SBC Annual Meeting Predictions

Currently, I am planning to attend the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting in Orlando on June 15-16th. Call me strange, but I enjoy this kind of stuff. I have attended two of these meetings in the past: Greensboro, NC and Nashville, TN. This year’s annual meeting is one of the most widely anticipated in recent memory. Not only is it an election year, messengers will also hear the recommendations from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force elected last year in Louisville. You can read about the purpose of the task force here. I feel their recommendations will shape the direction of the SBC for years to come.

As a Southern Baptist pastor, I do my best to keep up with the current state affairs across the convention. I feel this is my responsibility toward the church that I pastor. So, based on past annual meetings, baptist news over the past year, and personal experience, I would like to make the following predictions for this year’s annual meeting.

1. I predict that a pastor from the state of Florida will be elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

2. I predict that a motion will be made to amend the SBC operating budget in order to allow a greater percentage of Cooperative Program dollars to be forwarded to the International Mission Board.

3.  I predict that a motion will be made to allow alternate forms of missions giving to be counted as Cooperative Program giving.

4. I predict that a resolution will be offered in recognition of the Disaster Relief efforts in Haiti.

5. I predict that a motion will be made to ask Lifeway Christian Resources to not carry the TNIV version of the bible in their stores.

6. I predict that a motion will be made to remove “Southern” from the official denominational title of the Southern Baptist Convention.

7. I predict that a motion will be made to establish an agency within the SBC whose primary responsibility will be resourcing and supporting the small church (those under 200 in primary worship).

8. I predict that, in terms of enrolled messengers, this year’s annual meeting will have the highest attendance in the past 15 years.

9. I predict that a motion will be made for a study to be conducted on the effects of Calvinism across the SBC.

10. I predict that a motion will be made asking the SBC to consider FBC Decatur, GA out of fellowship as a result of them calling a female pastor.

11. I predict that a motion will be made asking the SBC to explore ways in which technology can be used to increase the participation of all churches during the annual meetings.

12. I predict the report from the International Mission Board will be the most passionate and emotional report in many years.

13. I predict someone will ask the convention to boycott something.

Track of Cooperative Program Gifts

In yesterday’s post, I made several observations relating to the Baptist Press article on the budget shortfall at the IMB. Due to these shortfalls, there may be delays in some missionaries arriving on the field. One of the observations I made was that I believe it may be necessary to change the percentages of Cooperative Program giving to allow more funds to arrive on the mission field. The Cooperative Program is the Southern Baptist’s unified giving program for funding missions that has been in place since the early 1900’s. The CP is about percentages. The local church designates a percentage of the undesignated receipts to be given to the CP through the state convention. The state convention then designates a percentage (based on messenger vote) to retain in the state and a percentage to forward to the SBC for the mission boards, seminaries, and other entities. It is along these lines of designated percentages that funds make their way to our missionaries.

The South Carolina Baptist Convention retains 59.56% of CP dollars coming from the local church and forwards the other 40.44% to the SBC. It is best to look at this through a real-life example. Let’s say that a church gives $100 to the CP in the state of South Carolina. 59.56% of that $100 stays in the state. This percentage is broken down as follows:

30.4% – South Carolina Baptist Convention Ministries
25.56% – South Carolina Baptist Institutions
2% – Womens Missionary Union
1.6% – Church Staff Retirement Plan

40.44% of that $100 is forwarded to the SBC. The SBC has a consistent distribution plan for all CP dollars that are collected from the state conventions. Here is that plan:

50% – International Mission Board
22.79% – North American Mission Board
22.16% – Six Seminaries
3.4% – SBC Operating Budget
1.65% – Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission

The local church’s gift of $100 at the SBC level amounts to $40.44. The gifts, at their final dispersed amount, look like this: International Mission Board ($20.22), North American Mission Board ($9.21), Six Seminaries ($8.96), SBC Operating Budget ($1.37), Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (.66).

In my opinion, here in where the answer rests. It is not so much as the amount the church itself sends, it has to do with the amount that the state keeps. Now, I understand that each state, including our state of South Carolina, have ministries and programs the leadership deem important and worthy of Cooperative Program dollars. When it comes to the funding of missionaries where their only source of support comes from the local church, through the state convention, can’t we do better? Again, in my opinion, I believe we will see a recommendation come from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in June of 2010 relating to this area of CP percentages. Listed below is what other state conventions retain/send to the SBC as a matter of comparison.

Florida Baptist Convention  (60%,40%)
Georgia Baptist Convention  (58.6%, 41.2%)
Alabama Baptist Convention  (58%,42%)
Mississippi Baptist Convention (66%,34%)
Hawaii Baptist Convention  (69.4%, 30.6%) 
Tennessee Baptist Convention (58%, 42%)
California Baptist Convention (72.1%, 27.9%)

Budgetary Shortfall at IMB to Affect Programs and Personnel

A recent article in the Baptist Presss reported the trustees of the International Mission Board meeting in Shreveport, LA this past week adopted the 2010 operating budget. During this adoption process, the trustees learned that it would be necessary to move 7.5 million dolars from a contingency reserve fund in order to balance the budget. This action was necessary because revenue is expected to be lower than expenses in 2010. When you couple this with the fact that the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering came in under the national goal, it paints a sobering picture.

