Monday, April 2, 2012

Why all this complaining about NAMB?

For those who like ecclesiastical drama you cannot beat our North American Mission Board. They have provided Southern Baptists with at least two major train wrecks in the last six years. But, alas, train wrecks are expensive and I’d forego them in favor of an organization that is effective in reaching North America for Christ. Thankfully, NAMB seems to be back on track absent the kind of dysfunctional behavior to which we had grown accustomed.

The new NAMB has declared an intention to spend half of their budget on church planting and to get there they have cut HQ personnel, travel expenses, and are redirecting the part of their budget that recycled funds back to state conventions.

Who would complain about that?

Well, some state conventions executives would, which is why state convention executives have  appointed a special committee of state CEOs to “evaluate relations” between NAMB and state conventions.

Fair enough, autonomous Baptist bodies exercising their cherished autonomy.

How about we consider the Arkansas Baptist State Convention as an example. There are about 1500 churches and half a million members in the convention. Churches there took in a bit under $350 million in 2010. 

NAMB kicks back about $425,000 to the ABSC for various causes. The ABSC leader, Emil Turner, says that figure is so small that its impact is “minimal.” Apparently, it’s not too minimal for him to complain about the cost and about the loss of it.

You can read Turner’s recent comments on NAMB here .

If there are that many churches with that much money Arkansas, one wonders exactly why NAMB is funneling back ANY dollars to that state, or to Georgia, Alabama or other strong SBC state conventions?

Evidently it is done because the states are accustomed to some NAMB gravy being ladled out from Alpharetta and don’t like the idea of it being reduced or eliminated.

In Baptist life sticks and stones may break bones but what really gets folks riled up is to cut their funding, minimal though it may be.

A little quiz here brethren/sistren. Which of the following are complaints about NAMB?

a) NAMB funds only about one-third of the cost of missionaries in Arkansas.

b) NAMB plans to cut funds for the health insurance of those missionaries for which which NAMB pays less than half the cost.

c) Arkansas receives less NAMB funding than almost every other state convention.

d) NAMB is going to make changes that will hurt the ASBC in the future.

e) NAMB is severely hurting their [state convention] partners.

f) NAMB's financial impact on Arkansas is "minimal."

g) NAMB's funding is "Incredibly complicated."

h) To get NAMB's minimal funding, the ASBC has to spend twice the dollars.

i) NAMB is missing a "serious evangelism stragegy."
j) NAMB "strategy for planting churches does not guarantee that churches that are planted will be marked by Baptist distinctives."

Well, how about ALL of the above? And one notes that all of them save for the last two concern money, which means that at least in Arkansas all of the complaints about NAMB can be solved if the state convention takes charge of funding missionaries in their own strong, heavily churched state.

And, really, if it is minimal, if NAMB funds don't even figure into their budget, and if it is incredibly complicated, and costs Arkansas so much of their own money why wouldn't they fund their own stuff and stop all this complaining?

Why not pick up the phone, call Kevin Ezell, and say "Kevin, we love you man but why don't you keep your $425k and put it in Maine or Montana. Where there aren't so many SBC churches?

Why not indeed.

Arkansas has 1500 churches in a state with less than 3 million people.  The Baptist Convention of New England has about one-sixth the numbers of churches serving five times the population. Maybe those states would be a more sensible destination for the lousy $425,000 that is so minimal in Arkansas.

I have no quarrel with Arkansas or its leaders. My state, Georgia, gets the same type of funding from NAMB. I would note that in Arkansas   Cooperative Program giving from churches is increasing. In Georgia, they are dropping like a rock. So, who do you think would be the more likely state convention executive to complain about NAMB?

Go figure.

NAMB still falls short of the glory of God. They still have some things going on that should be scrutinized but on this kickback funding to the states, I think they are on the right track.


Randy said...

Good morning. Thought awhile before responding; I'm not much for blog warring. Please don't take this as that. I'm just a pastor of a small church in rural Arkansas. I just want to say, it's easy to toss stones at us from over in Georgia. I have alot of respect for the leadership of our state convention, and I have no problem with the things they have stated. I don't believe they have spoken out of turn. I would encourage any other readers here to read the whole article that is linked to this blog. Despite what you say, it's easy to take this as a jab at Arkansas and our state convention. It's all cool, because it's always hard to understand things when you are on the outside looking in. Our convention leaders are awesome and supportive of our churches and I appreciate all they do.


William Thornton said...

