After a two-week pause to reflect on the SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville, this is my “swan song” on my series regarding SBC Life. Previously I had taken several weeks to lay out ten strategic principles that I believe we could have used more wisely to avoid some of our current tensions. To them, I will add four more as I close out this series of articles.
1. Sometimes our efforts to solve existing problems only create new problems. Too often we correct existing mistakes by overcorrecting or overcompensating in the opposite direction. I often encounter this problem as I have worked with churches who have called a pastor who has strengths where the previous pastor was weak only to find out that their new pastor has his own set of limitations—and at times they are worse than the previous pastor’s.
Overcompensating simply creates a pendulum swing and a new set of problems. What I have seen is that poorly designed and/or implemented top-down strategies aren’t any better than poorly designed and/or implemented field strategies. Similarly, pointing out past failures without a willingness to admit and correct our current failures benefits no one. We have all made mistakes in judgment. The strategies I personally believe are imperative today are different than the ones I thought we needed thirty years ago. Some of that is due to cultural shifts and some were caused by the fact that I’ve learned a few things in life.
2. Organizations led by feedback adverse leaders WILL falter and if issues go unaddressed they WILL fail. If you need “yes men” around you to affirm you, then you are not a leader. Effective leaders surround themselves with those who bring them to balance and who will speak truth into their life. Healthy leaders encourage debate and invite differences of opinion. They know that it will help them make better decisions and avoid blind spots.
HMB and NAMB used multiple strategies and emphases in an effort to reach major cities but had limited success. In the early days when asked what criteria were used to identify NAMB’s new Send Cities and what metrics would be used to measure success in light of our history, the answer was simply, “We will succeed.” Basically, the answer was “Don’t question our process.” Those who ask too many questions tend to have short tenures with NAMB.
3. Our ability to work with people will define the limits and effectiveness of our ministry. We know today that one’s Emotional Intelligence is a far better predictor of success than is our Intelligence Quotient. In slang terms, street-smart people do better than book-smart people. In Biblical terms servant leaders who empower others are more effective than dictatorial style micro-managing men who are in positions of authority—notice I’m unwilling to call them leaders. If you are a leader and no one is following, you’re just out taking a walk. You might be able to get people to comply or obey for a paycheck, and still not be a leader. Proverbs 14:28 touches on this principle: “In a multitude of people is a king’s honor, but in the lack of people is the downfall of a prince.”
One huge area that significantly limits many in positions of authority is their conflict style. In fact, that is one key area where God had to get my attention. Those of us with an aggressive and defensive style will function like a steamroller as we plow over anything or anyone in our road destroying relationships. The passive and evasive among us tend to ignore significant issues until the lid on the pressure cooker blows off, and then it’s too late—relationships are destroyed.
It is imperative that we find the right balance between getting the job done and developing and preserving relationships. Sometimes our passion to do things our way and in our timing gets out of balance with doing things God’s way and in His timing.
4. Many of us talk with our money before we are willing to open our mouths. Following the last major recession (2009-2010) total Cooperative Program (CP) receipts declined from their historic high in 2008 of almost $541 million to an average of less than $464 million during the last four years. This is true in spite of the fact that total charitable giving in the US is now at a record high. Our two major national offerings (one for International Missions and one for North American Missions) have both rebounded and set new historic highs since the last recession. COVID has not helped, but neither has it had the negative impact we anticipated. A legitimate question would be, “Why hasn’t CP giving rebounded?”
In my almost three decades of working with churches, I have seen that THE FIRST way Baptists show they are not happy is to reduce or quit giving, withhold giving, or re-direct giving. This happens at the local church level, at the association level, at the state convention level, and it is clearly happening at the national level.
Some churches, including many of our largest churches, believe they can steward their missions dollars better and thus give a lower percentage of general offerings through the CP. Some churches are voicing their concerns by either withholding or directing their CP giving to specific entities. Some churches, including many of our language churches and newer churches, have never understood how CP works—in some places, CP lives up to its name by becoming programmatic rather than being a mission and a vision-driven way to do more together. Some of our older, smaller, and rural churches are still giving, and some of them give sacrificially, but their giving is stable at best.
These numbers reinforce in my mind our need to have honest, loving, and open dialogue on the tensions that our changes have created. It magnifies the need for special emphases like Vision 2025 to help us regain and refocus on the “WHY” of CP. If we don’t do things like this, and do them well, my guess is that our organizational pendulum will continue to swing back to a societal method of funding ministries and missions. If that shift continues, we will lose much of the impact that CP has provided us over the last 100 years.
In this series of articles, I began by discussing exciting changes that I believe have caused some of our current tensions. I also provided significant historical context to help us understand how we got where we are today. In my opinion, we are now facing challenges that could become as significant as those Southern Baptists faced in the 1880s and 1920s. My personal passion, prayer, and energy seek first and foremost God initiated spiritual renewal. If the organizational renewal of churches, associations, state conventions, and SBC happens in the midst of that, then all praise and honor go to God. (Matthew 6:33).
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.