9. Financial Standards and Practices

July 27, 2016

Dr. Rick Patrick | Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL

Every Southern Baptist Church possesses some type of formal or informal policies for handling money, making expenditures, reporting financial information and raising funds. Typically, the larger the church, the more detailed and elaborate the regulations.

In Southern Baptist life, each autonomous entity is free to handle finances differently from the others. However, I believe a few basic principles should be applied across the board to better coordinate financial stewardship policies convention-wide. What is wrong with asking all of our convention entities to live by and support a few simple guidelines?

1. Expenditures In Line With Receipts

Call it the “IMB Rule” if you wish. Trustees at each entity are to maintain operational expenditures in line with operational revenues within two budget cycles of any shortfall. This allows for occasional budget overspending in any given year, provided that matters are at least addressed in the very next budget cycle, and completely resolved by the cycle after that. As you may know, in the case of the IMB funding crisis, the deficit spending went on for six straight years, covered by dipping into reserves and applying asset liquidation. When that well ran dry, the unfortunate result was the reduction of 20% of our missionary force—over a thousand people—perhaps the saddest chapter in the history of the International Mission Board.

To clarify, the commitment here is a simple one: no entity will dip into reserves, apply asset liquidation measures, borrow funds or take any other extraordinary measures to finance the routine, day-to-day, operational obligations of the organization. This is just a fancy way of saying that we will balance the budget without selling the farm.

What about those occasions when the operational budget is in balance and everything is in good order, but the entity decides, for whatever reason, to utilize liquidation strategies or tap into reserves? In this case, entity leaders should make such liquidation and/or reserve spending a major point of emphasis in that year’s annual report to the Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptists should be made completely aware that savings are being withdrawn for a certain purpose and the reserve fund is being significantly depleted.

Part of the IMB Funding Crisis of 2015 was due to the six-year accumulation of deficits. Had the matter been forcefully addressed earlier, with the threat of massive layoffs clearly communicated in advance, much of the pain could have been avoided. As Pastor Mike Bergman at First Baptist Church of Adrian, Missouri, pointed out in an online essay, if only eight million Southern Baptists had given $5 more through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, we could have met our goal each year and kept these missionaries on the field. I will always believe that such a solution was feasible if only the harsh reality had been publicized in time. All this pain and loss of gospel witness could have been avoided.

2. No Transfers from One Entity to Another

In our churches, when members donate toward one specific designated fund, the money must be used for that purpose. It would breach our trust with the donor to betray their intent by applying money given for the Organ Fund to meet the obligations of the Scholarship Fund, for example. This same donor intent needs to be protected in our general Southern Baptist giving toward each entity.

Suppose an individual or church wishes to supplement their Cooperative Program giving toward all SBC causes with an additional direct gift to a mission board, seminary or other entity. Perhaps they are even reducing their gifts to Entity A and donating them to Entity B instead because of some concern or matter of principle. If Entity B turns around and makes an entity-to-entity transfer to Entity A, then the wishes of the original individual or church have been completely disregarded.

If there is a funding shortage at any Southern Baptist entity, then they certainly have the right to bring that situation to the attention of Southern Baptists and make an appeal for additional assistance. But Southern Baptists should reserve the right to vote with their dollars by supporting the entities they favor more heavily than those they do not. If entities can simply transfer money back and forth all they want, then Southern Baptist donors have lost the privilege of exercising their stewardship intent. Donors need to put their money where their mouth is, and recipient entities need to keep that money exactly where the donors put it.

3. Downsizing Necessitates a Hiring Freeze

Call it the “IMB Rule Number Two” if you wish. Any and all entities undergoing significant downsizing for financial purposes should at least institute a hiring freeze for the period of the downsizing—perhaps a year or two. It is incomprehensible for an organization to say, “Although we cannot afford to pay all of our current employees, we still have plans to add a few hundred additional ones before the end of next year.”

The notion that an organization would have plenty of money for rookie employees but nowhere near enough money for experienced ones invites legal charges of age discrimination and moral charges of ingratitude for faithful missionary service. If an entity’s true reason for laying off workers is indeed financial necessity, then the same shortfall preventing it from paying the fifty year-olds also prevents it from paying the twenty-five year-olds. Such a hiring freeze need not be eternal. One or two years might very well suffice. But as a matter of principle, entities should not, on a large scale, add certain jobs while eliminating others. It makes no fiscal or moral sense at all to do so.

4. Percentage Goals for All Stewardship Levels

I have been around Southern Baptists long enough to know that any time they do not want to pursue a course of action others believe they should pursue, they simply appeal to the principle of autonomy and wear such independence as a badge of honor.

