The Cooperative Program and the Road to Serfdom

The Cooperative Program and the Road to Serfdom

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the one of the largest Christian denominations in the world[1]; it is one which holds a biblically sound statement of faith.[2] The SBC is known far and wide for its emphasis on evangelical mission work and biblically conservative stance on social issues. Though the SBC is widely-known, many people know very little about its operations: how it is organized, how it is led, and how it is funded. For example, many Southern Baptists might be surprised to find out that the Southern Baptist Convention has no assets, no employees, owns no property, and only exists for two days a year.[3]  The Southern Baptist Convention itself is a yearly gathering of independent member churches. During this annual gathering (called a “convention”), member church representatives elect leaders to administer Southern Baptist causes on a day-to-day basis. These causes, which operate throughout year, are funded through the voluntary giving of independent member churches. The lion’s share of this funding comes through what is known as “Cooperative Program” giving. The Cooperative Program has served to fund Southern Baptist operations since 1925.[4] Unfortunately, the Cooperative Program is outmoded. To make matters worse, Cooperative Program monies are being used to fund initiatives, at a national level, that many Southern Baptist laypeople would find objectionable if they only knew about them. Cooperative Program giving arguably supports what has become a top-heavy, bureaucratic, politically-motivated, money-centered religiopolitical empire that is operated by a class of clerical elites who do not represent Southern Baptist interests at a grass roots label.  A number of factors, the chief of which may be ignorance, allow the situation to persist. The existence of this problem situation calls for a review of the history of the Cooperative Program, a survey of Southern Baptist entities, an analysis of the economic effectiveness and efficiency of the Cooperative Program, a biblical reflection on Southern Baptist Stewardship and ecclesiology, and, most importantly, a solution and call to action. The solution and call to action are both simple and locally-focused: local churches should support their preferred Southern Baptist denominational causes, if any, by giving around the Cooperative Program and directly to Southern Baptist entities and missionaries.

A New Deal: The Birth of the Cooperative Program

“What the Hoover Dam became to agriculture and industry in the southwestern United States, the Cooperative Program would become to Southern Baptists.  The same superlative evaluation made by President Roosevelt concerning the Hoover Dam is fitting for the Cooperative Program.”[5] Chad Owen Brand and David Hankins

“…people who are concerned about the economy need to take a closer look at history. We deserve something better than repeating the 1930s disasters…No matter how much worse things got after government intervention under Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, the party line was that he had to ‘do something’ to get us out of the disaster created by the failure of the unregulated market” Thomas Sowell[6]

The Southern Baptist Convention was created in 1845 for the purpose of “organizing a plan for eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the whole (Baptist) denomination in one sacred effort for the propagation of the gospel.”[7]  This effort would require funding.  Until 1925, the Southern Baptist Convention largely financed its denominational enterprises through boots-on-the-ground fundraising efforts.    The representatives of these denominational enterprises would hit the road, like old-time Methodist circuit riders, and solicit individual SBC churches for financial support.   “Sunday by Sunday,  fund-raisers from seminaries and colleges, orphanages and hospitals, mission boards and benevolent organizations fanned out among the churches asking the faithful for help…the costs of raising the money sometimes approached 50 percent of the proceeds…churches were beleaguered by an endless stream of denominational representatives needing ‘pulpit time’ to make their appeals.”[8]  For example, a representative from the Foreign Mission board might solicit funds from a church in June.  In July, a representative from a seminary might solicit funds from the same church.  The mission board representative, by virtue of his earlier arrival, might receive more giving.  Conversely, the seminary representative might receive more giving by virtue of a superior speaking ability.  Such potentialities resulted in an unequal distribution of denominational giving.  “The more popular, or perhaps the swifter, received a disproportionate share of the earnings.”[9]  In order to ensure a more even distribution of denominational giving, the Cooperative Program was created.  The Cooperative Program created a central source of funding for SBC enterprises.  To do so, it became a central recipient of giving.  In a sense, the Cooperative Program was created to spread the wealth.

