Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ezell, new NAMB leader and the Cooperative Program?

[edited and revised, Sep 2, not that it makes a whole lot of difference]

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.


Tim said...

There is a reason that so many conventions are in decline financially. I'm sure some of it has to be the realization that whatever job we are expecting them to do for us, can be better done (at a more reasonable price) somewhere/somehow else. Though, I'm sure the continued lack of transparency (i.e. GCRTF meetings, State/NAMB contracts, etc.) have something to do with that. I think we will continue to abandon the Convention model, and go back to the Societal model of yesteryear.


Norm said...

Akin: "You can’t pay rent and utilities for $36,000 a year [in Washington D.C.]."

Norm: Is there a need to plant a church in Washington D.C.?

foxofbama said...

Seems like the boys andgirls at SBC Voices for the Most Part are okay with Ezell

And on a roundup matter, I hope some of your audience will take a look at Andrew Murphy's grand piece this morning at Religion Dispatches on the difference between the prophetic politics of MLKing, Jr. and that of the nostalgia of Glenn Beck and Richard Land.

William said...

Ezell gets enthusiastic support from all the big guns and lots of the thirtysomethings in SBC life and based on his record, such is well deserved. I'm merely speculating what his elevation to our second highest funded entity might mean for state conventions and the Cooperative Program.

Frank Page can cajole and challenge churches to greater CP giving because of his above average CP record. Ezell cannot do this.

Jon L. Estes said...

I like Dr. Akin. I have known him for a long time. He states:

"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.” "

What about the overhead and the bureaucracy and other things at the national level?

How did our schools make it with a small matriculation fee compared to the per hour fee today? Was the rise in cost to cover some of the overhead and the bureaucracy and other things our entities have?

Norm said...

Norm: Organizations, mechanistic or organic, over time become more inefficient (but that need not be the end of the story). There is comfort in inertia and there is much power, too, among a significant ‘few’ to resist change. Couple this with costs rising at higher rates than revenues (and such in a sluggish economy!) and ministry mindsets replaced by corporate ones (but ill-informed about corporations, nonetheless), and you get, well … you are experiencing it. It is not new funding models that are going to reinvigorate SBC, for that is surface stuff; the problem with SBC at the institutional level is that it is not well-suited to operate in today’s environment for it does not know who or what it is, thus it does not know how to share who or what it is and about. When ministers assume control of denominational entities, whom by and large are not qualified to lead them (note: leading a mega-church is NOT the same as leading an entity such as NAMB, nor in most cases is such experience sufficient experience), the problem is further aggravated. And the hope of the people is not that things of significance will be accomplished, but that the new leader will not do anything to embarrass the convention.

Anonymous said...

I know virtually nothing about Brother Ezell, and wish him the best--although I do share many of the same concerns that William articulates. But I also have one aditional concern. We all (or at least most who comment in blogs, especially over the past couple of years) know that NAMB has become a dysfunctional organization. That Dr. Ezell is a good pastor and administrator does not necessarily mean that he knows how to operate in a dysfunctional situation; indeed, dysfunctional organizations tend to pull even spiritually and emotionally healthy individuals who are unprepared and/or unaware down to their level, to the lowest common denominator. This is something I learned in pastoring troubled churches for 18 trying years. Another thing I learned is that dysfunction is never just one layer deep, and even relatively healthy individuals in a dysfunctional organization tend to operate in dysfunctional ways. Furthermore, dysfunction tends to permeat through all levels of a bureaucratic organization, and it requires not only resources and gumption to change, it also requires intentionality and time. In several state conventions we have consultants able and willing to work with dysfunctional churches, probably including Georgia. I certainly hope that Dr. Ezell will take advantage of such consultants, and not enter with the opinion that all which is necessary is for him to breathe fresh air in the halls of NAMB.

John Fariss

William Thornton said...

Well, let's be optimistic brethren. While I think Norm is on target about megapastors not really having any great experience or qualificaitons that assure their success with such a large, sprawling, and yes, dysfunctional, organization such as NAMB, I can't imagine the SBC turning to any non-minister to lead it.

I thought Richard Harris would be a good transitional leader but the trustees evidently thought otherwise. Surely, Ezell will have sufficient wisdom to know his limitations and the learning curve he faces.

I wish him well and he has my prayers.