DENVER (BP)–Executive directors from nine Southern Baptist state conventions in the West and Canada have told the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force that the committee’s proposed restructuring of the North American Mission Board would severely curtail their ministries.
Leaders from California, Colorado, the Dakotas, Kansas/Nebraska, Montana, New Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, Utah/Idaho, Wyoming, and Canada met in Denver March 15-16 to discuss and share concerns regarding the “progress report” released by the task force Feb. 22. Task force chairman Ronnie Floyd of Springdale, Ark., and member Roger Spradlin of Bakersfield, Calif., attended the meeting to field questions and solicit feedback for the committee.
Following the meeting, Bill Crews, executive director for the Northwest Baptist Convention, said the group decided to draft a document addressing their concerns, particularly how dissolving the “cooperative agreements” between the North American Mission Board and the state Baptist conventions would affect the work of smaller conventions such as those in the West and Canada.
“We all felt the meeting had been productive in that we were able to express our concerns about certain sections of the report,” Crews said. “We were also able to hear some of the GCR Task Force’s reasoning behind the recommendations in the report.”
The group responded to a request from Floyd to make written suggestions “as to how the task force’s preliminary report could be improved or changed to help further the cause of addressing the issue of the increasing lostness of North America, particularly in the West and Canada,” Crews added.
The state executives are hoping their suggestions will be reflected in the final report when it is released May 3.
Baptist state conventions currently operate under agreements with NAMB in which Cooperative Program funds are returned to each state convention for missions and ministry. Those understandings, known as cooperative agreements, would be phased out over a four-year period until NAMB would be free to unilaterally appoint missionaries, rather than through shared funding with the states.
The task force report stated that “it is understood that state conventions will manage their budgets accordingly,” meaning they would be responsible for funding missionaries reassigned by NAMB.
Several western state conventions have gone on record saying such an agreement would severely curtail their ministries since they are largely dependent on NAMB funding for their ministries.
Joseph Bunce of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico expressed concern over the GCRTF report in a first-person column released by Baptist Press Feb. 25. Bunce noted that at the end of the cooperative agreements, “NAMB jointly-funded missionaries would be under the direct supervision of NAMB, rather than the state conventions they have historically served. This is huge for New Mexico and is a death sentence for other western state conventions.”
Bunce said in the article that while he agrees with “the diagnoses of our spiritual malady,” he does not agree with the “prescriptions” listed in the first task force report.
It would be even worse in Montana, said that convention’s executive director, Fred Hewett. He noted the convention will lose $903,000 in funding once the partnerships come to an end.
The task force report, if approved as it now stands, “will dismantle 50 years of Southern Baptist missions work in Montana,” Hewett told Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Tennessee and Montana are currently engaged in a missions partnership.
The Montana convention has 11 missionary staff members, including those in associational missions and church strategists. If the task force’s report is adopted as it is now written, “I would lose all 11 staff members,” Hewett told Wilkey.
And just as important, Hewett added, “we would lose the ability to personally craft and implement what we believe could be a Great Commission strategy in Montana.” The task force report presumes “a new plan will be more effective to accomplish the Great Commission in Montana than what we have,” Hewett added.
One of the problems Hewett has with the task force report is that no one has asked him or anyone else in the state convention if what they are doing is effective. He also feels the report is a “condemnation” of all new work areas. “It presumes that we in the field do not understand and are not effective in doing Great Commission work,” Hewett charged.
The story was similar in Wyoming.
Executive Director Lynn Nikkel said seven out of eight strategy-level staff members in his state are funded to varying degrees through the cooperative agreements with NAMB.
“I am the only staff member in our convention who does not receive NAMB funding,” Nikkel said. “In the language of the task force’s preliminary report, ‘eliminating’ all of the agreements would mean the elimination of all seven of those missionary positions. If that were the case, it would be impossible for Wyoming Southern Baptists to assume that amount of funding in a short four-year period. That would mean we could possibly lose almost all of those who serve in those roles.”
Nikkel said he was encouraged by talking to Floyd at the meeting and is “hopeful that he will represent these needs and some different wording to the task force so that these kinds of situations can be moderated and the effects reduced significantly. We will see how successful the effort is when the final report comes out.”
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.