Aspect 7(b): A Mission Based on Local Church Initiative and Supplemented by Entities and Associations (NAMB, state conventions, ERLC, local associations)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

What are some challenges ahead for the North American Mission Board and the State Conventions? It is the charge of both the NAMB and the state conventions to reach the United States of America with the gospel. How might they partner together in order to serve the church and further the church’s mission in a 21st century context? A detailed answer to this eludes our grasp, but some things are certain. The state conventions must have a renewed focus on church planting and renewal, and NAMB must be a handmaiden who provides resources for that task. Unless there are major changes in the state conventions and at the NAMB, it is doubtful that younger pastors will give their money to the CP or seek the resources of the NAMB. They will bypass the CP and give straight to Lottie Moon, if they give at all, and they will seek church planting advice and training from sources other than the NAMB and the state conventions. This type of bypassing has already begun to take place, and at a rapid rate.

Our state conventions must streamline and focus themselves. They must get rid of whatever unnecessary bureaucracy exists and focus their energies on church planting and church renewal. If they refuse, they will be forced to reduce their budgets drastically because a younger generation of churches will not give to the state conventions merely out of a sense of loyalty. Likewise, the NAMB has its work cut out as it adjusts to the 21st century context. Many of our younger church planters are bypassing the NAMB for other church planting networks and resource centers. In terms of resource-access, these networks have become functional substitutes for the state conventions and for the NAMB. Perhaps a revisioning of the NAMB-state convention relationship would look something like this: The state conventions reorganize, streamlining their operations so that at least 50% of it goes to the national convention, while at least 30% of the in-state remainder goes to in-state church planting and renewal. At the same time the NAMB reorganizes, ceasing to become a mission-funding organization and instead becoming a small, sleek, and efficient group of church planting and renewal consultants who provide resources for the state conventions (as the state conventions focus primarily church planting and renewal themselves). This is a radical suggestion, for sure, but radical ideas are needed for our future effectiveness. All options need to be put on the table for careful and deliberate consideration.

What will be the role of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in a 21st century context? Southern Baptist churches have long been involved in public square issues, and the ERLC was formed to serve our local churches in that facet. Three challenges in particular lie ahead for the ERLC as it serves our churches in the 21st century. First, the ERLC, alongside of our churches, must stand strong in the midst of an increasingly relativistic culture. Nowhere is such relativism more evident than the controversies surrounding life, death, and sexuality. Second, it must seek to bear witness to the gospel, and to the implications of the gospel for our society and culture, in a way that is gracious, prophetic, and compelling. It must be prophetic in its willingness to point out evil and its consequences. It must be gracious, or else it will contradict the very message of grace. And it must be compelling, seeking to win and persuade our society to what is true and good. Finally, we must not tie ourselves to any one political party, because to do so would distort and domesticate the gospel: “Inappropriate is the only adequate term,” writes Paige Patterson, “to describe purely partisan politics or the use of the pulpit to endorse personalities running for political office.”[1] Likewise, I (Danny Akin) have argued: “Our hope is not in Republicans or Democrats, Congress or Capitol Hill. Our hope, the world’s hope, is in Calvary’s hill and a crucified and risen Savior….”[2] The gospel cannot be domesticated to fit the agenda of any one worldly political party.

What are some of the challenges facing local associations in upcoming years? In the years of horse-drawn buggies, local associations provided resources for pastors who could not travel to the state convention offices for assistance. In the ensuing years, local associations have also become facilitators of fellowship for pastors in the local associations. For some churches, their closest ties are to their local association. In the 21st century, however, many pastors and churches are able easily to find resources outside of the local association and look for fellowship based on affinity as much as geography. In light of the present situation, perhaps we will see local churches choosing their associations rather than having their associations chosen for them. In addition to county seat-based associations, will we see the creation of voluntary, affinity-based associations, formed for the sake of mission? This would give local churches the freedom to align with an association that best fits their needs, or to align with multiple associations. One could easily see a larger church that is part of a national megachurch network (that ministered to the unique needs of larger churches) as well as a local association with churches of all sizes (that is focusing on planting churches in a tri-county area, for example). The upshot of this discussion is that local associations, like state conventions and national entities, exist to serve the local church and further her mission.