In their book, One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program and Southern Baptists, authors Chad Owen Brand and David E. Hankins liken the inception of the Cooperative Program in the 1920s to another “visionary plan”[10] plan of the Progressive Era.  This “visionary” plan was that of the construction of the Hoover Dam.  “(The) Hoover Dam was just the first prominent example of the state-directed and state-funded industrialization of the Pacific states…bringing the Far West much closer to the industrial policy of pre-and postwar Japan and rather distant from ‘the natural workings of the market.’”[11]  Upon his first glimpse of the Hoover Damn, English novelist J.B. Priestly remarked, “Here is the soul of American under socialism”[12]  The Hoover Dam, the construction of which was begun under the administration of Hebert Hoover and completed under that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, epitomizes New Deal-era progressive socialism. The analogy drawn by Brand and Hankins between the Cooperative Program and the Hoover Dam, then, is an appropriate one because so, too, does the Cooperative Program.  The Cooperative Program, like the New Deal, is a product of 1920s-era centrally planned progressivism.  It collects wealth from a large body and puts it under the control of central decision makers, who presumably know how best how to redistribute it.  The progressive nature of their denominational financing program may seem surprising to modern-era Southern Baptists who are generally associated with conservative, free-market republican or libertarian leanings.[13]  However, progressive democrats dominated the Political landscape of the southern United States (which was and is Southern Baptist country) during the Progressive Era.[14]  In keeping with progressive thought, Southern Baptists of the time rejected the soliciting of funds by individual entities at individual churches in favor of a centralized means of collecting and spending (the Cooperative Program) managed by top-level bureaucrats.

Funding SBC Entities

“I believe in the Cooperative Program because it is the best means of mission support in the world.” Don Hattaway, Georgia Baptist Convention President[15]

“While Central Planning may no longer be a credible form of economic organization, it is clear that the intellectual battle for its rival-free market capitalism and globalization-is far from won.” Alan Greenspan[16]

“For years, (the Cooperative Program) made it possible for small churches to be a part of sending missionaries to distant countries and obscure parts of the United States…With improved communication, transportation, and technology, today’s small churches can easily be involved in mission causes around the world…the Cooperative Program now supports astronomical salaries for agency CEOs, maintenance of huge agency office buildings, and programs that are duplicated in state conventions, associations, and local churches.”[17]  Even though local churches no longer need the Cooperative Program to participate in world missions, many still fund it.  In doing so, they place their dollars in the hands of an oligarchy of elite power brokers.  “These leaders – some estimate their number to be about 35 – make many SBC decisions in restaurants and motel rooms long before motions are officially made on the floor of the annual Convention.  This small group of powerful leaders are the ones spending the money for more than 16 million Southern Baptists.”[18]  These elite central planners distribute Cooperative Program money that the SBC receives to four of six primary Southern Baptist causes: The International Mission Board, The North American Mission Board, six Southern Baptist Seminaries, and The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  The remaining two causes, LifeWay Christian Resources and Guidestone Financial Resources are self-supporting.

 The International Mission Board

The International Mission Board (IMB) employs a force of thousands of missionaries all around the world.  As of 2004, “the number of missionaries was approaching 5,300.  These missionaries and overseas groups they work with started 21,000 new churches and baptized 600,000 in 2004.  The total 2004 budget of the IMB was $242,526,532[19].  Cooperative Program support provides about 35% of this budget while the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions provides about 55 percent.”[20]   As of 2015, IMB budget has grown to $3,011,000,000.[21]  As of May 13, 2015, there were 4,743 missionaries on the field.[22]  IMB missionaries are expected to affirm the confession of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The North American Mission Board

“Most Southern Baptists are completely clueless about how their denomination has supported its domestic mission efforts in the decades since World War II. This ignorance is not limited to the average layperson in the pew but is shared by most pastors as well…This reflects a widespread failure on the part of Southern Baptist leaders at the national, state, association, and local church levels to do meaningful missions and stewardship education…” Glen A Land[23]

The North American Mission (NAMB) board is the domestic counterpart of the International Mission Board.  “In conjunction with the Baptist state conventions, NAMB supports approximately five thousand missionaries in North America.  These missionaries are involved in numerous assignments such as church planting, chaplaincy, resort missions, social ministries, and so forth.  Southern Baptists, under the NAMB’s strategy, have been starting approximately seventeen hundred new churches a year for the last several years.  The 2004 budget was $118,285,000.  The Cooperative Program provided more than 36 percent of that total while the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions provided 43 percent.”[24]  As of 2015, IMB budget has grown to $121,550.[25]

