Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cooperative Program, NAMB and other Brain Teasers

Have you ever tried to explain to someone unfamiliar with the SBC what we are?  Why we exist?  What the Cooperative Program is?  It usually starts with something like this:
"Southern Baptists exist to cooperatively spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Cooperative Program is the giving mechanism that makes Southern Baptists distinctive.  It epitomizes why the SBC exists - to pool our resources together for the most efficient missionary mobilization and support the world has ever known."
After such a statement, a new Southern Baptist, let's call him "Newbie", asks the natural question, "How exactly does it work?"  You reply, "Uh, well, let me try to explain.  You see, churches send a percentage of their budget to their state convention to send to the Cooperative Program."  Newbie asks, "How much does a church send?"  You reply, "Well it depends.  Some churches may send 1% and others may send 10%.  Some churches may just take up a special missions offering and send whatever they collect from that.  Some do both.  Each church decides for itself.  Oh, and there's also the special Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings."  Puzzled, Newbie interrupts, "Why are we giving offerings to individuals?"  You reply, "We don't.  Stay with me.  The Lottie Moon offering goes to the International Mission Board and Annie Armstrong offering goes to the North American Mission Board."  Newbie replies, "Why don't we just say where it goes?"  You reply, "Never mind - I'll explain it later."

You continue, "Churches may also send more if individual church members designate gifts to the Cooperative Program."  Newbie asks, "Designate?  What does that mean?"  You reply, "It means that a church member wants to make sure his money goes to the Cooperative Program and not the general church budget."  "What's the Cooperative Program again?" Newbie asks. You take a deep breath, "I'm trying to explain that."  Newbie responds, "OK, sorry."  You continue, "Anyway, once the money is sent to the Cooperative Program through the state convention, the state decides how much to send to each of the SBC entities."

Newbie interrupts, "What are entities?"  You reply, "I'm getting there.  Entities are things like the IMB, NAMB and the like."  "What?" Newbie asks.  "The International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Lifeway Resources - stuff like that," you answer.  "Oh yeah, you said something about those things already," Newbie replies.

Newbie tries to summarize, "So do the states send all the money they get from the churches to the SBC entitlements?"  "It's entities, not entitlements," you answer.  "And no, the states don't send all the money they get to them."  "Oh," Newbie answers.  "So how much do they send?"  You reply, "Um, somewhere around thirty five to forty percent is typical."  "Thirty five percent!?" Newbie repeats back in amazement. "Is that all?  What do they do with all the rest of the money?"  You answer, "Well, the states have ministries of their own that they fund and it takes a lot of money.  I'm not sure what all they do, but I know it takes a lot of money."  "OK, I didn't know that," Newbie answers, seemingly satisfied for now.

"Let's get back to the Cooperative Program," you continue.  "The entities then decide how to fund all the things they have to do."  "Like what?" asks Newbie.  "For instance, the IMB funds all the foreign missionaries that Southern Baptists send all over the world to share the gospel," you explain.  "I like that," says Newbie.  "That sounds good."  

You continue, "And they have to fund a lot of things like our six SBC seminaries."  Newbie replies, "Wow, I didn't know we had that!  So we pay for all those seminaries?"  "No, I didn't say that," you reply. "They still have to generate a lot of their own funding.  You'll hear from them soon enough concerning the amount we don't fund, so let's go on."  "OK," says Newbie. You continue, "Oh, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission."  "The what?" asks Newbie. "The ERLC with Richard Land," you say.  "I think I've heard of it.  Has it been in the news lately?" says Newbie.  You say, "Uhh, let's move on."

You continue, "Then there's the North American Mission Board, NAMB.  They send money to the state conventions to spread the gospel."  "I thought you said the state conventions kept money to do that," says Newbie.  "They do, but so does NAMB" you reply.  "NAMB decides who needs funding the most and they send money back to the states."  "Huh?" says Newbie, completely confused.  "You're telling me that the state conventions get money from the churches, keep most of it to do work in the state and then send some to NAMB.  Then NAMB sends money back to the state.  Did I get that right?"  You reply, "Well, sort of.  Look, it's all kinda complicated and you're new to the SBC.  You can't expect to understand all of this right off the bat.  You just need to trust that our leaders know what they are doing and are using the money wisely."  Newbie replies, "I sure hope they do 'cause this doesn't make a bit of sense to me.  I guess it takes a lot of complexity to have an efficient missionary force.  I didn't realize that before we talked."

Sunday, May 27, 2012

News Flash: Pastors and Laity See Things Differently!

I have some shocking news:  I have learned that staff and laity view things differently in a church.  If you’ve spent much time in any church, you’ve witnessed conflict.  Where does it come from?  What are its causes?  In James 4:1-2, he says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something, but don’t get it.”  Even when a goal is noble, how it is obtained can lead to trouble.  Let me illustrate what I’m talking about.

After spending time seeking God’s will, a pastor concludes a new vision is in order for his church.  The pastor sees a more effective way to reach people in his community while at the same time strengthening his church.  He shares this vision with his staff.   They become excited about the possibilities for a greater impact, and get on board with this new direction.  In short order, a well-done multi-media explanation is presented to the church during worship.  The video explains the new vision, as well as the significant sacrifice that will be required of the church to make it happen.  The pastor follows the video with a sermon about reaching the lost and making disciples.  When the vote is taken Wednesday night to “affirm” the endeavor, there is no dissent, but neither is there much excitement.

