Southern Baptist State Leaders Accuse Mission Organization of Strong Arming

by Joni B. Hannigan

***This article was previously posted at the Christian Examiner and is used by permission.

Several Southern Baptist state conventions leaders have accused the denomination’s North American Mission Board (NAMB) of linking financial support from the national entity — funding for church planting and other ministries — to secretive Cooperative Agreements which include a clause that threatens to withhold ministry funds to the states if disclosures about the agreement — or concerns — are shared publicly.

Cooperation is the essential bond among Southern Baptists whose 46,500 churches are autonomous, but historically have rallied together around a common theology and the desire to work together in evangelistic missions at home and abroad.

Local associations, state conventions and the national denomination (which includes domestic and overseas mission boards and an extensive seminary education system) each adhere to a system of independent governance — driven by elections, boards and appointments — that provides accountability to the churches which ultimately are the centers of sustainability for a massive system of financing and budgets which includes special offerings, but for long-term health and growth relies heavily on the systematic and regular offerings of its members.

Increasingly, however, the particulars of how funds are distributed to state conventions (essentially returning a portion of what was sent to the national convention from the churches of these same state conventions) has come under scrutiny after revelations that NAMB places a restriction on the distribution of funds tied to the silence of state leaders about the “Cooperative Agreements” which in essence places 100 percent control of church planting in these states with NAMB.

Breaking the secrecy not only puts funding from NAMB at risk, but may even lead to dismissal, some state convention executive directors say.

The gag orders come at a time when Southern Baptists have reorganized their domestic missions strategy to focus on church planting as the primary means of evangelizing North America.

But statistics show, after five years, NAMB has fallen far short of the goals set as part of its reorganization.

Four current state executive directors — and a former one who claims he was terminated, in part, over disagreements related to the terms of a Cooperative Agreement — recently agreed to interviews with the Christian Examiner.

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