Monday, September 29, 2008

Southern Baptist Convention: "I'm a PC"

You know, sometimes I think that Southern Baptists get upset with the Southern Baptist Convention because of a basic mischaracterization that they make of our convention. They expect the SBC to be Apple, when really, the SBC is just Microsoft.

Apple designs things elegant and beautiful and enduring. Apple dazzles. Apple addresses people as more than producers of spreadsheets and acknowledges that nobody should waste a minute of this short life learning the nuances of the DOS Mode command. Apple brings you music and technicolor art, and yes, the occasional spreadsheet.

Microsoft buys out companies of other people who create things, mimics what appears to work, and then leverages what it can in the marketplace to squeeze out the less-business-savvy and make a profit.

The creators vs. the managers.

The Southern Baptist Convention stinks at creating. It always has. Indeed, this is endemic among most, if not all, Baptist cooperative bodies of churches. Creating is about risk and failure a thousand times over before you succeed. Bureaucrats are afraid of such things. The "shareholders" within the SBC have very little tolerance for them. Baptists in general and Southern Baptists in particular are GREAT at creating, just not our conventions and associations. Oh, I know that you'll want me to defend my little thesis here (as you'll see at the end, it isn't an accusation), so here goes:

The Baptist Missionary Society ("Mother" institution of the IMB and all other such Baptist bodies)
After Andrew Fuller and William Carey dreamed for quite some time of getting the Northamptonshire Baptist Association to undertake a project of worldwide missions, those interested finally went outside the local association and created a separate society to (ultimately) send William Carey to India.
John Mason Peck's "Western Mission" (predecessor and prototype to our Domestic Mission Board, now the major portion of NAMB)
Luther Rice and John Mason Peck had the entrepreneurial vision to build a mission to the great American interior frontier. The Triennial Convention's flirtation with the idea was brief and unspectacular. Rebuffed by the Baptist denomination in America, Peck and Jonathan Going carried on undeterred.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The SBC repeatedly lacked the capacity to embrace J. P. Boyce's vision for a Southern Baptist seminary. With three other founders, Boyce eventually raised the money on his own (indeed, much of it WAS his own) and launched the school. Once it was successful, of course, the SBC gladly took it over.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Let's give credit where credit is due: The Baptist General Convention of Texas did play a role in birthing SWBTS. But let's also not be so naïve as to miss B. H. Carroll's mammoth role in making SWBTS a reality. Once SWBTS was successful, of course, the SBC gladly took it over.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering
Lottie Moon begged for Southern Baptists to launch a special offering at Christmas for world missions, but with little success at first. The giant shadow that she cast was the immediate cause of our most successful special offering's coming to be.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief
Cameron Byler and Bob Dixon created SBC Disaster Relief in response to Hurricane Beulah in 1967, serving makeshift meals out of the back of a truck. Once DR was on its feet, the SBC gladly took it over.

I could give more examples, but I believe that these are enough at least to give my thesis a hearing. The SBC is the manager, not the creator. The SBC is Microsoft. Conventions don't create things; people do.

And I'm not saying that is a bad thing. Microsoft may not be cool, but it certainly is successful as a corporation (Yes, as a confirmed Macaholic, it pains me to say so!). Good ideas, once they have been innovated, often need a good manager to help them gain stability and endurance. With its Cooperative Program, boards of trustees, corporate and legal expertise, and extensive mailing list, the Southern Baptist Convention is in a great position to provide support to established movements, even if it is not nearly nimble enough to get them established in the first place, usually.

