The New NAMB: Bad Precedents & UnAnswered Questions

Coming through this Easter season, I strongly encouraged our congregation to give sacrificially to the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions.  While a few of our church leaders know my reservations about the direction and vision of the new NAMB, I did not express that concern with the members at large.  With new changes announced at NAMB on an almost weekly basis, I knew that there would be time to ask the hard questions that need to be asked regarding our church’s continued investment and partnership with the new NAMB, but this Annie Armstrong season was not the time.

Having met our church goal of $7,500, our Missions Development Committee agreed to add an additional $5,000 to the Easter offering as we have done the past four years.  Having received a letter a few weeks ago from Dr. Ezell congratulating our church on being our Association’s top overall giver and the top per capita giver to last year’s Annie Armstrong offering, it is with some sadness that I think this maybe the last year our church will be in a position to receive such a letter.

Why should that be?  Because our church may determine that our investment of missions funds would be better spent by increasing our partnership with other entities — IMB, Baptist Convention of New Mexico or our local Association — while decreasing our partnership with the new NAMB.  Part of me finds this kind of thinking strange.  However, the level of strangeness has been considerably lessened knowing that Dr. Ezell, the President of the new NAMB, Bryant Wright, President of the SBC, and other pastors in the recent past themselves made those same determinations about investing their mission dollars in the old NAMB. 

In legal parlance, we call that precedent.  It is not controlling precedent, because no other ecclesiastical body can control or dictate what the local church does.  The examples of prominent pastors — some of whom are now in leadership within the SBC — routing CP money away from the State Conventions and the old NAMB and designating those funds for the IMB or certain seminaries has become a persuasive precedent.  Each autonomous church must determine how much weight to give to this relatively new precedent.  But, going forward, we cannot ignore the precedent.  And, for those now in leadership to argue for their own precedent to be ignored or reversed would be, in a word, hypocritical.  If it was good enough when others led the old NAMB, then it should be good enough now when a new leadership is in control of the new NAMB.

That brings me to the question:  “What are churches investing in when they send CP and Annie Armstrong money to the new NAMB?”  That is a question that begs for an answer, but unfortunately, what answers the churches have been given are less than clear.  These fuzzy answers lead to more questions, not less.  Even the new NAMB’s sleek, simplified mission statement raises questions:

“The North American Mission Board exists to work with churches, associations and state conventions in mobilizing Southern Baptists as a missional force to impact North America with the gospel of Jesus Christ through evangelism and church planting. . .” (article here)

The new mission statement seems to move the new NAMB toward a full-blown church planting network.  As I have stated previously, I do not have any objection to church planting.  I continue to believe that the new NAMB’s rapid and radical reorganization to an almost exclusive churh planting focus is both short-sighted and contrary to the GCRTF Final Report approved in Orlando last year. 

But, the Trustees of the new NAMB must believe that the majority of messengers in Orlando — representing about 10% of all SB churches — voted for even more radical changes than the GCR document stated.  That must be why they voted for the new mission statement and to consolidate the new NAMB’s ministry assignments from nine to the following six:

— assist churches in planting healthy, multiplying, evangelistic SBC churches in the United States and Canada;

— assist churches in the ministries of evangelism and making disciples;

–assist churches by appointing, supporting and assuring accountability for missionaries serving in the U.S. and Canada;

— assist churches by providing missions education and coordinating volunteer missions opportunities for church members;

— assist churches by providing leadership development; and

— assist churches in relief ministries to victims of disaster and other people in need.

In and of themselves, these six ministry assignments sound solid.  However, in light of the new mission statement emphasizing evangelism and church planting, how are we to read the ministry assignments?  Is the  mission statement interpreted in light of the ministry assignments or are the ministry assignments interpreted in light of the mission statement? 

