Some pretty good Baptist talk; some not so much

You can decide which is which for yourself.

I give Mike Leake high marks for his post calling the Sunday worship service a “weekly cataclysm,”  a very nicely turned phrase. I confess that there was an occasional worship service I presided over that was a weekly calamity because of various things. Thank God that another Sunday arrives in seven days.

Ummm, is there a way to understand “Watch out for the guy who is an expert on what used to work” in a way other than a boastful slam against people who supposedly don’t have a clue about church life in the 21st century?

Here’s a mixture of quotes and reported quotes: “…discernment in diversity…hopeful waiting for the emergence of a more faithful path forward, and we stand before you today not in fear, but rather in the hopeful conviction that together we will see that still more excellent way when the Holy Spirit reveals it to us…that way will be a witness in and of itself, and a path to a new season of thriving for our Fellowship…embracing the approach of Integrative Thinking…to faithfully hear and feel the Spirit moving among the priesthood of all believers…”   Huh? I think this means our CBF brothers have given themselves permission to embrace LGBTQ friendly churches, ministers, ordinations, and staff. This is ecclesiastic jabberwocky at its best.

A selection of quotes by and generated by Roy Moore, for whom every pundit, journalist, and political blogger is exceedingly thankful: “Not generally, no…If did, you know, I’m not going to dispute anything but I don’t remember anything like that.” referring to dating teens when he was in his 30s. If not “generally” then “occasionally”? Well, equivocation is the word for this. One Alabama Baptist pastor did not equivocate: He is a religious demagogue,” sayeth the brother who did not want to be named. “If he did it, we need to know that” one prominent Alabama Baptist boldly declares concerning the assertions of numerous women. Since an confession is not forthcoming, what exactly does the brother demand as proof? Video evidence?  Not an abundance of profiles in courage here…but a few dozen Baptist pastors are against sex abuse in general. That’s good to know.

Russ Moore on Roy Moore: Christian, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism.

An attempt to expand on the metaphor of pastor/shepherd and congregation/sheep explained that sheep are sensitive, stupid, foolish, and frustrating creatures. Is this really a good way to start a conversation about being a better pastor/shepherd, to call your congregation sensitive, stupid, foolish, and frustrating?

Baptist pastor Kevin Glenn said, Christians have tried for too long to effect change in culture through political power, and I think we see that backfiring. Ya think?

“Christ is the one who’s going to be lifted up,” Pomeroy said at a Nov. 6 news conference. “That’s what I’m telling everybody. You lean into what you don’t understand. You lean into the Lord … Whatever life brings to you, lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding. I don’t understand, but I know my God does. And that’s where I’ll leave that.” The pastor of the church in Texas where so many were killed, including his own daughter. God bless you, sir.

Chris King, Tennessee SBC pastor, supporting the motion to expel the TN church that called a woman as pastor: “Compromising the Gospel is destructive to our cause,” he said. The Gospel, pastor?

Buzz word gone wild: “The secret to godly synergy is loving one another instead of ourselves”. I’m OK with the theme of synergy which is a mid-19th Century term attractive to folks who know a little Greek but it just sounds so 1990s. Godly synergy…just sounds wierd.

The Bible is the best-selling, most-translated book of all time and is arguably history’s most significant piece of literature…It has had an unquestionable influence on science, education, democracy, arts and society. This book has profoundly impacted lives across the ages, including my own.” Steve Green, Southern Baptist who is responsible for the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. I’d like to visit. Truth without mixture of error…

“Survey the evangelical landscape, and you’ll find a lot to be depressed about.” Don’t you know it. This quote is not from an aging curmudgeon but from youngish, bearded pastor Dayton Hartman.

The uncomfortable question that was not addressed by the Task Force Report is clear: why should state Conventions be held to the original 50/50 percent distribution level if churches are doing more missions themselves and only forwarding, on average, 5 percent rather than the suggested 50 percent? This from an interesting article by Christian Index Managing Editor Joe Westbury. Why should…? is a good question and the article has some things I did not know.

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Perhaps it needs to be said: Any opinions in this article are my own and do not represent anyone else here,

 

 

 

 

 

Hitting the state convention annual meeting

I had not planned to attend this year even though the site is fairly close to me but I had forgotten that my wife was scheduled to sing in the big, statewide chorus. I rearranged my plans.

As a seasoned observer of such meetings, I offer a few vignettes of the meeting:

Our convention is in pretty good shape. The mood was happy. No rancor afoot that I know of. Folks look like they enjoy being there. It helps that attendees can get their daily calories in personal size candy bars by hitting the exhibits. Ah, Baby Ruths. Good choice. Old school.

I didn’t bother to get a messenger card and didn’t register. Now I recall being present a few years ago at the last meeting held at this church. That year a blogger, not me, was escorted from the premises. I’m under the radar, brethren, no name tag.

Georgia is a big carry-your-guns-anywhere state, even churches. A sign on the door said that guns were prohibited. Good policy.

