Let’s All Take a Deep Breath about NAMB

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.”[1] 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.


[1]Ernest Kelley, “The Home Mission Board/State Cooperative Agreement” (1990), 2.

  13Comments

  1. Tony Gulbrandsen   •  

    I agree with not disparaging the personnel at NAMB and that the mission can not stop.

    I must say this, however, as a church in a “pioneer” area (I am an SBC pastor in Wisconsin): I do not feel that an organization headquartered in the “deep” south can understand what it takes to plant a church up here. I have seen planters mandated to use methods that would probably work well in the Bible Belt but have little to no effectiveness up here. I have seen planters with mandated time lines for funding that discount the tremendous amount of time relationship building takes here. There seems to be no commitment from NAMB on reaching people and much more commitment on increasing numbers. This concerns me greatly.

    Let me re-iterate, I don’t intend this to be leveled at any person. I think it is the fruit of a bureaucracy that is trying to be all things to all people. And it is just not working.

    I submit that a better formula than what is happening now in church planting would be to “funnel” the funds through an established SBC church. Allow the “sponsoring” church to make the decisions on continued funding or draw down time. These are the people who should be the most intimately involved with the plant. Let them be the “fruit inspectors” of the planter. If the sponsoring church sees issues, let them notify NAMB that the funding is no longer needed or will be drawn down.

    Someone will say, “What about accountability?” I say, “Trust God.” We have heard of abuses in our current system. I submit that my proposal is no more or less accountable than the current system.

    But that is just the opinion of a true, small-church (less than 50) pastor.

    Blessings.

  2. Allen Ballard   •  

    I agree with the comments made here. As being one of the missionaries that recieve funding from NAMB I am fully supportive of the direction that we as a convention are taking. We in Michigan have more people in our great state than 42 other states have as total populations. With that said we must never take our eye off goal of reaching others for Jesus Christ and Kingdom growth, starting new churches, making and growing deciples. If that is our goal and that is our heart as Southern Baptist’s, then should that not be where we work the hardest at? We thank God for leaders that are leading our convention and our states to build the Kindom of God

  3. Tim   •  

    Ed…Amen!

  4. Tom Fillinger   •  

    The issue for Denominational entities as with a local church is PURPOSE. What is the PURPOSE of NAMB? What is the PURPOSE of the SBC? What is the PURPOSE of the church where I serve as Pastor? There is a single answer to each question I just posed. That answer is to “Make Disciples fully formed in the image of Christ.”

    It is not to make converts. It is not to by any means elicit ‘professions of faith’ only to never see the person darken the door of that assembly again. It is not to rack up baptisms. It is not to gather crowds, ever larger, ever more impressive.

    Why do I put such focus on these issues? Because they are the very metric by which ministry is evaluated; effective or deficient. More is always good. Bigger is always better.

    I have corresponded with many SBC leaders on this issue (Rainer, Stetzer, Austin, Aiken). I produced very substantive, civil, kind, passionate and exegetically precise correspondence seeking to focus on this issue of PURPOSE – “Making Disciples’.

    I received cordial but hollow responses. When the very crucial question is posed as to what is a Disciple and how do we measure Transformation (Metrics), the communication ceases. In one case I was told simply – – “The churches will not complete the ACP now. If we add this additional requirement no one will fill out the form”. Any freshman in college can see through this logic. It is apparently more important to ‘fill out forms’ than it is to make disciples and to measure our effectiveness in that glorious task with precision and exegetical accuracy. Apparently we fear seeing the light of reality shined on our labors. God help us!

    The time for corporate comprehensive repentance has come. Stop protecting territories. Stop measuring ministry by activity (ad nauseum) and begin to measure ministry by the genuine God enabled Transformation of His people with humility and precision.

    I will say without hesitation or apology, when we do that, all this barking and sniping will be gone and God, the Sovereign of the Ages, will cause His Truth to sweep across America and the Globe. We will find harmony and co-operation in abundance. He will use us, imperfect, flawed sinners redeemed by Grace to accomplish his PURPOSE.

    The most crucial question we face is – “What is our PURPOSE?”

  5. Troy Bush   •  

    Future plans or changes at the NAMB, the IMB, or the Executive Committee of the SBC do not change what I should be doing, thinking, or praying today.

  6. Louis   •  

    There is a healthy balance between disclosure, the expressions of opinion, and keeping the big picture in mind.

    As far as the big picture is concerned, we all want NAMB and its mission to prosper, even if that means we later decide to fold NAMB into the IMB.

    So all expressions of public opinion should be balanced and based on knowledge from full disclosure. And it’s important that comments have some balance.

    One of the things that bothers me most about opinionated people (I confess to being one), SBC life, and the SBC blogsophere is the complete lack of balance. People are cast as wearing black hats or white hats. The comments are extreme, over the top, and are often made from the mindset of expecting the worst out of people.

    I endorse your suggestion that we be gracious. Even if we disagree on what has been done at NAMB or what will be done with NAMB, it seems that a sense of proportion is in order, especially in view of the importance of NAMB’s mission.

    Let me add, however, that disclosure is an important component of this picture.

    Trust and confidence are based on honesty and disclosure. A lack of disclosure breeds suspicion and mistrust.

    Given the unfortunate history of NAMB in its leadership and trustee governance prior to Dr. Hammond, Southern Baptists are not without reason to be concerned.

    Also, the imbroglio involving Dr. Hammond is a concern for many. I am not going to list all of the particular concerns. We have all heard them. They relate to dismissing someone who had not yet even had a good opportunity to move NAMB forward, trustee division, an extremely divisive trustee meeting where a special parliamentarian was flown in to interpret Robert’s Rules of Order. The minority trustee’s motions, questions, and attempts to hear from other staff who supported Dr. Hammond etc. were ruled out of order. I hear all the time from people who ask questions about all of this.

