Coming through this Easter season, I strongly encouraged our congregation to give sacrificially to the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions. While a few of our church leaders know my reservations about the direction and vision of the new NAMB, I did not express that concern with the members at large. With new changes announced at NAMB on an almost weekly basis, I knew that there would be time to ask the hard questions that need to be asked regarding our church’s continued investment and partnership with the new NAMB, but this Annie Armstrong season was not the time.
Having met our church goal of $7,500, our Missions Development Committee agreed to add an additional $5,000 to the Easter offering as we have done the past four years. Having received a letter a few weeks ago from Dr. Ezell congratulating our church on being our Association’s top overall giver and the top per capita giver to last year’s Annie Armstrong offering, it is with some sadness that I think this maybe the last year our church will be in a position to receive such a letter.
Why should that be? Because our church may determine that our investment of missions funds would be better spent by increasing our partnership with other entities — IMB, Baptist Convention of New Mexico or our local Association — while decreasing our partnership with the new NAMB. Part of me finds this kind of thinking strange. However, the level of strangeness has been considerably lessened knowing that Dr. Ezell, the President of the new NAMB, Bryant Wright, President of the SBC, and other pastors in the recent past themselves made those same determinations about investing their mission dollars in the old NAMB.
In legal parlance, we call that precedent. It is not controlling precedent, because no other ecclesiastical body can control or dictate what the local church does. The examples of prominent pastors — some of whom are now in leadership within the SBC — routing CP money away from the State Conventions and the old NAMB and designating those funds for the IMB or certain seminaries has become a persuasive precedent. Each autonomous church must determine how much weight to give to this relatively new precedent. But, going forward, we cannot ignore the precedent. And, for those now in leadership to argue for their own precedent to be ignored or reversed would be, in a word, hypocritical. If it was good enough when others led the old NAMB, then it should be good enough now when a new leadership is in control of the new NAMB.
That brings me to the question: “What are churches investing in when they send CP and Annie Armstrong money to the new NAMB?” That is a question that begs for an answer, but unfortunately, what answers the churches have been given are less than clear. These fuzzy answers lead to more questions, not less. Even the new NAMB’s sleek, simplified mission statement raises questions:
“The North American Mission Board exists to work with churches, associations and state conventions in mobilizing Southern Baptists as a missional force to impact North America with the gospel of Jesus Christ through evangelism and church planting. . .” (article here)
The new mission statement seems to move the new NAMB toward a full-blown church planting network. As I have stated previously, I do not have any objection to church planting. I continue to believe that the new NAMB’s rapid and radical reorganization to an almost exclusive churh planting focus is both short-sighted and contrary to the GCRTF Final Report approved in Orlando last year.
But, the Trustees of the new NAMB must believe that the majority of messengers in Orlando — representing about 10% of all SB churches — voted for even more radical changes than the GCR document stated. That must be why they voted for the new mission statement and to consolidate the new NAMB’s ministry assignments from nine to the following six:
— assist churches in planting healthy, multiplying, evangelistic SBC churches in the United States and Canada;
— assist churches in the ministries of evangelism and making disciples;
–assist churches by appointing, supporting and assuring accountability for missionaries serving in the U.S. and Canada;
— assist churches by providing missions education and coordinating volunteer missions opportunities for church members;
— assist churches by providing leadership development; and
— assist churches in relief ministries to victims of disaster and other people in need.
In and of themselves, these six ministry assignments sound solid. However, in light of the new mission statement emphasizing evangelism and church planting, how are we to read the ministry assignments? Is the mission statement interpreted in light of the ministry assignments or are the ministry assignments interpreted in light of the mission statement?
I’m not sure grassroots Southern Baptists could even begin to know the answer to that question at the moment (although the leaders at the new NAMB probably have a pretty good idea). However, it seems to me that it would only make sense if the six consolidated ministry assignments were interpreted and implemented according to the mission statement. That means that evangelism, particularly through the church planting model, will be what drives the new NAMB bus. All other riders — collegiate ministries, student ministries, resort ministries, etc. — who are not somehow directly related to planting new churches have already been or will be told to get off the new NAMB bus and find other transporation (i.e., funding).
A new NAMB bus has been built and is already motoring down the highway. I do not expect that the bus will slow down or that riders other than church planters will be added to the seating capacity. Realistically, I think that it would be foolish to try to stand in front of the bus and yell, “STOP!” All you would have to show for your efforts are the treadmarks of the bus on your backside.
However, each autonomous Southern Baptist church can decide how much money that they want to send to the new NAMB to fuel the church planting bus as it travels across North America. At this point, I simply do not have enough information to make an informed decision on how much fuel (or potatoes as the case maybe) that I would recommend our church send to the new NAMB in 2012 and beyond. There are still way too many unanswered questions to determine whether we will follow the persuasive precedent of Ezell, Wright, & Co. and begin routing our CP/Annie money away from the new NAMB or, whether we will ignore their precedent as an anomaly and keep on giving like before. To be continued . . .