Frankly, I do believe in autonomy at the individual, congregational, associational, state and national levels of Southern Baptist life. Everyone is autonomous and can do exactly as they please. No recommendation from any individual or group in Southern Baptist life threatens the autonomy of any other individual or group in Southern Baptist life, for the simple reason that the individual or group can choose to follow their advice or ignore it.

Nevertheless, it appears to be the case that whenever an individual or group suggests an ideal standard or benchmark for a congregation to embrace in their Cooperative Program support, some people will cry, “Foul!” and flag this individual or group with a fifteen yard penalty for violation of autonomy, even though I have already demonstrated that their autonomy actually remains completely intact despite such a recommendation.

Even more confounding is the tendency to throw this autonomy penalty flag only at the congregational level of the Cooperative Program funding money trail, without also throwing the flag to penalize those applying a proposed percentage standard at the state convention level.

In other words, if we are permitted to say, “I think every state convention should forward at least 50% of their CP receipts to the national convention,” then why are we not also permitted to say, “I think every congregation should forward at least 10% of their undesignated receipts through the CP channels of their state convention,” and, “I think every Southern Baptist should tithe 10% of their total income through their local church?”

If we are going to apply ideal percentage standards to any one level of the Cooperative Program money trail, then consistency dictates that we apply ideal percentage standards to all of them. Again, let me emphasize that, due to autonomy, every group and individual is completely free to do whatever they like. But if ideal percentage standards are fine at the state convention level, then they are also fine at the church level and the individual level.

Thus, below is my proposed Southern Baptist financial standard. It is only a goal, an aim toward which we all can and should strive. I would love to see Southern Baptists adopt it formally. It is a worthy goal. It is a practical goal. It is a feasible goal. And it is a goal that, if implemented, would result in the strong support of Southern Baptist work at every level of our denominational structure. This goal gets the job done—at EVERY level of SBC life.

1. Every Southern Baptist individual should aim to donate at least ten percent of their total income, undesignated, through their local church.

2. Every Southern Baptist Church should aim to donate at least ten percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program channels of their state convention.

3. Every Southern Baptist state convention should aim to donate at least fifty percent of their total Cooperative Program receipts to the national Southern Baptist Convention.

4. Every Southern Baptist Church should aim to donate at least two percent of their undesignated receipts through their local Southern Baptist Association.

Transparency Agenda Survey Results

In a recent poll of SBC Today readers, we asked Southern Baptists to indicate if they “approved” or “disapproved” of the idea that we “Approve Southern Baptist financial stewardship standards.” With 256 respondents, 73.44% approved of such an action, while 26.56% disapproved.

This article addresses Item Nine of the Ten Item Transparency Agenda. You may READ the Transparency Agenda or COMPLETE the survey yourself. To read the articles reporting results from the other survey items, see the links below: 

ITEM ONE 

ITEM TWO

ITEM THREE

ITEM FOUR

ITEM FIVE

ITEM SIX

ITEM SEVEN

ITEM EIGHT

ITEM TEN

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kyle

Pastor Rick, we many times disagree on issue of soteriology but I think your perspective here is excellent advice for the sbc. Thank you for your measured call for integrity and fiscal accountability. Good article.

William Thornton

I think it profitable to call attention to the fiscal affairs of our entities and appreciate the few who show that they are paying attention even if I don’t always agree with their recommendations.

Your numbers 1 and 3 would attempt to manage independent entities and substitute your judgement for that of trustees and hired executives. I would expect both of these to be ruled out of order even if offered as resolutions at our annual meetings. Both of these are more complicated than a simplistic blog article can address but a blog is the right place to assert your views.

Your number 2 may have merit but not as an absolute prohibition. Probably, the process followed by the NAMB to IMB transfer is the best way to handle such rare actions.

Your number 4 only awaits you stirring yourself out of your comfortable seat at the next SBC annual meeting to offer such as a resolution. Why haven’t you done it already? It may pass. It may not. You are entitled to ask that the assembled body join in your opinion of percentages. A resolution that was more pointed and included provisions concerning the percentages expected of SBC elected officers and committee appointments would seem to follow. Such would mean your guy, our current president (or just about any other megachurch pastor), should not have been elected. There’s no chance of the SBC returning to 10% and above CP percentage averages…but maybe the SBC needs a dose of fantasy every now and then.

    Rick Patrick

    All of the items would be adopted as “guidelines” for entities to consider the expressed will of the convention, if the Ten Item Transparency Agenda were ever to be adopted. Thus, items one and three would not “manage” the entity. We realize each entity’s board does that on its own. In the same way, the GCR’s 50% rule did not “manage” or “dictate” to the state conventions. It did, however, express the will of the messengers gathered in Orlando, and we have generally seen most state conventions exercise their autonomy in moving in that direction.