Seminaries

There are six Southern Baptist seminaries. They are located in California, Missouri, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Texas.  They vary in size and enrollment.  “The six seminaries educated over fifteen thousand different students in 2003-04 at a cost of about $110,000,000.  The Southern Baptist Cooperative Program provided over $40,000,000 to this cause.”[26]  Southern Baptist seminaries are also funded by tuition, fees, and private donations.  Non-Southern Baptist students can enroll; however, instructors are expected to teach in accordance with the confession of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is the lobbying arm of the Southern Baptist Convention and maintains offices in Nashville and Washington, D.C.  “With twenty-four staff members and a 2003-2004 CP allocations of $2,825,268…With regular print and electronic media and a daily radio broadcast, the ERLC endeavors to keep Baptists and others informed and motivated about moral, cultural, and civic concerns.  The total budget in 2003-2004 was $3,385,177.”[27]   The 2014 ERLC budget was 3,190,000.[28]

LifeWay Christian Resources & GuideStone Financial Resources

LifeWay Christian Resources and GuideStone Financial Resources are controlled by the Southern Baptist Convention but are not supported by Cooperative Program Funding.  These entities are self-supporting.  LifeWay Christian Resources evolved out of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board.  LifeWay “produces literature, Bible studies, training materials, conferences, music, and much more for all age groups and sizes and churches and organizations.  LifeWay is a very large corporation with a budget of over $450,000,000 (2004) and around fifteen hundred employees.  LifeWay Christian Resources has never received Cooperative Program funds from the Southern Baptist Convention but is self-supporting.  It invests a significant amount in Southern Baptist missions and ministries worldwide.”[29]  Guidestone Financial Resources, formerly the “Annuity Board”, provides financial and insurance services for denominational employees, seminary students, and pastors.  It supports itself through the fees it charges for providing these services.

Economics, the Anointed Class, and the SBC Demographic

“On both sides of the Atlantic, it is only a little overstated to say that we preach individualism and competitive capitalism, and practice socialism.” Milton Friedman

All Cooperative Program money is passed through state conventions, which take a cut of it to fund their own initiatives, before it is passed along to the national convention. For example, an SBC church in the state of Kentucky may send in $100 to the Kentucky Baptist Convention through the Cooperative Program.  The Kentucky state convention would keep $50 and send the remaining $50 to the national Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.[30]  Cooperative Program money passes through at least three levels of bureaucracy before it is spent: the state convention, the national convention, and the national entity.  Often these bureaucracies are headed by a member of the evangelical intelligentsia who is famous among denominationally-minded pastors but largely unknown to every-day pew-sitting Southern Baptists.  A bureaucratic intelligentsia distributing funds as it sees fit runs contrary to the political and economic views of most contemporary Southern Baptists, who, as Republicans and Libertarians, tend to favor local control and streamlined organizations.  The divide between the economic theory that drives the Cooperative Program and the economic theory that underlies free-market conservatism may be widened by the mindset of the pastors who champion the program.  Pastors who study subjects such as theology, music, and church education in bible colleges and seminaries largely do not receive instruction that focuses on economic theory as a part of their schooling.  They are, however, educated about the importance of funding the Cooperative Program, a program which in many cases subsidizes the cost of their educations.

