Thursday, August 26, 2010

Will We Get Straight Talk About Our Baptist Money?

Will we?

I don't know. I do know that in my church I couldn't get away with NOT offering straigh talk about our church finances. Things are tight. We may have to do some cutting, even in salaries.

But we SBCers are pretty pathetic when it comes to trotting out the hackneyed, trite, tired old sayings, the clich├ęs, the boilerplate language. Sadly, the Southern Baptist leader who has all the old cliches down can go far; however, one old saying that ought to be used widely is this: “Trust the Lord and tell the people.”

Seems that “Trust the Lord and tell the people” is most often used in a financial context – budgets, church and denominational financial needs and the like.

Too bad that this sound Baptist axiom seems to be forgotten by so many among us. Some churches adamantly refuse to be candid, open, and transparent with their members about spending, particularly about what their staff is paid. Many SBC entities seem to have the same approach about salaries – ‘We don’t tell and you shouldn’t ask.’

I’m told that the famous Cooperative Agreements that our North American Mission Board has with state conventions are private documents (“NAMB owns this document,” my state convention tells me; hence, I can’t get a copy).

We have private employment contracts with entity heads. If I recall correctly, NAMB notably was reported to have settled with their former CEO (not the latest forced resignation, the one before that) for two years salary plus executive placement services and other severance perks, but we’ll never know. It’s a secret from the people who pay their bills.

This list can go on and on.

Perhaps the most pressing need for straight talk is not about salaries but about projected revenues. The Baptist General Convention of Texas is rumored to be looking at another sharp budget decrease. They’ve gone from $46m to $41m, and now to $38m with some expecting much, much lower. “…primarily a reflection of a significant reduction in investment income” sayeth BGCT’s head last year. What is to be said this year? I'd bet Texans are interested to hear.

Even in more stable state conventions there are optimistic projections that churches will increase their Cooperative Program gifts. Well, being positive and upbeat about what churches might do, should do, is not all bad. It’s just that the best predictor of future behavior is the decades of declining percentages that churches devote to the CP. CP gifts in dollars may well go up but church percentages will almost certainly go down...again.

What’s wrong with straight talk about money in the SBC? Not a thing. I’m grateful that Bryant Wright, our SBC prez, seems to be one leader who isn’t afraid to leave the boilerplate cheerleading behind and speak candidly. I hope that Frank Page does the same.

Trust the Lord and tell the people. You cannot go wrong doing that.


Norm said...

Norm: As I recall, a poster on this blog indicated that he sent you a cooperative agreement (Tim: "I emailed you the general cooperative agreement that I was able to get my hands on. If it doesn't come thru, let me know."). Are you going to share its contents? I would be interested in knowing what it states, even if only a 'general' agreement.

William Thornton said...

It was a "generic" Cooperative Agreement. There was no content other than, well, boilerplate language.

Good question, though. I'll do a post on that.

Jon L. Estes said...

"(“NAMB owns this document,” my state convention tells me; hence, I can’t get a copy). "

Who owns NAMB?

Anonymous said...

"Who owns NAMB?" - Actually the trustees do.