    Similarly, Item Two is also not a “prohibition” as you described it. It is a recommendation, a guideline, an expression of a desired manner for the autonomous trustees to handle their work, which affects all Southern Baptists.

    Finally, Item Four, along with all of the other proposals in the Transparency Agenda, does indeed await the consideration of Southern Baptists. I may attempt to gain consideration of this entire agenda at an Executive Board meeting. I rather dislike the theater of the convention floor. As I have described it a number of times, the process is structured in such a way so as to dismiss and avoid most matters of business that have not been previously considered by our convention leaders. I’d rather it come forward from Executive Committee channels than from Poor Joe at Microphone Five. It’s going to be referred anyway. Why not start where it is going to be referred?

    By the way, I said nothing at all about all officers being required to serve churches that already meet such ideal standards. This slide took a while. It’s going to take a while to fix. I would give churches five to seven years to move toward such standards before any such officer requirements would even be considered. Presently, my own church does not even meet these standards, although we are working toward it. We qualify at the individual, state and associational level, but our CP is at 8% and not 10%, so we still need a little work at the congregational level. Some might call that hypocritical. I call it a goal, a worthy ideal standard even though my church does not quite meet that standard at the present time.

    We can adopt these not as “management rules” but as “preferred ideal financial standards and practices.” Such an action simply says, “We believe this is how things should be handled. We are ASKING you and not TELLING you.”

Lydia

I am wondering how anyone can trust any information or numbers that come from SBC entities after years of deceptive tactics from that movement.

William Thornton

The hiring freeze guideline is simplistic and doesn’t address reality. You wish that your armchair management decisions, made after the fact and likely impelled by denominational politics, be substituted for that of management. No thanks, but all SBCers are Monday morning quarterbacks. BTW, why hasn’t your target included prior IMB management? That fact alone is diagnostic for this agenda.

The budget guidelines sound good on paper and are already implemented in most sbc, state, and associational entities. We already have borrowing guidelines in place and I know of no entity that has incurred crushing debt (not even my state convention whose massive borrowing was manageable and ultimately wiped out by a transfer from another entity to it, an act that may have violated your other guideline), not even our largest, the IMB, which used *available* funds to cover *all* of their operating deficits. This armchair management guideline would either not allow for non-recurring revenue streams, an irresponsible course, or would allow for them, in which case the guideline is meaningless.

I think IMB erred in their policy decisions from 2010 until last year. In a brilliant stroke you offer a way to close the barn door after the horses have fled. The better way would be to hire better management. Someone, some small number of executives, is responsible for what you see as irresponsible conduct. Why are you shying away from addressing the prior management issue?

The percentages are arbitrary. Why not 15%? Why not 8%? They are also irresponsible in the sense that they would reward the status quo (and, indeed, put it on steroids), mainly in regard to state conventions most of which have spent hundreds of millions on staffing and buildings, with declining church numbers and membership to show for it. If we are going to suggest putting in another $300 million or so almost all of which would go into the handful of legacy states, the least you could do would be to offer performance metrics for those states.

    Rick Patrick

    I know you’re a fanboy of the GCR and believe it is working fine. I simply disagree. But let me address your nitpicks.

    1. Hiring Freeze Simplistic
    No, just realistic. No money for old employees? No money for new employees!

    2. Why Not Target Prior Management
    That’s exactly what I’m doing. Not the persons but the decisions made.

    3. Guidelines Good On Paper
    That’s because they are also good in practice.

    4. Available Funds Redefinition
    This plan does not consider reserve funds and assets as available operational funds.

    5. Non-recurring Revenues and Expenses
    The plan addresses spending reserves and assets. Rare. Clearly announced ahead of time.

    6. Closing Barn Doors
    Well, someone needs to close them. It could happen again. We’ve never addressed it.

    7. Shying Away from Management Issues
    Why try to supervise retired workers? Better to focus on the actions than the people.

    8. Percentages are arbitrary
    Same with the state-SBC split of 50%. Any goal would be. That’s okay. It works. It’s doable.

William Thornton

Seldom do such issues receive serious discussion in any public SBC arena, so I thought this was a good chance to delve a little deeper into important questions. You labeled my comments “nitpicking” yet they all dealt with substantive questions related to your guidelines. If you want no discussion, this is a good way to end it. But…let’s try again just the one question of the hiring freeze and the budget guidance. These two cannot be separated.

