Do As I Do – The Big Issue for Our Baptist Family

September 15, 2015

Randy Adams | Executive Director
Northwest Baptist Convention

**This article was previously posted by Randy Adams on his website randyadams.org and is used by permission. 

An old saying goes like this: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Though many of us have said something like this to our children, we knew our parenting was weak when our lives betrayed our words of instruction.

As I see it, the big issue in Baptist life today is that for too long, key leaders, and leaders at all levels, have been unable to say, “Do as I do,” or “Do as I did.” We are now seeing the fruit of this in the staff reduction at the International Mission Board (IMB).

We are grieving the IMB announcement that our missionary force will be reduced by as many as 800. We are already down more than 800 field missionaries from our peak of over 5,600 in 2009. Still, with less than 4,800 field personnel, we have been unable to fund even these reduced numbers. An attempt to keep missionaries on the field led to huge deficit spending by the IMB, $210 million above income over the past six years. Obviously, this cannot continue, thus the staff reduction. Others will write and speak about how the financial crisis was and is being handled. My interest here is to address what I believe got us to where we are.

As I see it, the trouble began over 30 years ago when we began electing and selecting leaders who did not support missions through the Cooperative Program (CP). These were godly and gifted men, but men who chose not to participate in the SBC system of mission funding that was the unique genius of our Baptist forefathers. In those days some gave theological reasons for not supporting missions through CP, or supporting it with a pittance, and these reasons had some merit. But with the conservative resurgence, the argument of liberal drift in the SBC went away. Still, many of those who did not support CP for reasons of liberal drift continued their lack of support even when conservatives were in control. Moreover, many of these non-CP-supporting conservatives were elected and selected to lead the SBC and her entities, entities that they did not support financially before they came to lead them. In some cases, even when they became our leaders they did not give to missions through the CP in any substantial way. The selection of weak CP supporters to key SBC leadership roles continues to the present, not exclusively, but not uncommonly either. Interestingly, when non-CP supportive men are elected and selected to lead CP supported entities, they are now in a position to ask others for the financial support that they did not give themselves. It’s a “Do as I say, not as I did/do,” kind of thing.

I believe that the primary cause of CP declining from about 10.5 percent of a church’s budget in the 1980s, to about 5.5 percent today, is because of decades of leadership that has too often been selected to lead what they did not support. The example that this has set for young pastors who have come into SBC life over the last few decades has been disastrous. “How disastrous” you ask? Well, if the average CP giving per Baptist church was 10.5 percent, as it was 30 years ago, the IMB would have about $85 million more per year than it currently has. And if that were the case, we’d be growing our mission force by 2,000 or more, not cutting the force by 800. And this is just the impact on the IMB. At all levels of SBC life we would be stronger if CP giving was where it once was. We would have far more resources for church planting and evangelism in North America. With all of our talk about evangelistic church planting in the past several years, not only have baptisms plummeted to the lowest levels since the 1940s, we are also planting fewer churches than we did a decade ago. We need to get honest with ourselves and talk about the way things really are and not just feed off a few happy anecdotes. I know I sound quite negative, but facing reality is essential if we are to solve the problem.

I consider it most troubling, and irritating, that much of the CP discussion over the past six or seven years has centered on how we “cut the pie.” Most often this means that state conventions should send more of the CP to the national and international entities. And the states, in general, have done this. State conventions have reduced their staffs by several hundred persons over the past several years. But please, if we don’t get past “pie cutting,” and develop strategies to grow the pie, we’ll continue to decline (and we are declining, seriously declining by every measurement). And by “develop strategies to grow CP,” I mean first and foremost, select our leaders from among the thousands who believe in and support CP. And don’t try to convince us that our best leaders are not found among those who actually support the SBC cooperative system in a substantial way. That is crazy, and more than crazy, it is disrespectful of those leaders who actually put their money toward SBC missions.

We live in an age where everyone wants a quick fix to the problem. I believe that the current funding problem in the SBC did not happen quickly. It has taken a few decades to get us into the shape we’re in, decades of choosing one leader after another whom, if the average Baptist church followed their example of CP mission’s giving, the SBC would be “out of business.” “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of leadership regarding CP has gotten us into the shape we’re in today. It didn’t happen quickly and it won’t be fixed quickly. It will require a pattern of selecting leaders who supported what they were asked to lead even before they were asked to lead it.

All of this said, some will say that “pew warming Baptists” is where the problem really starts because giving to the local church, as a percentage of one’s income, is also down. This is true. But this is also a leadership problem as we pastors haven’t always done a good job of stewardship education in our churches. And not all church leaders tithe on their income, let alone go beyond the tithe. From what I’ve read, poor personal stewardship by church leaders is a major problem.

We could also point to the fact that the average church not only contributes less to missions through CP than they once did, they also contribute less to mission causes through all channels than they once did. This is also true. Local churches are keeping more money for local ministry than churches did a few decades ago. But these facts do not argue against my main point that it all starts from the top, with prominent leaders in key positions. Leadership really does matter. Over time, we typically follow the example that our leaders set. By that I mean that we “do as they do,” not as they say.

