their mission giving and concluded that the CP is important but only about half as important as it was decades ago. Churches have changed their mission status quo, I suspect after concluding that the state convention and SBC allocation status quo is not likely to change.

I am one who thinks the CP, although heavily weighed down by the status quo, is irreplaceable. I like it. We need it. The SBC we have would be unrecognizable without it. If there is some new idea that would revise, restart, reinvent, or reinvigorate it...I'd like to see it. I just don't see the CP status quo being overturned.