As a result, the IMB will be cutting back or restructuring two programs and possibly losing up to 600 positions. One of the programs being restructured is the Masters Program. The Masters Program is a program that offers the opportunity to those 50 years or over to serve overseas for a term of two or three years. Part of the restructure will call for those in the Masters Program to produce part of their own support, while the IMB provides logistical support. About the reduction in staff, the BP article goes on to say, “the drawdown in the missionary force during 2010 will be accomplished through natural attrition, completion of service, retirements and limiting appointments , not by recalling any personnel, the trustees were told” (emphasis mine).  It appears that missionaries will not be coming off the field, but there may be a delay of new missionaries getting to the field. 

I want to make a few observations here:

1. In regards to the Masters Program. I don’t feel that those who are appointed to this program (or any other IMB missionary service program) should have to provide their own support. I believe it is distracting to and detracts from their work on the field. I would not be in favor of them, or any other IMB missionary having to leave the field in order to come home,drum up financial support then return to the field. It is counterproductive.

2. Gordon Fort, IMB VP for Global Strategy said further in this article, “Because economic realities are forcing IMB to retrench its efforts, the organization must delibrately plan to have fewer missionaries — with implications for a lost world that should distress Southern Baptist church members.” There seems to be a mentality creeping into mission boards that is already in our corporate world today. That thought: do more with less. There is no way that you can reach more people, in more countries, in more languages, through more cultural barriers, with less personnel. I just can’t believe that. How can the IMB and the SBC justify one one hand our current population growth and on the other, as Fort says, “the organization must delibrately plan to have fewer missionaries”?

3. I believe somewhere along the line from the church to the state convention to the IMB there needs to be an adjustment to the Cooperative Program percentages. Fort went on to say, “When Southern Baptists collected $11.1 billion in offering plates in 2008, accoring to denomination’s Annual Church Profile, and 2.7% “finally arrive to support the vision of reaching a lost world, and when [Southern Baptists] are structuring ourselves in a way that guarantees we will fail in our mission, it just shouldn’t be.” I tend to  agree. In my opinion, we have a structure problem. Southern Baptist churches decide what percentage of their undesignated offerings will be given to the CP through the state convention. The state convention then decides what percentage of those gifts will remain in the state and what percentage will be forwarded to the SBC mission boards and other entities. In tomorrow’s post, I will show how much actually makes it to the IMB from the church level.

I find articles and stories like these tragic. In a day where the population is growing and anvenues are opening up for the gospel to be shared, the worst thing we can see is a lack of personnel to meet the growing need. What can we do? We can pray. We can pray the financial barrier will be removed and our missionaries who are waiting can hit the ground running.

Great Commission Resurgence Task Force

At the SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville of 2009, the messengers voted to establish what has come to be known as the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. The genesis of this task force was a chapel message shared by Dr. Danny Akin at Southeastern Seminary. He and SBC president Dr. Johnny Hunt worked together to draft the Great Commission Declaration. A motion was made by Dr. Al Mohler for the convention as a whole to respond to this declaration. Subsequently, Dr. Hunt appointed the members to this task force. The purpose of this task force is to study the ways in which the SBC and its entities (seminaries, agencies, boards, etc) can better carry out the Great Commission. They were asked to bring these recommendations to the messengers of the SBC Annual Meeting in June 2010. The make-up of this task force is rather diverse. It is made up of twenty-two members ranging from pastors to (2) seminary presidents (Southeastern and Southern) to state convention executive directors.

The work before this task force is great. They have been charged with taking a hard look at the SBC and determine what can be done that will allow more effectiveness in carrying out the Great Commission. This is harder than it sounds. Here is the problem the task force faces, as I see it. Each SBC entitiy, agency, and seminary make their own decisions and cannnot be directed to change the way they operate or change their structure. Only messengers can direct this type of action. If the task force finds that a particular agency would be more effective by changing its structure, they can only reccommend the change. Their recommendations are non-binding.

Further complicating their work is the recent resignation of the president of the North American Mission Board and the announced retirement of the preseidents of the International Mission Board and the SBC Executive Committee. The leadership of our mission boards will be critical in our continued efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. Effecting significatnt change across the SBC will be alot like stopping a fully loaded freight train. It is no easy task. The SBC has been around for ovr 150 years. There is alot of tradition. There is alot of programming in place. In my opinion, there is duplication of some ministries and programs across national, state, and associational levels that do not make the best use of personnel or Cooperative Program monies. Rumors have circulated as to what the task force will do. A casual reading of state baptist newspapers show these. Some are saying that one of our seminaries will be closed. Some are saying that a merger of the North American Mission Board the International Mission Board will be recommended (big mistake). Others are suggesting that an overhaul of the Cooperative Program will be recommended. I don’t know. The task force chairman (Dr. Ronnie Floyd, Pastor, FBC Springdale, Arkansas) and the SBC president (Dr. Johnny Hun,Pastor, FBC Woodstock, Georgia) have been out front and proactive in putting rumors to rest and sharing the purpose of the task force.

