Our IMB and conservative fiscal management

The IMB’s report of their recent trustee meeting included information about their budget for the coming fiscal year, October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018. The total budget is $262 million. The Board’s budget is by far the largest of all Southern Baptist entities and is slightly more than the combined totals of all six seminaries plus NAMB. My grandson would call it “ginormous” if it was on his radar.

The budget is described as “balanced” and “conservative,” terms that should assuage all Southern Baptists who drop their hard-earned money in the offering plates Sunday after Sunday to reach the world for Christ.

The budget is further described as following five core principles:

  •  Uses realistic to conservative projections for receipts (projecting Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® receipts at $153 million for 2017-18);

  • Maintains contingency reserves at an appropriate level (set at 5.5 months, which falls within SBC Executive Committee guidelines);

  • Excludes property sales from budget receipts or expenses;

  • Spends 100 percent of LMCO receipts on the mission field; and

  • Presents a balanced budget for approval each year ($262 million for 2017-18).

Note that the projection for this year’s Lottie Moon is about the same as last year. No excessive exuberance in budgeting Lottie Moon money not yet received. In the past an inflated goal was conjured and funds budgeted as if money was in hand; hence, a huge mess. Seems realistic to me to plan and budget for what was received last year.

The note that revenue from property sales are not factored in the budget is not insignificant.

At some point down the road someone will write a realistic history of this period of the IMB and it will include, probably gently, the assertion that IMB was somewhat mismanaged during a long stretch prior to the catastrophic missionary reduction plan of 2015-2016. That’s my editorial comment about water over the dam, anyway.

Any organization as large as the IMB would have some areas worthy of scrutiny and criticism; nonetheless, I’m supporting of current leadership and am planning to give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this year and it would be good if the offering was more than expected.

“Conservative fiscal management”…has a nice ring to it.

A post-Labor Day SBC smorgasbord

My church had a big anniversary celebration this past Sunday. In what was likely the SBC culinary outrage of the year, there was not a single piece of fried chicken available but there was plenty of bbq.

Here’s a smorgasbord of SBC items of interest:

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is going full bore in response to the two big hurricanes that have hit the US. This is one of the best things we do cooperatively. While we do not minister in this way for the public credit that follows, it would be beneficial if we had a better publicity system. There is an SBCDR Facebook page. NAMB has a page. Many of the state conventions have DR pages. The bright yellow DR logo is identifiable to Southern Baptists but, I’d guess, not to others. When the SBC DR logo is in a list showing relief agencies the scale of the graphics makes it virtually unreadable. Would rebranding, redesigning, better coordination help visibility? Regardless, I commend the thousands of Southern Baptists who are working even now to help those in need.

You bet…we’re involved in some significant lawsuits. The LDS-owned Deseret News has an excellent article, Serving God by Suing Others: Inside the Conservative Christian Legal Movement”. While not about Southern Baptists, it is an excellent survey of the various organizations that are involved in legal advocacy on religious issues. Our ERLC often joins in some of these efforts. What is very close to the heart of Southern Baptist ministers is the suit by FFRF against our beloved minister’s housing allowance. I look for a decision by the federal district court any day now. Closer to home, NAMB is being sued for a figure reported to be in the millions by a disgruntled former state executive. Arguments have been filed by both sides. NAMB is defending the SBC in the sense that we have the right to make internal church decisions. Such is the state of Christianity in the 21st century.

Yes, that was Kevin Ezell in the Oval Office. The NAMB leader was with President and Mrs. Trump along with the leaders of the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Why these three? Better question: why NAMB with the other two mammoth relief agencies? Because NAMB leads SBC disaster relief efforts which serves most of the meals that the other two report, or thus I have heard leaders so state. At least our guy wasn’t standing next to a prosperity false-gospel preacher in the Oval Office. We’ve done that before but not Ezell or Frank Page.

One prominent Southern Baptist is proposing an SBC reduction program. This will “incentivize SBC loyalty” it is said. Part of the plan is to require a “five-year probationary period during which we can evaluate whether or not the prospective Southern Baptist Church is serious about this relationship and ready to put their money where their mouth is”. A humble prediction: no association, state convention, or the national SBC will seriously consider this. Neither will the author ever make a formal proposal in his association, state convention, or the SBC. But it’s great blogging blather.