[1] Patterson, “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC,” 48.

[2] Daniel Akin, “Axioms,” 7.

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  23Comments

  1. Beegee Brown   •  

    State conventions and NAMB will never be effective again without strengthened local churches. Planting new churches that only enjoy attraction growth will not expand the Kingdom. The work of convnetions and NAMB (if we have to continue it) should be to enhance “equipping the saints for the ministry of the gospel.” Christ left heaven for sinners- why won’t Christians leave their buildings for the lost under the shadow of the steeple?

  2. Wesley Handy   •  

    It seems to me that Local Associations are the best means for cooperating for mission. For instance, if we are talking about church planting, evangelism, and missions, why is it best to cooperate with a body of believers counties or even states away when we have neighbors, colleagues, friends, family living within close proximity through whom we might best reach our own locality and then the world.

    The problem that we have in North America is that we are depending on associations, conventions and boards to plant churches. Why is the modus operandi for the IMB “Churches planting Churches” while in N.A. its assoc/conv/boards planting churches?

    Furthermore, how can we expect to improve cooperation on state and national levels if we cannot lovingly build local cooperation?

  3. Steve Schenewerk   •  

    I agree with all you men are saying. HOWEVER, there is a problem. Most of those local associational missionaries were trained under a radically different system than the one required to move forward. To change our associations and state conventions we must encourage our younger pastors to get invovled. In the NW this has been a HUGE issue. We hear lots of complaints from younger pastors, but rare involvement. As a veteran (30plus years)in the NWBC and five or six local associations I pray diligently for our churches to stop planning for the 1950’s again and again and start focusing on the 21st century. As you may or may not know the NWBC just bagan a huge restructuing process that has created some friction between older pastors, and assocaitions. We are still barely into the process, but change must occur at the local level before it will change at the regional and national level. That’s my 2 cents!

  4. walter price   •  

    Thanks guys for some great thinking. Young pastors have no interest in perpetuating and being actively involved in 3 separate autonomous entities. If our leadership is not hearing that, they are not listening.

    Praying for the GCRTF.

  5. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Begee, Wesley, Steve, and Walter, thank you for your contribution to the conversation. Great to hear from you.

  6. Les Puryear   •  

    You wrote that NAMB should reorganize to be an “efficient group of church planting and renewal consultants who provide resources for the state conventions.”

    I love this apporach. Also, thank you for including church renewal in your vision. I think sometimes church renewal gets lost among the frenzy to plant new churches.

    Les

  7. Ryan Abernathy   •  

    I’m a 34 year old pastor in Oklahoma City. I agree wholeheartedly with Wesley. We need churches planting churches. I would be much more interested in putting money and support into a church we can see, hear from, and support than an administrative entity. I say this as a guy who planted partnership with an Association, NAMB, and a local church. The best financial support came from NAMB but the best encouragement and counsel came from the local church. If the church who supported us had sent less money to NAMB they would have been able to plant a church without any additional support. In hindsight, this would have been the best model.

  8. Cory Lamb   •  

    I have concerns about the following statement:

    ” At the same time the NAMB reorganizes, ceasing to become a mission-funding organization and instead becoming a small, sleek, and efficient group of church planting and renewal consultants who provide resources for the state conventions (as the state conventions focus primarily church planting and renewal themselves).

    I strongly believe that NAMB needs to be restructured. However if NAMB ceases to be a missions funding organization overnight then the majority of Native American work, especially on the Navajo reservation, will die overnight with the change. Since the beginning of Southern Baptist missions efforts, on the Navajo reservation, we have taught the people to rely upon us for everything. We have taught the people that we will do the work, we will do the funding, and we will do the building. This should not be, but change out here will not happen overnight. I think we need to take more of a churches planting churches approach as the IMB does on the foreign field instead of let’s start churches (often times by the association and not the church), and form associations, and allow NAMB to fund everything. As I type this, I’m starting to realize that maybe NAMB should stop funding, so that unhealthy churches on the reservation will be yanked off of life support and allowed to die, in order for a more biblical approach to missions and church planting among the Navajo may take place. So forget that I had any concerns. But we must realize that very many old pastors, missionaries, and ministry leaders will not like this idea, because it will more than likely cause their work to fizzle out as funding is lost.

