GCRTF’s impact on ‘pioneer’ states?
OSHKOSH, Wis. (BP)–The Current Structure of SBC Domestic Mission Funding
Most Southern Baptists are completely clueless about how their denomination has supported its domestic mission efforts in the decades since World War II. This ignorance is not limited to the average layperson in the pew but is shared by most pastors as well. Even Southern Baptists who belong to our churches in such remote denominational outposts as Minnesota and Wisconsin are usually uninformed on this subject. This reflects a widespread failure on the part of Southern Baptist leaders at the national, state, association and local church levels to do meaningful missions and stewardship education and has, I believe, directly contributed to the looming crisis that the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s preliminary report has triggered.
For most of the decades since the great movement of Southern Baptists to the cities of the northeast, upper Midwest and west coast during and after World War II, support of mission work in these regions has been based on a complex collection of cooperative agreements between the Home Mission Board / North American Mission Board and the many state conventions that serve those regions. These agreements have many similarities but each is unique. They are the formal contracts that determine how SBC mission dollars are spent in the respective state conventions. They are negotiated between members of the NAMB staff and the state executive directors and are periodically reviewed, revised, and renewed.
As the name implies these cooperative agreements reflect the essential cooperative nature that is at the heart of SBC domestic missions philosophy. This is shaped by a theology and tradition that values the autonomy of Southern Baptist life at all levels — the national convention and its agencies; each state convention; each local association; and each individual local church. But in addition to this philosophical/theological underpinning is the pragmatic realization that people closest to the field are in the best position to determine mission strategy and tactics. A DOM living and working in the Northwoods of Minnesota is in a far stronger position to develop a sound strategy for reaching the Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and Ojibwa who are his neighbors than is someone sitting in an office 1,000 miles away in Alpharetta.
While virtually all Southern Baptist missionaries abroad work directly for the International Mission Board, only a small handful of the thousands of NAMB-supported missionaries in the United States and Canada are exclusively employed by NAMB. Rather, the vast majority are jointly commissioned and jointly funded by NAMB and the particular state convention in which they work. How they are supported is determined by that state’s cooperative agreement. The central component of these agreements is the matching funds formula that is established in each. In the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention (MWBC), for example, all personnel receiving NAMB support work under the auspices of an 80/20 cooperative agreement formula. For every $80 that NAMB puts into the salary package of a missionary serving in Minnesota or Wisconsin, MWBC must match it with $20. The personnel supported by this “80/20 money” fall into two categories. Those who work as members of the state convention staff are in what are termed “approved positions.” Those working as Associational DOMS or in other field positions are in “appointed positions.” The qualifications are basically the same. The only significant difference is the leeway given to state executive directors in the selection process of their own staff, a process which does not require a formal missionary appointment and commissioning at NAMB.
The cooperative agreement funding formulas vary widely from state to state. Where MWBC lives with an 80/20 matching funds percentage another state might have 75/25 or 85/15 or 90/10 or 70/30, etc. The older and better established conventions have formulas that reflect their ability to fund a larger percentage of the total. The newest and weakest conventions put in a significantly smaller percentage of the whole. But given the small number and size of churches in the new conventions, it can be an enormous challenge for these conventions to come up with even a modest matching amount. It is not uncommon for newer conventions to be unable to access all of the money offered by NAMB in a given year due to their inability to match those funds.
A totally unrelated formula is used by each state convention to determine what percentage of the Cooperative Program dollars received from their churches stays within the state and what percentage is sent on to Nashville for distribution to all SBC causes. This formula is set solely at the discretion of each state’s executive board. Again, new conventions tend to keep a much higher percentage of what is received. This is the money that is desperately needed to make up those critical matching funds with NAMB. In the weaker conventions a far greater sum comes into the state from NAMB than the amount the state is able to send on to Nashville. One might question why the new conventions send ANY money to Nashville. The reason is missions education. It is important that all Southern Baptists, whether they attend First Baptist Church of Dallas or a tiny house church meeting on some ranch in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, feel that they have ownership in the greatest missionary organization in Christian history.
