“You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” Joseph Welch, Chief Counsel to the U.S. Army (directed to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the “Army-McCarthy Hearings, June 9, 1954)
Lifeway Strikes Again!
When news broke this week that Lifeway Christian Resources was shuttering its music and worship website, lifewayworship.com, one of its most valuable resources (at least from the perspective of many small and mid-sized SBC churches), the outcry was instantaneous. Some took to Twitter to lament this decision, which was inexplicably left out of Lifeway’s report at the SBC Annual Meeting last month in New Orleans. One could speculate why Lifeway’s leaders would choose to drop this bombshell in the middle of summer when many Southern Baptist church leaders are on vacation or at camp, but I have a pretty good idea why they would want to avoid any questions or accountability from our once-a-year gathering.
Many non-Mega churches (i.e., the smaller churches that make up the bulk of our convention) were left wondering how this could have happened, and if Lifeway will perhaps reconsider its decision. If history is any guide the answer will be a resounding NO! For the last ten years, Lifeway has systematically sought to dismantle many of the cherished resources that Southern Baptists grew to love and appreciate.
But, just like its decision to sell off its two conference centers, Glorieta in New Mexico and Ridgecrest in North Carolina (after many years of neglect and deferred maintenance in the case of Glorieta), and its decision to close all of Lifeway’s stores, Lifeway continues to spin that they are just trying to help the local church:
“At Lifeway, we exist to honor God and serve churches by designing trustworthy experiences that fuel ministry. That’s why taking anything out of print or discontinuing any service to the church is not something we take lightly, nor is it a decision made without a great deal of prayer and due diligence.
“These decisions are made for a number of reasons, but always with the goal of best stewarding our resources to serve Christ’s church even as some needs of the church may change over time.
“Accordingly, we have made the difficult decision to discontinue lifewayworship.com, effective Sept. 30, 2023.”
Lack of Transparency
I have no doubt that leaders at Lifeway, including its Board of Trustees, believe the above statement. I’m quite sure that, just like the still locked-away-in-a-vault Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report (rank-and-file Southern Baptists will never see that report), there were “good” reasons for this latest decision. Someone could have asked at the New Orleans meeting, or, imagine this, Lifeway could have shared the reasons at the meeting so that the SBC family knew what was going on and why. But, no. Just like with so many other decisions made at the highest levels of SBC life, the elites tell us only what they think we should know. That is becoming a tiresome schtick.
Glorieta and Lifeway’s Shame
In 2013, Lifeway also had “good reasons” to sell Glorieta Conference Center near Santa Fe. What had been a premiere site for SBC churches and ministry groups to gather for training, equipping, and encouraging in the west was abandoned by Lifeway, well before the property was sold. When Lifeway offered to sell Glorieta to the Baptist Convention of New Mexico for $1, a special Task Force of the Executive Board found:
“The BCNM Glorieta Task Force believed that any prudent business plan would include an environmental study and indemnification by LifeWay for any environmental problems that might be discovered. LifeWay would also need to indemnify the BCNM for the litigation it might incur as a result of assuming ownership of the property and not because of any action taken by the BCNM. Based on its inspection of the property, the task force determined that a viable business plan needed to include deferred maintenance of $10 million to $20 million.
Accordingly, the task force advised LifeWay that it could not proceed further with the acquisition unless LifeWay agreed to indemnify BCNM for any environmental liability and litigation liability. LifeWay advised BCNM that it could not indemnify BCNM as requested, and as a result the task force could not proceed any further.”
Anyone who has been following the corporate (they are a business above all else) model of Lifeway for the last decade should not be surprised by their decision to abandon music and worship ministries in SBC, much as they abandoned the west. The corporate PR specialists will spin that this is not an abandonment of worship, but rather a way to “look for new and fresh ways to serve churches and their worship ministries.”
Unlike many music and worship pastors who were blindsided by Lifeway’s announcement, I was not disappointed. You can only be disappointed when you have any expectations for something. It’s not that my expectations for Lifeway are low. They are non-existent, at least when it comes to the business/corporate side of things. After ten years of Lifeway’s “new and fresh,” I’m no longer buying what the Lifeway Corporation is trying to sell the churches.