I’m not sure grassroots Southern Baptists could even begin to know the answer to that question at the moment (although the leaders at the new NAMB probably have a pretty good idea).  However, it seems to me that it would only make sense if the six consolidated ministry assignments were interpreted and implemented according to the mission statement.  That means that evangelism, particularly through the church planting model, will be what drives the new NAMB bus.  All other riders — collegiate ministries, student ministries, resort ministries, etc. — who are not somehow directly related to planting new churches have already been or will be told to get off the new NAMB bus and find other transporation (i.e., funding).

A new NAMB bus has been built and is already motoring down the highway.  I do not expect that the bus will slow down or that riders other than church planters will be added to the seating capacity.  Realistically, I think that it would be foolish to try to stand in front of the bus and yell, “STOP!”  All you would have to show for your efforts are the treadmarks of the bus on your backside.

However, each autonomous Southern Baptist church can decide how much money that they want to send to the new NAMB to fuel the church planting bus as it travels across North America.  At this point, I simply do not have enough information to make an informed decision on how much fuel (or potatoes as the case maybe) that I would recommend our church send to the new NAMB in 2012 and beyond.  There are still way too many unanswered questions to determine whether we will follow the persuasive precedent of Ezell, Wright, & Co. and begin routing our CP/Annie money away from the new NAMB or, whether we will ignore their precedent as an anomaly and keep on giving like before.  To be continued . . .

15 comments for “The New NAMB: Bad Precedents & UnAnswered Questions

  1. Bill Pfister
    May 26, 2011 at 6:31 AM

    I’d like someone to look into this further as well: a few weeks ago several pastors and I went to Canada for a vision trip, and while there we were told that the church planting budget for all of Canada was one million dollars. Take the 6 salaries out for the church planting strategists, and you are left with very little money that actually goes to help with a “start” itself. What surprised us more was how strongly we were asked to support the new starts financially. Not through NAMB, not through Annie, but direct partnerships between SBC churches in the US and pastors and churches and plants in Canada. I know NAMB can’t fund all the starts needed directly, but at some point things are breaking down. We wondered if this was part of the new NAMB?

    • May 26, 2011 at 8:16 AM

      Bill,

      That is a very good question. Your observation about Canada is very revealing. I do not know if this is how it’s going to work (I’m not sure most grassroots SB’s who are supporting the new NAMB know), but it almost appears that individual churches will be given money to go plant churches. In talking to some folks who are more aware of what is going on behind the scenes, it would appear that a new model of church planting maybe unveiled, which has larger churches planting churches with huge amounts of money upfront. Would these “sending” churches receive some type of grant from the new NAMB to go plant a church somewhere, say out west or in Canada? That is one of the unanswered questions. Will these new church plants be done in partnership with the State Conventions or will the new NAMB regions have control over this, effectively cutting out the State Conventions altogether? It has been reported elsewhere that the IMB made these strong direct appeals to churches (which is not in keeping with their own rules). If we are moving toward a more societal approach in giving, then this direct appeal to churches — particularly larger churches — seems like it might be the way things are headed. I believe the next six months will reveal where the new NAMB is headed. Thanks for reading and commenting and thanks for the good question. God bless,

      Howell

  2. scooter
    May 26, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    Tread marks would be on the belly not the back!

    • May 26, 2011 at 8:45 AM

      Scooter,

      As Ed would say to Johnny, “You are correct, sir!” That’s what I get for writing so late at night. 🙂 Thanks for the good catch (and for obviously reading). God bless,

      Howell

  3. May 26, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    Howell,

    You wrote, “for those now in leadership to argue for their own precedent to be ignored or reversed would be, in a word, hypocritical.” Exactly. That’s why their words ring so hollow to so many.

    I have no doubt that the old NAMB needed more focus on their mission. But I don’t think many of us expected NAMB to become a “one-trick pony” of chuch planting. Our new church plant has decided that we will directly financially support other SBC non-Reformed-non-Calvinist church plants. We’re looking forward to helping new church plants who can get little or no funding from NAMB, like us.

    Also, we will not give to NAMB until they can assure us that all of their church plants do not and will not receive funding from Acts 29.

    The GCRTF has certainly resulted in a new day in the SBC. But not a new day for the better.