But even if it isn't a bad thing, it does suggest that you're likely to wind up really frustrated if you come to the SBC with all of the wrong, Appleish expectations:

  • If you have a great new vision from God for something spectacular to do as a cooperative ministry, don't go to the SBC to try to get them to do it. You go out and do it. After all, you're the one with the vision for it, right? If it proves to be something worthwhile and blessed with success, the SBC could prove very helpful later on, and will probably be quite interested.
  • Every so often, the SBC is going to restructure, reorganize, re-cast the vision, and the like. The Convention has to do this sort of thing for several reasons. First, as it acquires and imitates all of these great ideas of other people and institutions, the SBC accretes enough extras that it has to reorganize periodically to figure out where it all fits. Second, when contemporary cultural ideas about business organization change, an organization built around mimicry rather than original thinking is going to shift to reflect changes in the times. Third, nothing excites a manager more than tinkering with an organizational structure, whereas a creator probably tires pretty quickly of such things. There are other reasons, but I digress. The point is, these periodic restructurings normally are pretty benign, and you probably do yourself a service neither to place much hope in them nor to let them bother you that much.
  • Putting creative people into a managerial structure is not going to make the structure yield great creativity. It will likely make the creative people somewhat less creative and a good bit more productive. The best computer programmers I ever worked with were guys who liked to START programming in earnest around 10:30 PM and wind up debugging code at 3:40 AM with a Mountain Dew in one hand and a keyboard under the other. OK, some of them drank Jolt. In fact, they said that Jolt was the Microsoft programmer's drink, while Mountain Dew was the Mac programmer's drink. Why? Because Mountain Dew is WYSIWYP (I'm not going to spell it out for you). But I digress.

    The point is that managers want people to show up at 8:00 AM sharp and work normal hours, or maybe stay a little late. And, when programmers will stick to the managerial hours, they get more sleep and are probably more productive overall. But they are more creative when you let them live in their little idiosyncratic world.

    So, even if the SBC structure is helpful to creative people in some ways and may protect highly creative people from their own selves in a thousand different ways, many highly creative people are going to chafe under the restrictions of working as a denominational employee. Expect it. Expect to hear about it from them. But take it with a grain of salt. Because a lot of those folks would create beautiful, wonderful, imaginative ministries and blow them to smithereens in mere months without somebody holding their feet down to planet Earth.

  • When it comes to theology, creativity is almost always a really bad thing, unless you are THE Creator.
  • Having possessed the entrepreneurial derring-do to launch some wonderful ministerial effort, and knowing full well that a group like the Southern Baptist Convention would have been the first (may actually HAVE been the first) to turn its nose up at the riskiness of the proposition and entirely fail to see the vision that you saw, it takes a great deal of humility and a heart that cares about what gets done rather than who gets the credit to let go of that wonderful thing that you birthed and to place it into the hands of an institution like the SBC. But that's a formula that has worked well over and over, and you've probably done a wise and Christian thing in the long run when you've taken such an action.
  • Don't expect the SBC to inspire you. A great many PEOPLE in the SBC will greatly inspire you if you give them a chance. But in the long run, go to the Bible for inspiration. Let Jesus do that. Expect the SBC to provide this sometimes-bland, occasionally-restrictive, often-grounding framework that takes inspiration as input and churns out accomplishment. Not with perfect efficiency…no, not by a long shot. But with economies of scale that wild-eyed radicals often fail to appreciate.

Applying this to myself, I think that we ought to have a yearly special offering for our seminaries. Our professors live in near poverty. New Orleans seminary executives may soon appear on a street corner near you with an outstretched tin cup to help keep the seminary afloat financially. The lion's share of the Cooperative Program goes to entities that also collect enormous amounts of money OUTSIDE of the Cooperative Program.

It is my understanding that some people have taken this idea to the Executive Committee in the past, but have found no interest there. One shouldn't automatically take that as a sign of some sort of animosity on the part of the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee just isn't there to start successful things. If we were waiting for the Executive Committee to start something, we'd have no seminaries, no mission boards—we'd be sitting still in Kettering with the echoes of William Carey's deathless sermon still ringing throughout the room, destined to do nothing yet again.

So, I'm going to start just such an offering in my church. And maybe some other people will see the need and join me in the effort. And if it catches on, and if the Southern Baptist people make a success of it all, then the Executive Committee will come along and take it over, and somebody somewhere in a lavish Nashville office will take credit for the whole thing.

And that will be just fine by me.