The modern Southern Baptist Convention is essentially what Hoover Institute economist, Thomas Sowell, might call a “Vision of the Anointed.”  In his book of the same name Sowell describes a class of political elites, an intelligentsia, who are under the impression that they know what is best for people of lesser wisdom and should be given the power to structure society as they see fit.  This vision, the vision of the anointed,[31] is prominent in progressive democratic political circles.  Strangely enough, it is also prominent in the Sothern Baptist Convention.  The Anointed Class is not to be questioned.  “This (liberal) vision so permeates the media and academia, and has made such major inroads into the religious community, that many grow into adulthood unaware that there is any other way of looking at things, or that: evidence: might be relevant to checking out the sweeping assumptions of so-called ‘thinking people’. Many of these ‘thinking people’ could more accurately be characterized as: articulate: people, as people whose verbal nimbleness can elude both evidence and logic. This can be a fatal talent, when it supplies the crucial insulation from reality behind many historic catastrophes…”[32]  Those who accept the vision of the anointed “are deemed to be not only factually correct but morally on a higher plane.  Put differently, those who disagree with the prevailing vision are seen as not being not merely in error, but in sin.”[33]  Southern Baptist preachers are both articulate and highly respected among their constituencies; perhaps more so than any other group of men.  Those who support the Cooperative Program and heavy denominational influence possess the verbal nimbleness to defend their vision.  Dissent from every day Baptists to the vision of denominational leadership has been condemned at both the state and national level.

As the information age has made it easier to disseminate news to the masses, bloggers have become some of the most vocal and effective critics of SBC leadership.  This led the Georgia Baptist Convention, in 2007, to pass a resolution condemning blogging about Baptist matters.[34]  At the same time, the Georgia Convention approved a $52.3 million dollar Cooperative Program Budget.  In 2015, ERLC communications specialist, Samuel Jones, admonished readers to never start a watchdog blog.[35]  People outside of the know are encouraged to keep any objections out of the public eye, in deference to the judgment and reputation of the anointed class.

The anointed class of the SBC almost wholeheartedly endorses the Cooperative Program, which funds their own power and influence (at the expense of smaller, low-profile churches and their pastors), while completely ignoring the fact that there is a lack of economic evidence which indicates that the Cooperative Program is the best way to spend Southern Baptist money.  According to the free-market, local-control-oriented worldview of the average American conservative, such a program is folly.  The Cooperative Program is liberal progressivism in the hands of purportedly conservative theologians.  It should not escape notice that Cooperative Program was accepted by liberal progressives for years until they were ousted from the convention during the Conservative Resurgence Era.  The conservatives who took control of the convention pushed for strong doctrinal standards but maintained the liberal progressive way of funding the convention.  It funds their power and influence.  It funds their vision, whatever it may be.

It is becoming more and more expected of pastors in the convention to take on the role of the “vision caster” of their church.  According to the Pastor Emeritus of mega-church First Baptist Houston and oft-feature NAMB speaker, John Bisagno, “The pastor must be the vision caster. This means he must have a vision to cast, which presupposes time with God to receive the vision.”[36]  Bisagno is but one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s vaunted leadership gurus from the mega-church mold.  These gurus espouse what is known as a “Moses Model”[37] of church leadership in which a pastor runs a top-down organization like a CEO rather than providing boots-on-the-ground care to members of the flock.  In Pastor’s Handbook (which is offered for sale at NAMB church planting courses and assigned in SBC seminary classes), Bisagno states “Pastor those who pastor others. You must give primary attention to your leaders and their families. Most church members in the hospital may get only a phone call from the pastor. The chairman of deacons gets a visit.”[38]  The modern mega-church pastor, supposedly anointed with a vision for the people from God, is too busy managing a large organization from the top down to provide low-level pastoral care to non-leaders.  His job is to cast a vision.  Another church leadership guru, Aubrey Malphurs, wrote in his book, Being Leaders: The Authentic Nature of Christian Leadership, “A vision is the future of the ministry. Far too many churches remain stuck in the past, usually twenty to thirty years behind the culture. The vision forces them to think in terms of the future.  God uses it to help them see what their future could be.  While we can’t predict the future, the vision will…People walk away from a vision-casting session talking about what must be.”[39]  Whatever such an esoteric vision actually is, it is clear from the Baptist leadership gurus that it is bestowed by God upon anointed CEO-type pastors and it should not be questioned.

