Graham & Prestonwood’s Serious Threat to Cooperative Ministry Efforts

At times, Baptists from Texas have been known to cause a ruckus in SBC life. It was about 40 years ago that Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler were forming plans for a revolution in the Southern Baptist Convention. Yesterday, news dropped that a Texas megachurch pastor aims to make serious waves in the SBC – but with a wholly different approach than Pressler and Patterson.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist, through one of their staff, announced that the church would be withholding their Cooperative Program giving, one million dollars annually, until they’re more satisfied with the leadership and direction of the SBC. We’re tempted to be shocked by this action because of the number of zeros that accompanies the financial figure. But the real story here is that a former SBC President has chosen such a destructive tactic to strong-arm change in our cooperative ministries. That’s a serious charge. And I plan in this article to explain why the charge is not overstated.

This Tactic Is Destructive to SBC Cooperative Work

Pressler and Patterson showed the way to affect change in SBC life. They worked through the bylaws and convention processes to win a majority of committee and trustee spots in order to affect change.

It’s a good thing for all of us their tactic wasn’t to withhold or redirect Cooperative Program giving. Had they chosen that path during the 70’s and 80’s, who can doubt it would have led to a splintering or fracturing of the SBC rather than the unprecedented resurgence God allowed us to see?

The reason Jack Graham’s tactics are destructive to the SBC is not because the budget will take a hit, as sorry as I am to see our missions work and seminaries have less resources to use. His tactics are destructive because as soon as this philosophy is adopted, as soon as Graham’s behavior is emulated, the entire endeavor of cooperative ministry collapses. Envision this: Faction is quickly pitted against faction in SBC life in ways far more dramatic than anything we’ve seen before. Each group states their demands and holds hostage their missions giving until those demands are met. Some factions give up and splinter off. The ones with the big money buy their influence and no one cares what the vast majority of SBC churches think—because their budget isn’t big enough for their threats to matter. This doesn’t even take into account how many churches and pastors check out of cooperative ministry because it’s become as politicized as secular politics.

If Jack Graham believes dramatic change is needed in SBC life (and I’ll disagree with him all day about that, but that’s another conversation), he should emulate those that have gone before us, continue to cooperate in good faith, and seek to influence by advocating, electing, and convincing rather than threatening to defund cooperative ministry. Pressler and Patterson chose the way of courage. It was costly and took time, but the fruit is evident now. What we’re seeing today is not courage. It’s destructive and should be widely condemned.

Withholding Funds to Seek Influence Should Be Rejected

Yesterday’s press release indicated Prestonwood was withholding funding because of their concerns and that it likely would be restored if those concerns were satisfied. This is seeking to influence through financial pressure and I see no way around that interpretation. It sounds from the press release that Graham and Prestonwood wouldn’t even dispute that’s the purpose, even if they don’t like the wording of my description.

Graham’s views on the direction of the SBC have been clear for anyone who cared to listen. They’ve been promoted by some of the more tabloid-style state Baptist papers. I’ve known for some time now that Graham isn’t happy with Russell Moore. The article indicates there are additional unnamed concerns.

Now, I’m actually a pretty big advocate of churches being able to give to cooperative missions as they feel led and not guilted into a certain percentage. So this would seem like an issue where I’d normally say, sure, Prestonwood, if that’s how you feel led to steward your money, then have at it. What makes me see this as more than just a local church stewardship issue?

Local church stewardship issues—when a church’s leadership feels stewardship demands missions dollars be redirected—can be handled wisely and quietly. I’ve handled some in the past. Never have I thought it would be productive to publicize reasons we decided to end support for a ministry. There’s a way to redirect missions giving as a church leader that doesn’t end up at a press conference or in a newspaper headline. This is not about an autonomous SBC church choosing to give (or not give) in a different pattern than they used to. This is about taking that decision and using it to pressure and cause people to take your threats and your position more seriously than your voice alone warrants.

Please don’t miss the fact that Prestonwood could have quietly (or, less desirably, vocally) withheld funding from just the ERLC, which receives a small percentage of total CP giving while continuing to fund IMB, NAMB, our SBC seminaries. Why withhold all CP money and why the press release? Those are only a few of the questions that make this situation so disturbing.