Don’t forget…we have a blue-ribbon Personal Soul-Winning Evangelism Task Force that is at work. This was done in June by the assembled SBC at the request of our president. The group of 19 includes seminary presidents and professors, mega-church and near mega-church ministers, and a state convention executive. There is one African-American on the task force. There is not a single female on the panel. Wonder why? Men can design evangelism programs, plans, and tools to reach non-males but how serious an effort could this be if it’s an all-male group? Is there some compelling headship, complementarian, patriarchical matter in play here? I think rather it is a case that SBC men talk only to other men and SBC mega-men talk only to God (my apologies to the Cabots, Lodges, and God). NAMB doesn’t have a seat either. Well, so long as the group doesn’t come out with a report that beats up on small church pastors for not doing anything…

The Cooperative Program will almost certainly show a tiny increase this year. This would be at the SBC level, not the CP in its entirety. With only one month left in the Executive Committee’s fiscal year, the EC reports CP giving as being up about $1.4 million over the same period last year. That’s less than one percent (.077%) but an increase is an increase. Because designated giving is substantially less than last year it is almost certain that total (CP plus designated) revenues will be down for the fiscal year. The decrease is due to last year’s inflated Lottie Moon offering.

SBC quote of the month:

“No person should be required to use their gifts and calling in a way that violates their fundamental beliefs, and the Supreme Court’s responsibility is to protect Americans from governments and agencies that demand this.” 

Freedom of conscience “matters to every American, regardless of belief,” he said in written comments. “A state that can force some individuals to violate their personal convictions is a state that will eventually force others to as well.”

This is from Russell Moore, commenting on the cake baker case before the US Supreme Court.

 

Baptist associations and the struggle with irrelevance

Did you read the Baptist Press story on the survey of local Baptist associations?  Survey Weighs Value of Baptist Associations.

Perhaps the most salient quote coming out of this recent study might be this one,

“When asked to describe the most exciting aspect of their local Baptist association, the most popular answer among church leaders was ‘nothing,'” said Jason Lowe, a Kentucky director of missions who led the study that looked into attitudes about the work of local Baptist associations.

“Nothing.”

How’s that for a succinct evaluation of the work of our most historic cooperative organization?

The specific comments are rather painful,

“My association is mediocre, and thus my church is only minimally invested…they’re 20 years behind on everything. Barely have a website and thinks a fax machine is the latest communication…Nothing, it’s a waste of time and money…Not much. Our association does very, very little…Nothing excites me about it…Nothing really. It’s been a good ole boys association…Really honestly, nothing. It’s living and functioning in the past…Our current local association does very little to serve our Churches.”

My experience is that it’s never hard to get pastors complaining about their local association. Sometimes this is justified. Sometimes not.

What church leaders found frustrating according to comments on the survey:

“Pointless annual meetings…Unnecessary expenses in paid staff and buildings…Total lack of function…Little participation and does nothing but take church dollars. Really a gigantic waste of time…Ineffective…We’re not doing the things that need to be done. We’re functioning as we have, but aren’t relevant to the churches…The complete lack of any gospel work…Associations are so outdated. They cater to large churches and are almost exclusively led by small churches. It is not a network of like-minded churches as much as it is a place for bored people to complain about successful people.”

The Directors of Missions who responded to the survey were, unsurprisingly, most concerned about lack of commitment and participation by churches.

One of the most telling results of the survey was the response to the statement, “Church Would Be Negatively Affected If Local Baptist Association Did Not Exist.” Over four of ten church leaders answered negatively, that is, they did not feel the church would be negatively affected if the local association went kaput. Predictably, DOMs almost all agreed with the statement.

One thing that all senior pastors have is an opinion on their local association and the DOM. I’ve always liked the DOMs but only one was what I would call effective in the role and personally helpful to me and my church.

The Baptist association has been very important in our history in some respects. It has been described as “the oldest cooperative unit in Baptist life tracing its existence back over 300 years.” It should be best in helping churches to cooperate in ministry and fellowship although it looks to me like much of the cooperation has been handed off to state and national entities. Associations should be the place where doctrinal standards are most vigorous and scrutinized. I can identify with the comments by survey respondents that the association lacks relevance while slogging along, apparently impelled by institutional and programmatic inertia.

Some erudite Baptist historian can educate me on why the local association was left out of the Cooperative Program distribution nine decades ago. Was it assumed that the local association could easily prove its  value to geographically proximate churches and have little difficult in raising any necessary funding? Were there very few paid associational staff, DOMs or Associational Missionaries and no central offices? I’d speculate that when it became fashionable or there arose perceived value in having a paid associational staff with attendant office and administrative expenses that the focus was subtly shifted from serving churches to maintaining the associational staff and budget. I was regularly told that churches should support their association with 3% of their undesignated giving. It wasn’t explained why although budgets showed the DOM, secretary, and building consumed around 80% of all contributions. One DOM brazenly asked for 4%.