Such leaders, divorced from the responsibility of everyday pastoral care, have a greater amount of time to manage denominational concerns.  It has become expected that they should lead the Convention as a whole.  Former SBC Second VP and popular Baptist blogger Dave Miller once stated in bluntly, “Let’s face it folks, the job of SBC president is a mega-job. Mega-church pastors are mega-church pastors because they are wired that way. Their gifts, personality, calling – however you bill it.  Maybe, somewhere there is a pastor of a small-to-medium church who is able to handle this job. But guys like that usually move up.  The mega church pastors have extensive staff to keep the home-fires burning while they are out doing their denominational service. In a mega-church, the Senior Pastor is a vision-caster and idea-guy who doesn’t involve himself beyond preaching Sunday and vision-casting for the church. He’s less hands-on than pastors like me. So, while he’s out and about he can continue some of that vision-casting (I actually hate that word!) and preaching and let his staff carry on.”[40]  Even medium-sized church pastors like Dave Miller are resigned the notion that the type of pastors who “moves up”[41] is the only type of pastor suitable to run the convention.    Yet, these mega-church pastors are not representative of rank-and-file Southern Baptists.  They are a self-appointed anointed class and this class has great influence on the next of its members to be chosen for lucrative, high-profile leadership positions.

Rarely does one of the anointed fail to take his turn leading the convention. In 2006, current SBC President Ronnie Floyd actually lost an election after being nominated by former President and fellow megapastor, Johnny Hunt.  “Johnny Hunt nominated Floyd in 2006, stating that he was convinced that Ronnie Floyd was ‘the man God raised up” for the job.’  God must have disagreed with Johnny Hunt; Floyd was soundly defeated by Frank Page.  As it turns out, other Southern Baptists were not as impressed with Floyd as Hunt was.  At the time of his first nomination, Floyd’s church gave 0.27 percent of its budget to the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program.  This caused the senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Mike Stone, to write, ‘In thousands of churches this fall, faithful pastors will face skeptical finance committees at budget preparation time.  He will go out to bat to keep CP giving strong even in light of building programs and tight budgets.  The last thing that warrior needs is for his finance committee chairman to…read that Southern Baptists elected a president whose church gave .27 percent.’”[42]   Floyd clearly failed to win his first election because he did not to kick-up enough of his mega-church’s multi-million dollar revenue to the convention’s Cooperative Program.  This evidences the existence of a perverse incentive in the Southern Baptist Convention.  A pastor’s fitness to lead is judged by the amount of money he can raise for the convention.  If a pastor wants to be a leader, he is encouraged to adopt a Moses Model, try to get a job at a bigger church, and transfer local control of his church’s money to the national convention.  This is politicking at its worst.  Furthermore, it encourages economically unwise central planning.  Local people know how best to spend their own money.  The Cooperative Program takes this money out of the hands of local decision makers and passes it through a multi-level bureaucracy stocked with partisans of those at the top. “It all boils down to a simple formula: The extent of misuse is directly proportionate to the distance between the giver and the spender.”[43]

Controversies and Mismanagement

“Though we may sometimes be forced to choose between different evils, they remain evils.” F. A. Hayek

“Hear the sirens, Hear the circus so profound.
I hear the sirens, more & more in this here town” Eddie Vedder

Problems within Southern Baptist entities are legion.  In a fallen world, it’s simply a fact of life that there will be corruption in any organization.  Powerful and wealthy organizations like the SBC are bound to draw individuals who are, at their core, greedy and unChristlike.  This unfortunate reality should not completely discourage the creation of cooperative Christian organizations but should cause their participants to be leery of potential of misdeeds: both accidental and purposeful.  Some people are just incompetent, not nefarious.  It can be hard to tell the difference.  In the end, givers to SBC entities can consider definite results even if the motives of offenders’ hearts are unknown.  The consideration of definite results should include the consideration of accountability.  Those who commit misdeeds, whether purposeful or accidental, should be held accountable.  Often times, they are not.