Two years later, giving has not increased but expenses certainly have.  Attendance is down.  The church is not meeting budget.  The impact on the community has not been realized.  Few church members volunteer to be involved, and the staff is carrying an extra load trying to make this endeavor happen.  Squabbles have broken out all over the church.  Even the staff is fighting now.  The pastor sits in his office and prays, “God, what is going on?” 

Sound familiar?  I’ll bet all you have to do is insert your particular “endeavor” and you have a story about a church that could fit this pattern.  If not, you are blessed indeed.  So what went wrong, and how do the different church players view it?

What is the pastor's view?  Maybe his assessment is that the church members just aren’t serious enough disciples -- that they don’t understand that God expects a commitment out of us.  He may believe that this church is no different than so many others and that it has grown cold, complacent, and contentious.  The pastor wonders if he should entertain that inquiry from a search committee after all. 

What is the view from the pew?  What are the church members thinking?  Undoubtedly, some of them will cringe and withdraw anytime they hear the words “sacrifice”.  Others will say, “OK, I’m good if that’s what the pastor thinks is best” knowing they will never be involved anyway.  Mature believers want to listen to the pastor, but they want more to hear from God – individually and corporately.  They know that pastors can sometimes be wrong.   Serious disciples will follow their church's leadership, but not at the expense of silence from the Spirit. 

There is a big difference between leading and just getting your way.  Leadership brings people with you.  Leadership waits when the congregation is not ready.  Leadership reassesses when mistaken.  Leadership persuades by the weight of God’s Word and through earned trust.  So, am I saying it’s always the pastor’s fault when things go wrong?  No – absolutely not.  But what I am saying is that the pastor and staff can save themselves a world of trouble by honestly dealing with people’s concerns before embarking on big endeavors.  

Church leadership is often a messy business.  There are always contentious people who will pick at any decision, but a pastor doesn't have to go it alone.  Mature believers will swat down the trouble-makers for the pastor when they see his humility and trust his heart.  My point is this:  it does a pastor no good to wrangle an approval if the people aren’t with him.  It just creates resentment and guarantees conflict down the road.  Even a pastor's supporters have a hard time defending a good thing handled the wrong way.  If God is in an endeavor, the people will get on board.  It's true for small churches and large churches alike.

What is a big decision that warrants the church’s involvement?  Where should the pastor have freedom?  How should a layman go about seeking what he wants to see in the church?  I’ll explore these questions in subsequent posts.

SBC Layman

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What’s the Point?

Why am I starting this blog?  What could I possibly have to say that anyone else would want to hear?  Those are fair questions, and questions I’ve been asking myself as I’ve considered this.   Southern Baptist churches have been an integral part of my life since the day I was born.  I grew up in a Southern Baptist family in a Southern Baptist community and have known it all my life.  I came to Christ through Southern Baptist ministry.   I learned to love Scripture through Southern Baptist ministry.  I learned to love the lost through Southern Baptist ministry.  I also learned to be theologically arrogant and legalistic within the SBC.  I have both lost my way with God and found it through my involvement in SBC churches. 

I’ve admired SBC leaders, and I’ve lost faith in some.  I have spent more sleepless nights and more gut-wrenching days through my involvement in Southern Baptist churches than through anything else in my life.  Why?  I’ve asked myself that question a lot over the last several years.  Why can trying to serve Christ and live a life for God within the church be so difficult?  And why is it often - perhaps most often – so needlessly difficult?  Those are some of the questions and related topics I hope to probe in this blog.

There are many blogs that deal with church and SBC issues that are fed by seminary students, pastors, entity leaders and seminary leaders.  Over the last few years, I’ve grown quite interested in many of them.  I’ve come to recognize names in the blogosphere that I would not otherwise know.  I’ve come to see what turns your cranks and energizes your emotions.  I share many of the same interests – but this blog will look at these issues from a different perspective:  the engaged layman’s perspective.  That’s why I’ve subtitled it as a View from the Pew.

There are also many blogs that exist to criticize, condemn, slander and revile movements and individuals associated with those movements.  This blog will not be one of those.  In fact, that’s the very reason I’ve chosen to write under the pseudonym of “SBC Layman”.  This blog is neither about me nor about gaining personal notoriety.  Nor is it about bringing any ill repute upon my church or questions about specific leaders I might know.  I want the assessment of what I write to be based on its content and not the person that writes it.  I may from time to time discuss individuals as appropriate within the issues of the day, but I have no intent to use this blog as an attack platform.

For several years now, I’ve sat on the sidelines and watched the conversation.  I have very deliberately stayed out of it – much of it descends into tit-for-tat so quickly that I didn’t want to be involved with it.  Lately, I have begun to comment on blogs – it seems I can’t keep myself from it.  When I read my comments, they look like blog posts unto themselves.  That’s why I’ve decided that maybe now is the time to start a new blog.  If I can’t cut down what I say on someone else’s blog, maybe I need a spot of my own to babble.  My ultimate goal is to help find ways to solve our problems that grow us in Christ and bring others to Him.  I certainly want that for myself.

So here we go!  I can tell you with confidence that the View from the Pew is different than the view from the pulpit.  Is there a place in the conversation for a View from the Pew?  I think so, but ultimately you will have to decide.

SBC Layman