Thanks for the comment, Randy. I would have featured my own convention but the ASBC CEO is the one who is speaking out on this.

Of course I read the entire article I linked and let's start with the presumption that all of the people quoted and involved are dedicated servants of the Lord.

That said, I am wondering if you see any inconsistency in saying that NAMB's part of the ASBC budget is minimal, complicated and follow that with a long list of criticisms?

Let's presume that we all like each other but can still have serious discussion about where we spend our cooperative dollars.


Eric James Moffett said...

I feel that you need to re-read the article to understand Dr. Turner's complaints against NAMB. He makes it clear that the big issue, for Arkansas, is not the money. The article states twice that for what Arkansas receives from NAMB - we put in even more.

A quote from the article - “In order to receive the $425,000 from NAMB, the ABSC is obligated to commit about $777,000 in funds to fulfill our cooperative agreement,” said Robby Tingle, ABSC missions ministries team leader.

Dr. Turner's focus, from the article, seems to be on other issues. It is on the fact that NAMB will no longer fund NAMB missionary insurance in Arkansas.

The other focus, that the article clearly states and you DO NOT clearly state is this -

A quote-

What concerns Turner most is the way the national missions entity is now relating to its partners.

“They’ve changed radically,” he explained. “Not only do they hurt their partners severely, but they change the way we work in Arkansas. One example of that is the loss of an evangelism component at the North American Mission Board. We feel like a serious evangelism strategy is missing from their work.”

Dr. Turner is serving as president of the State Presidents' fellowship this year and appears to be working to serve other state conventions. He appears to be doing a good job since he is concerned about how NAMB is relating to state conventions.

You should actually talk to some of the people working in 'frontier' areas to hear how the 'new' NAMB is hurting their work there. Church planting is essential but if we gut the frontier state conventions- they will lose much-needed support in the future.

NAMB's breakdown of diplomacy with associations and state conventions will prove to be detrimental to future work. (In my opinion)

In all, please re-read the article from the Arkansas Baptist News. When you do, I think you will see that Dr. Turner's concern is not with funding in Arkansas but the direction of NAMB's partnerships with state conventions.

William Thornton said...

Thanks for the comment Eric, and for putting your name to it.

The ASBC CEO's main objection may not be about the money, but he spends considerable time talking about it.

Take the insurance, for example. Why shouldn't the ASBC pick up the health insurance for personnel that they provide 2/3 of the funding for? And even at that, NAMB is phasing in their change of insurance policy over several years. That sounds quite fair to me.

I'm not sure what Turner means when he says that what NAMB is doing or not doing in Alpharetta concerning evangelism is hurting Arkansas. Doesn't the ASBC handle evangelism strategy in their own state? Why would NAMB even be needed to handle evangelism in a state with 1500 SBC churches?

NAMB has clearly stated their intent to change the way they spend their budget relative to the states and we know how Baptists hate change.

Fred Johnson said...

Mr. Thornton,
One might also ask why the Arkansas paper deleted two pro-NAMB comments from their soon after they were posted. Was it to give the impression the first readers

Fred Johnson said...

Oops. Too quick to publish. Trying again,

Mr. Thornton,
One might also ask why the Arkansas paper deleted two pro-NAMB comments from their site soon after they were posted. Was it to give the impressiont readers were in agreement when it was clear all were not?

Josh Collins said...

As usual, your plodding pace has noticed some of our Baptist inconsistencies. I think there's a simple solution to this Arkansas mess: get your state convention to vote in session to reduce the percentage forwarded on and use that money to fund state convention jobs.

Wait, what's that? Churches in the state conventions don't want to see more money kept in state? They want more to go to reaching the unreached overseas and underreached areas of North America?

The old cooperative agreements were a great way to keep money in state while telling people it was forwarded on. That accounting smoke and mirrors has been seen through, and entities will have to adjust and make an upfront case about keeping more money in heavily-churched states to their voting members. So far the case being made is to complain about NAMB; not sure that will work.

William Thornton said...

What! Denominational employees attempting to control the conversation by deleting comments?

Say it ain't so, bro...

I'd say that if Emil Turner is confident of the stance and statements he is making, why not allow a conversation in a forum not as obscure as my blog?

Don't we all favor openness and transparency?

Dave Miller said...

William, the issues is pretty simple, the execs feel that NAMB is being kinda heavy-handed - no longer making agreements, but issuing dictates.

That whole "top-down" thing some folks often "bleat" about (to use your word).