  9. Nathan Finn   •  

    As you brothers know, I am 100% for streamlining at every level of our denominational polity. This is just good stewardship. I do think, however, that there will be more to many state conventions’ agendas than simply “a renewed focus on church planting and renewal,” though as you know I am all for these things becoming a greater priority.

    For what it’s worth, I personal hope three (primarily) state convention ministries have a future:

    First, state Baptist colleges and universities have played a key role in our history, and those that are rooted in orthodoxy and on friendly terms with their state conventions should receive continued–even increased–financial support.

    Second, many states sponsor children homes, and with the renewed interest in adoption and foster care among Southern Baptists–healthy trends–I think such homes can play a role in connection children with loving Christian families.

    Finally, right now disaster relief is coordinated by state conventions in conjunction with NAMB. State conventions should continue to engage in this crucial mercy ministry, which also opens the door for thousands of evangelistic encounters every year.

  10. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Les, Ryan, and Cory, thank you for reading and contributing to the conversation!

    Nathan, agreed on all three points. Colleges and universities allow us to work out the implications of the gospel in every dimension of society and culture (arts, sciences, education, etc.). Children’s homes are a way of loving God’s children and further are a sign of the kingdom to come. Disaster relief is a way of loving our neighbor, embodying the gospel, and is a sign of the kingdom. Hopefully, these ministries will be strengthened as we plant and renew churches, who are the human and financial lifeblood of those same ministries.

  11. Ken   •  

    I personally agree with this post, especially the idea of networking. Many of my fellow mission pastors already connect through a variety of networks based on relationships, people groups, and like mindedness. While geography can play a role in who you work with, it is no longer the sole determiner of our connections.

  12. Roger K. Simpson   •  

    Dr Finn:

    You mentioned three ministries that you believe state conventions should keep going: (a) children’s homes, (b)colleges and universities, and (c) disaster relief.

    How about campgrounds such as Falls Creek here in Oklahoma?

    While campgrounds may use some CP funds for operating expense such as salaries, some [most?] of their operating funds come from non-CP souces such as user fees. Campgrounds also have capital giving campaigns that are separate from the CP. Here in Oklahoma, at least, churches build and pay for their own “cabins” at the Falls Creek campground.

    My point is that even if the state conventions shut down the campgrounds, I don’t think it would have a big effect on boosting the CP percentage states send to Nashville.

  13. Nathan Finn   •  

    Roger,

    I shared the three state convention ministries I care most about (in addition to church planting and revitalization). In some states, like OK, there are historic camps that have exercised considerable influence in their states. I think that many of these camps will continue to receive some CP funds, so long as the churches believe they are viable and worthwhile ministries. The same is true of every state-level ministry! It’s all about what the churches want. Again, I just shared three ministries that I hope have a future.

    NAF

  14. Tim Rogers   •  

    Dr. Finn,

    Surely you do not believe that state conventions do only education, children home ministries, and disaster relief. What about the Evangelism Department? Do you believe we should do away with an entire division that specializes in church revitalization?

    Dr. Ashford,

    With your “atta boy” to Brother Wesley you seem to admonish a combining of associations with state conventions into one SBC. Brother, if we get to that point we have lost the autonomous nature of what baptist have consistently stood for. I believe if you will check with your colleague, Dr. Finn, he would probably encourage you in the fact that the autonomy of the local church, associations, and state conventions is what has kept baptist from becoming catholicized (if that is a word) :) in our polity.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  15. Matt   •  

    Tim,
    You should actually read the comments before responding to them. None of your assertions are found anywhere in the comments to which you are responding.

