• Randy Adams

Buzzards Over Nashville, but SBC Not Dead Yet



Last week a friend sent me an obituary for Randy Adams. For real. But that Randy Adams was a 54-year-old X-Ray technician from Arkansas, not a 59-year-old preacher from Washington. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “News of my death has been greatly exaggerated.”


Some have suggested we write an obituary for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). While that would be an exaggeration, buzzards have been flying over Nashville, and they’re not circling the Grand Ole Opry. If the SBC doesn’t straighten things out, the buzzards may yet have a feast.


The SBC is sick. 5,258 fewer churches supported Cooperative Program (CP) missions in 2019 than 2007, resulting in a decrease of $85.1 million to CP, not including inflation. That is alarming, and tragic (source is CFO of SBC Executive Committee in report to EC on 2/22/21).


Even more tragic is a massive decline in baptisms of over 100,000 souls per year. And church starts have plummeted to less than half the number prior to 2010, while NAMB’s church planting budget has exploded, growing from $23 million to $75 million annually.


Before I outline some of the problems, let me say right up front that we need transparency, accountability and greater participation to save the SBC:


1. Transparency builds trust.

2. Accountability stops corruption.

3. Participation empowers every church.


SBC Took Some Seriously Wrong Turns


Wrong Turn #1 – SBC finances are cloaked in secrecy, lacking transparency and preventing accountability.

Some assert the sickness in the SBC can be cured by closing our eyes and singing Kumbaya in unison. While unity and love are biblical commands, so are integrity, honesty, and righteousness. Unity requires truth and trust. It has also been said that we need to “market” the SBC better. That is a doomed strategy without transparency, accountability and participation. We need transformation. We need transparent and accountable leadership. We need to prove we’re spending money rightly before we’re accused of doing wrong.


Fact: the YMCA, Salvation Army, Prison Fellowship, Habitat for Humanity, Father Flanigan’s Boys Home, and many other charitable organizations are more transparent than the SBC. But not only are they more transparent, the Clinton Foundation and Planned Parenthood are more transparent in finances and effectiveness than the North American Mission Board (see www.give.org). Your church deserves more transparency from the SBC than donors to a horrible organization like Planned Parenthood receive. Southern Baptists deserve better. And if the SBC fails to provide transparency, accountability, and increase the participation of our churches, CP may drop far more than $85 million over the next decade. That would be a real tragedy.


Wrong Turn #2 – Weakened local mission partners and strengthened national SBC.

In 2010 the SBC took a path toward top-down control of much of Southern Baptist mission work in North America. The Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) report was adopted by the SBC at the annual meeting in 2010. This resulted in more CP funds sent to the SBC and cutting investment through State Conventions. That, together with ending the cooperative agreements between NAMB and State Conventions, resulted in about $60-$70 million more dollars shifted to the SBC from the State Conventions and local Associations. Most of this $60-$70 million is being directed by NAMB, with a much smaller net gain by the IMB. If this surprises you, you should know that the GCR benefited NAMB more than all other SBC entities combined. Cooperative partners closest to the churches, Associations and State Conventions, were weakened by the GCR, while the SBC was strengthened.


Wrong Turn #3 – NAMB church planting budget exploded from $23 million to $75 million.

Top-down control included an explosion in the NAMB church planting budget, Tragically, even with the increased funding, new church plants plummeted to less than half the number planted a decade earlier, with 552 by 2019 compared to 1,256 reported in the 2010 Annual Report. Even under the current leadership, hundreds more churches were started each year in 2011-2015, than in 2016-2020. The last five years are the lowest five years in at least 40 years, in terms of new churches started (for charts depicting SBC decline go to https://www.sbctransform.org/post/the-crisis-of-decline-in-the-sbc-why).


Fact: churches did not establish the SBC so that it could direct how missions and evangelism are to be done throughout North America. Nor was the SBC established to work independently from cooperative partners the churches established in their counties and states. But that is what is happening. NAMB is setting up its own network of staff in State Conventions that work independently from State Conventions and local Associations, especially in the non-south. NAMB has dictated the terms to each State Convention.


