Leo Endel: GCRTF may speed CP 'crumbling;' new works perspective needed

EDITOR'S NOTE: Baptist Press invited the four announced candidates for SBC president to take part in an email interview based on a set of common questions, allowing each to speak directly to Southern Baptists about key issues being discussed leading up the annual meeting in Orlando. The following is the first article in the four-part series.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The strengths, weaknesses and unintended consequences of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report should be considered in Orlando; and greater ethnic, regional and cultural perspectives must be included to reach the under-served areas of North America, according to Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.

Endel is one of four announced candidates for Southern Baptist Convention president.

He became Minnesota-Wisconsin's third executive director in May 2002 and joined Emmanuel Baptist Church in Rochester. He served as president of the Baptist Convention of Iowa in 2001-02, moderator of Northwest Baptist Association from 1993-95 and president of the Sioux City Evangelical Ministers Fellowship from 1992-2000. At the 2008 SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis, he delivered the "Grace and Truth" theme interpretation. During his pastorate at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, attendance grew from 35 to around 500 in his 11 years there; Southern Hills also sponsored three new churches and increased missions giving while undergoing two building programs.

Endel said the most pressing issue for Southern Baptists is to "renew our love for lost people" and that he would work to unite Southern Baptists around "missionally, strategically, and lovingly sharing the gospel with North America." He said that he has been a committed prayer partner for the GCRTF from the beginning, but that he has "serious reservations about approving the Task Force report."

"We can all embrace the biblical call to a recommitment to the gospel and the Great Commission," he wrote to Baptist Press. He also cited the good in the report that affirmed the local church, associations, state conventions and mission boards, and he lauded the conversation the GCRTF has started about personal and corporate giving, the cooperative agreements between the North American Mission Board and state conventions, and particularly how "the conversation has caused us to rethink our priorities and retest our effectiveness." But he also pointed out the conversation has had "precious few voices from new work areas, from our ethnic groups, or from small churches" and created unintended consequences, too. The report is "short on details" and "uncertainty has sent shockwaves through the new work areas at a critical time of transition." He also said the discussion "has had the unintended consequence of undermining trust in the Southern Baptist family."

Endel's strongest concern was that "the GCRTF may accelerate the crumbling of the CP funding system that holds our mission work together."

Endel expressed his concerns about "Great Commission Giving" using the hypothetical that churches couldn't operate on a system that celebrated designated giving over unrestricted tithing to the general budget. In such a system, he said, funding falls apart such that bake sales would be needed to pay the bills, but there would be more than enough people wanting to contribute to the youth pastor's salary. "Conflict and competition will soon kill a church funded like that," Endel said.

Endel also took issue with the final report recommendation that would result in the elimination of funding for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education by the SBC Executive Committee.

"It is my opinion that the assistance of the Executive Committee has saved all Southern Baptists millions of dollars by helping us collectively develop materials rather than forcing every state convention to separately develop these materials," Endel said. "Videos and printed materials are much cheaper when developed together and produced from one centralized source."

Endel said the loss of this partnership "will be far more than the money saved by cutting the work of the Executive Committee."

The full text of Endel's replies follows:

BP: What is the most critical issue facing the SBC? What is your plan to address it?

ENDEL: We must renew our love for lost people; when we do we'll find passion for sharing the gospel. Southern Baptists need to unite as a family and actively engage our lost culture with compassion and love. I believe we need a leader who will unite us around missionally, strategically, and lovingly sharing the gospel with North America.

BP: Appointing leaders is a critical function for the SBC president. How would you name leaders to committees and other positions of responsibility?

ENDEL: No one has a broad enough network of contacts to be able to do this well alone. Those who wrote our bylaws provided well for broad input through the Committee on Committees. I would continue the normal practice of seeking nominations through the input of convention leadership. I would seek leaders primarily with five values: a passionate commitment to the Great Commission, a sacrificial commitment to the Cooperative Program, theological integrity, humility, and a cooperative spirit.

BP: Do you support or oppose the GCRTF? Why?

ENDEL: I have been a committed prayer partner for the Task Force from the beginning. I was one of the 6581 who signed up to pray for these committed leaders who have struggled through the complexities of Southern Baptist life. I am grateful for the contribution these leaders have made to the work of Southern Baptists. I appreciate the leadership of the Task Force. Dr. Ronnie Floyd has been gracious and given himself sacrificially for this conversation to take place. Few of us will ever understand the load he has carried in inviting participation, listening to leaders, and facilitating the conversation. He deserves our gratitude. But I have serious reservations about approving the Task Force report.

The GCRTF includes a number of Strengths:

-- We can all embrace the biblical call to a recommitment to the gospel and the Great Commission.

