In his best-selling book, “From Good to Great,” author Jim Collins explains the leadership principle known as “First Who, Then What,”
“Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus. They always think first about “who” and then about what.”
At the new NAMB, it appears that the “right” people are being invited to get on the bus and the “wrong” people are being ushered off the bus. Apparently the old adage is true: “out with the old (all non-church planting related ministries) and in with the new (church planting).”
Ever since the (increasingly divisive) GCR was passed last summer in Orlando, the new NAMB bus was being assembled. The GCR report and recommendations laid out clear guidelines for the specs of this new bus. In September, Dr. Kevin Ezell, who had limited experience in riding in older models of the NAMB bus, was called upon to not only drive the new bus but to oversee its construction.
The new NAMB bus is almost finished, ready for its maiden voyage. Dr. Ezell has begun to lay out the map for where he wants to drive the new bus. And, he’s also issuing tickets and assigning seats to the riders of the new NAMB bus. All those who used to ride on the bus — State Conventions, local Associations, and their non-church planting related ministries — will probably not be invited to ride on the bus. Because of the GCR’s unambiguous guidelines and the desire to implement those guidelines, it appears that most, if not all of the seats on the new NAMB bus will be occupied by church planters, many of them fresh out of Southeastern or Southern Seminary (a few token seats maybe reserved for the other four seminaries).
The interior of the new bus has been loaded with everything that the chosen riders could ever want. It’s got the latest innovations and gadgets for a modern culture — after all, nothing good is old or is it nothing old is good. I forget. Many of the riders will be young and enthusiastic, searching for the destination that God has called them to. There maybe a few older riders (those that didn’t “take” early retirement) that are still allowed to ride on the bus.
But, in order to ride, there must be fuel in the gas tank. Because of the faithful and generous Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong gifts of the SBC’s established churches, the riders of the new NAMB bus will have much (if not all) of their church planting expenses paid for. That is as it should be. However, when the driver of the new NAMB bus and some of its riders appear to convey the message that only church planting passengers are worthy of seats on the bus, the friendly relationships that once existed may be in danger of further strain. It’s one thing to ask long-time passengers to scoot over to make room for new passengers. It’s quite another thing to be told to get off the bus entirely!
Does everyone need to make room for the up and coming generations? Absolutely. Do we need to re-prioritize where people sit on the bus? Perhaps. But sadly, it appears that NAMB (and many within the SBC establishment) continue to morph into what so many churches — large and small — have become: a place where youth is encouraged and almost idolized and where older generations are often discarded (sent into retirement) like an yesterday’s newspaper.
For those who think I’m being too harsh, ask yourself how many churches in the SBC have been split, destroyed or “radically reprioritized” by pastors who come in and tell the church folk that they haven’t done it right for the last 30 years. The new pastor comes in like a bull in a china shop and immediately sets about to make sure that “his” church is done the “right” way, even if relationships are destroyed in the process. The new pastor tells those who haven’t already left
“If you don’t like “my” vision, then you can get off the bus (leave). If you buy into the radical overhaul that I’m trying to accomplish in my first six months (with absolutely no creditability or trust built up) — then by all means stay.”
Some stay, but sadly, many know when they are not wanted and simply move on to another church. I know Godly men and women and churches where this has happened. If you’ve been in SBC life over the last 20 years, you most likely know of such instances or perhaps have even experienced the sadness and pain personally.
It is a sad commentary on Southern Baptist life that this radical reprioritization — at all levels — has become the modus operandi for so many within our Convention. From some of the largest, most well-known churches in the SBC to so many of the smaller, out-of-the way churches that no one has heard of to many of our entities and agencies, new and young is in. Out-dated and old is out.
There are thousands of churches that have been decimated by pastors who forced their vision on people who were not ready, but who could have been led to move into the future. The danger for Southern Baptists in the days ahead is similar. Instead of experiencing a true Great Commission Resurgence (which is first spiritual and then organizational), we may see the SBC decimated by “leaders” who forced their vision on people who were not ready, but who could have been led into a bright and exciting future.
The radical reorganization and reprioritization happening within NAMB and the greater SBC will not be without its consequences. Some good things will happen — people will get saved who may not have otherwise heard the Gospel. Some will be used of God in a mighty way that they did not expect.
However, there will be others who will be left standing by the side of the road, having been told to disembark, that there is no longer any room on the bus for them. Planting new churches is needed. But so is reaching college students on our secular campuses. And reaching children through our Vacation Bible Schools and Back Yard Bible Clubs. And reaching students at camp. Not all of these involve church planting. Some involve discipling Christians who will be about the Great Commission — which is evangelism AND discipleship.
Maybe I’m naive. At 44, maybe I’m over-the-hill and old-fashioned. Call me whatever you want, but I think there is a better way. Instead of designing a new, cool bus that could only accommodate church planting, why not build a bigger, better bus that could carry not only church planting (hey, even put them at the front of the bus) and evangelism, but could also carry church revitalization and discipleship? I seem to think both kinds of riders are included in the Great Commission. In the end, that kind of re-designed bus will get Southern Baptists a lot further than the brand new model being assembled in Alpharetta!