We don’t have a convention where big money buys a big voice. But that’s exactly how we’re being treated right now. Those who have a lot of money are in the newspaper reminding us—in dollar figure form no less—that their voice needs to be heeded, or else…

A Few More Questions

Is this the way we want the SBC to operate in the future—Churches threatening to withhold money until their demands are met? Churches with big budgets calling the shots while thousands of average-sized churches watch and hope our vision for the convention aligns with the self-appointed convention benefactors? Do we really want IMB personnel on the field waiting to hear if churches are withholding funds because we can’t get along about secular politics?

I reject this future for the SBC, and because I do, I can’t be silent now. This path is destructive to our cooperative work and I pray we don’t choose it. Jack Graham and Prestonwood, leadership here looks like reversing this decision. Other SBC leaders, if they won’t, please call this for what it is.

NOBA Statement in Support of Russell Moore

The New Orleans Baptist Association this morning published a letter titled Hard-Pressed But Not Beaten: A Word of Support for Dr. Russell Moore and the ERLC. The letter was signed by a group of pastors and leaders from the New Orleans area: past SBC President Fred Luter, Jr., David Crosby, Chad Gilbert, Page Brooks, Mike Miller, Anna Palmer, Geovanny Gomez, Jay Adkins, Larry Johnson, and Jack Hunter.

The letter is not only a well-articulated argument for Russell Moore’s effectiveness as ERLC President (they say “Moore is especially well-suited to engage the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and, as such, is ideal for this post.”) but is also notable as a response to some Louisiana Baptist leaders who have been publicly critical of Moore and the ERLC in recent months. Full text is reprinted below with permission, original post is here.

Hard-Pressed But Not Beaten: A Word of Support for Dr. Russell Moore and the ERLC

As reported in recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and Christianity Today, Dr. Russell Moore is again the focus of criticism among some Southern Baptists for positions that he took during the Presidential campaign, things that he said, and the way that he said them.

At the 2016 meeting of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Executive Board took under advisement a motion to “study the recent actions of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission with regard to issues of concern to Louisiana Baptists.”

We are pulling for Dr. Moore. Here’s why.

Dr. Moore speaks with a prophetic voice to our faith community about how to live for Christ and his kingdom in our culture. We don’t expect him to gauge our opinions on social, political, and economic issues and then promote our consensus position. He’s a leader raised up by God to help guide us in this new day.

He doesn’t speak just to us. He also speaks to our culture and to those who shape it. Should we be embarrassed that Dr. Moore has rebuked the behavior of persons who have risen to positions of political power? Should we de-fund the ERLC because a person whose character he’s criticized has achieved the highest office in the land, besting another candidate whose behavior and policies he also rebuked?

Dr. Moore has demonstrated that he will not “go along” in order to “get along” with persons in political office. Are there Southern Baptists who expect this of the person who leads the ERLC? We don’t. Moreover, we believe that Dr. Moore is especially well-suited to engage the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and, as such, is ideal for this post.

Some note that Dr. Moore’s tone has been, at times, direct, sharp, and critical, and that it hasn’t always been as statesmanlike as perhaps it could have been. If, in his zeal for righteousness, Dr. Moore has offended brothers in the cause of Christ, then he should reflect, confess, and seek to make amends, where appropriate. We were not surprised to read just such an apology from Dr. Moore in his Christmas letter. You may read it in its entirety here.

Dr. Moore has also been a zealous advocate on behalf of the unborn, the family, the vulnerable, the weak, and the strangers among us, and vigorous in his defense of religious liberty and against racism. We commend him for his leadership, and pray that God will continue to grant him wisdom to know the right, strength to stand for it, and voice to speak it.

Southern Baptists also will be held to account for how we respond to the prophetic voices that God has given us.

Martin Luther King was another during our lifetime that spoke with a prophetic voice on important issues of social justice. He, too, was a Baptist preacher. Many in the mainstream rejected his message and despised him. Despite the opposition, he did not shrink back. As a faith community, we have still not made up the ground that we lost decades ago because of our rejection of his message of justice.

Dr. Moore speaks with a prophetic voice to this generation. We may not like everything that he says, but we fear what our faith community may become if we lose his voice.

Our allegiance is not to a political party or majority opinion, but rather to the person of Jesus Christ and to his kingdom. We are grateful for the clarion voice that God has given Dr. Russell Moore. He has helped us navigate the intersection of the faith once given to the saints and contemporary culture.

We’re praying that Dr. Moore’s heart will be kept humble before God and his people, and that he will continue to call us to Christ and the gospel despite this latest round of criticism.