-- It affirms "the primacy and centrality of the local church." (5)

-- It affirms that associations, state conventions, and mission boards are tools for extending the efficient and effective impact of the local church by synergistically combining our resources.

-- I believe in the conversation -- we need ongoing discussions like these in Baptist life; it has interrupted "business as usual."

-- It gives an accurate perspective on financial trends within Baptist life -- the declining percentage given by believers to the local church and the declining percentage given by our churches to the Cooperative Program.

-- It has opened the way for renegotiating the Cooperative Agreements (NAMB/State Convention); these agreements need to be fluid and renegotiated on an ongoing basis.

-- The conversation has caused us to rethink our priorities and retest our effectiveness.

-- All of this is good.

Weaknesses of the GCRTF

-- The Task Force had precious few voices from new work areas, from our ethnic groups, or from our small churches. I believe I bring to the table a broader perspective. Having grown up in SBC missions and having spent most of my ministry in SBC North American missions areas I bring a new work and a small church perspective.

I accepted Jesus as my Savior and was baptized in 1968 at Immanuel Baptist Church in Billings, Montana. Most of my life has been lived in the North or the West where Southern Baptists are not the dominant religious group: Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Nevada, Upper Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota. When God called me into the ministry I knew immediately that I would not serve in the South. God had prepared me to serve in the non-traditional areas of Southern Baptist life. I have spent my life answering the question, "Southern Baptists? What are Southern Baptists doing putting churches in Minnesota or Wisconsin?"

When God was calling me to Sioux City, Iowa. A retired pastor friend said to me, "Leo, don't take that church unless you know for sure God is calling you. I've already put your name into a large church outside of Kansas City." Then he paused and he said, "I'm not even sure we ought to have churches in the north." He went on to explain to me about the agreements with Northern Baptists that kept Southern Baptists out of the North and how those had gradually broken down in the '60s. Over the years I've come to understand that Southern Baptists never fully decided to become a national family of churches -- God decided for us and then we gradually adjusted to His plan.

However, I'm not sure the family has ever fully engaged its emerging identity. Certainly, the North American Mission Board has, and their investment on behalf of Southern Baptists indicates this reality. But, as a rule Southern Baptists choose emphases and make decisions based on a Southern identity or perspective that does not always connect with the cultural diversity of North America. We need to broaden our ethnic, regional, and cultural perspective to include the new diversity of who we are. As we invite the larger family to the table we'll become more effective in reaching the under-reached areas of North America.

-- Because of our polity, the GCRTF is short on details. We really do not yet know how these components will be implemented. The new president of NAMB and his trustees will make these critical and strategic decisions; I believe the actual content of the GCRTF report is not nearly as important as the selection of the new NAMB president. We must be praying for a gifted, capable, godly leader for NAMB.

-- This uncertainty has sent shockwaves through the new work areas at a critical time of transition when most Southern Baptist work is finally making a critical shift toward becoming indigenous. We are answering the question, "What does it mean to be a Southern Baptist in the North or the West?"

-- The conversation has had the unintended consequence of undermining trust in the Southern Baptist family.

-- One final concern regards the loss of cooperative program material development from the SBC executive Committee. It is my opinion that the assistance of the Executive Committee has saved all Southern Baptists millions of dollars by helping us collectively develop materials rather than forcing every state convention to separately develop these materials. Videos and printed materials are much cheaper when developed together and produced from one centralized source. It seems to be unknown that the State Conventions partner with the EC and actually buy the materials and then distribute the materials. The EC covers the production cost and the state conventions cover the per piece cost of the product and the distribution of the promotional materials to the churches. Without this service the loss to the larger Southern Baptist family will be far more than the money saved by cutting the work of the Executive Committee.

BP: What is your position about the issues relating to the Cooperative Program and Great Commission Giving?

ENDEL: I am a product of the Cooperative Program:

1) Mom saved in a new church plant in Grand Island, Nebraska.

2) I was baptized in Billings, Montana, in an SBC church in its second decade.

3) I attended a half Filipino/half American church in the Philippines pastored by an FMB missionary.

4) The Cooperative Program subsidized my education at Southwestern Theological Seminary and now at Midwestern Seminary.

5) In my previous church we planted three SBC churches, gave 13% to CP, 3.5% to the association and 2% for local church planting while building a gymnasium and a new sanctuary.

6) Our MWBC executive board has made a commitment to increase our CP giving to national causes by .5% per year indefinitely till we reach the proposed 50/50 division.

