We were told at the past yearly meeting of Southern Baptists that we needed to trust the Trustee System. After that statement by Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay, I gave a hearty Amen! As I think about his statement and view the recent Baptist Press public service announcement for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) I am struck with where my allegiance lies. Yes, I trust the Trustee System, but it is the sitting trustees that I am beginning to lose faith in.
The beginning of Great Commission Resurgence occurred when Dr. Danny Akin in a chapel message “The Axioms of a Great Commission”, (cannot be accessed through Between the Times) and is noted to be the inspiration of the GCR Declaration, spoke of a “bloated bureaucracy”. Dr. Akin later rescinded that specific language but his point was well taken. Many of the ministries of the SBC are being duplicated in such a way that our state conventions, associations, and even national entities, find themselves in competition with each other because they are doing the same ministries. For example, if a church desires to embark on an international short-term mission trip look no further than the local association. If that option doesn’t suit the church, then look to the state convention. If one does not have enough options to choose from between those two resources, then look to the International Mission Board (IMB). Between those three resources there is a plethora of opportunities for a church to embark on a short-term international mission trip. Dr. Akin was right in that we spend untold amounts of funds in Cooperative Program dollars funding these multiple resources when we could combine this under one umbrella–The IMB.
While the above illustration is correct I honestly can see how such a thing like this happens because of the separate entity trustee boards and state executive committees. Because of an innate Baptist disdain to connectionalism there is no communication between associations, state conventions, and national entities. The only time communication occurs is when there is a necessity of a partnership in certain areas in order to maintain the flow of resources. However, in the latest report from NAMB I fail to understand how two Trustee Boards can allow such an egregious abuse of CP funds. The Trustee System I trust and believe in, but the men and women making up the trustee boards of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and NAMB are boarding on fiduciary negligence.
According to NAMB’s website they have a funded professor in place at each seminary including the Canadian Baptist seminary. Notice what NAMB states about their Nehemiah Professor:
NEHEMIAH PROJECT – A cooperative strategy that links Southern Baptist churches, associations, state conventions, the Canadian National Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist seminaries funded through the Cooperative Program, and the North American Mission Board to intentionally prepare church planters to plant healthy, reproducing churches. The Nehemiah Professors at each of the seven Cooperative Program funded seminaries also direct the Nehemiah Centers at their campuses. These provide opportunities of equipping for existing churches and other field partners. [Emphasis mine]
Notice the guidelines that NAMB advertizes about this Nehemiah Project:
NEHEMIAH CHURCH PLANTERS-The Nehemiah Project provides students training in the classroom by experienced professors and field experience under proven pastors in how to lead people to evangelize and build a reproducing local church. Once a student has completed the church planting program, he or she can be assisted financially and with coaching in planting a new church.[Emphasis mine]
Thus, we have in place at each of our seminaries a professor that is either jointly funded by NAMB and the seminary or is being funded individually by one of the partnering entities. It appears that NAMB assumes full responsibility for funding the position because the professor is an employee of NAMB. The point is not who does the funding but where the funding comes and that is the Cooperative Program in general. In particular, at SBTS, Dr. J.D. Payne is the Nehemiah professor as the program is housed under the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. According to Dr. Payne’s blog he is leaving Louisville, Ky, to assume the position of Pastor of Church Multiplication. Which calls into question something that seems to have been overlooked. Will NAMB hire someone in this position, or will their new project take the place of the Nehemiah Project?
According to the news release:
In a strategic partnership with the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will house the new role of church planter mobilization strategist at its Louisville campus.
Therefore we see this is something completely different. We have a “strategic partnership” between the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC), NAMB, and SBTS. This is “new” thus it seems the Nehemiah Project is still in place. We are left to assume the Nehemiah Project is taking on a new name but nothing is said either by NAMB or SBTS the office is closing. It could be the office is being renamed and if that is the case then something still should be communicated to that fact.
Notice the announcement and how it coincides with the current Nehemiah Project strategy.
As CPM strategist, Harvie will work closely with seminary faculty, with Kentucky Baptists and with NAMB to better equip and connect would-be church planters with strategies and contacts for partnering with existing churches to plant in key areas of North America.
While there is much that coincides there is one huge glaring difference. We have KBC partnering with NAMB and SBTS to plant churches, not in Kentucky but “in key areas of North America.” Wonder what North Carolina Baptists will have to say about KBC planting churches in NC?
Dr. Russell Moore has an interesting quote in the article announcing the “new church planter mobilization strategist”. Dr. Moore says;
“I am thrilled that Southern Seminary is partnering with the North American Mission Board and the Kentucky Baptist Convention to train and mobilize the next generation of church planters,”
This quote begs something that needs to be answered. Why do we need a “new” strategy to partner with a state convention? Couldn’t the Nehemiah Project professor do this without a formal agreement? I mean, have we arrived at a time in Christendome that we need to formally enter into agreements in order to offer our services to other entities?
Here is what seems to be going on from the perspective of a lowly pastor being called upon, by the leaders of my convention, to lead my people to give more dollars to the CP. We have an one entity receiving funds from three different sources. These sources are receiving funds from one well. This well is running dry and we are being told to pour more into the well. You see if SBTS does not receive the funding from NAMB for this professorial position then SBTS will need to fund it from their slice of the CP pie. With the partnership of KBC, SBTS does not have to supply the support staff because they can use the KBC portion they withhold for KBC interests to supply the funds for the support of this professorial position. Therefore SBTS holds claim to a professor that is engaged to teach church planting through the KBC and in “strategic areas.” Also, let us not forget this jewel announcement as recent as April 2012. It seems that Sovereign Grace Ministries may also benefit from this NAMB change of direction concerning church planting.
If the Nehemiah Project is closing down, then where is the announcement? If this announcement is in the announcement of Aaron Harvie being named new Church Planting Strategist, I still have a huge mis-trust of the trustees, not the Trustee System. Why? The trustees have either forsaken their fiduciary responsibilities or they are not informed enough to know connectionalism when it hits them in the face. The uniqueness of the SBC from the very beginning was that we would not have any type of connectionalism. That is the reason we maintain such a staunch defender of autonomy. Each entity is completely autonomous from other entities. This new “strategic partnership” that Dr. Moore is “thrilled” about is not a partnership but a connectional process that, if expanded to other seminaries and state conventions, will be nothing more than NAMB’s old system. There will be one unique difference in this “new” system of NAMB and the old system–associations. NAMB is replacing the associations in the old system with the seminaries in the new system. May I remind us all that historically speaking associations were around before conventions?
Why do I not trust the individuals that make up the Trustee System that I do trust? Because they are not asking the hard questions of the entity leaders? Also, they either are not informed enough, or they are just too happy to be where they are they are not willing to ask questions. Thus, if this is a replacement of the Nehemiah Project then it smacks of connectionalism. If this is not a replacement of the Nehemiah Project, then it smacks of connectionalism and it is nothing more than duplicating the effort at SBTS to get their graduates into SBC churches. Either way it is the pooling of more CP dollars to the seminary they will receive from the SBC, NAMB, and now KBC.