I am privileged to live and serve in the Great Northwest. And in the Northwest, when we look for leaders, we look for men and women who believe so much in what we do that they support it through the CP. I believe that if I ask people to support what I fail or failed to support throughout my ministry, my leadership is greatly weakened. But if a leader can say what Paul said to the Corinthian Church – “Imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:16) – and say it with integrity, that is strong leadership. And that’s what we need at all levels of leadership in Baptist life.

 

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Rick Patrick

Randy,

Outstanding article! As Southern Baptists play “follow the leader” it is sinking the Cooperative Program—a program that would still work quite well at 10%, but is simply not getting the job done at 5% to 6%.

I have wondered what the impact on officer elections would be if hundreds of Southern Baptist Churches announced, in advance of the convention, that they were committed to setting their Cooperative Program percentages at the precise percentage of the elected President, whoever that may be.

Would denominational leaders at that point not realize the extent of this crisis and make absolutely certain that our President was a “Do As I Do” Cooperative Program supporter? Perhaps that is not the right mechanism to bring the change about. Then again, in a convention of autonomous churches, what other options are available to persuade the convention to select “Do As I Do” leadership?

Articles like this one certainly help, but I wonder how we can take these excellent ideas and incorporate them into some kind of strategy for change.

Anonymous on the field

Mr. Adams,

Thanks for the article. Thank you all for your faithful giving and prayers. Don’t give up on us! We hope that stewardship education will improve.

Scott Shaver

In the case of Paige Patterson this week it seems to be “Do as I do and then undo what I did” :)

William Thornton

No question that the low CP percentages of CR leaders in past years has had some influence; however, it is only one of many factors in the decades long slide of the percentage of offerings individual churches devote to the CP. What state executives have not offered is a compelling vision of any change in the CP, our legacy revenue collection and distribution system where state conventions keep and spend the great majority of the revenues, that might motivate pastors and churches to substantially increase their 5.5% Finger pointing at low percentage (but often high dollar) CP churches and lamenting the past when churches were over 10% on average isn’t much of a plan. In the case of an area such as the NWBC which has a very low ratio of SBC churches to population, one can see a state keeping almost 70 cents of a CP dollar. States heavy with SBC churches like Georgia and Alabama have in the past kept and spent their majority of a CP dollar, increasing jobs and programs as revenues rose in the 1990s and early 2000s and then paring down when revenues dropped.

Eric Moffett

I think this is a fabulous post. We are now in a place where the leaders of our two mission boards come from non-CP backgrounds and this is reflective of many years of non-support from both elected and paid SBC officials. It is not unreasonable to expect CP support.

Concerning the now trendy idea to blame the average SBC’er for the declining rates of giving, consider this article – https://philanthropy.com/article/The-Stubborn-2-Giving-Rate/154691
Overall giving rates to charity has remained flat since the 1970s. This is not a new problem. What is really insane is the fact that we elect and hire folks who have never supported CP to be in positions of power over CP funds. My mind explodes each time I heart Platt or Ezell call for more CP giving. It certainly wasn’t there before their salary came from CP giving.

Let’s now blame the folks in the pew. Let’s talk about a change of culture with CP support among those who ‘represent’ the SBC.

Scott Shaver

William:

Valid points, all of them, from the perspective of the 40 and under remnant still indoctrinated into callng it a “Cooperative Program” as devised by M.E. Dodd and practiced by “Southern Baptists” until the Great Divide (“CR” “Reformation” whatever).

Kindly remember, however, the “Cooperative Program” was built primarily on the VOLUNTARY COOPERATION of AUTONOMOUS LOCAL BAPTIST CHURCHES who, regardless of individual doctrinal and theological quirks, TRUSTED EACH OTHER enough to form a voluntary network of support for their united Great Commission goal of evangelizing (from a markedly GENERAL BAPTIST soteriological perspective) and strengthening churches at home and abroad.

Trust and cooperation were sacrificed for doctrine during the “CR”. Remaining resources were overspent by the big fish continually after that time without any managerial projections of goals, resources and personnel for at least a decade and a half following. Media, culture and celebrity became job one. At present, both evangelism and baptisms have spiraled, 15 Million members is a PAPER TIGER and upwards of 1000 missionaries looking at catching flights home through “VRIs” in coming months. I’m convinced that what’s left of the “evangelistic spirit and effectiveness” of the GENERAL BAPTIST approach at the ZENITH OF HISTORICAL EFFECTIVENESS is being replaced with a Neo Calvinistic version of a SEPARATE BAPTIST soteriology with a STEROID-FED EMPHASIS ON DETERMINISM. Not sure everybody wants to be involved in that kind of “church-planting” or “missions”.

This is 2015 going on 16.

As for me and my houuse, the spirit of LOTTIE MOON has long since left the building along with that of ANNIE ARMSTRONG, M.E. DODD, E.Y. MULLINS and even good old W.A. Criswell (in his middle years).