This is a sprawling megachurch with addition having been added on to addition. I ask one of the friendly info people how to get to the choir room. She tells me to go down this hallway, turn right then left and ask the next help person. It’s very confusing and complicated.

Hmmm, here comes a gentleman of considerable girth in a striking, forest camouflage pattern sport coat. I love the concept but I don’t think that’s working for you, bro.

I’m accustomed to the shirttail crowd at these meetings but it still looks odd to see a gray-headed, middle-aged or older dude untucked. Don’t people grow up?

The mini-bookstore: Spurgeon half-off. Gonna have to do better than that to move these. You can buy every kind of boutique Bible known in the imagination of booksellers. Look, there’s a “Brave Girl Bible.” Wonder if a girl could get Roy Moore to autograph it?

The big choir, 200 or so. What a magnificent thing. Love the music and miss such things terribly by attending a church with no choir. They have a nice song that is a knockoff of Puccini’s Turandot, one of my favorite operas that features murder, torture, beheading, suicide and other nice things. The signature song is “Nessun Dorma” (“none shall sleep”). I can’t make out the Christian lyrics that are substituted for the original but I didn’t sleep through it. Very nice.

Speaking of sleeping, see that brother over there – head flopped back and mouth open? Sure enough sleeping. At least he picked a good time to snooze, business meetings and reports. My wife has instructions that if I doze off like this then she’s free to stomp my toe or give me a sharp elbow.

Disaster relief always gets a prominent place in just about any and all SBC and state convention presentation. More promotional bang for the buck in this than anything, since very little is actually budgeted for disaster relief compared to other items. It’s a good ministry.

Aha, an IMB trustee manning the IMB exhibit. I’ll have a word with him. “Do you think David Platt will go full time at the Board?” (Now that I’m retired, I can do TIC full time). He looked askance at me, said, “He already is” and then we had a conversation about the situation. I’ll give trustees credit for this: they put out the information, made their points, and said they would be paying close attention. I’m satisfied with that.

One prominent pastor, while nominating someone, said: “Watch out for the people who are experts on what used to work.” Not sure if this was a shot at old school methodology. One theme for this year promoted VBS, Bible Drill, and other youth and children ministries. I think those work and you don’t have to keep the old school names to do them.

Is it me or are attendees really dressing better than the last few years? Only a couple of fauxhemians this year and more suits than I recall. The old sartorial pendulum may be swinging.

Not a single toupee. Hallelujah for tonsorial freedom! Shave that head, bro.

I didn’t get the budget but things are tight. The convention had a theme that dealt in part with generosity. Yeah, I know folks used to be better and if challenged can do better than their doing, but nostalgia isnt much of a business plan.

I chat with a couple of state staffers that have really been helpful to me personally. One of them, a financial guy, always returns my phone calls promptly. The other, the CMDR guy, has always shown a personal interest in my wife and me, remembers names and all that, asks about the church, etc. I fully believe that the state convention can play an important role in the life of the churches mainly in areas where concrete assistance is helpful. I’m not sure if the grand programs of church growth and programs have or will prove successful.

But…I appreciate my state convention and the people involved. Maybe next year I’ll register and vote.

 

Is NAMB being too heavyhanded with State Conventions?

Some say yes. You can easily find that assertion elsewhere. I don’t judge our second largest entity, the North American Mission Board, nor their leadership to be perfect but have come to regard their work as effective and worthy of the support of SBC churches, pastors, and laypeople.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the SBC so motivated the institution through the Great Commission Task Force and Report to take control of their budget and be more effective in North American missions. My lay understanding of processes and actions is informed by several years of observations and unsophisticated analyses. In short, I think NAMB is attempting to show some progress particularly in the planting of churches. Their work has been effective in my view.

The complaint is that NAMB has been overly harsh in dealing with some state conventions and their executives. NAMB is given tens of millions each year to do their job. If they shuffle those millions off to the states that’s fine. Let’s just see some results. I trust their leadership make good decisions and their trustees to pay attention and provide proper scrutiny and policy oversight.

In the latest complaint about NAMB being heavyhanded with some state conventions these five state conventions are mentioned specifically: Alaska, Maryland/Delaware, Michigan, Northwest, and West Virginia. A quick look at the past thirteen years in these states reveals this:

Alaska: added churches over this period at about a single church per year.

Maryland/Delaware: Increased the number of churches by about 176 over the period, 147 since 2010. I don’t have all the data at hand but it looks to me like about 2/3 or more of the increases came during the tenure of the current NAMB leader.

Michigan: Lost churches during the period.

Northwest: Added churches at about 1% per year.

West Virginia: Increased church numbers by about 2% per year, a creditable number.

Over the years, I’ve led or been with group in Alaska and Michigan and worked with some very fine people. I have no opinion about pastors, associational missionaries, or state staff in any of these states and assume all of good people; however, if we are pouring millions of missions dollars here or anywhere, there ought to be accountability, including accountability in regard to results. If past plans for staffing, church planting, and growth has not yielded results then perhaps a new plan should be employed.