    Some of these same concerns are/were being vocalized regarding Clark Logan’s forced resignation at the Executive Committee. There, the issue was the executive leadership, and whether leadership was being exercised properly and fairly, and not simply by fiat.

    All of the SBC agencies should be open and transparent. When the trustees or executives need to make a change, it is appropriate to give the benefit of the doubt.

    But the other side, those trustees and executives who are leading the SBC agencies need to be transparent and open about decisions. And the decisions should be handled reasonably, as good business people who do, even it some of us might have made a different decision.

    I am hoping and trusting that things go really well of NAMB and the new leadership.

    But I am also hoping that the SBC and her agencies can move toward a culture of openness that brings trust, and not toward a culture of personal fiefdoms and leaders (trustees or executives) using their positions for personal privilege.

    A climate of complete disclosure will help us to continue to move in the right direction.

    Louis

  7. jack   •  

    How can anybody be expected to take a big breath when you say that NAMB IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE CHURCHS! ALL the money NAMB gets is from the churchs. The churchs don’t need SBC to survive. They-all entities- need the churchs. I hope you don’t find this out.

  8. jack   •  

    MY MISTAKE ! ! YOU DID NOT SAY THAT NAMB IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE CHURCHS. The rest stands.

  9. Dr. Terry W. Dorsett   •  

    Thanks for your thoughtful ideas. I thought your opening statement was interesting, that NAMB was a top topic of conversation in the SBC. I suppose it might be in your area, but in Vermont, where I have served as a church planting missionary with NAMB for the past 16 years, we are just too busy starting churches and sharing Jesus to “talk about NAMB.” What we talk about most is the great lostness around us and what we need to be doing to engage the lost culture with the Gospel. All those trustees and committees and people in offices somewhere will figure out the organizational stuff eventually. Meanwhile, those of us in Vermont (and other pioneer mission areas too) will just keep doing what God has called us to do. Eventually someone will send us a new form to fill out, or tell us we now work for a new organization, etc, but in the end, we will just keep doing what God has called us to do.
    Larry Lewis (of the old HMB) gave me some great advice when I first became a missionary, “Trust the Lord, not the Board.” That was good advice. It’s worked for me for the past 16 years. I think it will keep right on working during and after whatever “crisis” occurs in organziational structures.
    So take a deep breath if you need to, and then instead of wasting time talking about organizational structure, go next door and tell your neighbor about Jesus!

  10. doug munton   •  

    Ed, Thank you for your encouraging words for NAMB. NAMB has so many wonderful employees, trustees and missionaries and such an important responsibility to fulfill. I’m praying God’s greatest blessings upon her future! Doug Munton

  11. Roger Simpson   •  

    Louis:

    I was concerned about the situation with the IMB BoT. There was quite a bit of noise one or two years ago regarding the real or perceived infighting on the IMB BoT.

    I decided to investigate this myself. I “got permission” to attend a sesson of the IMB BoT myself. In addition to the plenary meeting I was able to attend a number of other business meetings. I was assisted by several current and former senior people at the IMB who facilitated my attendance at these meetings.

    I paid my travel & hotel bill when I attended the Jacksonville BoT meeting.

    My point is this: If you want to penetrate what is going on at the NAMB BoT then show up at the trustee meeting yourself. If the IMB is any indication as to what you might expect at the NAMB, then I think you will be able to find out quite a bit about what is going on. If you ask committee chairs ahead of time, it is quite likely that they will give you permission to attend their working meetings if you agree to a few ground rules such as — no laptops taking notes, etc.

    At the IMB I had pretty wide access to quite a few meetings. I didn’t even ask to attend the “forum” and several other meetings but I did attend quite a few meetings besides the plenary session. My attendance was conditional on me following a few groundrules which I observed.

    I wrote a report about my experiences and put it on my personal website. I offered on-my-own to run my report by Dr. Mike Hand at the IMB before putting it up on my website. Dr. Hand did not censure it in any way.

  12. Louis   •  

    Roger Simpson:

    You always make such great, wise comments. I enjoy dialoguing with you.

    The only meeting that I was referring to was the meeting to terminate Dr. Hammond. I would think that all other meetings of the NAMB would be public.

    That meeting was closed. The special parliamentary procedures that I wrote about were employed. Many people are concerned that Dr. Hammond was not fairly treated in that meeting. The same thing is true with respect to Mr. Logan.

    I agree with you in the main – that the SBC agencies are more open than the meetings of other church and non-profit world.

    But since the post was a call to take a deep breath about NAMB (which, I am sure you noted – I agree with) one of the things that I suggested was to provide more disclosure about Dr. Hammond’s termination (a/k/a resignation). And the same thing applies to Mr. Logan’s departure.

    Even if that doesn’t happen, as I said, I am going to support NAMB and the EC. It’s just that disclosure is a good way to build trust, especially as it relates to recent events that have caused concern.

    Hope I get to meet you someday.

    Louis

  13. Roger Simpson   •  

    Louis:

    I agree with your call for more openness. I don’t know if this should extend to public release of all information regarding a person’s termination or not.

    In any case, I think NAMB is making progress:

    (a)The church planting portion of NAMB remains on solid footing.

    (b) The evangelism portion of NAMB seems to be ramping back up as is evidenced by the “demonstration” GPS [God’s plan for sharing] projects which happened in the Altanta Georgia area and in the Inland Empire area of California. [The Inland Empire is San Bernardino and Riverside counties].

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