There’s more effective, up-close networks to do 3:16 evangelism and church support (home and foreign) with fewer middle men than to keep sinking money down the rat hole of a religious marketing industry with high overhead..

In the spirit of Lottie Moon, we’re striking out in a new direction this year with those dollars. Same for Annie.

    Ken

    Scott

    You hit the nail on the head with your treatise on “trust” being the element which is no longer evident in the SBC and which has led to a general malaise in support for the CP.

    After all, how is it possible for one to trust a group of people who call God a liar. Consider the fact that God has said through a multitude of verses of His Word, “I have provided a way of salvation for every person born into the world by sending my son to die on the cross for the sins of all men thereby granting to every person the right and privilege of claiming Jesus as their Savior and thereby inherit eternal life,” while another group, which has gained control of many of the SBC agencies funded by the CP, and supported by a great number of leaders in the SBC who accommodate their heretical beliefs by turning a blind eye to them in the interest of harmony and peace (guess what, it is merely false and phony harmony and peace), say “that’s not true God, for you have only granted eternal life to a select group of pre-chosen individuals while decreeing that all others not elected by You for salvation You sentenced to eternal damnation.”

    It is impossible for one to place trust in people who espouse the the latter way to salvation. Lack of trust thus will lead people to say that they will not trust their financial gifts to such persons. And, mark my word, the results will only become more disastrous as time goes by.

    For instance, I read the comments of the pastor of one SBC mega-church explaining that when the NAMB started allocating funds to start Calvinist-only churches his church reduced its funding to the NAMB to one dollar and vowed that if David Platt was elected the president of the IMB his church would do the same thing for the IMB. I haven’t seen a follow up since Platt’s appointment but I have no doubt that that pastor and church were serious.

Chris

The article describes our issue exactly. It makes absolutely no sense to select men to lead an organization when they have never fully supported the organization. One thing that is missing in the discussion is a viable plan to reverse our CP giving trends. Are we called to endure a slow burnout of our CP? In a few years will there be another 800 missionary buy out? Will churches continue to lose heart and allow CP giving to drop to 3-4%? At this point can someone chart a viable path to CP recovery?

Howard Huddle

I have served since August 4, 1985 in full-time church ministry as a Pastor in the SBC. The majority of my time as an SBC Pastor has been in small attendance churches. As I think back over the past years, I cannot recall a President of the SBC coming from a small in attendance church. The small attendance churches that I have been allowed to Pastor have given between 7-14 percent to the CP. As a small attendance church Pastor I have come to the conclusion that to be President or in a paid leadership position in the SBC there are 3 criteria. 1) Pastor a mega-church; 2) Pastor a mega-church that does not support the CP; and 3) Pastor a mega-church that does not support the CP, but tells me to lead my church to give more to the CP. As stated previously, when you have men placed in positions of leadership; SBC President, IMB President and NAMB President that come from churches that do/did not support the CP, why should we be shocked at the decline in giving to the CP? I am waiting for the time when a person from a small attendance church that supports the CP with at least 10% giving is elected to lead a Convention that is majority small attendance churches. This was a great article!

    Scott Shaver

    Howard:

    With all due respect, It appears that CP percentages are irrelevant to the vetting and SBC “presidential” selecting process which, I suspect, resides unofficially in leadership networks consisting of the seminaries and SBC agengcy heads/trustees.

    The SBC presidency is a “rubber stamp” who does not get elected apart from the vetting “process,” ratified by 3 or 4K “have-messenger card-will travel” denominational sychopants…..once a year. Consequently, best bet for an SBC President horse is the one running with highest level of press, praise or media generated attention. Trustee appointments are rewards for loyalty (correct or misguided) to SBC institutions and heads. Plain and simple.

    The CR of Patterson-Pressler was successful DUE to this weakness in a system of TRUST being exploited by FEAR which Scripture teaches is something that God does not give to those who TRUST HIM. Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Home Missions, Foreign Missons…or not.

    Does it matter what the family Schnauzer thinks about the color of paint you pick for the dining room? It doesn’t matter whether the head cheerleader (SBC President) comes from a smaller “larger percentage church” or a mega (smaller but heavy top-end on the percentage church). President, Vice President, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, runner up…also ran…all irrelevant. It’s RUBBER STAMP CITY. It’s so irrelevant, in fact, that you can get an also-ran position in the SBC by just twittering enough uninterested messengers from the knick-knack, book racks and seminary booths back to the convention floor 5 minutes ahead of anybody else happening to desire the position (usually not the case).

    Most of the figures being tossed around now by “deniers” who still see the “stingy, materialistic” local church giving patterns as problematic are, at best, ostriches with heads in sand, or at worst j-pegs for the definition of insanity (i.e. doing same thing over and over again expecting different results). They’ve even had to throw up a 2.5 percent per Christian household giving average (that is national, all denominations as opposed to SBC giving specifically) as their data-supported argument.

    This ain’t your Father’s “SBC”….this is SHOW BIZNESS.!

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