More churches, less nonsense…

From every indication, the chairman of the International Mission Board of trustees, John Floyd (TN), has made great strides to facilitate a collegial and disciplined atmosphere for the governance of Southern Baptists’ most important agency. Gone are the days when Tom Hatley was allowed to interrupt Jerry Rankin’s report to trustees in untimely comments loaded with disrespectful tones. Gone are the days when Paige Patterson’s pastor could march to a microphone and chide IMB administrators or ask rhetorical questions fraught with passive aggressive pontificating. Gone are the days when a cadre of caucusing trustees engineered the ouster of dissenting trustees, or the board president for that matter. Moreover, trustees in St. Louis enjoyed a brief respite from one khaki-clad California trustee, Jerry Corbaley, who likes to hear himself talk about us much as I like to read my own writing.

IMB trustees heard encouraging reports about the recent engagement of the world’s unreached people groups, dramatic increases in the number of churches planted, disciples taught, and leaders trained. No missionaries were terminated at this meeting; sixty-seven new missionaries were commissioned. Many prayers were offered, none of them in an unknown tongue.

IMB Vice President of Overseas Operation, Gordon Fort, had much to say about the way that field missionaries are reporting new church starts. Statistical reports from the field highlight the fact that IMB missionaries have planted more than 40,000 churches in the past two years. In 2006 alone, IMB missionaries planted 23,486 new churches.

The peanut gallery in Ft. Worth likes to raise questions about the legitimacy of the numbers that come out of Richmond. Credible objections to the statistical accuracy of church planting movement analyses exist at some levels of Baptist life, as the recent report from BGCT independent investigators has demonstrated. But the IMB, under the direction of Jerry Rankin, has intentionally under-reported the number of new church starts by as much as 40% in some regions in an effort to reflect the regrettable reality that some new church starts do not live to maturity. This intentional effort on the part of IMB administrators is both commendable and exemplary. In a day when some American churches “ballpark” their membership numbers, when some prominent pastors exaggerate their resume credentials, and when some SBC seminary presidents disguise their FTE shortfalls by trumpeting modest little increases in “enrollment,” it is refreshing to know that at least one SBC agency is underestimating their numbers for the sake of integrity.

SBC President Frank Page addressed his second meeting of the trustee board, challenging them as he has challenged countless others to pray for an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit to transform churches, break a spirit of arrogant pride in our convention, renew our evangelistic efforts with integrity, and send revival to His people. Every time I hear Frank Page speak, I am moved by the urgent, grave tone of his words. The SBC is in trouble, and a formerly unknown pastor from South Carolina seems to be one of few men willing to say it. He doesn’t roll up to trustee meetings in a modified Greyhound. He doesn’t blow the shofar or drop the confetti and balloons. He simply stands up, tells it like it is, and calls people to prayer.

Speaking of prayer, Southern Baptists had better get busy praying for Frank Page. When he arrived at the St. Louis Renaissance hotel, he stopped for a few moments to share with several of us in the lobby that he had just learned that his eldest daughter has been diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. The secret burdens this man bears are unseen. The weight of them is immeasurable. But for the next two years, Southern Baptists have the responsibility to come alongside him and bear them together with him in prayer.

All in all, the St. Louis trustee meeting was a bright light of hope in comparison to the final year of Tom Hatley’s chairmanship. John Floyd comports himself with diplomacy and treats administrators and trustees alike with Christian courtesy. Trustees seem willing to get past the winter of discontent that has descended upon them in the wake of their foolish and divisive policy changes. Dismissing the objections of many Southern Baptists, however, will not prove an effective means of diffusing the sad situation they have brought upon themselves.