-- I believe the GCRTF may accelerate the crumbling of the CP funding system that holds our mission work together. The Task Force has NOT caused this decline, but the medicine provided to enhance the life of our mission funding may ultimately take the life of the goose that laid the golden egg. The beauty of the CP is that by putting together a strategic unified budget every church is able to do ACTS 1:8 missions at home, in their region, in North America and in the World. If designated giving becomes the norm for our giving we'll see a breakdown of our funding system. I know this is not the intent of the report but I believe the impact could be devastating.

-- What happens in a local church if the majority of the people start designating their tithes? The funding system falls apart. Pretty soon we can't pay the light bill and we have to start holding bake sales to pay the bills. We have more than enough people who want to give to the youth pastors salary, but not enough that like the pastor enough to be willing to designate their tithe for his support. Conflict and competition will soon kill a church funded like that.

-- In principle, I am not opposed to celebrating Great Commission Giving, BUT what we celebrate we encourage. Even the name GREAT COMMISSION GIVING sounds a lot more exciting than Cooperative Program.

-- The Cooperative Program is especially powerful for the small church -- with limited resources the small church can still be a contributor to proportionally do their part to fulfill the Great Commission. The SBC is still primarily a convention of small churches, and the Cooperative Program is still the most effective means for doing the Great Commission together.

BP: What will Southern Baptists be deciding with their vote for SBC president?

ENDEL: I'm sure all the other nominees are good men and excellent leaders. I believe my experience in the underserved areas of North America would bring a new voice to the conversation -- a cooperative voice, a small church voice, and a strategic voice that represents a wider constituency that moves us forward to embrace a national identity.

BP: What do you want Southern Baptists to know about you?

ENDEL: My dad was from Texas and spent 22 years in the Air Force; mom was from Nevada. I was born in Tampa, Fla. and six months later we moved to Anchorage, Alaska. We lived in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Montana, Alaska again, Upper Michigan, the Philippines, and then Missouri again. I was a junior in high school when my dad retired in Missouri and went to college.

My dad grew up Southern Baptist and my mom Roman Catholic. They did as most similar couples do ... dad went occasionally to a Baptist church; mom went occasionally to a Catholic church. Gradually mom started attending with dad and she started understanding the gospel; several months later she made a public commitment to follow Jesus. Things changed dramatically around our house. We started, as a family to walk with Jesus. Less than two years later I too responded to the gospel, accepted Christ, and was baptized at Immanuel Baptist Church, Billings, Mont.

So I graduated from high school and went to college in Missouri having lost an appointment to the Air Force Academy due to medical issues. I graduated with a double major in finance and management. About the time I was ready to go into investment and portfolio analysis God called me into the ministry. Part of that call came while building and maintaining pipe organs and being in and out of more than 200 churches a year in the Midwest. This exposed me to a broad spectrum of church traditions and denominations. It was an eye-opening experience for a young man raised in small SBC churches in the North and West.

I met my wife Sarah, a Missouri farm girl, and high school math teacher at the time, as I was planning for seminary. We married and moved to Fort Worth in 1985 to attend SWBTS. I served as a ministerial intern at Gambrell Street Baptist Church when Frank Page was called as our pastor and became part of his staff prior to graduation from Seminary. Our first church after seminary was First Baptist Leeton, Missouri. After three years, God clearly called us to a smaller church in Sioux City, Iowa where we spent 11 wonderful years and watched God grow a great church. We saw the church grow from a weekly attendance of about 35 to around 500. We built two buildings and helped plant three churches. I served in a variety of leadership positions, including associational moderator, state convention president and president of the Evangelical Ministers Fellowship. My wife started an Upward Basketball community league and we helped launch World Changers and Disaster Relief ministry out of our church. We had a vision for being a Kingdom-focused church that would share its resources for the common good of the gospel. We wanted to be a part of the larger Baptist and evangelical witness of western Iowa.

The people of MWBC called us in May of 2002. I'm the team leader for six state staff missionaries and six associational missionaries/church starter strategists charged with reaching 10.8 million people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The task is immense and the workers are few. Many large SBC churches have vastly larger staffs than we have for impacting two entire states. Our budget is a little more than $2 million dollars most of which is invested in these missionaries and in the 20 church planters with whom we partner. We would not be able to do the work we do if it were not for the generosity of Southern Baptists in the South who give sacrificially through the Cooperative Program and through the work of the North American Mission Board.

I've been an interim pastor here in Rochester, Minn. and in Madison, Wis. Sarah and I have two daughters, Rachel who is 20 and a math major at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. and Lydia, 18, who graduated from Rochester Community and Technical College last week with an associate degree and will graduate two weeks from tomorrow from Mayo High School. She hopes to finish her pre-law bachelor's degree at the University of Hawaii.


Compiled by Baptist Press executive editor Will Hall.

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