The SBC has demonstrated, repeatedly, that we are comfortable in having leaders whose churches give far less than average in Cooperative Program percentages. Bryant Wright, our new president is the latest in a long line of leaders who are examples of this.
Whatever the GCRTF might have said about the primacy of the Cooperative Program, the choice of Ezell appears to indicate that the Cooperative Program is actually something less than the primary and preferred channel for missions funding. Ezell may argue otherwise but his record is not that different than Wright's or others who prefer direct giving rather than Cooperative Program giving.
Take a look and see if you disagree.
The statement in the Florida Baptist Witness about his nomination for NAMB says of his church, Highview Baptist in Louisville, “12 percent of their budget being given to Southern Baptist causes.” Is this 12% a figure for the new nomenclature "Great Comission Giving"? The article doesn't say. Details aren't given but that's what it looks like.
As late as 2007, Highview bypassed the Kentucky Baptist Convention altogether in Cooperative Program giving. The church received some criticism for that when Al Mohler was going to run for SBC president (he withdrew due to illness). When Ezell was nominated to be Pastor’s Conference president in 2009 the CP figure given was 3.5%.
Whatever the past methodology for funding church planting, the nomination (and presumably the certain election) of Ezell is another indication that the status quo in missions funding, the one where churches give to the CP, the CP funds NAMB, and NAMB funds church planting, is in jeopary.
Read this exerpt of an interview with Danny Akin, a big Ezell supporter, where Akin speaks about NAMB, missions, and church planting funding. Note that he specifically uses Ezell’s church as an example:
If you, for example, wanted to be a church planter right now, and you wanted to work through the system, you would be interviewed and would seek funding from your local association, from the state convention where you want to go and plant a church, and from the North American Mission Board where you want to go and plant a church.
There is a three-tiered – not duplication – but triplication in this system that is only going to provide nominal funding for you to actually accomplish what you need to do. There are also strings attached to those funds that limit what you can do to earn additional income. You can’t be a tentmaker like the apostle Paul, working to compliment and supplement what you would need to live on.
Classic example. We just sent a student from here up into the Washington D.C. area to plant a church. He went through the three avenues I just described, and it took months to pull everything together. He was able to put together $36,000 for his first year. Try and live in Washington D.C. You can’t pay rent and utilities for $36,000 a year.
But he is informed by NAMB that if he received funding from them, he can do nothing more than occupy a part-time job. That’s insane. So he will have to do what everybody else does: raise funds outside our structure.
This is why a lot of people are getting frustrated. Let’s take a large church like Highview Baptist in Louisville. If they were to give 10% of their monies through the Cooperative Program, they would probably be giving somewhere around $400,000 a year. I’m not even counting Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong or anything else they do. Let’s just say they give around $400,000 a year.
First and foremost, 60% of that money is going to stay in Kentucky. That money is never even going to get out of the state.
Then, let’s say they send Trevin Wax from Highview to be a church planter. You appeal to the Kentucky Baptist Convention for funding. Even though Highview has been giving around $260,000 to $280,000 a year for a number of years to that state convention, when you go to get funding, you’ll be lucky to get $12,000 a year from them for three years. After three years, they’re not going to give you another dime.
Suddenly Highview says, “What are we doing? What are we doing? Why should we give $280,000 a year to the Kentucky Baptist Convention when we try to plant a church? Why should we work through the system that we are funding if, because of the overhead and the bureaucracy and other things, we are only going to be able to get back from them maybe $25,000 to $30,000 over three years? That doesn’t sound like a good deal.”
So all of a sudden, you have people saying, “We can do it better without partnering with a state convention.”
First we have the Great Commission Resurgence report that recommends cutting out the millions that went back to the states from NAMB through the Cooperative Agreements. Now a new leader who seems to be a strong ratification of that recommendation. NAMB trustees, seeking to carry out the will of the convention, gets a leader who will agressively implement what was in the report. I'm sure that state conventions who depend on their hefty slice of CP giving probably see the handwriting on the wall, not only in the loss of the Cooperative Agreement money, but also in the indirect ratification of the policy of churches bypassing the Cooperative Program in favor of direct giving.
The average percentage of offering plate dollars given to the CP has been declining for years, decades. I see nothing happening in 2010 that encourages churches to stanch the decline. I suppose that is where we are and where we are headed...more of the same.
I thought Harris would be a wise, safe, and secure NAMB leader but Ezell will have my prayers. He looks like a very solid choice. I will certainly support him. NAMB needs some success after their meltdowns of the last five years. We need something going on at NAMB that we can be proud of.
Maybe Ezell and other megachurches and pastors merely reflect an unstoppable trend in SBC missions giving, one that should be embraced rather than criticized. One thing he will have difficulty doing, though, is selling the churches on increasing their Cooperative Program percentages.
Let us now see what the IMB will do.