Monday, May 14, 2012

One notable, relevant thing about Fred Luter

Fred Luter (image from BP) is expected to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in just a few weeks in New Orleans. If I am there (and it's not looking like I will be) I would be unhesitant in casting my vote in his favor. His election will be notable because he will be the first black president of the SBC.

That's good.

But there is something more notable about Fred Luter that is acutely relevant to the SBC. He is a megachurch pastor and would be the latest in a long string of megapastor elected president of our convention. But he is a megachurch pastor whose church gives an above average percentage to the Cooperative Program. 

This is unusual as these things go.

Fred Luter's church gives about six percent, not a large percentage but quite healthy for a megachurch. His six percent is more than given by our current president, Bryant Wright, whose megachurch is in the 4% range. Previous megachurch pastors who were SBC presidents, Johnny Hunt, Jack Graham, and James Merritt were in the 2% range (although Hunt notably increased his church's CP giving in recent years).

Fred Luter will be the first megachurch SBC president whose CP giving is above the SBC average since Jim Henry back in the mid-1990s.

That is notable.

For all the laments about the decline of the Cooperative Program (we have gone from an average above 10% a generation ago to under 6%) when messengers meet in our annual session they rarely find a megachurch pastor that they are unwilling to elect as president, regardless of the low giving to the Cooperative Program.

Wright was easily elected in 2010 even though alternative candidates far surpassed him in their church's CP giving. That is the usual scenario. I can think of only one megachurch pastor, Ronnie Floyd, whose CP giving was so low (around 0.3%) that it cost him the election (he has since raised it to around 5% last time I checked).

If Southern Baptists are genuinely concerned about falling Cooperative Program giving, one of the ways we ought to express our concern is to consider unelectable any candidate for major denominational office whose church gives less than a threshold percentage. Five percent is a good number, though I made an exception for Bryant Wright who was a little under that.

One of the more ridiculous things regularly heard about the SBC is all the  complaining about megachurches having undue influence, when we regularly elect them to the top SBC office in spite of their low CP giving. 

I hope that Fred Luter's election establishes a precedent in ways other than related to his race. Such would be good for us all.


Anonymous said...

Maintaining its current emphasis on theological purity, part convenience part conviction, but wrongheaded regardless, in 5 years, 10 years, and until such time SBC has existence, your words will be heard again and again concerning a need for CP giving. At some point, will it be widely understood that cooperative ministry, apart from increasingly narrower missionary appointments, that are even becoming more difficult to sustain, is not a hallmark value of SBC pastors? With a fewer less day-to-day matters like tending to and praying for granny's gout, but with more perks and a larger salary and microphone, can it not be said that some pastors chosen to lead SBC agencies had an organizational conversion experience, supplemented with a quite golden separation agreement at the ready?

William Thornton said...

After some post posting fact checking, I erred in thinking Frank Page's church was not a megachurch in 2006 when he was elected. Although it is not listed among SBC megachurches now, attendance claims for back then were above the mega threshold.