EDITOR’S NOTE: The following FIRST PERSON was adapted from a letter sent by the executive director-treasurer of the Baptist Convention of Iowa to his fellow state executive directors in response to the Great Commission Resurgence declaration released Monday, April 27.
DES MOINES, Iowa (BP)–I begin with a serious word. The remainder of the document will take on a less sober tone.
Our small convention would not exist today if God had not empowered Missouri Baptists to address the needs in Iowa. It would not have grown to its present size had God not provided partnerships with Arkansas and Tennessee Baptists. Even above and beyond those partners, this convention would not exist today without the ongoing support and encouragement God provides through our total Southern Baptist family. We love that family. We want to grow and do even more to forward God’s purposes for that family, but we do not want to be vilified for seeking to fulfill our own portion of the Great Commission in our own state.
It is time for me to confess and apologize. Here goes an attempt at doing so without taking myself too seriously. Sometimes letters and e-mails miss the “tone” that is intended. Please read on, using the lens of my humor.
The Baptist Convention of Iowa is bloated and bureaucratic. In 2008, we retained for use in Iowa a total of $453,110.01 in missions gifts from the churches. Of the total missions dollars distributed through our convention, only 39 percent went to SBC causes. We thought our primary calling was to Iowa. We have now been “axiomized” and are feeling appropriate levels of guilt.
Our staff count is bloated, as in having far more than our needs justify. Can you imagine? We have five associational directors of missions who serve merely 99 counties among them. Only now do we see how selfish that is. Additionally, we have seven full-time statewide staff members. Three of them are members of the support staff. They earn their keep, but the ministry level staff members are another matter. Guilt holds me back from full disclosure, but the four of us preached and/or taught in the churches of Iowa only about 214 times in 2008. We planned and implemented only 75 training/learning events, not counting field visits, consultations, church planter network meetings, etc. Those events led to much overlap. In fact, all of us have to work together to make those events possible.
As to staff, we do have two other members of the family. They serve at our inner-city ministry center. They both work full-time, husband and wife. They split a single salary. They patch up the bullet holes and paint over the gang markings that all too clearly demonstrate they are located within a cultural war zone. I earnestly tried, but could not muster up any guilt over them. Sorry.
Speaking of the state offices, that is certainly a luxury item. Surely that statement satisfies the definition of an axiom as being “a statement that is inherently validated as generally accepted truth.” One staff member has his office in a closet. Two staff members share an office. Our carpets are torn and worn, not updated since 1981. We did paint the walls last year. Another waste?
I could help better utilize office space. I could add a third workstation to my office, but one of the three of us would have to stand in order to work. Guilt for having luxurious offices led us to end our contract for janitorial services. We now take turns cleaning toilets, taking out trash and helping the secretaries keep the offices clean. The guilt is so great that we also perform janitorial services after many of the events held in the churches.
Guilt also compels me to confess that we have been negligent in sharing missions volunteers. In 2008, Iowa Baptists churches sent volunteers to only four of our sister conventions and to only four other nations. That does not include all disaster relief deployments, but citing those might artificially release me of the guilt it is apparently my duty to bear. I could add a word about the funds we sent to Mississippi and to New Orleans in response to their disasters, but let there be no relief from guilt.
We have apparently also erred in making it too hard for non-Baptists to defraud us of church growth funds. We do background checks. We test doctrine. We do assessments. We verify denominational loyalty. Ah, the guilt I now feel for our bureaucratic guidelines intended to reserve Baptist dollars for Baptist work. By noon today I plan to have a new sign out front reading, “Free Baptist Money … No limitations … Take it until we run out!” By 1 p.m., we should be broke. Sweet release!
That’s about all I can share for now. The burden of guilt is overwhelming. Tears flow like rain! Maybe it is enough to say this. To whomever it applies, I do most insincerely apologize for our selfish commitment to address the issue of lostness in our own state.
Now back to being serious.
I cannot sign a document that does not disclose clear details, proposed plans or potential consequences. I also am unable to sign a document that is not rooted in a strong affirmation of the good God is currently doing through the SBC, through state conventions, through associations and through local churches working together for the cause of Christ. If the declaration in question, in its original or revised form, is released in Iowa, it is likely to be used effectively by our critics. It also is likely to arouse needless suspicions among some of our supporters.
If I understand it correctly, I agree with much of the document’s intent. Some of its content and tone trouble me. I am open to whatever changes that might help us better serve the Father in the accomplishment of His will. If a future declaration is issued, my hope is that it will avoid pejorative terms, that it will be crafted around desired outcomes, that it will affirm the good God is doing and that it will call for any needed changes on the basis of God’s desired outcomes and not on the real, or perceived, failures of Southern Baptists as a people or as an organization. In short, I desire a declaration that “sounds” like it was written for people in 2009.
Jimmy Barrentine is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist Convention of Iowa.