The 2021 SBC Annual meeting officially begins today in Nashville. Because of COVID, we are meeting for the first time in two years. Pre-registration indicates that it will be the largest convention this millennium and maybe even since the 1995 Convention in Atlanta. Significant prayer, political maneuvering, discussion, and debate have been taking place since the 2019 meeting in Birmingham. My hope is that God will heed the humble prayers of the broken-hearted, admonish the arrogant and contentious, and grant us all His unmerited grace and peace.
If the Lord blesses us with life, breath, energy, and grace, Phyllis and I will be attending as messengers of our church. I will also be attending meetings prior to the convention as the SBC Executive Board representative from our state convention. Most of you will read this article from the comfort of your home or office, and thus you will read or hear about the convention’s activities second hand. My encouragement to you is to always remember that God is in charge, not Southern Baptists. Remember, every SBC church is independent and autonomous and the actions taken and resolutions approved are not dictates to be heeded, but they are the reflections of the messengers who attended and voted at this particular convention and are only something to be heard.
I would also remind you that just because you read or hear something, doesn’t make it true. Everything you read or hear will be second-hand information. It will have been filtered through the mind, experiences, and emotions of the person who is sharing their personal perspective.
As Phyllis and I do our morning devotionals, we are currently reading through Proverbs. We have received both exhortations and encouragement from several verses. Our prayer is that the wisdom we find in Proverbs will dwell in our hearts and minds and flow from our lips, and this will also be true for every messenger who attends this year’s convention. Here are some verses that have specific applications during a convention:
"Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins. Wise people store up knowledge, but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.”
A final reminder, as Baptists we don’t get our marching orders from convention votes or convention offices, but from the eternal word of our Holy God. Thankfully, as Southern Baptists, we have historically chosen to work together for greater Kingdom causes always keeping a watchful eye and ear to make sure biblical integrity is being maintained. Far more important than the decisions made at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting are the decisions we and our churches make every day as to whether we will be obedient to the Great Commandments and the Great Commission! Are we growing personally as disciples of our living Lord and are we showing others by word and deed how to find the narrow way? (Matthew 7:13-14) We can choose to debate and devour one another, or we can choose to work together to be His witnesses in our “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
I again embark on some strategies principles that I pray we will implement better as we move forward. To the five I have already listed, let me add the following five:
In the early years of Kevin Ezell’s leadership, NAMB ignored all but one of its ministry assignments as listed in the SBC Organization Manual, and that was planting churches. With that singular focus, entire departments at NAMB were eliminated. Over the years the other five assignments have slowly garnered some attention. If approved at this year’s convention a seventh one will be added related to supporting collegiate ministries. NAMB’s challenge will be to find the right balance as they move forward.
When you place a laser focus on only one of the several assignments you have, you open yourself up to selective blindness. At the same time, you create a huge rift between your organization and those who value the other ministry assignments that are being ignored or eliminated. A singular focus can be helpful during certain times, but not during a season of critical evaluation or with the ongoing responsibility to fulfill multiple ministry assignments.
Good leaders take time to understand what is truly happening AND why it is happening before they design and implement needed changes. A Proverb that has application here is “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set” Prov. 22:28.
That was a question we faced in our historic 2019 floods. After a bit of head-scratching and a little head-butting, we were able to find some workable options. We discovered that well-oiled and time-proven systems resist change. We were just a microcosm of the challenges that have been encountered at the national level when NAMB announced Send Relief, and, from the perspective of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, diminished their role. Our goal should never be to sustain a proven structure, rather it should be to design a structure that effectively does the job in our current context with a constant eye on fulfilling our gospel mission.
History is full of such people. Two examples can be found in I Kings 11: “So the Lord became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the Lord had commanded” (verses 9-10). Pride and unchecked passions had replaced Solomon’s wisdom, and God removed His hand of blessing.
A few verses later, I Kings 11:37-38, we read that God sent the prophet Ahijah to Jeroboam with a message: “If you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways, and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David, and will give Israel to you.” But Jeroboam feared that people who went to Jerusalem to worship would eventually return to Rehoboam, so he built places of worship at Dan and Bethel. In each, he placed a golden calf, and he led his people to repeat the sin of false worship that their ancestors had done in the wilderness. Politics and power won Jeroboam’s heart.
Do you struggle with any of these five strategic principles? What are you doing to address the issue? If you’re not, then let me hit you with a few more strategic principles next week!
I shared two strategic principles last week that if applied well “might” have kept us from experiencing some of our current tension. I will share three more today knowing that when implemented well they too can help us avoid future problems. As I mentioned in the previous article, I have experienced the negative side of each of these strategic principles.
An example of a good strategy done poorly is what NAMB faced ten years ago. I am referring to the DoM/Church Starter Strategist positions that all new work conventions had used for several decades and one that I served in for almost twenty years. NAMB believed funding the dual role position was not a good strategic investment. However, today NAMB is encouraging the use of church-based Church Planter Catalysts. These are individuals who are currently serving on a church staff and are asked to pick up the responsibility to catalyze at least one new church plant per year. I would argue that this “new strategy” is identical to the traditional dual role that was previously declared ineffective.
However, I will quickly admit that this strategy, whenever it is used, requires individuals who can function EFFECTIVELY in dual roles. They cannot be living examples of “a jack of all trades and a master of none.” I will also quickly acknowledge that ten years ago too many DoM/CSSs could not do both roles effectively—it looked good on paper, but was not being executed well. The old cliché “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” has application as you consider NAMB’s early approach to this deeply engrained strategy. Effective leaders deal with ineffective staff, they don’t make rules that punish their effective staff, nor do they change their entire strategy simply because the current strategy isn’t being implemented well.
These realities mean we will need all kinds of church starting strategies. Unfortunately, some of the strategies that are available in old-line states are not always available in new work states. I have been directly involved in church planting for almost 35 years and only in recent years have I seen SBC church strength in our immediate area sufficient enough for a “hiving” or “campus” strategy to work. I would quickly add that it is a model that is still not available in much of Nebraska or in huge areas of other new work states. NAMB’s top down, single focus approach has relied heavily on the “hiving” model. They have shown “some” flexibility, but a limited feedback loop still exists which magnifies the problem of focusing on a singular strategic model.
I was serving in Iowa when the Iowa Southern Baptist Fellowship became the Baptist Convention of Iowa. At that time it fell far short of meeting the criteria needed to gain representation on SBC entity boards that have historically been granted to state conventions. The only “advantage” was the prestige of being called a state convention. The move came with a small financial “penalty” (HMB provided some financial support for the state executive position for a fellowship but none for a convention), and it still did not provide board representation. However, I learned growing up in Wyoming that it doesn’t do any good to close the barn door after the horses have already gotten out. So the question remains, how do we move forward in a truly cooperative environment?
NAMB has unilaterally suggested that some new work conventions should be combined. Yes, COVID has proven that technology can be used to maintain connectivity, but I would suggest that cooperative partnerships and ministry to churches will always require healthy relationships. Those relationships are created with face-to-face connections over time—not by FaceTime type technologies alone. Before new work convention restructuring can be addressed, I believe the fractured relationships between NAMB and new work conventions must be healed. Only with healthy relationships and trust, can difficult conversations take place where we can put in place rules that provide mutually beneficial accountability to those who provide a significant amount of the gold.
So far I have listed five strategies that we have not always implemented well in the past. The last two really demand more clarification, but space limitations do exist. My question for you is, which of these strategies has given you the greatest problems in your ministry setting? What would be the right next step that would help you resolve the issue?
Next week I will be listing additional strategies that could have been better implemented
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.