Why is this important? Why does this matter? First, I am a Southern Baptist pastor leading a Southern Baptist church. I believe in the SBC and its commitment to missions, doctrinal integrity, and cooperation. Second, the latest research shows that nearly 89% of all SBC churches are plateaued or declining. It is the right time, as I see it, to take a look and determine if we have put too much focus on programs and structure and not enough focus on people. If it is found that we would be better able to reach people with a restructure or realignment, I am in favor. Third, I believe in the Cooperative Program. The CP is the best vehicle for funding mission work here and around the world. As we give collectively through the CP, we are helping to fund missionaries, train and equip future leaders at our seminaries, and provide resources for church planters to birth churches in places and among people where no church exists. Yes, the work of this task force is important. What this task force recommends and suggests will have an impact on us for years to come. I feel the best days for our SBC are ahead. I am excited to lead our church to do our part in carrying our commission. Pary for this task force.

Changing Faces at the IMB

The International Mission Board has reported that Dr. Jerry Rankin, president of the IMB has announced his retirement that will take place on July 31, 2010. Dr. Rankin made this announcement while in Jacksonville, FL at the IMB Missionary Appointment Service that was held at FBC Jacksonville where 60 new missionaries were appointed. You can read about that service here.

Let me say that I have never met Dr. Rankin personally. I have heard him share mission messages and his heart for the lost at various convention settings. This man has a true heart for mission work and the lost. I am thankful that such a passionate and humble man had led our IMB fo the past 17 years. During his leadership, the missionary force has grown to what it is today. Here is how the IMB looks today. There are over 5500 missionaries, nearly 27000 churches have been planted in total, 101 new people groups have been engaged for a total 1190 different people groups being reached.

I have served on six short-term mission trips through the IMB to Honduras and Nicaragua. I have been impacted and challenged by Dr. Rankin’s vision for the IMB. As I have watched and participated in IMB ministry over the years, the IMB has had some real challenges. One challenge has always been present and will always be there. I am speaking of the challenge to take a message of love and hope to an unloving world. It is a call to take the message of Jesus to the unsafe and dangerous parts of the world. Dr. Rankin has consistently encouraged and challenged the Southern Baptist Convention to trust God above all else and go. We are seeing time and time again individuals and couples willing to put their lives on the line tht othes might hear. Amazing.

Another challenge that has surfaced recently is the decrease in giving to the Cooperative Program. As you may or not know, our missionaries are solely funded by the CP gifts from every SBC church and from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. As a result of these tough economic times, mission funding has decreased. I have written about that here. Today, the IMB has candidates who willing, capapble, qualified, and approved to go the field, however, the money is not there to send them. Tragic.

I will be praying earnestly for our IMB. I cahllenge you and encourage you to pray as well. How can you pray? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Pray the IMB will seek a president that has a passion for the lost and that will listen to God as how to reach them.

2. Pray for the safety, security, and success of our missionaries already on the field worldwide.

3. Pray the funds will come available through increased CP giving to be able to send those missionaries who are waiting to go.

4. Pray that God will open a door for you to go.

An Unforseen Casualty of the Current Economic Downturn

Most of what is written and reported about toda’y economy is negative. We hear a great deal about how bad things are and how many Americans are not spending money like they once did. This is also true when it comes to the giving as it relates to the church.

I recently read an article that deppressed and concerned me greatly. The trustees of the International Mission Board met recently at their scheduled trustees meeting in Denver on May 19-20. The highlight of this article was the fact that 101 new career missionaries were appointed.  Now the bad news. The IMB is suspending new appointments to its career, apprentice, and associate programs. The appointments that do occur will be more selective and focused upon more strategic assignments. This suspension is to begin immediately and remain in effect until trustess review the suspension again early in 2010.

IMB fundng has been hit by a downturn in Cooperative Program giving and harder than normal economic times. The overall work, support, and logistics of IMB missionaries comes from Cooperative Program giving and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. When the average church members across the SBC don’t give as they once were able to, that in turn leads to fewer missionary appointments to the field and decreased church planting efforts around the world. It is a tragedy to hear there are men and women who are willing, ready, and qualified for appointment, but the funds are limited to send and support them.

As we look at the fields, we pray as Jesus asked us to. He told us pray that the Lord of the harvest would sent workers into the field. God has answered our prayers for workers. However, Paul Chitwood, IMB Trustee Chairman shares what I feel is a sad and painful statement I thought we as Southern Baptists would never hear. He says, “Today, we have more candidates knocking on our door and downloading our applications than ever before. Yet, on this day when God has answered our prayers for workers for His harvest, lack of funding has forced us to temporarily suspend categories for service.” May we as Southern Baptists always remember to “Seek first the kingdom of God” that we might be able to fulfill the Great Commission that has been given to us.