NAMB is the talk of the convention right now. Or, at least it is in the top three of topics currently discussed at many denomination meetings. With the presidential vacancy at NAMB and the retirement announcements by Drs. Rankin and Chapman, plenty of people are wondering what will happen next.
Yesterday, the trustees made some helpful decisions: making Richard Harris the interim president, appointing Frank Page as Vice President of Evangelism, and appointing a search committee for a new president. Of course, that started some people talking more. Fair enough. These times of transition give us the opportunity to look with fresh eyes and think our way into the future. Which is always better than tripping into it carelessly.
In 1990, as he reflected on the history of the HMB, Ernest Kelley noted, “The Home Mission Board has been forced to prove its rightful and meaningful place in the life and work of Southern Baptists each generation.” So, right now, many opinions are being shared–some are heat, some light. But, as has been for the past decade, a large amount of heat is focused at NAMB.
Fair enough, but some have turned up the volume to 11 on their amplifier to make sure their voices are heard above all others. Perhaps this is a moment we should all take a deep breath.
NAMB’s mission is crucial. It is tasked to help our churches reach North America, and while our denominational membership may be in decline, the mission need is just as important.
As a former missionary, then a staff member, and now a friend of NAMB helping them do a research self study, I have a sometimes unique perspective on the organization’s inner workings. I don’t work for NAMB and have no obligation to defend it, but let me try to speak about the circumstances of that agency for just a moment. Yes, NAMB has had some hard times as of late. That is clear. But, just as when your family has difficulties, you pull together and discuss how to make things better–and that is where we are right now.
Let me say a few things about NAMB.
First, let me encourage you to give the benefit of the doubt to the NAMB trustees. Better yet, let’s not make them a collective noun. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to fellow believers like Tim Patterson, Tim Dowdy, Mike Palmer, and all trustee officers. They, and the men and women who serve as trustees, are seeking to guide this agency under difficult circumstances. They are not perfect, but neither should they be maligned.
I’ve never been trustee to any of our agencies. After the last few months, I’m glad of that. Being a trustee means you receive no credit when it all goes well and all of the blame when something goes wrong. As it is for now, the trustees have labored through a difficult decision (with recent leadership changes) and now they are signaling their commitment to continuing in their assigned mission. Good for them.
They deserve our prayers and encouragement to lean upon the counsel of Scripture to move the agency through the steps to come.
Second, the NAMB staff is committed to the mission of reaching North America through church planting, evangelism, and sending missionaries. The leadership issues at NAMB should not be used as an opportunity to disparage the staff. The men and women at the NAMB office faithfully serve our churches with consistency. They are a fine bunch of people who strive for excellence and work with integrity. None of us knows the future of the agency, but I know this–I trust that the NAMB staff will continue to assist SBC churches in our task of reaching North America with the gospel.
Even as we think about how to do our work better, let’s not forget that according to state convention reports, Southern Baptists begin 30 new churches each week. And, the convention has assigned NAMB much more than church planting. For example, NAMB’s “The Bridge” mobilizes 200,000 volunteers each year to engage in short term mission projects. And, the SBC-wide disaster relief fleet is up 1000% since NAMB began. I still remember being move to tears in the back of the Day Auditorium as I saw our Disaster Relief effort at work.
Third, the task is too critical to “put on hold.” Whatever happens in the future, NAMB cannot stop and wait for the next executive to be appointed. Personnel changes at a denominational agency–no matter their level–should not stifle the agency’s work for the Great Commission. NAMB’s evangelism, church planting, and missionary sending strategy must be clearly articulated and continually implemented. If we place the mission work in North America on pause because we need a new slate of executives at NAMB, then we have forgotten (or just plain neglected) just Who is the Head of the church. Thanks, NAMB trustees for seeing that and empowering Richard Harris as interim and appointing Frank Page as the new Vice President of Evangelism.
NAMB’s partnerships with states and associations must move forward. If we hesitate at this moment, many of our fellow pastors, church planters, and SBC members in pioneer areas will languish without the support and face stifling setbacks. We cannot pause while the convention ponders.
It is no secret that many Southern Baptists are discussing the best way to maximize our mission partnerships, and I think that is a helpful conversation. I’ve seen all sides of our system and it is healthy to do such self-evaluation. However, we can’t stop now. Until that conversation is over, we must work the partnerships we have. And we should work at them all the harder because of the need for unity in these days.
We need to pray for the trustees and staff at NAMB. As one who is passionate about reaching North America, I simply want NAMB to be active and working in their all-important task of seeing a missional movement take hold of our churches and lead to a spiritual awakening on our continent.
Let the chips fall where they may, but to the trustees and staff at NAMB–don’t stop now. And, to the rest of us, let’s all take a deep breath and let NAMB recover before we start saying what needs to happen next.
Ernest Kelley, “The Home Mission Board/State Cooperative Agreement” (1990), 2.