Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top SBC news of 2014, Part One

Here is my list of top news stories of interest to Southern Baptists for this year, with insightful and witty commentary. I am presuming that all SBCers will be focused on football the next few days and will not be making any significant news between now and the end of 2014.

My ranking is completely subjective.

1. David Platt elected president of the International Mission Board

At the tender age of 36 David Platt was picked to succeed 70 year old Tom Elliff as head of our flagship entity, the IMB. The Board has the largest budget, the most employees, and arguably does the most important work. Platt was quickly criticized for his weak Cooperative Program giving and, by those who keep score for such things, his supposed Calvinistic beliefs. His young age, his lack of international mission experience (he is an outsider in that he has never served overseas as did his predecessors) raised Southern Baptist eyebrows. The change at the IMB was generational and has the potential to bring the IMB into the 21st Century in many ways.

It is the nature of these high profile hires that trustees who do the hiring appear to come down off the mountain after meeting with God and being handed a name on a stone tablet; that is, trustees are secretive, non-transparent, and feel not the least compunction to explain their process or thinking and always, always exclaim that they have "God's man".  I think so. I hope so. He has my support.

Platt has been a visionary pastor with a record of accomplishment and is held in high regard among younger Southern Baptists. The IMB is a venerable institution in need of fresh organizational thinking and acting. I like David Platt. If he fails or if his leadership is stifled by the unwieldy trustee board of older Southern Baptists, nearly one hundred of them, there could be consequences for years. Thus far, the IMB has managed well in a time of retrenching. Lottie Moon is at a record level. Platt has my prayers for the challenges ahead.

2. The Housing Allowance is upheld by a federal appeals court.

A federal district judge struck down the cash Housing Allowance (but not the HA that pertains to parsonages) in 2013. The federal appeals court overturned the decision on a technical matter. I rank this second in importance because SBC clergy pay attention to their paychecks and the Housing Allowance income exclusion permits us to avoid paying thousands in income taxes. Don't get too excited because this will be challenged again...and again...and again.

3. Ronnie Floyd elected SBC president.

Ah, another megachurch pastor, the latest in a long string of such, elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. There is nothing new about this except that in Floyd's case he was easily defeated back in 2006 primarily on the basis of his extremely low (less than 1%) Cooperative Program giving. In the intervening years he led his church to raise the percentage considerably, though his church is still below the SBC average.

Thus far, Floyd is exhibiting the typical megachurch pastor style as SBC president in that he is serving as an inspirational leader. While this is what megapastors do best in their megachurches, such have never shown any effectiveness in the Convention at large. We appreciate calls for prayer and revival from our leaders and these are to be expected but the tens of thousands of SBC churches and millions of members have never responded in any measurable way to this.

4. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions reached a record level.

The offering for 2013 (reported in June, 2014)  was over $154 million, almost $4 million above the previous record total. Giving to the LMCO is the brightest financial news for Southern Baptists in a time when most of the financial indexes for us are flat or declining. Even then, the increase is just over 3%, welcome but not really enough to do much more in overseas missions other than tread water.

5. The SBC Executive Committee proposes a constitutional change.

Only those who eat and breathe SBC stuff will not glaze over here, but the changes proposed to the SBC Constitution by our Executive Committee were quite significant. The change in messenger qualifications is just an update and no big deal. The linking of the Baptist Faith and Message to what is considered to be a church in "friendly cooperation" with the Convention is a potential trap. My read on it may be seen here. If the change is confirmed this June it will best be left to die of disuse.

6. Golden Gate Seminary closes big real estate deal.

Money talks in SBC life and GGBTS has something to talk about. They closed the sale of their prime property in Mill Valley, CA for a tidy $85 million, plus some incentives. The sale provided an instant endowment increase of $50 (more than doubling the present $21 million endowment total), a smooth relocation, and assures the seminary's continuance in a time when the old seminary model is failing and other institutions are dealing with significant challenges. We will see if having a substantial endowment on which to draw operating funds makes GGBTS less nimble and more stultified. Let's hope not.

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