25 comments:

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

Help me understand this proposal of you. You are going to start an offering in your church and the funds will be distributed between the professors and NOBTS. Am I understanding that right?

Blessings,
Tim

Joe White... said...

I too would like to hear more of this proposal. Is it still in the planning stage or do you have some details? Do you have a date in mind? How can others get involved? Call me curious, interested, perhaps willing.

bj said...

Should the mission boards start charging fees for applications, training, and internet usage?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thesis. I'm not the most creative (mac) but I can adapt the ideas of others (pc) fairly well. I've come to appreciate the "management side" of the sbc. It keeps us from chasing tangents, etc., though it also means we are slow to make even necessary changes. But God has certainly raised up many creative and visionary people within our convention. As an aside, John Mason Peck started a small seminary- ended long ago now- less than a mile from the church building where I pastor in IL. Great man. Doug Munton

Anonymous said...

Bart:

I personally believe that many people really have lost sight of what the SBC is.

I see it as a big pot into which money is put from the churches in friendly cooperation with the convention. The SBC meeting is also a time to elect the nominated trustees of the institutions. For me - that's it.

Of course the institutions do a whole lot, but other than the money, their operations are not dependent on a national SBC office.

I want the SBC to manage the money well, and I want them to "do no harm" to use the doctor's oath.

I appreciate the efforts, but I don't think that ministry emphases and such coming out of Nashville are really the things that I or my church are intersted in.

Your post is a good reminder of what the SBC is.

By the way, Southern has a foundation board that is very active and supplements Southern's annual budget. They may not be as good as an offering, but it's something.

Louis

volfan007 said...

Bart,

I hear what you're saying, and I appreciate where you're coming from; but I could not lead my Church to take up one more special offering. I mean, we're special offering'd to death. Lottie, Annie, State offering, childrens homes offering, the Gideons, etc.

I'd be all for raising the Profs salaries to a good level...for directing more CP monies to go that direction for it, but another offering?????

I cant see it.

David

Anonymous said...

Bart,
Sit down young man! When God wants to make the seminary professors rich, He can do so without your help or mine.

Seriously, maybe we should also remember the old line, “SBC headquarters is the local church.”

I think your post has answered a lot of questions and criticisms of many folks. Every pastor, especially those young and creative, ought to read it.
David R. Brumbelow

PS - Your idea has merit. Perhaps we should appoint a committee. Or a team.

Ben Macklin said...

Bart -

I believe that the local church autonomy within the convention argues against the x.comm having such a top-down, hierarchical relationship with the churches that comprise the convention. What you characterize as a weakness, I characterize as strength: the eyes of the convention search to and fro throughout the earth that they may strongly support those whose heart is true to them : ).

I don't understand the inner-workings of the convention like you do; maybe you could give examples of what you want them to do differently.

Ben

Tom Bryant said...

I think the main point about us being a pc rather than a forbidden fruit :-) is pretty accurate... But I would agree with David about not taking up another offering, especially with what our offering was last Sunday!

Anonymous said...

No thanks on the seminary offering. If we cannot get good profs at the current pay scales, then the market will take care of that.

That the SBC is not a creative powerhouse is plainly, and painfully, obvious. Give a high-powered SBaptist a position and a large budget and what do you get? Robert Reccord and expensive debacles.

SBC VBS materials were being by-passed in the 80s by independent publishers because they were inferior. We finally decided to do our own knockoffs of their creative work and I don't have to fight VBS workers who want independent materials.

SBC children's work (GAs, RAs etc) foundered while the creative and immensely popular Awana made its way into thousands of SBC churches. Finally, we do another knockoff, TeamKid, with modest success. Too late, Awana is the going program, not TeamKid.

The SBC indeed has a resounding success in disaster relief, whatever its origins. We also have some spectacular and expensive failures.

Some fresh thinking is needed here. Perhaps the younger leaders can do what the aging bureaucrats can not do.

William

John T. Meche III said...

Another one to add is that FAITH = Evangelism Explosion.

Bart Barber said...