Of all the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention, the most egregious one is the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  This entity essentially provides culture warriors to see to the political interests of the SBC.  Given that, historically, the church has essentially thrived under persecution and that Christians are truly citizens of heaven, there is some question as to whether or not a denominational body should even concern itself with temporal political affairs to the level of having hired lobbyists.  In any case, the SBC does so at great expense.   Outspoken pastor Dr. Randy White has decried the ERLC as “a huge waste of money,” which has “become (again) a left-leaning social-justice agency of the SBC.”[44]  To put the spending of the ERLC in perspective, Gospel for Asia could put 8,861 national missionaries on the ground for one year for the amount of money budgeted to the ERLC by the SBC in 2014.[45]   Rather than cost-effectively sponsor foreign missions through the IMB or other organizations, the ERLC pays administrative costs for high-paid lobbyists in an expensive city like Washington, D.C.   Despite their efforts, “gay marriage” is making inroads in the United States and abortion is still legal and commonplace.  In another blunt statement Dave Miller wrote, “I can say that in my 30 years of ministry in Baptist churches, the ERLC (and its predecessor) have made no discernible impact on the work I have done or the churches I have served.”[46] Not only are ERLC lobbyists not needed and not cost effective, they seem to be underperforming.  To make matters worse, some of the political stances being taken up by the ERLC seem to run against the grain of those of every day Baptists. ERLC president Russell Moore was formerly a staffer for a democratic congressman[47] and has been shown to act like a progressive.  While taking up support of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, Moore referred to Jesus as an “illegal immigrant”.[48] More recently, Moore advised a fellow Christian that he could be supportive of gay loved ones by attending a reception that celebrated a “gay marriage.”[49]  Unlike most Southern Baptists, the people who actually fund Moore’s salary at a grass roots level, Moore comes off as very liberal.  For some, Moore is a refreshing change from former long-time ERLC president Richard Land, who resigned among allegations of racial insensitivity and plagiarism.[50]  However, although he challenges the status quo, Moore is just a different kind of wrong.  He has even hired a different kind of employee at the ERLC; a number of his hires were not even Southern Baptist at the time of their offer of employment with the ERLC.[51]  The ERLC should not exist at all, especially with Moore at its helm.  The “ethical” needs of the convention can be fulfilled by academics.  Seminary ethics and philosophy professors can stake out biblical positions for the denomination. Lobbyists, especially liberal ones, are wasteful and insulting to everyday Southern Baptists.  Unfortunately, many every day pew-sitting Baptists do not know that the ERLC exists.  If they did, they find might it objectionable for the multiple reasons above explored.

NAMB is much more well known that the ERLC and like the ERLC, it is plagued with controversy.  An entire book was written about the financial mismanagement and culture of corruption at the North American Mission Board.  That book, Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry, was written by former NAMB Director of Marketing Mary Kinney Branson.  According to Branson hers is “a rare book.”[52]  This is because most people who left the North American Mission Board (in the midst of a brewing financial scandal) signed an agreement not to talk or write negatively about the agency or its leaders.”[53]  This Kinney finds such agreements when undertaken by secular entities to be understandable.  What Kinney does not find understandable is “why a Christian agency felt a need to require such a gag document of its employees.”[54]  During her time at NAMB, Branson “saw firsthand – or heard from reliable sources – of ice sculptures for parties, a business retreat planned around a cruise to the Bahamas, private jets for travel, and millions paid to friends for business not sent out for bids.”[55]  Branson ends her book, a recounting of her tumultuous time with NAMB, with the story of the resignation of embattled NAMB President “Hollywood” Bob Reccord.  Upon his resignation, which came as scandal over his leadership broke in the Christian press, Reccord received a $500,000 severance package.[56]  On his way out the door, Reccord arranged for a $92,000 payment to be sent to Johnny Hunt (for his Timothy-Barnabas school) and a $300,000 payment to be sent to evangelist Jay Strack.”[57]  Both men would later sign a letter vouching for the integrity of Bob Reccord.  This letter was signed by thirty-nine other high-profile Southern Baptist leaders, including eight former and future presidents of the convention.  (Within the past three years, Hunt invited Reccord to speak at his annual “Johnny Hunt Men’s Conference.”[58]) All of these men are fairly considered members of the elite SBC intelligentsia.  While they vouched for Reccord amidst scandals, rank and file NAMB employees were ask to sign confidentiality agreements.

