Friday, December 18, 2015

Six interesting SBC items of 2015 that you might have missed

Most of these weren't big news items but got my attention nonetheless. In no particular order:

"...while shared ministries are supported at all levels of Southern Baptist life, the phrase itself and the concept in general are no longer communicating the allocation of funds clearly, [Alabama Baptist State Convention Executive Director Rick] Lance explained. So going forward, the budget language in Alabama will only deal with state and national percentages."  

So, the ABSC will no longer make confusing statements like, "we divide Cooperative Program receipts equally with SBC entities," While a technically correct statement, since the division was 45% state convention, 45% SBC entities, and 10% "shared ministries," it was deceptive in that ABSC actually kept the shared ministries money.

I recognize that it has been the system for years but this misleading accounting technique that has vague categories in state budgets like "shared ministries" should end. Rick Lance's explanation reported in the article (link) summarizes the situation: the phrase itself and the concept in general no longer communicate the allocation of funds clearly. I don't know if the concept and terminology ever communicated accurately this allocation business between state conventions and the SBC but it is certainly recognizing current reality to thus conclude. Good work, Rick Lance and ABSC. All state conventions should do likewise.

"We are a mission sending agency in Georgia"

Robert White, the CEO for our state convention, commenting on the "reinvention" of the Georgia Baptist Convention. The "reinvention" includes a public (but not corporate or legal) change of name to "Georgia Baptist Mission Board."

Some were confused by this, thinking that the new GBMB was going to compete with our North American and International Mission Boards in appointing and sending missionaries. No. The GBC administrative leadership has tried for years to brand Georgia Baptist pastors and churches to see state staff as "Georgia Baptist missionaries." While I value our state workers and while they are send to serve us, there is considerable distance between consulting on church music, preschool, or student ministry with a Georgia Baptist church in Thomasville, Georgia, USA and serving in Tbilisi, Georgia, Asia. The GBMB will do the former, not the latter.

[Florida Baptist Convention] staff persons will no longer serve as interim pastors,
So declared Thomas Green, new CEO of the Florida Baptist Convention. He added the obvious reason for the change in policy, because serving a single church for an extended period of time prevents them from visiting churches every week.

Let's see. A state's churches pay a good salary to a state worker. He does his work during the week but on the Lord's Day is in the one church that pays him a salary, and thus for six months or a year of Sundays. Get your workaday, average SBC pastor talking and this will be a sore spot. It makes sense to put state workers in as many churches as possible, not have them fill an endless series of paid positions with a few churches.

Thomas Green made a wise decision here. At least all of the legacy state conventions should do the same.

[The Missouri Baptist Convention is] not primarily a provider of goods and services to [Missouri Baptist] churches 
John Yeats, Missouri Baptist Convention CEO, explaining part of the MBC's "reorientation."

Yeat's full statement, one of four numbered points under a list that elaborated the MBC "reorientation" plan, was: "A strategically driven staff. While we continue to counsel with church leaders and meet their needs, we are strategically driven to transform lives and communities with the Gospel. Therefore, we are not primarily a provider of goods and services to churches, but a strategic leader offering a clear, compelling, and cooperative vision for Missouri Baptists."

Does this make the MBC a para church organization?

This is rather tricky and, since I'm not in Missouri, perhaps some Missourian will, uh, show me, what this means if it is more than just corporate buzz speak.

The Christian Index, the oldest Southern Baptist newspaper, stops the presses, disbands trustee board, becomes the publicity arm of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
Well, circulation is down all over and the CI will go to a free online presence. The paper did some pretty good reporting in the past. I understand numbers and dollars (there is a considerable savings in Cooperative Program expenditures in this change) but I hope the CI will still have the independence to report on some hard SBC stories. You don't often see a Baptist board of trustees vote themselves out of existence.