The feeling is pretty widespread.

Lee Frist said...

Yeah Fred I saw that too. Somebody should ask the newspaper editor who wrote the story, works for Turner and moderates their website, why two comments supporting NAMB were removed and no others posted -- yet rhe comment section is still offered? Waiting for a comment against NAMB?

Randy said...

As I stated earlier I want to avoid a blog battle, so I want to say my peace on a couple of points and then bow out. I am honestly disgusted when I see people who have no personal interaction with folks like Dr. Turner and they load up their clips of ammo and engage in friendly fire. Believe it or not, Dr. Turner is not some dark sith lord of the ASBC brewing up secret conspiriacies to suppress any dissent. Also, as to the question of 1500 SBC churches funding evangelism in the state, I want to ask you to consider the size / demographics of many of those churches. You would find a large number of them under 100 in attendance. That often causes a church to work at a subsistence level and unable to fund significant evengelistic efforts. My church is at 30 in number and that restricts us, as it does many other rural Arkansas churches. I am thankful for some of the bigger churches in our area partnering with us on evangelism as that is how we should work to grow the kingdom.
Honestly Mr. Thornton, your comments and insinuations kind of sting to this Arkansas pastor, and I just want to assure you, we are both playing for the same team.


D.R. said...

Two comments:

1) NAMB's evangelism strategy is the same strategy of the Early Church - Church planting. They shouldn't fund things like Evangelism Conferences (which by the way, are just suped-up Pastor's conferences). There are plenty of tools for Churches out there to do Evangelism and the State Conventions can help Churches do Evangelism with very little money. Much of this comes down to funding other positions at the State level. As we have learned here in GA, we can do without a number of state convention positions.

2) John Collins is absolutely right here. If state conventions want more money, then vote to keep more in state, don't ask for it from NAMB. NAMB's new focus is Church Planting. As much as I don't like it personally because I am in a traditional Church that needs revitalization, statistics clearly show that the best chance for us to have a major Evangelistic impact is through Church Planting. If we are truly Great Commission Baptists (and I don't mean the newly suggested name), then let's do everything in our power to promote the Gospel, instead of promoting our own self-sustaining interests.

D.R. said...


I don't think anyone here is trying to say that Dr. Turner is evil. That's quite overblown. What is being said is that he is wrong on this. And wrong to rip into NAMB because their new strategy doesn't directly benefit his state.

I am in a small Church just like yours and frankly I think it is wrong to look to the state to solve your Evangelism problems. The statistics, in fact, say just the opposite - smaller churches (especially new Church plants) are much more effective in Evangelism per dollar spent and per member than are large Churches and large organizations.

And in the end, the ABSC has bigger problems than NAMB not giving them enough cash. They, just like every other state convention, are losing CP monies each year. Unless they change their strategy they'll wake to find that a few hundred thousand dollars from NAMB is a drop in the bucket compared to the losses they will experience from CP giving.

Eric James Moffett said...


I am not one for anonymous posts. It defeats the opportunity for actual dialogue.

I still think you are missing what Emil is saying here. There is a sense, and it is well deserved, that NAMB is simply proclaiming what is happening in the future with very little if any discussion on how the state convention partnerships will be handled. I can agree with you that the funding schemes were confusing and misleading at times - but the way NAMB seems to be handling the issue is not helping their case for future support. Leadership in NAMB has, in my personal experience, continued to strain historic relationships that actually support the work of NAMB. It is this that concerns me and, I imagine, (though I cannot speak for him) Emil.

Concerning the emphasis on evangelism - Dr. Turner is expressing a concern that many many others have voiced. The shift to church planting is understandable but I think centralizing church planting to NAMB is misguided when we have state conventions that work tirelessly to plant churches in areas that they actually understand.

Living and serving in Arkansas, I am a bit protective of our state convention. Compared to the debacle that some conventions turn into - the ABSC has remained healthy. It has continued to increase, each year, the amount of CP that we send to Nashville. It has been pro-active with reducing staff in the last few years. All the while, the ABSC has provided tireless support to me and the church where I serve. This cannot be said, though, of national entities. Why? Because ABSC is here.

I came upon your blog from sbcvoices and simply had to comment because I still think you are missing what Emil is saying. He talks about the money at great lengths in order to say that Arkansas will get by without the funds from NAMB. We do mourn, though, the loss of healthy cooperation with NAMB. At least I do. . .

Eric James Moffett said...

