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Suggestions from Readers About GCRcomment (0)

January 7, 2010

By Bob Terry

During the past several months, readers of The Alabama Baptist have offered several suggestions about ways to help Southern Baptists work together more efficiently in fulfilling the Great Commission. Most of these reactions have come in response to comments and ideas related to the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.

The following is a summary of some of the suggestions offered.

1. Revisit a decision made at the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting that could result in more money for the International Mission Board (IMB).

That year, GuideStone Financial Resources announced that it did not need its annual Cooperative Program (CP) allocation to carry out its ministry to financially needy annuitants. The 0.76 percent of the SBC budget was given back to the Executive Committee to redistribute. While the percentage is small, it amounted to more than $1.5 million in the 2007–08 budget.

Messengers voted to give the lion’s share to the six SBC-related seminaries. Three seminaries — Southeastern, Midwestern and Golden Gate — got one-time gifts of $347,710 and then 0.51 percent of the total budget was added to the annual allocation designated for all six seminaries.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission received an extra $320,962 that year and an extra 0.16 percent each year thereafter. The SBC Executive Committee kept $160,480, or 0.08 percent, of the budget earmarked for stewardship education.

Why not allocate those funds to the IMB instead, a reader asked. The primary reason is the history of the IMB getting 50 percent of the SBC’s portion of CP dollars. Some would add that the needs of other entities is a reason. But the reader asked if international missions is to be the top priority, then why the IMB cannot receive more than 50 percent of the budget. Revisiting the 2007 decision would be a first step.

2. Along that same line is the suggestion that money formerly designated to the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) be channeled to the IMB.

When Southern Baptists withdrew from the BWA in 2004, the $425,000 previously used for that organization was given to the Executive Committee for Kingdom Relationships. That is an effort to build relationships with other Baptist bodies around the world. Now the annual budget incorporates that assignment under SBC operating costs, which totals 3.4 percent — $6,949,110 — of the current budget.

A reader asked why these funds should not be given to the IMB because it is the arm of Southern Baptists that relates to Baptist bodies around the world through the international missions programs.  Changes in those two decisions would add about $2 million to the IMB annually.

3. Another reader recommended adopting a rule established by retired pastor Bobby Welch for SBC service as a requirement for all elected or appointed to responsibility in the SBC.

During his years as president of the SBC, Welch instructed his Committee on Nominations not to approve anyone who came from a church giving less than 3 percent of its undesignated income to missions causes through the CP.

The result was rhubarb in the Committee on Nominations. Several prominent personalities were being turned down, and it took Welch personally telling protesters that the committee was following his instructions before the situation calmed.

The reader pointed out that the primary financial problem Southern Baptists face is the declining percentage churches give through the CP. Establishing a minimum amount in order to be eligible for service would be an encouragement for all who are concerned about the SBC and its ministries at home and around the world.

4. A reader who pays close attention to the inner workings of the SBC suggested revisiting the formula used to fund seminary education.

This reader called attention to a 2008 report coming from the SBC Executive Committee questioning the direction of the convention’s six seminaries. The report, printed on pages 144–152 of the 2008 SBC annual, questions the role of the seminaries in providing college-level education.

Most Baptists believe their CP dollars help provide college education in a Christian environment on the state level and ministerial education through Baptist seminaries on the SBC level. That long-standing distinction was abandoned some time ago.

But not by Alabama Baptists. Even though Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham was the first of its kind on a Baptist college campus, hours earned at Beeson have never been included in the CP formula designed for CP support. Samford gets no CP dollars for the credit hours taught at Beeson.

On the SBC side, each of the seminaries now provides college-level education. In fact, the report cited above says, “Of the total credit hours funded by the (SBC) formula for the last five years, 25 percent … of those hours were undergraduate hours (college level or below).” The report goes on to say these hours “may or may not have formed a platform for ministerial graduate degrees.”

The report further declares, “The significance of this fact is that the convention is funding the equivalent of a seventh seminary exclusively for prebaccalaureate and baccalaureate programs.”

When every seminary is reporting problems created by lack of funds, why shouldn’t the funds that most people believe are going for ministerial education be used for the basic purpose of the seminaries? That is training ministers in the master level programs. The reader said he did not believe Alabama Baptists wanted the SBC to use CP funds to directly compete with the state convention’s three historic institutions — Judson College in Marion, the University of Mobile and Samford.

5. Some suggestions have been more radical. One reader suggested eliminating all CP support for SBC seminaries. He pointed out that Alabama has a first class seminary in Beeson. Alabama Baptists do not need the seminaries, he wrote.

6. Another suggested doing away with the SBC Executive Committee. The reader observed that state conventions could appropriate to SBC causes and such appropriations would reflect the desire of the messengers from that state.

He compared the present system to a government program in which all the taxes are collected but only a portion is returned for service. The rest is kept to run the bureaucracy.

There were other suggestions but these few give a flavor of the feedback Baptists are offering about ways to effectively work together. Some of the recommendations have merit, at least in the judgment of this writer. Some do not.

But they do illustrate the kind of ideas that begin to surface when people think about ways to reorganize. One never knows where the process will end up or what will be its final outcome.

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