    Les

    • May 26, 2011 at 10:58 AM

      Les,

      Thanks for the words. One of the unanswered questions that I will address in a post next week is the Acts 29 angle. Will these new church plants be aligned with SBC and Acts 29? Even though NAMB does not consider Acts 29 a denomination, it has denomination-like qualities. While I do not have a problem per se with Acts 29 churches, I do have a problem with our church’s CP/Annie money going to fund churches that are Acts 29 aligned. That goes for any other dual alignment, but, as far as I can tell, there are no other entities or networks out there that pose this issue. Another question is how will states with two Conventions — Texas and Virginia — be treated by the new NAMB? Will any church planting funds go to SB churches who are affiliated with the BGCT and BGAV or will only churches affiliated with the newer State Conventions get funding to go plant churches next to BGCT and BGAV churches, all the while that these existing churches are funding the new church plants? Still way too many unanswered (or murkily answered) questions remain. Thanks again and God bless,

      Howell

      • Bart Barber
        May 27, 2011 at 10:39 AM

        Howell,

        Since the BGCT retains 80% of its CP dollars in-state, while SBTC forwards 55%, I’d say we SBTC established churches have far more reason to be concerned that the inverse of your hypothetical will take place.

        • May 27, 2011 at 11:03 AM

          Bart,

          You maybe right about that. If by “inverse” you mean that new NAMB sponsored church plants will be started near SBTC “established” churches, that would not surprise me in the least. This is more an issue of “established” churches vs. new church plants (regardless of the State Convention). It will be interesting to see how these new church plants are funded through NAMB. That’s why I think there are still too many unanswered questions for grassroots SB churches to know which direction the new NAMB is headed, notwithstanding the fact that I think the new NAMB leadership knows exactly where they are headed. Hope you have a great day on the flag ship and a great Memorial Day weekend! God bless,

          Howell

  4. Bill Pfister
    May 26, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    When we were with the IMB we used to plant churches with zero funding. We had money for Bibles, tracts and gas to get a team to the mission point, but no money for rent, buildings, etc. I think some of the issue here is that we want to plant churches now in the US and Canada and the reality is that it takes money, lots of money. The problem is that NAMB gives a mere pittance to a church planter but the reality is that he needs much more. The bigger issue here is if we are going to comtinue with this philosophy of throwing a little bit of money to several plants or dedicate sufficient funds to fewwer plants that we hope will result in lasting works.

    Grace and peace,
    Bill

    • May 26, 2011 at 5:52 PM

      Bill,

      There is no question that planting a new church not only takes a person gifted to do that, but also the resources to be able to establish a foundation that will result in “lasting works.” I would be curious to know whether the new NAMB’s church planting philosophy will follow some of the megachurches which have planted “their own” churches. They start with more money and more people, thus giving them more solid footing. If this is the church planting strategy NAMB will use, will these few church plants also result in not just more healthy churches, but larger churches who are themselves nominally SBC, but identify fully with the megachurch that planted them? In the present environment, I’m not sure how this would go over. Again, there are so many unanswered questions that it is impossible at this point to know exactly what the new NAMB will do (although I think their leadership already knows). Thanks for the dialogue. God bless,

      Howell

  5. Ron Hale
    May 26, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    Howell,
    Thanks for your article.

    I served in three new work conventions for almost 25 years. These are areas where most church members know that new churches are needed.

    However, if a DOM, Church Starter Strategist, or State Convention missionary … only talks about the planting of new churches … people and pastors begin to roll their eyes, shake their heads, and become disenchanted. Why? Because they know that a lot more is needed, especially in the areas of evangelism, Sunday School training, and volunteer enlistment and training, etc.

    Church planting is an evangelistic strategy; historically the best one. But help is needed for helping churches break the 75 barrier, 150 barrier, 300 barrier, 500 barrier and up. Ongoing evangelism and follow-up training is needed. Children and youth specialists are needed.

    For a denomination … Church Planting & Evangelism represent two wings of an eagle. Take away one wing and the bird begins the fall.