"In January, 2016 there will also be a second phase [of the IMB personnel reduction plan] - a "Hand Raising Opportunity" - for all personnel and staff to pray about whether the Lord is leading them to a new place of involvement in mission outside the IMB."
I didn't capitalize the Hand Raising Opportunity, that was from IMB. The HRO to follow as phase two after the VRIs. This is a little obscure to me. Will certain personnel be given a hint that their positions will be terminated and they might want to pray about raising their hand? Will further non-retirement incentives be offered before the HROs? We will see soon.

As always, I'm wide open to being told what I missed, misunderstood, or where I am off-the-wall.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Top SBC stories of 2015

RNS has a story on the top religious news stories for 2015. To the chagrin of many among us who see our beloved Southern Baptist Convention as the center of the religious universt, only one SBC event made RNS's top 25. See if you can guess what that one is...shouldn't be hard.

Here is my personal list of top SBC stories for 2015. I'm presuming, of course, that nothing much will happen between now and December 31st. It shouldn't, since most SBC pastors get past the Christmas church events and skate for the rest of the year.

1. The International Mission Board announces mandatory reductions of 600-800 personnel.

IMB has been overstaffed for years and the financial chickens finally came home to roost. Past IMB leadership used financial reserves and revenues from overseas property sales to avoid bursting the over-inflated personnel bubble. David Platt and current leaders declare that current and projected revenues will only support about 4,000 or so personnel; hence, downsizing by 600-800 personnel.

Several important news stories are related to this: the positive response of Southern Baptists to providing for returning missionaries, questions about previous IMB managers and their decisions, and issues about overseas property sales and tracking those revenues; however, nothing tops telling our overseas missions workers that hundreds of them will have to retire, resign, or be terminated. Thus far, reductions are being made by voluntary acceptance of retirement incentives.

I'd call this the second biggest SBC news story of my lifetime. The Conservative Resurgence would be the biggest.

2. NAMB sends IMB $4 million for missionary support and transition.

This deserves its own listing here as a top news story. It is astonishing that one SBC entity would voluntarily give this sum to another entity.

3. The Supreme Court's approval of same sex marriage.

Hey, we all knew this was coming, so, how has this affected SBC churches and ministers? Thus far, churches have began adopting formal policies that prohibit their ministers and facilities from being used for SSM events. How our institutions and individuals are affected by SSM is still being litigated.

4. Our declining numbers.

We report about 15.5 million members now, down from the 2003 peak of 16.3 million. No one is surprised but it's still news. Lost in reporting of numbers is the fact that we have more congregations than ever, 46,449.

5. The SBC portion of the Cooperative Program was up slightly.

The $189,160,231.41 in CP receipts by the SBC Executive for their fiscal year ending September 30, 2015 was more than the last fiscal year and more than budgeted. CP revenues is always big news and this is good news.

6. State Conventions are making some pretty significant changes.

Twenty-three state conventions affiliated with the SBC increased their percentage of CP gifts forwarded to the Executive Committee. This is no small thing although we have yet to see a decrease of the 62% average of CP giving that the states keep. Aside from this, there has been a hodge-podge of changes by state conventions.  My state did a name change that will take me some time to get accustomed to (Georgia Baptist Convention to Georgia Baptist Mission Board). Some states dropped the confusing business of calling some CP funds "shared" and will just report plainly what the state keeps of a CP dollar and what is sent to the Executive Committee. Some states significantly reduced personnel.

7. No major Calvinist blowups, blowouts, or meltdowns.

Frank Page called Calvinism our number one problem a few years ago. Perhaps we have found a way to tolerate each other on the SBC level. I don't recall any big controversies this year.

8. NAMB had a mammoth SEND North America conference in Nashville.

IMB was involved as well. The attendance of around 13,500 was about two and a half times the registration for the SBC annual meeting in Columbus.

9. LifeWay announced the sale of their downtown Nashville property for $125 million.

Cash. NAMB gave IMB $4 and didn't even have a property sale windfall out of which to do it. Will LifeWay trustees consider doing something similar? Don't bet on it.