D.R. -

Arkansas, unlike many other state conventions, actually has seen a rise in CP giving among our churches. In addition, over the past number of years we have been increasing the overall percentage forwarded to Nashville.

You appear to have no sense of the feelings of churches or Pastors in Arkansas concerning the work of our convention. Please do not speak of the 'bigger problems' coming our way when you do not serve here.

William Thornton said...

Randy, I don't mind taking some shots on my own blog from people who identify themselves and are civil. You are both. And, I might even be wrong every now and then.

But I would request that you relax a bit with the language about criticism of your state convention leader. He has been quite plain, public, and outspoken about NAMB. I am merely restating his own criticisms and offering my view on them. In no way am I being uncivil or unkind here.

And, please, contrast my approach here where I state my opinions and folks are welcome to criticize me with your state paper in which one point of view is given and opposing viewpoints prohibited. The commenter above was correct in stating that the paper deleted opposing viewpoints which were left as comments.

And, Randy, this isn't a battle. We are on the same side. This is a conversation among those who have different opinions about our cooperative work.

Nothing wrong with that.

William Thornton said...

Dave, NAMB has been quite upfront about their strategy. I'd go back to Al Mohler's statement several years ago that if NAMB is going to be successful they must have control of their own budget. As it has been, states are accustomed to getting their slices of the pie.

I'd ask you, can you justify NAMB being stuck with 100% of health insurance costs for personnel where they provide only minority fractional funding.

Anonymous said...

The SBC and her entities, want and need more money to do all they want to do.

The state conventions and their ministries, want and need more money to do all they want to do.

The local church and their ministries, want and need more money to do all they want to do.

All of these rely on, we the people in the pew. I need to discover how the bible speaks to this issue of who (what individual or group) is responsible for having ministries, reaching a lost world and planting churches. Has the the time come for a more biblical paradigm?

Just thinking about the bottom line at my church and in my home.


sola396 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.R. said...


Congratulations on your CP giving increasing over the past year as the recession has subsided. But, this article ( shows that it increased a mere 1.52% over 2010's giving - not huge numbers. The problem is, of course, that these numbers aren't even keeping up with inflation, which in 2010 was 1.6% and in 2011 was 3.2%. Sure, it's better than most states, but unless we see something drastic happen, all state conventions are going to experience the same pinch.

The other issue you have to deal with is the continuing decrease in Church percentage giving to the CP. If these numbers posted by SBC Plodder are any indication, the trends are quite negative -

Cooperative Program Receipts as a Percentage of Undesignated Church Offerings

1978 11.130
1988 10.323
1998 8.130
2008 6.082
2009 5.868

(access here -

In the end, a meager gain in giving YOY isn't going to stave off such multi-year trends.

Combine that with other trends toward post-denominationalism and you have a recipe for disaster by those who think they can do business as usual and that they don't have to embrace new and radically different methods of organization. NAMB changed because of trends like these. The reality is that they were still able to do so voluntarily, while many of our other organizations will soon learn that they don't have a choice.

So while I don't know what it's like in Arkansas, unless you guys are bucking the multi-year trends in vastly different ways than the rest of the convention and nation, NAMB will again be the least of your problems. If you are bucking those trends, then you won't need NAMB's money anyway.

Robert said...

Eric — Where did you hear NAMB wants to centralize church planting? Ezell says state conventions are still NAMB’s partner of choice. And he wants churches in the driver’s seat with planting churches. He has said that from day one. In the cities NAMB is emphasizing, a local group consisting of pastors, the local association and a state convention rep choose where new churches will go and how many and what kind. Not NAMB.

I think William is right—a lot of this comes down to money. There seems to be strategy right now by some to say as many negative things aspossible about NAMB and see what sticks.

Steve Lemke said...


I agree with you about 99 percent of the time, but I'm going to have to disagree with you about this issue. First of all, as Dave pointed out, Emil is by no means the only Baptist state executive complaining about these changes (I don't think your Samuel allusion is apt -- it's genuine expressions of concern by wise Christians, not "bleating"). Emil is just braver and bolder than some others, knowing that he will take "incoming," but he's not alone. If you read some of the other state papers, you'll see that it's pretty much a consensus. For instance, read what Jack Kwok from Ohio said recently. Since our Trustees represent each state convention, I hear many of them voicing anger, especially in the new work areas. The Colorado convention has been descimated. The "pioneer" areas have been most hurt by them, not the mainline states. And most of them were unhappy with NAMB's poor stewardship before this, not just after Ezell came to NAMB.