    Matt

  16. Paul Stohler   •  

    I’m pretty sure that I would fall into the young pastor category at 29 years if age. I am in my first pastorate and have the blessing of a SBC/CP helped seminary degree. My question is, who are these “younger pastors” we keep reading about that are painted with such broad strokes? Personally, I do not find myself in agreeance with the suggestions made about younger pastors in these articles. Would we even be having these “younger pastor” problems if the Acts 29 “network” wasn’t so cool and trendy? Isn’t this really the Jones’ we are trying to keep up with to stay hip and cool?

  17. Tim Rogers   •  

    Matt,

    Unless you can tell me what I have misread, please do not express your opinion.

    Dr. Finn said there were three things that state conventions should maintain. I am not the only one that pointed that out, look at Roger Simpson’s response. Certainly state conventions do more than just three things. Dr. Ashford told Walter Price he had made a positive contribution to this post. Walter Price’s statement was that three autonomous agencies would not be supported by younger pastors. Three autonomous agencies is the polity of Baptists. Associations were around before national denominations, as well as state conventions. I do not believe Southern Baptist are ready to form one denomination that will take the place of autonomous associations and state conventions.

    So, Matt, it seems that I am reading the comments. I do encourage you to heed your own advice.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  18. Matt   •  

    Tim,
    Either you do not understand the comments that were made or intentionally misrepresented them.

    First, Dr. Finn noted that he had three ministries that he personally hoped would have a future. In your first comment you asked if Dr. Finn would “only” want these to continue. This was neither implied nor stated in Dr. Finn’s comments.

    Second, you addressed *Wes’s* comment (i.e. not Walter’s, which is the one you brought up in the last comment), and you chide Dr. Ashford for his commendation of Wes’ comment and assert that he seems “to admonish a combining of associations with state conventions into one SBC.” You then use the word “catholicize” to characterize this. Brother, none of what you state is even remotely in Wes’ comments. His comment notes a desire to see associations function in a healthy way, and to put church planting in the hands of *local autonomous churches*. That is about as far from what you assert they say as possible.

    Third, if you have a problem with Walter’s comment, fine. All Dr. Ashford said to him was that it was great to hear from him and that he was glad he *contributed* to the conversation. Nothing was said in agreement or disagreement, i.e. there was no hint of an “atta boy”. Again, a far cry from what you assert in your first comment.

    And so I must conclude that either a) you did not read his comment, b) you did not read it carefully, or c) you intentionally misrepresented it. I sincerely hope it is not the last of these, and so I chose to advise you to read the comments more carefully.

    Matt

  19. Tim Rogers   •  

    Matt,

    Obviously you have an agenda to place me in a category that is not either astute enough to read or you want me to be categorized as one that causes contention. Because this conversation is not healthy for either of us, I will choose to back out.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Praying one day you will see your way clear to be part of the SBC.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  20. Roger K. Simpson   •  

    Dr Finn:

    You have nailed it: . . “It is all about what churches want”

    The problem is in reconciling these two facts:

    1. Virtually all of the things that the state conventions do are (or were — at some time maybe in the distant past) things that churches asked for. This includes campgrounds, help with evangelism, schools and universities, campus ministries, childrens homes, setting up annuities for retirement funds for pastors, senior citizens homes, and disaster relief.

    2. Very few people in the pews realize that such a tiny portion of their giving actually goes to either the NAMB or IMB.

    Solving this problem is not simple. I believe the task force assumes that the guys in the pews will rise up from the grassroots and demand that state conventions trim the percentage of CP funds they keep. However, at the same time I don’t think the idea of spinning off or shutting down ministries — now operated by the states — is going to pass muster with the guys in the pew. There is not enough low hanging fruit at the state level that can be cut away to solve the funding problem at the IMB.

    I predict that the solution will be a mixture of:

    (a) churches giving more to CP and
    (b) state conventions making marginal adjustments to boost the percentage they send to Nashville

    Part (a) involves:
    (1) individuals giving more to their churches (tithing)
    and
    (2)churches sending a greater percentage of their undesignated offerings to CP.