10. The Georgia Baptist Convention gets bailed out of massive building debt.

A small, but wealthy GBC-related foundation gave the GBC the $25 million to pay off the debt on the oversized, overbuilt GBC headquarters building. The GBC declared the intend to sell the building when an appropriate offer is made.

This is my list. What would you include in the top ten?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

State conventions try to slow the dreaded denominational death march

Amuse yourself with over 28,000 articles on "death of denominations" and then do some sober thinking about the closest thing to a denomination to the average Southern Baptist pastor: his state convention.

Our beloved International Mission Board might be the latest to implement severe cuts in employment levels. Their August bombshell declared that 600-800 personnel would have to leave for the organization to have a viable future, one where the bills could be paid. This is an 11-15 percent cut in staffing.

That level of cutbacks looks pretty attractive to many state conventions. I'll just mention Georgia and Florida. While it's tough to get firm numbers on staff, I'll make a conjecture that 50% cutbacks are closer to the norm for state conventions. None of the SBC level entities have dealt with cutting their staffing in half.

Here in Georgia a "reinvention" is underway in which

  • We change our name from the commonly used, "Georgia Baptist Convention" to "Georgia Baptist Mission Board." 
  • Our leader declares, "We are a missionary sending agency in Georgia." 
I'm OK with changing the labels, although some may confuse us with NAMB and IMB in our identification as a "sending agency." The new GBMB has staff that serves GBMB churches and our common support "sends" these people around the state. Give me time to grieve the loss of the old "GBC" which rolls easily off the tongue and keyboard. "GBMB" is rather wooden, though just as toothy. I understand the desire to brand the GBC/GBMB as a missions enterprise. 
  • We decentralize, sort of.
GBC workers are high-mileage travelers. I have no complaint about any of them. Several have helped me immensely. In the future there will be a centralized staff but one that is supplemented and multiplied by "field based personnel", clergy and church staff who are on a retainer to do stuff for churches. A suggested stipend of $1,000 per month, paid by the GBC, for a year's worth of consulting. Resumes from church staff are now inundating the state convention. 

The last time I needed guidance from a GBC expert on a specific church project I had to retain the employee on his spare time for a couple of thousand dollars. The GBC paid his salary, trained him, and gave him skills in demand of the churches. My church had to pay him to do the job. Maybe the field based people will do tasks like this for the churches without charging. We will see how this works out.  
  • We sell the building, maybe.
The last grand hurrah of the showpiece, centralized, first class denominational office building is the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center in Duluth. No state has a finer one. We're closing it on Fridays and it "could" be sold for the right price to the right customer. The staff could move to more modest headquarters and excess funds put in trust for use in the state. 
  • We give the SBC an additional 2%
The GBC had their $25 million building debt paid off, indirectly, through the sale of hospitals we used to own. Half of the savings on debt service will go to SBC ministries. IMB gets about a quarter million additional funds. We use the other half here.

In our sunny neighbor state to the south, Florida, The Florida Baptist State Board of Missions, is downsizing and decentralizing.
  • Statewide employees will be reduced from 115 to 61.
This is serious business. The savings from paying staff will raise the...
  • SBC share of Cooperative Program revenues will go from 45% to 51%.
I believe this will but the FBSBM ahead of all other legacy state conventions is the CP "split." I'm shocked at the rapid movement to give away CP revenues to the mission boards and seminaries. This is impressive. 
  • State staff will no longer take interim pastorates.
The new executive says what should be obvious to every state convention leader: having state staff take interim pastorates keeps them out of other churches. Want to get the average, loyal, supportive SBC pastor riled up? Start a conversation about these interim jobs.  
  • "Decentralization, regionalization and personalization" is the concept.
Some staff will live in various regions. The idea is a "new delivery system."

Will changes such as these slow the death of the state convention?

I hope it hastens the death of the centralized state convention. When you can ask pastors what their state convention means to them and immediately get a variety of concrete, positive answers, then perhaps the obituary state conventions can be said to be premature.