Some larger associations have several staff, operate numerous ministries, plant churches and do work that I would value as a pastor. I cannot think of much the smaller associations have to offer now that just about any church administrative assistance is available online. Most associations near me offer some form of church revitalization services but I’m unaware of any such programs that show measurable positive results. DOMs have personally been helpful in specific services but I’m not sure that is worth a full-time staff position.

I’m curious how pastors view their association and, if present, their DOM or AM these days. There are 1,136 associations in the Southern Baptist Convention. The 116 DOMs that responded to this survey might represent 20% or so of these. That’s a pretty good proportion even though the survey was not randomized. Consider that 2 of 3 DOMs are over 60 years of age and 9 of 10 are over fifty. The route for many to the DOM job has been as an experienced, respected pastor moving to the DOM position as their terminal job. Perhaps the psychology involved in that is not conducive to vision and change.

One thing seems sure about our associations. Either the function changes substantially or we drop a lot of staffing, move to part-time or volunteer staffing. I’d be interested in how my colleagues perceive these things.

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I’m not all that confident in any survey where respondents are self-selected but there is a massive amount of data in this one. Probably the most reliable results are from the DOMs since their sample size was rather large. Reported aggregate results are heavily weighted with the disproportionate number of DOMs, although you can view results by the various categories. The survey’s summary tables may be viewed here.

Eclipse report from William “Totality” Thornton

I’m about 45 minutes from the edge of totality so I had a strategy for prime viewing. Rather than get mixed up in a million or so of America’s worst and most aggressive drivers, the metro Atlanta crowd, I took some familiar secondary roads to make a push deep into the totality zone, at least deep enough to get two or more minutes viewing of totality. This is serious business and one shouldn’t be too casual about the natural event of a lifetime.

My support staff included my wonderful wife and daughter – who understood that this was likely to be similar to airline flights we have taken over the years which was to get to the airport ridiculously early, embarrassingly early, because old Dad insists on planning for contingencies – along with a brother and sister who wanted to go along. We were well stocked with eclipse food – Moon Pies, Sun Chips, Milky Way candy bars, Capri Sun juice and some homemade pimiento cheese as token regular food.

The traffic was just slightly above normal on our route east. When we hit Royston, GA, home of Ty Cobb, and were in the totality zone, I was more relaxed. At one of the big Corps of Engineers reservoirs on the Savannah River, we passed what was obviously a planned eclipse viewing event where there were hundreds of people, tents, and the like who were setting up on the reservoir’s dam. We went just a little farther to a small park below the dam, a very nice grassy spot by the river, where there were only three people present. We were two hours before totality and a dozen or so others arrived before peak viewing.

There is an electrical generating plant below the dam and when the Corps starts the water flowing it comes from the bottom of the lake, very cool which made for some very nice cool breezes off the river. Perfect.

We all were prepared with eclipse viewers. I got several for free at a July 4th celebration in my town. My brother had a pair that he had picked up somewhere. His came with, no joke, eight standard-sized pages of instructions. “Don’t put the glasses on pets” it read, as if any dog anywhere looked directly at the sun.

Viewing advice included watching for unusual animal behavior. There were two kids present, one eight years old and five years old. They behaved normally, annoyingly. Years of training and discipline enabled me to avoid difficulty with them. It helped that one of our group tossed them a couple of bags of Sun Chips to distract them. About a minute before totality an armidillo, one of the world’s ugliest animals, slunk out of a small patch of trees and brush between our picnic area and the river. Nocturnal animals, guess the eclipse fooled it.

Totality, about two and one half minutes where we were, was spectacular in the clear blue sky around the sun. Viewing without the glasses, seeing the sun’s corona and the deep twilight over the river was remarkable. I had binoculars which made the corona much more visible along with Mercury which was close by. Baily’s beads were barely visible with the naked eye, much more so with binoculars and the viewing glasses. The diamond ring effect was striking. The entire experience was splendid, dazzling, and unforgettable.

The last week or so has been difficult. God is in the timing here, I think. The heavens, indeed, declare the glory of God. Maybe I’ll make the next one in 2024 but I don’t plan that far ahead.

For now it’s back to life as usual…someone has to take the trash out, in my household that’s me,  and I’ve also got grass to cut; the refrigerator’s broke and a water leak last weak ruined some of the insulation around the AC ducts, so I’ve got to fix all that.

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If you viewed the eclipse, share a few words about it.