Monday, May 18, 2015

"Well, I sometimes get mad" the prospective pastor told the search committee in answer to the second of the pair of questions that every search committee asks.

The first question is, "What is your strong point?"

"Preaching, I suppose" answered the candidate. Fair enough. The man might be Spurgeon indeed or he might not be able to preach his way out of a flimsy paper bag but at least the search committee and eventually the church will get to listen and judge for themselves. The worst that could be said about this answer is that the brother seriously overestimates himself.

The second question was, "What would you say is your weak point?"

At this that the pastor candidate paused for a bit of rumination and then answered that he sometimes got mad.

Surely, the committee explored this further. Surely, the committee discussed this among themselves in private without the candidate being present. Surely, surely, the committee went back to the candidate's primary and secondary references and tried to learn more. Did the man have a problem with his temper, temperament, his inability to be patient with others including deacons, church leaders, his congregation, and his family? Some illumination and expansion are demanded.

The committee conducted the degree of due diligence they thought appropriate after which they invited the man to preach in view of a call. The church called him. He accepted and soon moved to the field.

In due time the committee and the unsuspecting new congregation learned first hand about their new pastor and his problem with anger. The brother seemed to get mad over the slightest item that didn't suit him. He was indignant over the most insignificant church decision. He showed his unguarded temper over any occasion when the deacons, church committee, church leader, or congregation failed to accede to his desires.

After about a year, the pastor, having alienated all the constituent groups in the church through his anger, his angry preaching, his anger in committees, left the church for a fresh field in which to display his inability to control his anger.

A few observations:

1. Inappropriate anger is deadly to ministry. Since search committees are known not to do a thorough job, a minister who has a problem with anger can lurch from church to church for decades, leaving all of them worse off than before.

2. If an honest candidate discloses that this is an issue, a weak point, the committee had better find third parties that can move the matter from a general disclosure to specific incidents. Does the man expect everything to go his way? Are deacons expected to fall in line and never disagree? Is he someone who tolerates no disagreement without exploding in anger?

3. Do young pastors have as their role model they type of brother who has built a mega-church and who is the unquestioned CEO - his word is the first and last word? There is a market for such pastor/CEOs but not in most Southern Baptist churches.

4. If a pastor gets angry at his church, his deacons, his committees, it is to be expected that his wife and children likely gets worse treatment in the privacy of the parsonage? I'm guessing that it is likely, and lamentable.

5. Is there a solution for an angry pastor? Sure. Several SBC entities offer free counseling. An older, wiser (even a younger and wiser) minister can help. Anger management techniques can be learned.

6. I get the feeling that some of my colleagues think that to be indignant and angry is a virtue, that it shows passion for the Lord and His work. Maybe 1% of the time this is true. Church people just see a preacher/pastor who is given to childish tantrums, hardly the expression of Christian virtue.

7. In most churches there is a layman who has the interpersonal skills to approach and help the angry young man/pastor in a non-confrontational, non-threatening manner. It is a sign of maturity and wisdom for the pastor to recognize such people and give them a hearing.

8. I'm not much into psychobabble but a guy that gets angry all the time probably has something messed up. Maybe he is depressed. Maybe something else.

The people on the search committee that heard the prospective pastor admit to anger issues will never not pay attention if another brother makes the same admission.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The $43.5 million GBC buliding as an icon

Our Georgia Baptist Convention headquarters building is, best I can tell, the nicest state convention administrative office building in the entire Southern Baptist Convention. It is superior in quality and setting to any of the others. 

It is now debt free, the GBC being given a grant of $25 million or so from the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation to retire the debt. Some called the gift a "miracle" though it was not unexpected. The GBHCMF director explained that the Foundation was waiting for the right time to make the gift. We don't manufacture miracles, much less schedule a trigger date for them. 

In addition to being appropriately ecstatic GBC leaders were careful to note that retiring debt is a biblical concept and that the GBC used to give a lot of money to the hospital before it was sold and the proceeds put in the GBCHCMF to be the source of grants for health care needs. In fact, the GBC leader, Robert White, even had a figure, adjusted for inflation, of how much the GBC had given to the hospital over time, $70 million. Toss in the explanation that GBC messengers approved the building and spending a bunch of times by votes and you've got some pretty sophisticated message management by GBC leaders and insiders.

But, why does a mammoth debt retirement bailout become something that needed to be cast with explanations, justifications, and message management? Can't we all just be happy about it?

