a press release in early January 2008 that the President of Southern Seminary would allow his name to be entered into nomination for President of the Southern Baptist Convention, I wrote a blog detailing the reasons why I believed Dr. Mohler would not be elected President.
The third reason for my rationale involved Al's home church, Highview Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky, Highview's low percentage giving to the Cooperative Program and their nearly non-existent giving to the traditional SBC missions offerings, including the Lottie Moon Offering for international missions and the Annie Armstrong offering for continental missions. I wrote in January 2008 the following:
"Mohler is a member of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, where he serves as a "teaching pastor" and a Sunday school teacher. The church contributes 3.3 percent of its $5 million in undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program and nothing to the SBC's two mission offerings according to Baptist Press. The mission's giving of one's home church is more important than it might seem at first glance, and in the coming months and years I am quite positive that this issue will only grow in importance in the minds of those whom will chose who leads the SBC."
Although Al Mohler later pulled his name from nomination for President of the SBC, Highview Baptist Church and her pastor, Dr. Kevin Ezell, spent a few weeks "clarifying" their missions giving. In one press release Highview's pastoral leadership explained that the church gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions, just not through the traditional CP mechanism. Explaining their low CP giving, Dr. Ezell stated:
"As for our Cooperative Program giving, Highview has chosen to give the majority of our cooperative funds directly to the SBC instead of funneling the funds through the Kentucky Baptist Convention. The reason is simple: The KBC retains 64% of those funds, and we want to ensure that more of our dollars went directly to evangelism, missions and other programs that Highview supports."
Last week, September 1, 2010, the Search Committee for the President of the North American Mission Board announced they would be presenting Dr. Kevin Ezell for approval as the new President of NAMB. One of the advantages of the Internet is to look back over the past several years and make observations based upon the written record and not simply one's faulty memory. I'd like to give a couple of observations on Dr. Ezell's nomination that might be a different take than most.
(1). The Southern Baptist Convention has just come through a mega-shift in terms of leadership. Dr. Ezell has publicly stated that he led his church to bypass his state convention in the church's missions giving, and then the Presidential Search Committee of NAMB, the mission organization tasked with working directly with the respective SBC state conventions, is nominating Dr. Ezell as NAMB's President. I believe Dr. Ezell is a phenominal leader and a wonderful man. I have no argument against him as a person. My observation is a philosophical one. When Dr. Ezell is elected, the Southern Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program as we have known it for decades will be over. We are increasingly moving toward the 1800's model of SBC giving called "societal." Churches will give to those "societies' or "agencies" that best reflect their own ideology or philosophy and/or benefits them the most. Cooperation between state and national agencies in the Southern Baptist Convention, cooperation between churches and their respective state conventions and national missions' agencies, and between mission minded SBC churches will be over. SBC churches, SBC state conventions, and SBC national agencies will be emphasizing their own work and requesting respective cooperation from others, depending less and less on the "Cooperative Program."
(2). When Dr. Ezell is elected, a new crop of leadership, including the new President of the Southern Baptist Convention (Wright), the new President of the North American Mission Board (Ezell), and the impending new President of the International Board (the top prospect is a stunner), will now be asking for people and churches in the Southern Baptist Convention to give more to the Cooperative Program and the national missions offerings, but at the same time, attempting to cut cooperative links traditionally tied to the offerings. As I mentioned in the previous post, I find it very interesting that those who formerly refused to give to the CP change their tune when elected to leadership. What's changed? The answer of course is, "The leaders have changed." So, I must ask the question: Do we give to the CP because we like the leaders or do we give to the CP because we like way we are doing missions? I think if Southern Baptists stepped back and took a hard look at the missions work of the SBC over the past few years, we would come to the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong with our agencies when we spend millions of dollars to "change" the way we do missions every time new leaders are elected. The gospel is not a political philosophy that changes like the platforms of Democrats and Republicans. However, the SBC is looking more and more like a wasteful government agency than a gospel organization.
(3). I like Bryant Wright, Frank Page and Kevin Ezell. They are really fine men. The concern I have with the SBC as it relates to my church is the fact that our church gets way more excited about the mission work we do directly in India, Africa, Guatamela, New York and our own state than we do trying to figure out why our national agencies spend tens of millions of dollars constantly changing methodologies, organizational structures, and the way they do missions at the whims of new leadership. Frankly, I wish we listened more to the missionaries on the field (state, national and international) than we do to the ever changing leaders in Nashville, Richmond and Atlanta. Until we have a mechanism that allows our appointed missionaries to have more of a say in what our Convention accomplishes in the field, there is a hesitancy to give more to national offerings just because "new leaders" have emerged.
A Principle: Any move toward "societal" giving in the Southern Baptist Convention creates an atmosphere where larger churches become more and more convinced that the best "society" for accountable, effective missions giving is the local church, not a national board.
I'm not saying the above principle is right or wrong, it is simply a fact. That's the danger of political and ideological infighting in a Convention built on cooperation. The cooperation fractures to the point the local church believes the best investment in mission dollars is the work being done by its own members.