GCR report could put new work conventions 'out of business,' Mont. exec. says
BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP)--Leaders of smaller Baptist conventions in new work areas say their conventions could cease to exist if the report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force is adopted without any changes by messengers to the June 15-16 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, Fla.
The GCRTF initial report was presented to the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee at their Feb. 22-23 meeting.
While acknowledging agreement with the need to call God's people to a fresh commitment to spreading the Gospel, leaders of new work state conventions are at odds with the task force on how it should be accomplished.
"This will put the state convention and associations in Montana out of business," said Fred Hewett, executive director-treasurer of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, one of two new work state conventions (along with the Baptist Convention of Iowa) that are partners with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Jimmy Barrentine, executive director of the Iowa convention, agreed that the report, without any changes, could significantly hurt smaller state conventions in new work areas.
"To ask for my opinion regarding the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force's report is comparable to the cook asking the sheep for his opinion of lamb stew," Barrentine said. "Neither the sheep nor I could afford to respond dispassionately."
Baptist state conventions, including Tennessee, currently operate under cooperative agreements with the North American Mission Board in which Cooperative Program funds are returned to each state convention for missions and ministry work.
The proposal of the task force is that NAMB would phase out the cooperative agreements with the state conventions over a four-year period until NAMB will be free from the present agreements.
The report went on to state that "it is understood that state conventions will manage their budgets accordingly."
The general consensus among some Southern Baptists is that the larger conventions can better deal with the impact of the loss of the cooperative agreements with NAMB. But it could spell the end for smaller conventions, leaders of those conventions contend.
In addition to Barrentine and Hewett, Joseph Bunce, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, expressed concern over the GCRTF report in a first-person column released by Baptist Press Feb. 25.
Bunce noted that at the end of the cooperative agreements, "NAMB jointly-funded missionaries would be under the direct supervision of NAMB, rather than the state conventions they have historically served. This is huge for New Mexico and is a death sentence for other western state conventions."
Bunce cited Wyoming. "If jointly funded missionaries were removed from the Wyoming convention staff, only one out of the eight people serving in their leadership could be supported by the Wyoming convention," Bunce wrote.
It would be even worse in Montana, Hewett said, noting that once the cooperative agreements come to an end, the convention will lose $903,000 in funding.
The task force report, if approved as it now stands, "will dismantle 50 years of Southern Baptist missions work in Montana," Hewett said.
The Montana convention currently has 11 missionary staff members, including those in associational missions and church strategists. If the task force's report is adopted as it is now written, "I would lose all 11 staff members," Hewett said.
And just as important, Hewett said, "we would lose the ability to craft and implement what we believe could be a Great Commission strategy in Montana."
Hewett said the task force report presumes "a new plan will be more effective to accomplish the Great Commission in Montana than what we have."
One of the problems Hewett has with the task force is that no one from the task force has asked him or anyone else in the state convention if what they are doing is effective.
"No one has called."
The Montana leader also feels the report is a "condemnation" of all new work areas. "It presumes that we in the field do not understand and are not effective in doing Great Commission work," Hewett said.
Barretine agreed, saying he, too, believes the report is negative toward small new work state conventions.
"For more than 50 years Iowa Baptists have petitioned God to send more workers to gather the Iowa harvest. Thankfully some have responded and native Iowans are also responding to God's call," Barrentine said. But he also noted the harsh truth that "many people who have sensed a tugging at their hearts for Iowa have concluded that the wages are too low, the winters are too cold and the work is too hard."
Despite that, Barrentine said the convention has not given up on their dream that more workers would eventually come to Iowa to help.
"What we never anticipated was that a Southern Baptist task force would, in effect, recommend that we be replaced rather than assisted. It appears that the conclusion drawn is that we have failed in our mission."
Barrentine is adamant that Iowa Baptists have not failed in their task of reaching people for Christ. "The work in Iowa has not failed, but success often goes unnoticed," he said, noting that baptisms in the state have increased in seven of the last 10 years. In addition, the convention sent out eight new church planters in 2009, "a big number for us," he said. He also cited the mission work done by the state convention worldwide.
Barrentine said the Iowa convention stands to lose more than $900,000 in funding and a significant number of staff, but said he is "not prepared" to discuss numbers at this point.
He remains hopeful that "the larger Southern Baptist family will not disenfranchise Iowa churches, their associations or their state convention."
While unhappy with the task force report, Barrentine said the convention's relationship with NAMB and its sister state conventions is strong.
"We are the spiritual children of the Missouri Baptist Convention. We are the younger siblings of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. We are members of the extended family of the Tennessee Baptist Convention," Barrentine shared.
"Those sister conventions have never abandoned us. We are confident that they will not do so now."
Barrentine and others in the Iowa convention are well aware that "our future may be affected by a decision in Orlando, Fla., but no decision made in a far-off place will determine what the future of Iowa Baptists will or will not be."
"In the end, we as Iowa Baptists will find our future in the One who holds the future. We are absolutely confident that He has no intention of releasing Himself from His covenant agreement with us," Barrentine said.
Bunce made it very clear in his article that while he agrees with "the diagnoses of our spiritual malady," he does not agree with the "prescriptions" listed in the first task force report.
The final report of the task force is scheduled for release May 3, prior to the SBC's annual meeting in June.
"I pray that the task force will not bring back a report that does not afford each state convention the opportunity to remain in a collaborative, mutually agreed upon mission funding strategy," Bunce wrote.
Noting that he values the "wonderful working partnership" that the New Mexico convention has had with NAMB, Bunce wrote, "Unless directed by our BCNM excecutive board or state convention meeting in October, I will not, as executive director, release the supervision of our state staff directly to NAMB or any other SBC agency."
Barrentine said much the same, noting that the Iowa convention staff have already said they would take bivocational jobs, early retirement or whatever it takes to keep the Iowa convention in operation.
"Whatever it takes we will continue the work the Father has called us to do," Barrentine promised, acknowledging, however, that "it will be under changed circumstances if this report is adopted."
Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.