Wrong Turn #4 – the last decade is the worst in 175 years, but still SBC refuses to turn from failure.

No decade has seen decline like 2011-2020, but leaders at the national level, who led in the GCR recommendations in 2010, have failed to admit the horrible mistake that was made in the adopting the GCR. More importantly, the SBC has failed to correct course and return to a missiology that is led locally and not from national headquarters. No corporation would continue pursuing a strategy that has failed for a decade, but that is what the SBC has done. This, despite 5,258 fewer churches supporting SBC CP missions, and a drop of over $85 million in total CP mission giving. This decline is tragic. If the SBC does not make significant changes, the buzzards will gather.


Wrong Turn #5 – NAMB and ERLC have taken Southern Baptists to the Supreme Court of the United States.


After losing two decisions in the U.S 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, despite admittedly deceiving the court with false information about the SBC being a hierarchy over all Southern Baptist churches, associations and conventions, NAMB and the ERLC are now dragging the SBC to the SCOTUS. For more information on this go to: https://www.sbctransform.org/post/namb-and-erlc-take-southern-baptists-to-the-supreme-court and https://www.sbctransform.org/post/do-namb-and-the-erlc-believe-the-end-justifies-the-means


SBC Must Return to the New Testament Model of Advancing God’s Mission


New Testament missions is based on the call of God on the missionary, the empowerment and direction of the Holy Spirit, and the sending and support of the church (see Acts 13:1-4 and Paul’s Epistles). In the New Testament, the “elites” did not control how missions was done. Financial resources were not amassed in Jerusalem, or Antioch, or by the Twelve Apostles, and then disbursed from Headquarters in ways the “remote elites” determined best. Peter didn’t control the expansion of the church. Peter didn’t know what was needed in Ephesus or Corinth or Philippi. He probably never even heard of Berea, just like SBC leaders have never heard of Pomeroy, WA or Sun Prairie, WI or even Randolph, AL. The Jerusalem Church didn’t control the movement of the missionaries and direct their work as they moved from city to city. The Holy Spirit was in control, working through Spirit-filled, God-called men. And the cooperation that mattered most was that which was most local. For Paul, this was the Antioch Church, but in time it included other churches, and even networks of churches.


The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was birthed by churches who believed they must advance the mission of God. Until the last decade, SBC leaders respected that leaders in local churches of every size were in the best position to know what to do in their towns. And that local Associations were best positioned to help their churches, from a Southern Baptist cooperation standpoint. And that State Conventions were the next best positioned. This changed with the GCR as tens of millions of dollars were shifted to the national level.


Top-down control of missions in North America must end. Just as the U.S. Federal government can’t run your local city with the same accountability as your mayor and city counsel, SBC and NAMB leaders can’t direct the work in 50 states as well as those who live in those states.


My Commitment as an SBC Presidential Candidate


As a candidate for president of the SBC, if elected I will bring transparency to the finances and performance of the entities of the SBC. The bankbooks will be opened. Effectiveness will be revealed. Accountability will be required. Participation in the Annual Meeting of the SBC will be expanded to remote locations. I will work to restore true partnership in the SBC, one in which the SBC serves the churches and does not attempt to usurp the proper role of the local Association and State Conventions (for a fuller description of my plan for reforming the SBC, go to www.randyadams.org).


The SBC president can make a difference. Some question what the president can truly accomplish. I assert that SBC trustees will take notice when the president demands financial transparency, reveals conflicts of interest, and tells them that they serve the churches first, not the SBC. When the SBC president calls out corruption, SBC leaders and the media will take notice. When the SBC president shines the spotlight on the performance of our entities, all Southern Baptists will take notice.


The SBC needs more than a “cheerleader” president. We need a reformer who does not fear “rocking the boat” to rebuild trust and get the SBC back on mission. That is what I will do. We can renew cooperation and partnership. Under the Lord’s leadership and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the next chapter in the history of Southern Baptists can be glorious. Remember:


1. Transparency builds trust.

2. Accountability stops corruption.

3. Participation empowers every church.


P.S. For SBC data year-by-year, go to https://sbhla.org/digital-resources/sbc-annuals/ and look at the Executive Committee reports and the entity reports.

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