One axiom in Southern Baptist life is that everyone protects their position and budget. We should expect a bit of pushback when the systems and protocols are changed where there are budgetary winners and losers.

NAMB just reported a record Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. Southern Baptists, SBC pastors and churches voted affirmatively on NAMB’s work. Those who think NAMB is awry must have successfully stifled some unpleasant memories of not one but two major meltdowns in the past 11 years. NAMB is fortunate, blessed if you are spiritual, to have righted the ship.

It’s a pleasant and positive reality of our time that ordinary hackers and plodders in the SBC have the ability and the apparatus to discuss issues that concern us. The day of an oligarchy of SBC worthies keeping important matters close at hand and dispensing only what they want the SBC nobodies is past. Those of the latter group who raise concerns and ask questions should have them answered.

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Southwestern Seminary cuts 10% of their full time positions

Baptist Press so reports: SWBTS cuts staff due to health care, utility costs

After making “low-hanging fruit adjustments” that included reductions in dining services, copy center hours and the fleet of vehicles at the 200-acre campus, Patrick said the administration decided not to fill positions from natural attrition, including student employees who are graduating and staff and faculty set to retire.

In order to continue providing health care benefits to employees and their dependents, a third round of cuts involved laying off 30 fulltime staff “in selected areas where functions can be covered in other ways or by organizational change,” Patrick said.

Noting that implementation of the Affordable Care Act prompted many institutions and companies to discontinue spousal and dependent coverage from employer health insurance plans, Patrick said Southwestern has made the decision to maintain those benefits because the seminary “places a high value on the family” as “a critical institution established by God.”

The 865-member workforce at Southwestern includes 300 fulltime and 565 part-time employees. Classes taught by the four faculty members scheduled to retire will be covered by current professors.

This is no small matter, even though 10% doesn’t sound like a lot. State conventions cut greater proportions a few years ago. Our IMB reduced their personnel by much more than that, although the number IMB cut (as opposed to retirements and resignations) was a much tinier percentage than SWBTS’ 10 percent.

I only know what is publicly reported and don’t question the problems with rising insurance and utility costs but freestanding seminaries are expensive things and we’ve got six of them. They compete against each other for students as well as competing against non-CP supported seminaries such as Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, and Liberty (It’s extraneous here, but I sometimes regret that the SBC embraces Liberty University and their divinity program. At the SBC Annual Meeting in Phoenix their display in the exhibit hall was huge and gaudy, while some of the SBC seminaries were much less so.)

The problem at SWBTS might be better judged by the figures below:

2008-2009 Enrollment SBC Funded Full-Time Equivalents:      1,981

2015-2016   Enrollment SBC Funded Full-Time Equivalents:      1,249

A decline in this period of more than one-third. FTEs are the critical figure I am told.

2008-2009 Head Count Enrollment           3,515

2015-2016   Head Count  Enrollment          4,276

Total head count enrollment increased by about 21%. As the SWBTS spokesperson said in the BP article, “The head count enrollment at Southwestern continues to be sustained, but students are taking fewer hours…” Fewer hours means less tuition, less CP, I believe.

The number of students in the Master of Divinity program, the gold standard for ministry preparation, dropped by almost half in the period compared above. Whereas MDiv students used to comprise over 60 percent of the FTE student count for Southwestern, in the last year available they accounted for only about one-third.

Someone more knowledgable than I may read financial statements with more acumen, but it looks to me like the last two years show about $26 million used or borrowed from endowment funds to provide positive cash flows.

I readily identify with Paige Patterson when he says, as he was quoted in the BP article above,

In serving 42 years as a president of Southern Baptist schools, Patterson said, “Not a day of it has been free from concerns about funding. The exorbitant cost of health care is the latest dilemma. Consequently, we have to tighten our belt.”

There have been plenty of Mondays that I had to decide which church bills we would pay this week and which would be held until after next Sunday’s offering. My scale was micro. At the seminary scale it is macro and a lot of people depend on sound fiscal management. I trust that SWBTS through these cuts is practicing some pre-emptive austerity to avoid the type of catastrophic situation which IMB handed David Platt.

I periodically run across articles on the unsustainability of the stand-alone seminary system. We’ve got the six. Can they all thrive? I don’t know. There is an ebb and flow among them in regard to growth and decline but it seems to me that a denomination that is showing no growth and in which our financial engines have declined and are now flat will portend some difficulty in the future. All of the seminaries have dedicated, sometimes noisy constituencies along with unique histories. If I took a 20 year nap and woke up in 2037, I’d be shocked to see anything other than the same six.

God bless SWBTS in a time of challenges.

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There are plenty of SWBTS alumni who participate here along with a trustee or two. I haven’t been on the campus in years and haven’t had a conversation about this with anyone. It’s all from publicly disclosed information and data. If I missed or am incorrect about anything here, please correct or expand as is necessary.