Saturday, September 26, 2015

State conventions try to slow the dreaded denominational death march

Amuse yourself with over 28,000 articles on "death of denominations" and then do some sober thinking about the closest thing to a denomination to the average Southern Baptist pastor: his state convention.

Our beloved International Mission Board might be the latest to implement severe cuts in employment levels. Their August bombshell declared that 600-800 personnel would have to leave for the organization to have a viable future, one where the bills could be paid. This is an 11-15 percent cut in staffing.

That level of cutbacks looks pretty attractive to many state conventions. I'll just mention Georgia and Florida. While it's tough to get firm numbers on staff, I'll make a conjecture that 50% cutbacks are closer to the norm for state conventions. None of the SBC level entities have dealt with cutting their staffing in half.

Here in Georgia a "reinvention" is underway in which

  • We change our name from the commonly used, "Georgia Baptist Convention" to "Georgia Baptist Mission Board." 
  • Our leader declares, "We are a missionary sending agency in Georgia." 
I'm OK with changing the labels, although some may confuse us with NAMB and IMB in our identification as a "sending agency." The new GBMB has staff that serves GBMB churches and our common support "sends" these people around the state. Give me time to grieve the loss of the old "GBC" which rolls easily off the tongue and keyboard. "GBMB" is rather wooden, though just as toothy. I understand the desire to brand the GBC/GBMB as a missions enterprise. 
  • We decentralize, sort of.
GBC workers are high-mileage travelers. I have no complaint about any of them. Several have helped me immensely. In the future there will be a centralized staff but one that is supplemented and multiplied by "field based personnel", clergy and church staff who are on a retainer to do stuff for churches. A suggested stipend of $1,000 per month, paid by the GBC, for a year's worth of consulting. Resumes from church staff are now inundating the state convention. 

The last time I needed guidance from a GBC expert on a specific church project I had to retain the employee on his spare time for a couple of thousand dollars. The GBC paid his salary, trained him, and gave him skills in demand of the churches. My church had to pay him to do the job. Maybe the field based people will do tasks like this for the churches without charging. We will see how this works out.  
  • We sell the building, maybe.
The last grand hurrah of the showpiece, centralized, first class denominational office building is the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center in Duluth. No state has a finer one. We're closing it on Fridays and it "could" be sold for the right price to the right customer. The staff could move to more modest headquarters and excess funds put in trust for use in the state. 
  • We give the SBC an additional 2%
The GBC had their $25 million building debt paid off, indirectly, through the sale of hospitals we used to own. Half of the savings on debt service will go to SBC ministries. IMB gets about a quarter million additional funds. We use the other half here.

In our sunny neighbor state to the south, Florida, The Florida Baptist State Board of Missions, is downsizing and decentralizing.
  • Statewide employees will be reduced from 115 to 61.
This is serious business. The savings from paying staff will raise the...
  • SBC share of Cooperative Program revenues will go from 45% to 51%.
I believe this will but the FBSBM ahead of all other legacy state conventions is the CP "split." I'm shocked at the rapid movement to give away CP revenues to the mission boards and seminaries. This is impressive. 
  • State staff will no longer take interim pastorates.
The new executive says what should be obvious to every state convention leader: having state staff take interim pastorates keeps them out of other churches. Want to get the average, loyal, supportive SBC pastor riled up? Start a conversation about these interim jobs.  
  • "Decentralization, regionalization and personalization" is the concept.
Some staff will live in various regions. The idea is a "new delivery system."

Will changes such as these slow the death of the state convention?

I hope it hastens the death of the centralized state convention. When you can ask pastors what their state convention means to them and immediately get a variety of concrete, positive answers, then perhaps the obituary state conventions can be said to be premature.

1 comment:

dr. james willingham said...

The alleged decentralizing could be a cover for more powerful structure, yet to be revealed in the future, for government from the top down. I Must admit to being a bit apprehensive at the thought, but having some grounds for suspicion I think it likely that this is a plan from the outside just as I believe the controversy over the Bible was under the control of outside forces, aided by inside minions and by those who generally are tare hairs. Not that we did not need to clear the air. After all, as I know from person experience, the Moderates would not allow anyone to teach verbal inspiration which would contradict their view point. Even in the beginning, the fuss over Calvinism and Arminianism was aggravated after the problems were worked out in Virginia and Kentucky and followed by others in neighboring states. The dominant crowd among Regular Baptists and even Separate Baptists was what we now call Calvinism, violating the precept of scripturem when the best term would be Sovereign Grace. Be that as it may, the course chosen by the dominant group was one of peace, and the chairman of the committee that came up with the idea that the preaching that Christ tasted death for every man okay was Ambrose Dudley, a Separate Baptist who later become a leading Primitive Baptist. In any case, the majority of Baptists holding Sovereign Grace chose to work peacefully with those who held the view expressed above and who were willing to suffer for the cause of Christ and to work with the dominant group.