Here's the answer: Somewhere along the way, the Georgia Baptist Convention headquarters building became an icon representing what many ordinary GBC pastors and laypeople are less than enthusiastic in supporting. 

Did the ground shift under the GBC to cause this? Did we get carried away with ourselves? Did we get caught in the vise grip of declining church metrics and economic travails? Probably some of all of these.

But now we're going to reassess ourselves, so I read.

Let's see how serious we are about that.


Monday, March 16, 2015

$25 million Georgia Baptist Convention debt bailout

Georgia Baptists got out of the hospital business some while back, sold the assets to one of the big hospital corporations, and put the money in a foundation which gives grants that support health care needs in Georgia. The initial amount was $125 million. The fund was severely depleted by the economic meltdown in 2008 but total assets were back to about $160 million, meaning that there was a mountain of money that insiders gazed longingly upon and that a few Georgia Baptists were going make decisions about.

It's easily the biggest pot of money around connected to Georgia Baptists. Various significant grants have been made annually to a variety of causes including pregnancy care centers, medical and dental clinics, counseling services and others. This year's grants totaled $3,256,924.

Last week it the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation announced their largest grant ever when they said the Foundation would pay off the $25 million building debt for the Georgia Baptist Convention headquarters building in Duluth. That single item is larger than the sum of all the grants given by the Foundation for the past seven years.

The Christian Index report on the grant is here.

The Foundation has offices in the building and, presumably, Foundation officers and trustees would pass grim-faced GBC leaders and employees in the hallways who understand the burden of a large debt.

Smiling and happy faces abound these days.

I understand money and debt. On a very small scale my last church had a debt wiped out through the sale of a donated property that brought considerably more than expected. I smiled more in church hallways after that.

The $43 million GBC building is a sparkling monument to the halcyon days and optimistic late 20th Century Southern Baptist thinking. It has been a burden. It could not be 'unbuilt' and the large debt loomed over every budget discussion. Even though the GBC had a plan to pay off the massive debt in a time of declining Cooperative Program support, the future looked arduous. The Foundation was the only entity with the sums to fix this. They fixed it. I rejoice with my GBC colleagues in their relief.

It's above my pay grade (actually, my Georgia Baptist pay grade is zero at the moment) to plumb the depths of this massive bailout, but I'll make a few observations:

  • The grant was made and praised as a route to revival in the state. I appreciate the well-intentioned reading of such things but I doubt the route to revival is through retiring building debt. The GBC will be able to devote more funds to matters that actually reach souls and start churches with the money saved from debt service. This year's budget shows $2.15 million in debt service. We have budgeted more money to pay debt than to plant churches. 
  • How will the GBC spend the money now budgeted and spent on debt service? Will we increase our support of the SBC portion of the Cooperative Program? The GBC keeps sixty cents of every CP dollar in state. Will it be considered that the seminaries and our two mission boards deserve more of the CP dollar?
  • Will the GBC create some staff positions put more people on the payroll with the extra money? I appreciate my Georgia Baptist colleagues, but it's tough for this Georgia Baptist to see much of a connection between how many people occupy the Georgia Baptist Building and church health and growth.  
  • Earlier offers by GBC leaders to sell the building and move to more modest office accommodations are, presumably, off the table. In a time when a vision for the future is not centralized staff and programming, where should be be spending our money for maximum return? We have a nice centralized HQ building, a testament to the turn of the century vision of baby boomer GBC leadership. What now?
  • It is a considerable stretch to explain paying off debt for an administrative building as support for health care needs. I get the indirect connection. Presumably, lawyers have already signed off on using Foundation assets for this purpose. 
  • Praise be to the Federal Reserve System whose easy money policy enable the stock market to soar and funds like the GBHCM Foundation to profit with considerable unearned growth. Dare I say that President Obama is indirectly responsible for paying off our building debt?
  • Make no mistake about it. The $25 million that goes to lenders to pay off the GBC debt is $25 million that will never be available to earn income to be spent on health clinics, pregnancy centers, or other causes. We all make opportunity cost decisions. This is the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation's decision. 
  • We sold our hospitals where patients were healed and put a good chunk of the proceeds in a building where staff has offices. You make the call on the propriety of that.
Opinions from Baptists are free and they are ubiquitous. I'll offer my opinion on how the GBC should spend the millions that they don't have to spend on debt service.