    While most of us are all about church planting, many of us see that it is very short-sighted to invest most of our strategic resources into the “planting only ” side.

    Our NAMB trustees will see this error in about five years, pressure will be applied, a new group will come in …. and here we go again.

    Take care!

    • May 26, 2011 at 9:00 PM

      Ron,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. I don’t know anyone who is against planting new churches. However, you are correct that the leadership at the new NAMB is short-sighted to put all their egss in the church planting basket. However, I do not believe they are unaware of what they are doing. I believe they know exactly what this strategy will look like, although I do believe they maybe surprised when SB churches redirect CP money away from NAMB. I’m not sure that it will take five years for the pressure to come. We could begin to see that pressure in Phoenix, but more likely in New Orleans next year. Hope you are doing well. God bless,

      Howell

  6. Keith Warden
    May 28, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    Howell,

    I’m a trustee with NAMB. My church is the leading giver to Annie Armstrong in our Association as well. We increased our Annie Armstrong offering goal this year to $25,000, and will try to continue to doing that in the years ahead. We give over 10 percent of our budget receipts to the Cooperative Program. And I can tell you that having sat in on all the meetings over the last year and serving now on the Executive Committee, I have never been more excited and supportive about the direction of the SBC as it relates to NAMB.

    In regards to the ministry assignments, NAMB was asked by the Executive Committee to revise and update those assignments in light of the recent restructuring. The ministry assignments were basically simplified and consolidated to better represent the restructuring. As you see, equipping churches and leaders in evangelism, missions education, leadership development, etc. are still there. It’s just been simplified. If you have a specific question about one of the assignments that’s been revised or eliminated, let me know and I’d be glad to get you that information. This does not represent any effort whatsoever to go beyond the wishes expressed in the GCR report or to abandon any of the responisbilities given to it by the SBC.

    As far as the “precedent” set by other pastors that are now in SBC leadership, like Bryant Wright or Kevin, are you saying that since they alloted their missions giving in a different way at one time, you are now more inclined to steer your missions dollars differently now that these men serve in leadership positions? Or are you saying that you are inclined to do that because you disagree with the current vision for NAMB? If your feelings are simply based on the philosophy of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” I guess I can’t help you with that. Like you, I didn’t designate our missions giving either. But I don’t see that as any reason now to hold a grudge, or not work with our present leadership to make things better. Kevin has shown no intent whatsover to abandon our cooperative approach to missions. If your feelings are based on a disagreement with NAMB’s strategy, then I would say it’s premature and unhelpful to write things like this when it seems that maybe you’re not correctly informed about the strategy.

    With all due respect to your comments above, we are less than a year into Kevin’s tenure as president of NAMB. He hasn’t even had the opportunity to bring his first report to the Southern Baptist Convention, and I think it’s a little unfair to start assuming things about the direction of NAMB without having the opportunity to see for yourself what the new direction of NAMB is going to look like.

    We’ve found over this last year that Kevin is a man of incredible character, he has a compelling vision for winning North America to Christ, and he has developed an exciting and effective strategy for doing that. Don’t start filling in the blanks about things based on incomplete information.

    You can go to NAMB’s web site and email Kevin directly about any questions you have. I’m certain that he would be happy to respond to every one of your concerns. Or if you want to email me any questions, I’d be happy to get information for you. I can assure there are no covert operations going on to turn NAMB over to Acts 29 or any other network.

    I would also remind you that recent years have shown that what NAMB was doing wasn’t working. I’m assuming that at the very minimum, you wouldn’t want our primary force for evangelizing North America to just stand pat. I can tell you that based on the strategy and the quality control that’s being exercised at NAMB right now, your missions dollars are going to be making more of an impact than ever before. This strategy should energize your church to go and give even more. Please know that I respect your opinion and welcome any questions you have. Blessings my brother.