The mismanagement of NAMB does not stop with financial scandal.  For example, In Montana NAMB has used funds to plant churches geared specifically toward racecar enthusiasts.[59] Planting churches for a group based upon their hobbies is called the “affinity church model” and it is hardly biblical.  In addition to using the affinity church model, NAMB has suggested, among other things, printing the name of one’s church on urinal cakes and placing them in the facilities of local bars and taverns as a way of advertising.  One NAMB church planter, giving the justification that his son’s travel baseball team was “his tribe” and needed to be reached, eschewed Sunday church to travel with his son’s baseball team on the weekend.  He engaged in this lifestyle while being financially supported by NAMB.[60]  Almost certainly there are NAMB missionaries who do faithfully attend and plant sound churches.  Yet, there is some question about the oversight of an organization that teaches urinal cake affinity model church growth methods especially when it draws revenue.  Giving such advice during church growth and church planting seminars is big business for NAMB (although its marketing department has been considerably reduced since the well-funded days of Branson and Reccord[61]).  At these Conferences, experts such as John Bisagno advise church planters while offering their own church-growth and management strategy books for sale.  NAMB’s overall church planting initiative is essentially a Cooperative Program growth tool.  Once planted churches take root and grow, like a fast-food franchise, they can begin sending money back to the mother convention (the effective franchisor).   Some churches fail and some churches thrive.  In denominational church-planting, as is the case with other franchising operations, one has to take risks and spend money to make money.  The overall idea of church-planting is certainly great-commission oriented and should not be decried.  However, making a policy of planting a churches managed by a denominational employee reflects an Episcopal, and not Baptist, ecclesiology.  Local churches should be planted and spun-off from local churches and local people.

NAMB employees plant churches in ostensibly underserved municipalities designated as “send cities.”[62]  These cities are essentially areas in which the SBC has low market share and therefore has room to expand.[63]  Randy White has written that NAMB should, “fulfill all of its convention assignments, and not be just the large-city church planting agency of the SBC.”[64]  White may have not considered that there is perhaps more money to be made in the large cities.[65]  It should also be remembered that the SBC lost ground in these “send cities”[66] due to the white flight of urban churches to suburbia during the past few decades.  According to Bill Leonard, professor of Church history at Wake Forest Divinity School, “Southern Baptists are experiencing such demographic trauma of membership and baptism they need new constituencies among nonwhite population.”[67]  It is arguably this need that is directing NAMB into urban areas.  Such an argument is strengthened by the recent activity of the ERLC.  Not only has Russell Moore called for a path to citizenship for Hispanic illegal immigrants, the ERLC recently held a leadership summit on the subject of “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation”.[68] Before the well-publicized shooting death of a black suspect by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri (a suburb of “Send City” St. Louis Missouri) and the racial rioting that followed, the ERLC summit’s planned topic was “Developing a Pro-Life Ethic”.[69]  It is essential, if Cooperative Program funding levels are to be sustained, for the SBC to increase its membership among minorities, who tend to be more church-going than the non-white population as the overall population of America becomes more secular.[70]

One of the speakers at the ERLC leadership summit on racial reconciliation was Dr. David Uth, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando.[71]  Uth is one of the forty-one signers of the letter written in support of former NAMB President Bob Reccord.[72]  Uth is also a featured speaker at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference.[73]  The organizer of the Pastor’s Conference, Willy Rice, faced significant criticism for inviting political pundit and confessed Seventh Day Adventist Ben Carson to speak at the conference.[74]  Not only is Carson a member of a Christian cult,[75] he is a Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States.  Carson declared his candidacy shortly after his invitation to speak at the Pastor’s Conference was rescinded.  According to multiple Baptist objectors, the invitation of a political figure and cult member to speak at the Pastor’s Conference was inappropriate.  These objections and the rescinding of Carson’s invitation were an implicit repudiation of David Uth for his decision to have Ben Carson speak to the congregation of First Baptist Orlando during Sunday services in June 2014.[76]  Such a rebuke is rare for a member of the intelligentsia who carries enough clout to be a featured speaker and the Pastor’s Conference and the ERLC summit in the same year.