For Christ and his kingdom,

Fred Luter, Jr.     Chad Gilbert

David Crosby     Page Brooks

Mike Miller     Anna Palmer

Geovanny Gomez     Jay Adkins

Larry Johnson     Jack Hunter

Crosby, Luter, Hunter, and Others Call for Unity Among Louisiana Baptists

Today the New Orleans Baptist Association published an important article signed by 7 New Orleans area pastors and the Executive Director of the NOBA. The post calls for unity and an end to the divisiveness that’s been shown by Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC) leadership and the state Baptist newspaper, the Baptist Message. I’m tremendously grateful for these eight leaders and their willingness to speak out publicly about their concern for Louisiana Baptists.

NOBA_ArticleI’ve watched the Louisiana Baptist Convention from a distance for several years now, and with great concern for what I see as damage being done to cooperative SBC work and the reputation of Christ among Southern Baptists. The article lays out some specific concerns, and I won’t rehash them here, but they are concerns I’ve held for a long time and think they are valid and need to be addressed. Calling attention to the situation in Louisiana is the right thing to do.

Here is one of the key sections in the NOBA post:

Because unity is highly valued among our churches, we are troubled by the critical editorials in our state Baptist paper against SBC agency heads David Platt and Russell Moore. This combative tenor is not new in our state. Within the past few years, Louisiana College was often in the news with stories about professors who were ‘let go’ because they were Reformed-leaning.

A few in our state have developed a reputation for being inhospitable toward Reformed pastors, professors, and denominational leaders, with assertions that they are prepared to split our Convention over this issue.

Do we want our Convention split in two? Do we want to continue to read editorials in our state Baptist paper critical of SBC agency presidents? Do we want unity or division?

Leaders lead. What kind of qualities do we want our leaders to demonstrate?

Jack Hunter, NOBA Executive Director, Fred Luter, and David Crosby are (to me) the most well known names to sign the document. A former SBC President and someone who ran for SBC President this year, both of whom are highly regarded by virtually all corners of SBC life. The entire list is:

Jack Hunter, Executive Director, New Orleans Baptist Association
Fred Luter, Pastor, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church
David Crosby, Pastor, First Baptist Church of New Orleans
Mike Miller, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Kenner
Geovanny Gomez, Pastor, La Viña Spanish Baptist Church
Page Brooks, Pastor, Canal Street Church
Chad Gilbert, Pastor, Edgewater Baptist Church
Larry Johnson, Pastor, Crossroads Community Church

Indeed, leaders lead. And this is the kind of leadership that’s been long needed in Louisiana. It’s my belief and hope that these names represent many others who share the same concerns. May God bless these brothers and their efforts at seeing positive change in LBC life.

It’s Not Tricky: J. D. Is the Best Choice for SBC President

I’ll add my voice to those who have commended all three candidates in this year’s presidential election. I don’t have anything negative to write about Crosby or Gaines. I even blogged in a recap of last years convention about the positive experience I had meeting and talking with Steve Gaines at last year’s convention. I appreciate what I know of both of the other candidates. But as I try to picture a healthy SBC in 10 years, there’s no doubt in my mind that J. D. Greear is the best choice to lead us in that direction.

12 years ago Jimmy Draper launched an initiative to engage and develop young leaders and pastors in the convention. That was a hugely encouraging step back in those days.  I remember it as a time when many of us were disillusioned and felt disconnected from the convention itself. I was 24 years old and my first convention was Nashville in 2005. I went away from the pastor’s conference wondering if I was even wanted in the SBC. We have come a long way in ten years. Jimmy Draper saw then, and we should see now, that developing, engaging, and recruiting young leaders is one of the keys to a healthy future. I say that as someone who’s nearing, or maybe has already passed the young demographic. I need to be involved in helping engage those younger than me.

Greear is the best option to engage young pastors in SBC life. He’s led Summit to invest heavily in our cooperative work, with an emphasis in international missions. This along with church planting and theological training, are the elements that will continue to drive the renewed interest we’re seeing among leaders.

If we could have asked, back in 2005, what kind of young leaders we would like to develop and see take on leadership in the years ahead, you couldn’t have painted a more compelling picture than the work Greear has done at Summit Church.

He’s been a helpful voice in convention life for a number of years now. He’s refused to get involved in the Calvinism divisiveness. He’s invested his own life in taking the gospel to the nations. He’s modeled healthy cultural engagement, speaking graciously while standing firm on biblical principles.

When you consider the SBC—not only in 2016, but also in 2026 and beyond—it’s clear to me that Greear models where we should be going. And he’s the best choice to lead on the journey to get there.