How the Task Force Recommendations Would Affect Domestic Missions
Pages 20-22 of the Task Force’s preliminary report contain the critical recommendations affecting how Southern Baptists would approach domestic missions. The key provisions and assumptions include:
— NAMB must lead the strategy. (20)
— Cooperative agreements are cumbersome and foster a lack of accountability. (20)
— NAMB needs to be freed from these cooperative agreements so that they will have the necessary budget to implement a national strategy. (21)
— All existing cooperative agreements will be null and void within four years. (22)
— All future funding is to be project-driven. These projects must be driven by NAMB’s strategy and fulfill NAMB’s priorities. (22)
— NAMB is to require direct accountability for what they fund. (22)
Let me address these items point by point:
— NAMB must lead the strategy. -– This reinforces the philosophy of a top-down approach to strategy planning, and implies that the past failure of this approach was because it was not done rigorously enough. I would argue the opposite is closer to the truth. It has been when NAMB/HMB has attempted to impose a national strategy on local mission leaders that we have seen our worst failures in evangelism and church planting. This has been most notable in our repeated failed attempts to penetrate the great urban centers of the Northeast, Upper Midwest and the West Coast. HMB’s Mega Focus Cities program, followed by NAMB’s Strategic Focus Cities program both largely failed to achieve their goals while costing Southern Baptists millions of dollars. SFC in particular seemed to reflect an assumption that NAMB personnel in Georgia better understood what was needed to reach places like Chicago, Seattle, Boston, and New York City than career missionaries living and working on the field. This may help explain why nearly every metropolitan association lost its DOM within five years of its designation as an SFC city.
— Cooperative agreements are cumbersome and foster a lack of accountability. — This reflects the widespread lack of understanding among Southern Baptists about cooperative agreements discussed previously. There are certainly problems with the way these agreements are currently structured. But in my experience lack of accountability has never been a serious or primary issue.
— NAMB needs to be freed from these cooperative agreements so that they will have the necessary budget to implement a national strategy. -– This is all about money. NAMB, if they are to take over complete command of SBC mission efforts in North America will need the money that is currently supporting pioneer state conventions and associations.
— All existing cooperative agreements will be null and void within four years. -– Since cooperative agreements are the only legal basis under which NAMB sends money to state conventions, this spells the end of all NAMB support for any personnel that are not directly and solely employed by NAMB. The report goes on to state, “It is understood that state conventions will manage their budgets accordingly.” (22) Using the current formulas for dividing CP money between state and national conventions, the only way that conventions like MWBC will be able to “manage their budgets accordingly” without NAMB subsidy will be to fire 80 percent of their missionaries. Even if these state conventions were to take the terribly unpopular move of withholding all CP money from national causes, it would not be enough to avoid massive terminations of mission personnel. State conventions would be reduced to skeleton staffs and associations in new convention areas would either cease to exist or would be left with volunteer or part-time leadership.
Baptists who lack first-hand experience in our new convention regions cannot begin to appreciate how devastating the loss of our cadre of full-time ADOMS (Associational Directors of Missions) would be to our overall mission strategy and implementation. These men do an incredible job under very difficult circumstances. They often travel vast distances or cope with enormous populations. The ADOM for Northwoods Association serves all of northern Minnesota — an area larger than Ohio. The ADOM for Metropolitan Chicago serves a population of around 7 million people — almost as many people as the combined populations of Alabama and Mississippi. Most work with the barest minimum of staff and office support. Many work out of their homes. Few have sufficient travel budget to actually cover their expenses. In those areas of the country such as the Northeast and the West Coast where the cost of living is extreme, working wives are essential just to make ends meet. And while IMB has long adjusted salaries to reflect the local cost of living, NAMB has never factored in such hard realities.
— All future funding is to be project-driven. These projects must be driven by NAMB’s strategy and fulfill NAMB’s priorities. — Once again, this means that NAMB will be the sole arbiter of strategy. I regard this as a recipe for disaster.
— NAMB is to require direct accountability for what they fund. –- Money and strategy will flow top-down. Accountability will flow bottom up.
I contend that these task force recommendations are built upon some seriously flawed premises. If adopted they will effectively destroy the existing missionary support structure for our domestic mission efforts in the least-reached areas of North America. While this is being replaced with a system entirely directed out of Alpharetta there will be enormous costs in the form of lost and discouraged mission personnel. Over a four year period of uncertainty, many of the most talented and best qualified people will seek other ministry avenues, whether that means pastoring local churches or going to work for parachurch organizations. The net effect will be a setback in our mission work that will be measured in decades, not years. It is by no means certain that we would ever recover from the blow.
Glen Land served as state missions director for the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention from 2000-2009, after serving as pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Appleton, Wis., from 1991-2000. He has served in other leadership roles, having been elected MWBC first vice president for two consecutive terms, followed by two terms in a row as president.
For a BP article about the release of the GCR Task Force progress report, including the full text of the report, go to http://bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=32352.