Second, I'm not sure I'm following your math. If Arkansas and other stronger Baptist state conventions just keep the money and don't forward it to NAMB, whence cometh NAMB's funding for anyone? There's only so much money in the pot. The simple solution you propose -- just going back to the churches and demanding more money -- is not likely to work. I think you know that even in your own state, some of the key churches are essentially defunding the GBC -- not ramping up for increased giving -- in part as fruit of GCR. Indeed, if individual Baptists were not giving less per capita than in the Great Depression, and the churches were not keeping more than ever in Baptist history, we wouldn't be having this problem. At the end of the day, it comes down to priorities and distribution of limited resources. We all think the ministry we're most closely associated with is crucial.

I know Emil Turner to be a man of integrity with a passionate commitment to missions. When he speaks, I listen.

(I still appreciate you as well).

William Thornton said...

Hi Steve,

I think part of the problem here is that when disagreements about funding and strategy occur, rather than having an honest conversation about them folks line up behind or in opposition to the personalities involved.

I've already said that Emil Turner and everyone else involved here are dedicated servants of the Lord, so there's no need to affirm his, mine, or anyone else's integrity. Such hasn't been questioned (although I take your point on "bleating" and have changed that; I'm not above using a provocative blog article title).

One of the things that struck me about the article in the Arkansas paper that was a long list of criticisms of NAMB by him and his employees was the absence of any reaction from NAMB. I presume that either they were negligent in failing to ask or that they didn't want any official reaction from NAMB to be printed. There are two sides to this discussion. Why not provide readers with both?

In addition to that commenters on my blog have stated that there were responses favorable to NAMB posted as comments to that Arkansas Baptist article but that they were deleted and comments closed. I see no reason to deprive folks of a legitimate, civil discussion on a matter that involves all of us.

On my math, I suppose the ASBC could keep more of their Cooperative Program dollar to do missions the way they think ought to be done in their state. It's up to the churches to agree to that. Whatever is given to Annie Armstrong is, of course, not the ASBC's money but NAMB's.

I completely agree with you on limited resources. Let's just allow an honest, open, and civil discussion of priorities.

Thanks for the comment. I enjoy reading your material.

D.R. said...


I am rather shocked by your comments - you of all people - the dean of a school that has a huge Church planting emphasis - would actually criticize NAMB for wanting to be more focused on Church Planting. I noticed in fact that the DayCenter partners with NAMB and in particular the Nehemiah Project, which unless I am mistaken is funded by NAMB.

So it seems that your own Church Planting Center has partnerships with NAMB, but none that I can see with the individual state conventions. It just seems strange that a Dean of a theological school who partners with an organization would be willing to get on a blog and criticize that organization and defend its critics at the same time.

I wonder, have you expressed your issues directly with NAMB? Have you spoken directly with Kevin Ezell over your concerns? Seems like a Seminary that works so closely with NAMB would choose to first speak with the organization itself before lauding any criticism of that organization on a blog.

William Thornton said...

There is a legitimate discussion to be had concerning NAMB's strategy and reasonable, sincere, and dedicated SBCers are welcome to disagree about it. So, I have no problem writing about it and having folks disagree with me (and/or NAMB, since I am in agreement with them about it) here.

I don't have any problem with Steve Lemke's disagreement although I am unsure of the facts he is using for some of what he wrote.

I feel sure, D.R., that what may trouble NAMB is not that folks come on blogs and criticize them but that in some other forums agreement with NAMB may be prohibited and their side of the issue is not given. See the Arkansas Baptist for an example of that.

D.R. said...

I don't have a problem with it being debated on blogs either, but I am uncomfortable with one entity head criticizing another one openly on a blog - especially when they are partnering with one another to do ministry. My point was that if they have such a close relationship Steve should be airing his concerns directly with NAMB rather than on blogs. That's not to say that Seminary administrators and faculty should never utilize blogs, but they should be careful about what they say when it comes across as criticism. Consider the reaction had Mohler or Russell Moore criticized the IMB on a blog. That's something Steve needs to consider. His and NOBTS's relationship with SBC Today is already a bit of a strain in many Southern Baptists' eyes.

Anonymous said...

"He has said that from day one. In the cities NAMB is emphasizing, a local group consisting of pastors, the local association and a state convention rep choose where new churches will go and how many and what kind. Not NAMB"

When these pastors get together with the others on the list, where does NAMB fit?

Oh, they collect the money.

Jon Estes