Of course, there is still work to be done. The trustees have not reported on their handling of the Burleson recommendation, made in Greensboro, NC, and referred by the convention to the IMB. The trustee who made the motion, Wade Burleson, is still kept from committee assignments for no credible reason other than the former chairman’s whim and the unwillingness of certain members of the IMB executive committee who believe Tom Hatley’s hissy fits were warranted. The trustee committees charged with the task of reviewing the policies on tongues and baptism have not brought a final disposition of their findings. The trustee selection process still needs a thorough reexamination by the SBC, and perhaps bylaw amendments, to protect the interests, assets, and ministries of our convention agencies from threats to denominational stability brought on by nepotism, leader-recycling, and conflicts of interest. More than anything else, more missionaries are needed and more financial sacrifices will be required to touch the hem of spiritual darkness that shrouds the eyes of lost people groups yet unconfronted with the claims of the Gospel.

Southern Baptists have about 5200 foreign missionaries and an annual budget of about 400 million dollars to send them. To keep pace with birth-rates alone, Southern Baptists need 3000 more missionaries by tomorrow, and another couple of hundred million dollars a year. While considering these numbers, I am left wondering how many more missionaries we would have if the prayer-language Gestapo were not working overtime to displace otherwise qualified men and women to the ghettos of denominational life. I am curious how many more missionaries we could send if megachurches who contribute .67% of their undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program understood the basic teachings of Jesus: “To whom much has been given, much is required.” And while some Southern Baptists are concerned that the WMU is too accommodating to other Baptist groups, I am left wondering how many more boys and girls would hear the call to foreign mission service if we still had Mission Friends, RAs, GAs, etc, in our churches instead of playgrounds and ferris wheels and the pathetic excuses for discipleship that masquerade as authentic ministries to youth.

Perhaps the most personally rewarding moments of the trustee meeting were the visits that Wade Burleson and I had with newly-appointed missionaries headed to restricted-access areas. As we approached them to encourage them and express our thanksgiving for their commitment and obedience to the Lord, we were greeted with warm gratitude. “Thank you so much for what you are doing on this side,” we were told. “We read your blogs, and we are praying for you both.”

And it is for them that we keep meeting and blogging and mobilizing. It is for the chance to change the system, to hold off the fundamentalist forces of coercion that threaten our world mission task, and to give voice to a rising generation of young, committed, and thoroughly evangelical Southern Baptists who will go anywhere, do anything, eat any food, pay any price, and shed every last drop of their own blood that the nations might be glad in the One to whom they have been given as an inheritance.

4 thoughts on “More churches, less nonsense…

  1. Ben,
    Thanks for the report. I too am encouraged by what I’ve seen in Dr. Floyd’s leadership of the IMB. As a field missionary, we have never failed to work in a particular ministry or project due to lack of funding (Praise God and thank you SB’s for your giving to the CP and LMCO!). However, many times we have been unable to start or continue ministry projects due to lack of personnel. Jesus told us to pray for laborers to work in the harvest. I personally hope the previous trustee decisions on private prayer language and baptism will be reversed or softened. I don’t believe we should appoint and send just anyone who has the notion to come. We’ve seen too many that have come and gone causing more problems than help. However these issues (ppl and baptism) are not where we need to be screening tighter. There are other issues in new missionaries that cause much greater problems on the field. We want and need more missionaries on the field. Let’s hope the IMB will focus on the majors rather than minor issues in screening candidates.


  2. Good commentary, Ben

    It’s good to see some charity in a trustee meeting. I wish we, as a denomination, were more concerned about reaching the lost than correcting the saved.

    Grace and Peace,

  3. I appreciate your comment about “leader recycling.” That needs to be addressed with regard to every trustee board in the SBC. It seems that laymen and small churches are under-represented on those boards. I’m of the opinion that a trustee should serve two customary terms on any board, and then not be eligible for another one. I don’t know how some of them have time for it anyway.

  4. “I am left wondering how many more boys and girls would hear the call to foreign mission service if we still had Mission Friends, RAs, GAs, etc, in our churches instead of playgrounds and ferris wheels and the pathetic excuses for discipleship that masquerade as authentic ministries to youth.”

    Well said, sir. I couldn’t agree more, and I bemoan the decline of these great organizations that brought me an awareness of missions in my youth. Our church is seeking to begin again, starting with Mission Friends.

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