Will God bless Southern Baptists and grow His work through us? Southern Baptists will descend on Nashville in large numbers next week because they are rightly concerned about the health and direction of our missionary system. The concern is expressed differently depending on who is talking, but all know God’s mission through Southern Baptists is at stake. Between 2007-2019 the SBC suffered a net loss of 5,258 churches supporting Cooperative Program missions, totalling a decline of $85,000,000, not counting inflation. This has many asking the question, Will God entrust to Southern Baptists the spiritual resources necessary to advance His mission in a greater way, or will He continue to allow us to plunge into decline?
I believe the answer to this question depends on the road we take. If our leaders continue to say, “Send us your money and trust us because we know what’s best?” the steep decline will accelerate rapidly. But if our leaders open the doors, open the books, end the secrecy, rescind the NDAs, expand the participation of our churches, adhere to Scripture as all-sufficient, and deal with the blatant corruption that has destroyed trust, we can expect God to rescue us, bless us, and do through us what only He can do.
The reality is that churches just want to get on with God’s mission. They are sick and tired of defending the SBC, or “playing down” their affiliation with the SBC for the sake of their witness in the community. Churches want to be proud of SBC missions. They want to trust seminaries to train students to rightly divide God’s Word. They want NAMB to keep the gospel message clear and biblical, not add the “great requirement” to the gospel and corrupt it like is currently being advocated by NAMB leadership.
Our churches want the right things. They’re busy doing summer camps, VBS, local ministry, and sending mission teams. But here’s seven realities with which our churches have to deal.
REALITY #1 – SBC elites are leaving SBC employment with six- and seven-figure golden parachutes. Thom Rainer left Lifeway to run the company he started while he was still employed by Lifeway, and he received approximately $1,000,000 plus benefits in a compensation package. Only one trustee agreed to this, Chairman Jimmy Scroggins. He didn't even inform the compensation committee of the agreement. Russell Moore left the ERLC with two week’s notice to take employment with Christianity Today. It is reported that he not only received several months of compensation with benefits, but he was given access to 12,500 ERLC contacts. Did your last pastor receive 4-6 months compensation when he announced he was leaving for another church? “No,” you say? I didn’t think so. And this begs the question of what other SBC executives might be receiving when they leave SBC employment. Transparency, please.
REALITY #2 – NAMB has taken Southern Baptists into the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing for the right to interfere with the employment of staff in autonomous, independent partner organizations (churches, associations and conventions) without facing any legal jeopardy. Not only that, NAMB is claiming exemption from lawsuits if they defame the character of a minister who cooperates with the SBC. Their SCOTUS petition actually claims they are “the SBC Mission Board.” With assets totaling $435,000,000, what chance would the average pastor have if they get on the “wrong side” of NAMB leadership? What will you do if NAMB has legal protection from penalty to destroy your ministry and reputation? Yes, NAMB has taken Southern Baptists to the SCOTUS, arguing for protections that no SBC entity has ever claimed.
REALITY #3 – Allegations of covering up sexual abuse has rocked the SBC and damaged the witness of our churches. We all know something about this, especially with the allegations of Russell Moore about the mishandling of sexual abuse cases by the SBC Executive Committee. As of writing, I have read that certain EC Board members are requesting an independent investigation of their own board regarding their handling of sexual abuse cases. Did you also know that a highly respected Baptist journalist, Joni Hannigan, herself a victim of abuse, was bullied by leaders at NAMB? She reported on NAMB President Kevin Ezell's failure to testify in an abuse case against one of his church members, claiming pastoral privilege. This happened when he was the pastor of Highview Church in Louisville, KY. Kentucky law does permit such pastoral privilege. Hannigan’s article was broad-based, mentioning several SBC leaders and former leaders, by name, for their moral failures or mishandling of abuse cases. But only one SBC entity sent her a threatening text message via Mike Ebert, saying her claims were possibly libelous, and asking that she remove them from her article. To Hannigan’s credit, she did not comply. The story had already been reported years prior by a Louisville newspaper. She knew she was on firm ground in her reporting, but the message was received – the NAMB Bank, with millions of discretionary dollars available each year, could reach out and give her a “pop.”
REALITY #4 – SBC Executive Committee receives hundreds of thousand of dollars annually from NAMB (the Bank of the SBC) to employ additional staff. After leading the GCR Task Force to recommend cutting funds that go to the SBC EC, Ronnie Floyd became the president of the EC and wanted to enlarge the staff. So he went to the Bank of the SBC and got the money there. That is a potential conflict of interest. He has said that this was done in the past. That is true, but NAMB has ended such funding for all state conventions. The presdient of NAMB says such joint-funding for personnel is "messy." Why are they now funding staff for the SBC EC? And, by the way, transparency please!
REALITY #5 – Dozens of pastors in most every state receive personal checks from NAMB to “represent” NAMB in their states. We’re not talking about the socks and trinkets many pastors receive. No, this is real money, often $1,000 a month to an already full-time pastor to be a “NAMB Ambassador.” Those “Ambassadors” make regular contact with financially influential churches in each state. Why does NAMB do this? NAMB wants to keep cultivating the financial pipeline. You can’t have too many influential friends when church planting numbers have plummeted to less than half the number of a decade ago, despite tripling the budget, adding over $50,000,000 annually. When will Southern Baptists wake up to this? By the way, that’s your CP and Annie Armstrong dollars at work in a “NAMB Ambassador’s” pocket. Your church deserves better use of its mission gifts.
REALITY #6 - Prior to 2010, NAMB had 50 staff in the national evangelism office, and jointly-funded hundreds of other evangelism positions across the country. They nearly eliminated funding for evangelism personnel in 2011-12. They put the staffing money into marketing, event planners, houses, and grants for select church planters, like the $175,000 grant that went to an Atlanta church planter who took the money and left the SBC. Or what of the houses and money that Echo Church in the San Francisco area received? This church is known, in part, for its “beer and Bible” study, owning its own Echo Church Brewery, and having a female teaching pastor. All of this has been verified. And you wonder why baptisms in 2020 were the lowest since 1919, and baptisms in 2019 were the lowest since 1938. When you practically eliminate all funding for evangelism personnel at the national level, and hugely reduce evangelism across the country, it has a big effect.
REALITY #7 – Based on video testimony, some SBC seminary professors have embraced aspects of Critical Race Theory, specifically the idea that one’s skin color places them in the category of “oppressor” or “victim.” I don’t know how prevalent the embracing of CRT is in our entities, but I do know it has caused big problems for our churches and it must stop. Why do we need more than the Bible to combat racial prejudice? Answer: We don’t. Scripture is sufficient.
You can probably add to this list of REALITIES, like the failure of trustee boards to hold leaders accountable. There's more, but this is a good start.
The big takeaway is that we must have this kind of transparency and inquiry if we are to rebuild trust in the SBC. This isn’t simply “negative stuff.” This is what we must know and do to purge and cleanse us of that which is destroying us.
1. Transparency builds trust.
2. Accountability stops corruption.
3. Participation empowers churches.
This is the beginning. Exposing Southern Baptists to reality is the beginning of transformation. That is what I will do if you elect me SBC President. And your vote will give me a mandate to do it. Others emphasize the limitations of the president. I emphasize what the president can do when backed by the churches. Ultimately, the churches have the authority and the power to set direction for the SBC, and this is as it should be.