    I think at least 70% [probably 80% to 90%] of the action is in part (a) with the local churches — not with the state conventions.

  21. A Humble Blog Reader   •  

    Matt,

    Thank you.

  22. Matt   •  

    Tim,
    Once again neither of your comments make sense in light of what has already been said. I would leave it alone, but since you are again making untrue assertions, I will respond one last time.

    First, I have no agenda. I am merely pointing out what you have said about other comments and then comparing it with what actually has been said in those comments. That does not sound like an agenda to me.

    Second, I am very confused by your assertion that you hope I choose to be part of the SBC. Seeing as I am already a part of it, I am not sure what this means.

    I would suggest one last time that if you choose to continue to comment on this blog, you do so in a way that does not misrepresent what others have said and does not make bald assertions that have no basis in fact.

    Matt

  23. Kyle   •  

    I must confess that I am one of those disillusioned young pastors who loves and serves as senior pastor in a SBC church. I have met with my congregational leaders and told them the truth about how money is being spent through our association and through our state and national convention. Dr. Akin said himself “If our folks in the pew knew how much of their giving stayed in there state they would revolt and call for a revolution”. I believe Dr. Akin is right in this matter and to take it a step further for us as pastors not to tell our congregations how their giving is being spent is a lie.
    From the early years of my salvation till this very day I hear compassionate pleas from true servants of God to their people to tithe their incomes because there are so many missionaries who can not go to their mission fields due to lack of funding. Missions are why people give. My eyes were opened several years ago when I attended my first state convention as a pastor and learned that not even half of our monies make it to the mission field. I also learned that the term “Mission field” has become a relative term determined by who ever is seeking to receive monies from the state. I learned from a former state convention president that several of our SBC institutions that receive state monies receive annuities to support them and they do not need a dime but still take the money.
    I can not speak for all of our SBC schools but I can tell you that I do not want our money supporting the SBC School I attended in my state. All I heard when I surrendered to the Ministry was you have to go to this SBC school. This school is the best in the world to give you an SBC education. I went and was devastated. I spent a year and a half at this school and had 2 professors who claimed they were Southern Baptist and the rest were from all across the board denominationally. You would not believe what was being taught at this school. The school built a multi million dollar football stadium and expanded its sports complex while I was there. They offered full and partial scholarships to athletes who were not and did not plan on becoming Christians while preacher boys were working two jobs to pay their way through.
    I have two pastors in my area that are trying to start churches to spread the Gospel of Christ and they have to raise much of their own support while our schools are building football stadiums, lunch rooms and adorning their campuses with statues of Jesus declaring in our states SBC paper they have had record enrollment this year. I refuse to be that irresponsible with Gods money and I refuse to sweep the fact that it is taking place under the rug to my congregation. I will not lie to the people God has brought me here to serve.
    This is what the leadership and I have decided to do:
    1. Cut state and associational giving to 2% each. (Subject to change soon)
    2. Send 3.25% directly to IMB and NAMB
    3. Send 3% directly to the 2 pastors that are starting churches in our area
    4. Send 200 dollars a month directly to a church that is struggling to stay open
    5. Spend 1.5% on Samaritan purse shoe boxes (1-7 who receive a box receive Christ)
    6. We have a Jerusalem fund that is used for mission projects with-in a 50 mile radius of the church.
    7. We are actively involved supporting missionaries financially as well as hands on in several countries.
    I have been told by several pastors I love that because of our giving I probably would not be asked to serve on any state or associational committees. I am thankful for their concern but just the same God did not call me to be politician he called me to preach His truth. I do not have to be known as a pastor of a 10% or higher church. My desire is to make Him known.
    We as leaders of this church feel that we are using Gods money in the most responsible ways, evaluating yearly each line item in our budget to see that the money spent is reaching the most people for the Lord. Please show me where this is wrong. I believe that as a pastor I will be held accountable for where Gods money is sent. I can no longer feel that I am being a good steward of Gods money by blindly sending it to one location and hoping things are going to work out eventually. But if or when things do change I will support the CP with ever ounce of effort that I can.

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