Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NAMB: A Blunt, Imprecise History

I posted something else earlier, but I took it down and decided to save it for another time. While everyone is blogging about NAMB and Mary Branson's new book, I want to offer a brief (unusual for me, I know) thought for Southern Baptists to consider. I have not read the book yet (it is on the way), but what I have to say probably has little to do with the book.

The institution that is now known as NAMB has struggled to define itself since 1845. It has struggled to find good leadership since 1845. And since 1845, Southern Baptists have regularly reshuffled and reorganized this institution, throwing at it all of the odds and ends of our denominational life. Just consider the names it has held down through the years.

  1. Board of Domestic Missions
  2. Domestic and Indian Mission Board
  3. Domestic and Indian Mission and Sunday School Board
  4. Home Mission Board
  5. North American Mission Board
Each of those changes involved the folding in of new responsibilities and a reorganization of the board. The last of those was in 1995, when our Covenant for a New Century completely reorganized the SBC and threw all the leftover scraps into NAMB.

The scraps are not garbage. So many of the individual ministries inside NAMB are incredible success stories that we need (Disaster Relief is a prominent example that comes to mind, but there are others). Others are areas of pervasive need with few successes (like the evangelization of our major cities in the North). Some of these areas of failure are not NAMB's fault—carrying the gospel to Boston is not an easy assignment. But with the organization focused on so many different, unrelated things, one wonders how it could be expected to maintain institutional focus for such an important task.

I do not work for NAMB. I do not know many people who work for NAMB. In no way can I give you an inside story about NAMB's achievements, failures, structure, etc., as regards the present day. But as a Baptist historian, I can absolutely tell you this: If the North American Mission Board today has a well-defined, well-understood, well-led, well-executed sense of its nature and mission, then this is virtually the first time in 160 years that such has been the case.

Surely somebody, somewhere in the SBC is the person to solve this and lead NAMB to do what we so desperately need it to do. If past history is a guide, the question will be whether such a person is interested in the assignment.

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