“Lifeway’s” World Changers Abandons Gallup & the West!

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!

9 comments for ““Lifeway’s” World Changers Abandons Gallup & the West!

  1. Alan Jones
    October 12, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    I’m so afraid that they will do the same thing now that they have aquired Student Life.

    • October 12, 2012 at 9:38 AM

      Alan,

      I am not familiar with Student Life, but I would say that your concerns are well placed. We are headed for more wholesale, radical changes from OUR entities. It is like the politicians in Washington who have lost touch with the people in their district. Unfortunately, it is very hard to vote out leadership at the top levels of the SBC. It looks as if the only thing that might get their attention is for churches to redirect their CP giving. I’m still not sure that will work because of the mentality of some in power. However, with the latest change coming out of the corporate offices of Lifway and NAMB, I am closer than ever to changing how our church gives to the Annie Armstrong offering next spring. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. God bless,

      Howell

  2. William Thornton
    October 12, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    Ok, did I miss NAMB spinning off disaster relief? Seems like they just put more into that.

    • October 12, 2012 at 10:51 AM

      William,

      The way that I included Disaster Relief in my list could lead one to infer that Disaster Relief has also been jettisoned. Although it still remains with the new NAMB, I think if they could, they would likewise jettison DR. However, unlike World Changers, there is really nowhere to spin DR off to. Of course, the state conventions are on the front line of DR anyway, but a national coordinating strategy is needed. Hence, NAMB’s involvement. My impression is that the new NAMB’s leadership would, if they thought they could get away with it, jettison DR as well. Why do I have that impression? Because the new NAMB’s philosophy is almost exclusively church planting. DR, like WCers, Resort Ministries and Collegiate Ministries, does not plant churches. I think that the leadership at the new NAMB is at least aware that trying to spin off DR entirely would produce a backlash that they could not contain. That’s my impression. It could be wrong, but based on our experience with the new NAMB out here in NM, I think my impression is probably closer to reality than not. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  3. David Johnson
    October 12, 2012 at 9:48 PM

    Howell,

    Thanks you for your writing here – strong work. Anything new on the Glorieta front? We are a four-generation Glorieta family & very concerned.

    Thanks,
    BaylorPride

    • October 12, 2012 at 9:58 PM

      David,

      Thanks for the kind words. I wish I had any new updates on Glorieta, but the last I saw was several weeks ago. At that time, the study that Lifeway commissioned to make sure that Olivet University was doctrinally/theologically compatible with SBC beliefs had not yet been completed, although it seemed close. This is pure speculation, based upon the almost complete lack of transparency by Lifeway and other SBC entities as of late, but it would not surprise me if the report found Olivet compatible and that Lifeway was moving forward with the sale of Glorieta. First with Glorieta and now World Changers, I think that the leadership of Lifeway believes that can make major changes without much — if any — pushback. If and when I hear something about Glorieta, I will post a new blog. Thanks for stopping by and God bless,

      Howell

  4. Bryant Laird
    October 14, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    Howell,

    I appreciate your thoughts and concerns. I’m afraid Lifeway and NAMB have made it clear they aren’t interested in working with character and integrity on this issue. They would rather send their public relations team to threaten those who voice a differing opinion or create rabbits to chase by steering the conversation toward minute details that muddy up the original concerns that have been raised. As I’ve learned, it’s all about deflection and misdirection from Lifeway and NAMB. And when deflection and misdirection won’t work, they are convinced that complete disregard and/or ignoring of tough questions will.

    I’m willing to bet that guys like Ed Stetzer, Eric Geiger and Ben Trueblook have spent a total amount of ZERO days at World Changers projects, but they arrogantly believe they are smarter than the World Changers nation and staff that helped lead this ministry from less than 200 people in 1990 to approximately 20,000 today. It’s not just about roofs (although Stetzer would like to focus solely on that idea), it’s about identity or lack thereof when it comes to the future of World Changers. It’s also about a power struggle as Lifeway wants to dictate where World Changers projects will and will not be hosted. Instead of projects being requested at the local level where local leaders knew if lodging, meals and funding for supplies were readily available or not, it’s now Lifeway’s top down approach to determining who is worthy of hosting a project by deciding if a location can fall within Lifeway’s budgeting parameters that will provide Lifeway with a “contribution” from World Changers in the end.

    While these decisions have obviously been made by Lifeway, sadly, NAMB has made it completely clear that no one in leadership cares at all what will or will not happen to this ministry despite the fact that NAMB still technically owns World Changers. Their idea of “partnership” adds up to day to day operations being shifted from NAMB’s responsibility to Lifeway while NAMB receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from participant offerings going to an agency that didn’t value hosting World Changers in the first place.

    Unfortunately, as I’ve learned from your thoughts, this is not the first time these agencies have led in such questionable ways and it leads me to this question: If this is this modus operandi of Lifeway & NAMB, how can we expect God to bless our churches and convention under their leadership?

    • October 14, 2012 at 10:57 PM

      Bryant,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and to share your thoughts on this. I appreciated reading you post over on Voices. I know Dave Miller had mentioned the change in World Changers a few weeks back, but I had missed it. It was informative to read an “inside” take on this whole situation from someone like yourself who has been intimately involved in the World Changers ministry. As I pointed out in my post, I am really not surprised by any of what is taking place at the new NAMB or Lifeway. It is a top-down, corporate approach to “cooperation” which basically tells the churches of the SBC to “like it or leave it.” I have experienced this approach from the new NAMB out in New Mexico. I don’t think that WCers should have been spun off from NAMB in the first place, but it obviously does not plant churches so it had to go. They were able to get Lifeway to take over WCers, but it would be interesting to see what kind of “partership” agreement that the new NAMB and Lifeway entered into in regards to World Changers. Do all of the offerings that are taken at the projects have to go to the new NAMB? Is that a decision that is made locally or is that something that is a top-down directive from Lifeway? If it is a directive from Lifeway, then at the very least there is an appearance of a conflict of interest with this money flowing back to the new NAMB.

      I truly believe that the new NAMB would jettison Disaster Relief if they thought they could get away with it, but they have probably calculated that this would be too big a move at this point. As to answers to any questions that you or others pose, even though I said I would hold my breath for Dr. Rainer, I don’t really expect him or anyone else in leadership to address why the changes were made. Over the last several years — starting with the unilateral sealing of the records of the GCRTF — there has been a mentality at the top to talk a good game when it comes to “transparency and openness” in the SBC, but to do the exact opposite. As many of those in leadership come from a megachurch background (not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂 ), they are not used to anyone questioning their decisions or taking a contrary view. Many of those in leadership at Lifeway, the new NAMB, and other SBC entities have either forgotten or never have known what it means to be a convention (not denomination) of cooperating churches. That cooperation comes from the grassroots level and goes up, not the other way around. World Changers is a perfect example of that cooperation that bubbled up and was led from the grassroots. Of course, that type of cooperation is harder to control. Hence, the need to radically restructure everything from the top down so as to make sure who is in control. Your last question is excellent, but unfortunately most in top levels of leadership will not even understand the question to begin with. Sorry to get on my soapbox, but your post on WCers and what I see continue to happen at our entities is both frustrating and sad. I’m not sure how we fix things, but if we don’t speak out, then more and more ministries like World Changers will go by the wayside because the powers-that-be don’t see the benefit (i.e. financially) of keeping them on their books. Thanks again for your spot-on article and for taking the time to stop by tonight. God bless,

      Howell

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