    Keith Warden
    Mississippi

    • May 28, 2011 at 9:15 PM

      Keith,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and for your thoughtful response. I truly do appreciate it. A few things at the outset that might help you better understand where I am coming from. There is no question that NAMB needed changes. I’m not sure that there are too many people who believe that NAMB (or all of our entitities — national, state, and local) do not need to be updated and tweaked to be even more effective. I think the question some of us have is whether or not such radical changes (my word) were needed AND the speed at which these changes have been carried out. In the GCR Final Report and Recommendations (which I assume NAMB is using as a guide to implement changes), there was supposed to be a 7-year phase-out of the existing partnership agreements between NAMB and the State Conventions. The language, changed in the interim report from 4 years to 7 years, could be up to, but I think that the history of the GCR document itself would argue strongly in favor of more time for existing agreements to be phased out and the new strategic partnership agreements to be phased in. Would that be a fair assessment, in your opinion, or am I misreading the GCR Final Report?

      Secondly, as I stated in my post, I am not against church planting. However, it would appear, not only from those changes that have already been announced, but also from what I have been told by reliable sources, that NAMB funds will be used almost exlcusively for those ministries and missions which are directly related to church planting. The GCR Final Report called for church planting to be at least 50% of what NAMB does. If words have any meaning at all, 50% might be stretched to 60%, but it could not be stretched to mean 90%. In NM, we have already been informed that NAMB will cut $221,443 of what we had been receiveing starting in the 2012 budget. Our understanding is that more cuts — most likely up to almsot the $1.1 million we currently receive — will eventually be cut. Some of these areas include funding for collegitate and student minitries. When I stated as such, I was not assuming, but was commenting upon what I know to be true. If NAMB funding will only be used for ministries directly related to church planting, how would you view the GCR recommendation that it be at least 50%? After NAMB fully implements these changes, what percentage of NAMB’s budget do you think will be used for church planting? For non-church planting?

      As to the revised ministry assignments, I stated that they were good as far as it goes. However, based upon conversations that I have had with a very reliable source who has talked with leadership at NAMB, he is not sure that folks at NAMB know whether or not all of the non-church planting assignments (for example, leadership development) must also be directly related to church planting or whether each stands on its own. That was one of the reasons I asked the question regarding whether the new mission statement would interpret the six ministry assignments or vice versa. The mission statement is very clear as to the church planting component taking center stage without really any other stars on stage with it.

      Finally, as to the precedents that have been set — both good and bad — this maybe one of the reasons why many grassroots Southern Baptists are concerned about the direction of the new NAMB. That Dr. Ezell and Dr. Wright both led their churches to give to SBC missions in a way that designated money away from the State Conventions and the old NAMB, I think that this poses a problem for their leadership, at least in the area of giving in and through CP/Annie. I am at a stage where I continue to ask questions that have not been clearly explained. I do not hold a grudge, but I do want to be a wise steward of what God has entrusted to our church. If I approached this issue from a spiteful attitude, then I would not have led our church to give above and beyond our Annie Armstrong goal this year.

      I do consider to have serious concerns about the direction of the new NAMB. As a Trustee, I would encourage you to let NAMB leadership know that what they communicate AND how they communicate it makes a huge difference. When changes are happening at breakneck speed, it is incumbent upon the leaders of NAMB to do a much better job of explaining why the changes are happening faster than many anticipated and faster than the GCR Final Report’s words indicate. Surely people at NAMB — both in leadership and the Trustees — are aware of the serious issues that surround the changes taking place with NAMB. These changes may all be for the good (which is why I left my answer open-ended), but when a large segment of grassroots Southern Baptists are uneasy, it would be prudent not to dismissive of the so-called “marginalized traditionalists” as some have done recently, but instead to respond with a humble heart and a listening ear.

      I believe that your response has been just that. I truly appreciate you sharing your thoughts and the concerns that you had about some of what I wrote. If more folks would be willing to reach out and listen to the concerns instead of ingoring them, hopeing they would go away, we would be in much better shape heading into Phoenix. Thanks again for taking the time to read and dialogue. God bless,

      Howell

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