First, Glorieta. Now Gallup. They say things come in three’s. I don’t know what “G” will be next for Lifeway to abandon in my part of the country, but I do know that three is the number of projects left in the great American west (not including Alaska) after the SBC entity decided to
gut “restructure” World Changers, a successful student missions ministry that was started in the summer of 1990.
At the outset, I will admit I have a couple biases (they will be obvious) when it comes to World Changers. This past June, a student group from the church I pastor — Bethel Baptist — traveled from Alamogordo to Gallup (about 6 hours north and west of us) for our first World Changers’ mission project. It would be an understatement to say that every student and adult sponsor (including our Student Pastor) came back from the week changed and fired up. The trip made such a huge impact upon those who participated that their contagious spirit overflowed to other students and adults within our church.
The World Changers’ mission trip was so positive and profound that our Student Pastor had already made plans for next year’s trip back to Gallup the second week of June. Alas, it is not meant to be. After reading an excellent post by Bryant Laird, who was integrally involved with World Changers from 2006-2011 (prior to the radical reorganization of that entity), I suddenly became aware that next summer’s student mission trip was probably in jeopardy. (If I would have been paying attention earlier in September, I would have first seen Dave Miller’s moving post on SBCVoices about Lifeway’s change of direction.) Following a link (here) supplied by Lifeway’s Dr. Ed Stetzer in one of his comments on Laird’s post, I saw with my own eyes that the WCer’s project in Gallup, NM was no longer listed. My Student Pastor, who is at a conference in San Diego this week, will probably be surprised and saddened to learn of this turn of events.
I can’t say that I am surprised. The abandonment of the west and rural America has become the modus operandi of some of the elites who are firmly in control of our SBC entities. Many of our leaders seem much more comfortable in (and with) the urban and urbane than with the rural and rugged. I suppose staying in the ivory towers for too long will do that to you. From Lifeway’s shameful squandering of Glorieta Conference Center to its decision to disinvite itself to all but three World Changers’ projects in the west (two in California and one in Oregon), Lifeway is unfortunately following the lead of the new North American Mission Board. In response to Dave Miller, Marty King, Lifeway’s Director of Corporate Communications, wrote:
“One change we are making is that we’re attempting to follow the North American Mission Board’s lead in focusing more on larger cities as we attempt to have a larger impact by staying longer in the great lost metropolitan areas of our country – a concept much at the heart of the Great Commission Resurgence.”
Color me not impressed in the least. I’m not at all sure that this is the interpretation that most people in the west had when they voted on the GCRTF. For the record, I voted against the Final Report in its entirety because I was all but certain that this was the exact (mis)interpretation that certain SBC leaders would use to implement the radical changes that we have seen and will continue to see happening, the spin of leadership at the time notwithstanding. To refresh everyone’s recollection, “Component Four: Reaching North America,” did not focus just on metropolitan areas:
“This reinvention of the North American Mission Board that we envision will implement a missional strategy for planting churches in North America with a priority to reach metropolitan areas and underserved people groups.” (emphasis added)
Unless someone is having a Bill Clinton moment and does not know the definition of the conjunction “and,” then we have a failure to communicate. So much for the promises to reach underserved people groups in the west, including the 97% lost in New Mexico. Oh, I guess if you are in a precious few “great lost metropolitan cities” out west, that’s wonderful, but the rural hinterlands — with tons of equally lost people — get the short end of the stick yet again. And, we are expected to keep paying for the short stick. Not for much longer!
Lest I be too hard on Lifeway, they should not shoulder all the blame for having to gut World Changers. The proximate cause for Lifeway being put in this position can be traced directly to Alpharetta and the new NAMB. In addition to ignoring the “mandate” of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s Final Report to implement the new strategic “partnership” agreements with the state conventions over a period of seven years (in Alpharetta, one is the new seven and dictating is the new cooperating), the new NAMB immediately chose to put over 50% of their eggs in a church planting basket:
“It is our desire that at least 50% of the ministry efforts of our North American Mission Board be given to assist churches in planting healthy, multiplying, and faithful Baptist congregations in the United States and Canada . . .” (Component Four: Reaching North America, GCRTF Final Report, Adopted June 1, 2010)
I’m quite certain that the accountants at the new NAMB will point out that less than 50% of the new NAMB’s budget is technically earmarked for church planting. I’m watching the football game and the Vice Presidential debate, so I am well aware that football players and politicians can spin. So can accountants. The practical reality is that almost all of the new NAMB’s resources — directly and indirectly — have been marshalled and re-directed for church planting. That is why they jettisoned World Changers to a willing party. World Changers, Collegiate Ministries, Disaster Relief, Resort Ministries and the list goes on. Because none of these ministries plant churches, they are all expendable to the new NAMB. If World Changers doesn’t continue, I’m not sure that anyone at the new NAMB will really care. Perhaps that is not the reality (maybe a few people will care), but that is the growing perception in the heartland of the SBC, particularly out west.
Lifeway’s decision to gut World Changers and virtually abandon the west is not a “win-win” situation as some have tried to paint it. This is just more of the same from our entities. Some wonder why the trust level among Southern Baptists is at an all-time low. From the sealing of the GCRTF records to the lack of transparency in the Presidential Search at MBTS to the new NAMB’s heavy-handed approach with their state “partners” (maybe there is a reason that the State Executives deep-sixed their NAMB study report) to Lifeway’s abandonment of Glorieta, Gallop, and the west, we are witnessing the radical redefinition of what it means to be a cooperating Southern Baptist.
Who should we blame for all this mess? I have an idea. Let’s just throw Lifeway’s attorneys under the bus. After all, they decided that, after 22 years, it was no longer “safe” for students under the age of 17 to work on roofs. For anyone who knows anything about World Changers (which apparently does not include too many people in Lifeway’s Headquarters in Nashville), roof work is the “bread and butter” of these mission trips. According to Bryant Laird, approximately 90% of students who participate in WCers are under the age of 17. Taking away the opportunity for students to get on a roof in Gallup or any number of other (now former) World Changers’ project towns is just another way to gut the program. (I am fully aware that some state laws prevent minors from working on roofs, but certainly not all states where WCers projects are located.)
Perhaps because of my last bias — which I admit is built-in — I think blaming the lawyers is a bad idea. Unless the attorneys decided that Gallup, NM and other towns in the west were off the list, then the buck for that decision stops at the desks of the Presidents of Lifeway and the new NAMB. However, the overwhelming majority of the buck needs to be placed on a desk in Alpharetta! Because of my respect and trust for Dr. Thom Rainer, I’ll hold my breath waiting for him to respond to the concerns and questions that have been raised by Bryant Laird and others in recent days concerning the World Changers’ ministry. I don’t have any breath left to hold for anyone else involved!