So far as I know, no SBC entity has had the resources to conduct their affairs like IMB has done which makes it obvious that a hiring freeze would be almost a single-entity guideline. Yet, IMB’s unique situation makes your suggestion of freezing hiring when downsizing is anticipated unrealistic. You can call all this ‘nitpicking’ but when you say that “deficits” were “accumulated” you technically err in that nothing was accumulated. If IMB had borrowed over six years a total of $210 million they would have accumulated debt. The deficits were covered each year by reserves and asset sales. There was no deficit accumulated.

Frankly, I think the trustee system we have is the worst possible system…except for the alternatives, one of the chief of which would be for the mob at the SBC annual meeting to attempt to guide complicated and difficult entity management decisions.

If you want a substantive discussion, here’s your chance. If you want pats on the back, I understand and we can drop the pretense of discussions.

You say, ” It is incomprehensible for an organization to say, “Although we cannot afford to pay all of our current employees, we still have plans to add a few hundred additional ones before the end of next year.”

It may be incomprehensible to you but the policy followed was comprehensible to both management and trustees. No other entity “hires” personnel like IMB which doesn’t merely go into the market of potential employees and hire as many as they wish. There is virtually no open market of job applicants for IMB field positions. You well know the arduous and lengthy process. A freeze of several years length would have dried up the pool of potential workers for years to come. While previous management could have adjusted hiring numbers to reduce deficits, they saw good reason not to. Your solution is ham-handed, a rusty and dull meat cleaver, and doesn’t address the unique circumstances. If you could roll back the clock and apply your Monday morning quarterbacking there’s no assurance of a better outcome. Anyone can presume a better outcome and pronounce their plan to be better. Doesn’t offer much other than an opinion.

And you gloss over the fact that IMB did *no* deficit spending. The issue you have was in how their operating expenses were met. Again, IMB is unique in that they had and still have surplus assets that can be sourced for revenue. The budget and hiring freeze doesn’t address this. The IMB did not “sell the farm” by selling assets or using reserves. Wrong metaphor. Any entity may have surplus assets that may be sold. My preference would be to preserve these non-recurring revenues for programmatic changes or capital improvements but I understand the argument that explains the asset sales as having extended the employment of workers.

    Rick Patrick

    We are repeating ourselves in a circular argument. I say there *was* operational budget deficit spending, covered by reserves they should not have touched for six consecutive years totaling $210 million, resulting in a thousand missionaries coming home. I think there is a better way and I have proposed it here. You are free to disagree, which you have, several times. You are free to call my solution “ham-handed, rusty and dull.” I call it financially responsible and capable of keeping missionaries on the field.

    What a surprise that we disagree about SBC stewardship concerns! THAT’s never happened before. I’d love to hear what others have to say. But you do have one valid point: “most people don’t care about stuff like this.” We both agree that they should.

      William Thornton

      No, not circular. You refuse to address specifics and there were many in my two comments. I understand that I am free to disagree and you are free to ignore very specific concerns about your simplistic guidelines.

        Rick Patrick

        I addressed your specific concerns with eight specific points. Call or private message me if you need further elaboration. I think we’re plowing the same corn.

          Willam Thornton

          No, you did not. I understand that you want agreement not engagement. So be it.

            Lydia

            Wouldn’t “engagement” require total transparency from all the entities and leaders? No such things as lock boxes and non disclosure agreements?

    Lydia

    “You can call all this ‘nitpicking’ but when you say that “deficits” were “accumulated” you technically err in that nothing was accumulated. If IMB had borrowed over six years a total of $210 million they would have accumulated debt. The deficits were covered each year by reserves and asset sales. There was no deficit accumulated.”

    Sounds like a Federal govt bureaucrat answer. I mean let’s get the bureacratese right. who cares about all those people over 50 who were given a Godfather choice. And let’s pin our hopes on Platts celebrity status and Mission experience at the Dubai Marriott.

Mary

It’s pretty much accepted/established that when you go into political blogs and read the comments that there are commenters who are being paid by political campaigns to protect/and or shill for their candidates/issues. You can spot these comments because they just push the usual party lines. I wonder what the going rate is for shilling the SBC Party line is these days? Not monetary I’m sure. Just ego strokes or maybe being invited to sit with the cool kids? Maybe a few personal phone calls from on high…..

Kimberly Rock-Shelton

Two things. Financial “Opaquity” has diminished from the top down. What has been the trend of agencies to obfuscate with regard to any transparent reporting has filtered down to the local church level. Church members in many SBC affiliated churches don’t even know the church staff’s compensation or how the money is spent.

Second, SBC agencies are not a business on the one hand, but function as such on the other. If your main claim to fame is that you are spiritual, a good pastor, a good preacher, and have the blessing of the SBC political elite as your qualifications for the job as an agency head, perhaps you aren’t truly qualified for the job. It’s like asking a dog to wash dishes. The dog can do it, but you aren’t going to like the results.

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