Tim,

We would distribute the proceeds among the seminaries. No formula developed yet. I'm thinking that the first one might be heavily skewed toward NOBTS in light of their peculiar difficulties at the moment.

Bart Barber said...

Joe White,

Very much in the planning phase. Since a Seminary Day already exists, I'm leaning toward collecting the offering on that day in 2009.

Bart Barber said...

bj,

:-)

Bart Barber said...

Doug Munton,

Peck certainly was a great man. Christian expansion into Arkansas was greatly advanced by the Western Mission and its affiliated churches, so I owe him a debt myself.

Bart Barber said...

Louis,

It is indeed an important part of our ecclesiology to remember that the SBC is not a church. It is a means for churches to accomplish several ends. It does several things well, and that's why we stick with it.

Bart Barber said...

David,

That's the beauty of our polity. Your church doesn't have to collect any of the offerings that the SBC presently promotes, and certainly would never have to participate in this one.

Bart Barber said...

David Brumbelow,

I'm praying for your church in this time when you face the labors of Hercules. Thanks for stopping by to interact.

Bart Barber said...

Ben,

I think you need to re-read. I wasn't calling for the SBC to do anything differently.

Bart Barber said...

Tom Bryant,

As I told my good friend David Worley, nothing the SBC promotes is compulsory, and neither do the actions of my local church bind your congregation at all.

Bart Barber said...

William,

If you want creativity in the SBC, then just create. As your example demonstrates so well, the convention apparatus is much better at taking something already created and proven, and then giving it massive marketing and distribution. No new generation, no restructuring, no new vision, no great oracle from on high, is ever going to make such a large institution a bastion of creativity. And really, we don't even need it to be that. Create in your local church, and then let Lifeway promote what succeeds.

Bart Barber said...

John,

I think you meant CWT = Evangelism Explosion. FAITH was actually a good bit different.

Anonymous said...

Bart,
Thanks for your prayers.

Except for one whose house was badly flooded, and most being without electricity for more than a week, we suffered relatively minor damages from Hurricane Ike.

Pray especially for those at Gilchrist and the Bolivar Peninsula.

As usual, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers are doing a great ministry.
David R. Brumbelow

Tim G said...

Hey guys,
Switch over to a Faith Promise mission approach. rid yourselves of the special offerings and cover those needs in the Faith Promise list. Seminaries and more can be included and the people really get excited! I would still give to the CP but add this touch to increase missions and ministry giving without the special offerings approach that is becoming toooo MUCH!

Andrew said...

Not sure if anyone will actually see this comment, as it is QUITE late in its addition to this stream:

Have you done any more with your idea for a seminary offering? One problem I see is when the natural timing of that would fall. My first thought is to take up the offering on SBC Seminaries Sunday, but it often falls too close to Easter and the much-beloved Annie Armstrong offering (check the SBC calendar for the next few years--it's either the Sunday right before or the Sunday after)

Here's my suggestion: move Seminaries Sunday into August (thus halfway between Easter and Christmas and just after school gets back)

For completeness' sake here's all the ideas I've come up with thus far:

1) Call it the J.P. Boyce Seminary Offering, in memory of the first Southern Baptist to push for a seminary

2) Take it up on the second Sunday in August (Aug. 9 in 2009) for "Southern Baptist Seminaries Appreciation"

3) Distribute it to the seminaries as follows:

100% collected goes to seminaries (through Executive Committee), allocated based on the percentage of seminary students from that state at a certain seminary

e.g. - If 55 South Carolina students go to Southeastern, 15 go to Southern and Southwestern each, 10 go to New Orleans, 5 go to Midwestern, then:

55% of SC offering goes to Southeastern

15% goes to Southern and Southwestern each

10% goes to New Orleans

5% goes to Midwestern
4) Direct it to be used for:
1) further subsidy of seminary student tuition, explicitly not for use in baccalaureate programs, if tuition increases are being considered
2) faculty benefits and cost-of-living increases, if surplus allows

Thoughts/comments? For ease, I have set up a post of these ideas on my blog (adubhigg.wordpress.com).