Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the SBC, Pt. 1.

(Over the next several days I will be posting a series of excerpts from a paper I have written entitled “Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the Southern Baptist Convention. This paper was originally written nearly eleven months ago, before the Wade Burleson fiasco, and it was presented to a seminar at Baylor University. During that presentation, mouths were agape at the contents, documentation, and argumentation provided about the inner-workings of the “World’s largest Protestant denomination.” Since that time I have had occasion to make minor revisions to the paper to reflect the changing dynamics at the International Mission Board and certain epicenters of political manipulation in the Southern Baptist Convention. I offered the opportunity for two men to review the paper, Jerry Rankin and Keith Eitel, before I published it. Over Christmas 2005, Dr. Rankin read and reviewed the paper, sending me seven pages of observations and factual corrections along with a commendation. His courtesy and insights were most helpful. His willingness to listen sincerely to a critique of a portion of the IMB’s strategy for church-planting was exemplary. Dr. Keith Eitel, who I must hasten to add was a close personal friend prior to his moving to Ft. Worth, originally agreed to read the paper. Within 24hours of initially agreeing, however, he emailed me to reject my offer. It seemed inappropriate to Dr. Eitel for him to read anything critical of Paige Patterson that had not been first given to the president of Southwestern Seminary. The reasons that I have not distributed this paper until now will become obvious as subsequent posts are revealed. The reason I did not submit it to Paige Patterson for review will be immediately apparent to many who have worked for and studied under him, or even to some who now serve in our convention’s highest elected offices. Such professional and academic courtesies, for Patterson, are one-way streets. So without further ado, here is the introduction to the paper, with multiple parts to follow in the next several days.)

In 1997, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention implemented a complete strategy reassessment, changing the foreign mission paradigm for the world’s “largest Protestant denomination” and its leading mission-sending agency.(1) This paradigm shift was welcomed enthusiastically by many, though reluctantly by a few powerful, bureaucratic elites within the denominational hierarchy. At its heart, the new missionary paradigm – entitled “New Directions” – was an attempt to foster the rapid expansion of indigenous church planting movements, especially in those areas of the world labeled “World A” and among those people groups described as “unreached.”(2) Once the new paradigm was implemented, the great majority of Southern Baptist missionaries were retrained and redeployed to plant churches in Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu population centers. As this retraining occurred, concerns about diluted doctrine and unbiblical strategies erupted within the denomination, especially at a few Southern Baptist seminaries, forcing an impasse that has continued — to some degree — until today. At some points during this impasse, a concerted effort on the part of administrators at the International Mission Board included limiting access to the research of the men who became the chief advocates of New Directions. Audio-recordings were prohibited during some mission-training sessions, missionaries who received handouts and workbooks were required to return their notes and workbooks after the sessions, and key research projects and papers authored by mission board leaders were removed from seminary libraries and archived under lock and key. All of this substantially limited the degree to which the new church planting movement strategies could be evaluated by theologians unsympathetic with New Directions. Many of these materials were discovered and accessed in 2003 by the author of this paper and served to open key elements of the church planting movement strategies to more rigorous academic scrutiny. There were, however, political processes at work that have undermined any fair hearing of theological concerns. Moreover, an atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion, and rumor was cultivated by some denominational leaders about the administration of Jerry Rankin at the IMB.

This paper will explore some of the sociological and anthropological research conducted by advocates of the International Mission Board strategy and explain why a conflict arose within the denomination concerning foreign missionary training. I will first give a historical framework within which the new paradigm surfaced, and then I will discuss the chief points of contention between the missionary strategists and the doctrinal watchdogs of the Southern Baptist Convention. Finally, I will reflect on my own personal experience as a participant in the conflict and as an observer of how the new strategy was being implemented on the ground in East Africa, and Central and Eastern Asia. The purpose of this paper is three-fold. First, I hope to reframe the discussion in our denomination around actual evidences of past theological concern at the International Mission Board, providing evidence to sustatiate my claim that the administration of Jerry Rankin has been victimized by false accusation, rumormongering, and a concerted effort to stack his trustee board with ideologues and political hatchet-men. Second, I hope to offer a necessary corrective to the accusations that have been hurled at good men like Jerry Rankin and Wade Burleson without substantiation. Third, I hope to expose the truth as I have chronicled it regarding the high-handed political manipulation that threatens to undercut the hopeful aspiration of Southern Baptists to evangelize the world.


1. Southern Baptists are notorious for doing things big. In its own publications, the various institutions and agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention regularly employ the superlatives “largest,” “biggest,” “best,” etc. with varying degrees of honesty. As of the writing of this paper, there are approximately 5700 persons employed by the Southern Baptist Convention serving as full-time, salaried foreign missionaries.

2. World A is roughly that area of the world between the 10th and 40th parallel in Africa and Asia, hence the name 10/40 window.

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