My last article brought our historical pilgrimage to June 2010, and the approval of The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s Report (GCRTF). What I didn’t point out is that the report was issued and approved while the North American Mission Board (NAMB) was in the process of seeking its third President—the two previous presidents’ tenures had not ended well. Kevin Ezell began to serve as NAMB’s president in September 2010 with the specific task of implementing the GCRTF’s recommendations. Those circumstances were very similar to the situation Bob Reccord stepped into in 1997 when the convention adopted the Covenant for a New Century which combined the Home Mission Board, Brotherhood Commission, and the Radio and Television Commission and renamed it NAMB. In both cases, major changes were made. However, in spite of all the early changes made under Reccord’s leadership, after a few years, NAMB looked a lot like HMB did. Long-term change didn’t occur.
Most new work leaders “assumed” that what had happened under Reccord’s leadership would happen under Ezell’s: changes will occur, but over time, the home mission’s work will end up looking like it always had. But that didn’t happen! As I describe the significant changes that have taken place, I will attempt to be balanced. But again I will confess that my perspective is shaped by my experiences. I am a third-generation Wyomingite who was born before a single SBC church existed in the state. At the age of sixteen, I moved with my family to Oklahoma where I joined FBC Vinita. I became an active church member, deacon, lay pastor, and seminary student and lived for twenty years in two old-line states (Oklahoma and Texas). I have served as pastor, director of missions, and a church starter strategist in two new work states for the last thirty-plus years (Iowa and Nebraska). Through those years I have been blessed with countless learning opportunities, primarily funded by NAMB. They have sharpened my God-given abilities. I can state that the newly adopted title Associational Mission Strategist (AMS) aptly describes how God gifted me, and how I have been equipped to function in my role.
From a strategic perspective, what happened in our association is what I “assume” the GCRTF “assumed” would happen in most situations. My dual role as a DoM/Church Starter Strategist slowly shifted as NAMB “assumed” leadership over SBC church planting. Fully funded NAMB Church Planter Catalysts began to lead church planting, and my time was freed to do more in the leadership development and church health areas. However, the reality is that our association is one of the very few in the new work states that was actually able to pick up the slack as NAMB support was eliminated over time.
The net results of these changes are that I am now the only full-time AMS that is supported solely by his association in the following nine states: Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. There are seven state conventions represented in this nine-state region, and each of them has also experienced a steep decline in the number of full-time staff. Ten years ago over thirty full-time, dual-role, and jointly funded men served associations in those states. Three associations that geographically bordered ours have disbanded in recent years (two in Iowa and one in Nebraska). The two remaining associations in Nebraska have pastors who serve as volunteer coordinators. Our association’s geographic region expanded to an area the size of South Carolina and larger than ten other states.
An analogy I have used to describe what happened is not flattering. In 2010 our SBC family had a lot of children and teenagers—(24) and a few adult offspring (17)—I am speaking of organizational not spiritual maturity. For years and years, the parents and adult offspring had provided nice credit cards for the children and teens with very few strings attached. One day they told all the children and teens that over the next seven years their credit limit was going to be gradually reduced to zero, and then they would be on their own. Some of the children were toddlers and seven years was not going to be long enough for them to be able to live on their own. Some of the children and teens didn’t believe it would happen, so they didn’t prepare. A very few heard and began to prepare for a new day when they would be on their own. Some of them were mature enough to make the transition with minimal impact.
What I just described in numerical changes and via an analogy directly impacted the lives of hundreds of individuals, their spouses, and their families. Although the changes created minimal impact in my life, I have many friends who still carry deep scars because of what happened to them and their families. I could expend a lot of energy placing blame, and there is plenty of that to go around, but we can’t go back and change history. So, how do we move forward?
I will suggest two big things that will help us. First is we must acknowledge that our home mission’s work has ALWAYS struggled! It can only be as strong as our desire to be cooperative and as our wisdom to do it well. Second, we must actually embrace the eight Core Values that were listed in the GCRTF report adopted at the 2010 SBC Convention. We can’t just “assume” they will be true. Those values are:
Next week I will identify current events that have moved the tensions between NAMB and new work conventions into the broader SBC world. I will also begin to identify specific leadership principles and strategies that we can use to mitigate our challenges in the days ahead.
15Pages 7-8 of the Draft Final Report of the GRCTF, April 26, 2010
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.