The Pastor’s Conference is where the intelligentsia gathers each year before the annual convention begins.  The 2015 Pastor’s Conference speakers schedule features the President of the IMB as well as the President of the ERLC.  It also features current SBC President, Ronnie Floyd, who will be nominated for another term at the helm of the SBC at the 2015 Convention by J.D. Greear.[77]  Greer is also a Pastor’s Conference speaker.[78]  The Pastor’s Conference is effectively a preconvention strategy gathering for the SBC elite.  Furthermore, it provides a high-profile forum by which the SBC elite can present themselves to the general population of pastors as leaders to be followed.  In 1979 the Pastor’s Conference was the launching pad for the election of Adrian Rogers to the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention.[79]  Rogers’ election was the first step in the decade-long plan, now known as Conservative Resurgence, to eliminate moderates and liberal from the convention.  It took power consolidation to make the plan a success.  Now, with the moderates and liberals gone, convention influence still seems to remain consolidated in the hands of a small group of SBC intelligentsia.  It is important for those who want to direct the convention to control the presidency of the SBC because the president appoints the trustees of the various Southern Baptist causes.  Conservative Resurgence architect Paul Pressler once remarked, “The lifeblood of the Southern Baptist Convention is the trustees.  We need to go for the jugular – we need to go for the trustees.”[80]  Pressler got them.  He perhaps got them a little too well, however.  The trustee system is intended to keep entity leadership accountable and in-order.  However, trustees do not always act to do such.  Former Pressler operative C.B. Scott has remarked that SBC trustees tend to be “boot-lickers” and “bologna sniffers.”[81] Trustees, who are often wined and grape-juiced, by charismatic and influential entity heads can lose their objectivity.[82]  Those who serve as trustees have the potential to be appointed to high-profile and highly-compensated denominational jobs themselves.  Demanding accountability may reduce the chances of their own political success.  Given the culture of secrecy and confidentiality agreements in the SBC, it is hard to find public information about the moral hazards of the trustee system.[83]  The nature of the Conservative Resurgence demanded strong collusion between entity heads, trustees, denominational officials, and the architects of the resurgence.  Unfortunately, ridding the convention of liberals seems to have created a cabal of power brokers who take care of themselves and their own before the conventions best interest.  Currently, the convention seems interested in attracting conservative nonwhites.  Ben Carson is perhaps the most popular conservative nonwhite in the United States.  Intelligentsia members such as David Uth were willing to compromise doctrinal principles for political ones by inviting Carson to one of the most influential events in SBC culture.

The Pastor’s Conference “may cost approximately $200,000 to $350,000.”[84]  These amounts are greater than the yearly budgets of many small SBC churches.  The use of such amounts of money to produce a conference where pastors preach to other pastors is questionable.  Unfortunately, the questionable use of denominational funds for the enjoyment of an anointed few is no uncommon in the SBC arena.  Nor is it limited to the national level.  Wasteful and questionable spending is apparent in state conventions as well.  The palatial headquarters of the Georgia Baptist Convention cost upwards of $42,000,000 dollars to construct.  The debt incurred to pay for the construction was eventually paid off using funds formerly designated for medical missions.[85]  The ostentatious headquarters of the state convention is a place many pew-sitting Georgia Baptists will never see, yet it is one they fund with their giving.  They also fund three colleges.  One of the colleges, Brewton-Parker, has been embroiled in financial scandal and other problems for over a decade.[86]  It was recently rocked by a race scandal which led to the resignation of its already controversial president, Ergun Caner.  The employee who blew the whistle on Caner for his inappropriate action, C.B. Scott was fired and asked to sign a confidentiality agreement or immediately lose his insurance benefits.  The elderly Scott refused as a matter of personal integrity.  Had he not done so, another Baptist scandal may have been swept under the rug.[87]  Confidentiality agreements were semi-successfully used to sweep a scandal under the rug at Louisiana Baptist College.[88]  The story is similar to others in that an embattled entity president, Joe Aguillard in the case of Louisiana College, left his office under suspicious circumstances with a six-figure compensation package.[89]  Louisiana College’s controlling state convention is so problematic that a new state Baptist association was formed in Louisiana by former college administrator, Tim Johnson.  According to Johnson, “There’s too much power in the Baptist Building (LBC office in Alexandria) because there’s too much money.  With the amount of money there, the power’s there with it. And that’s the problem with our state.”[90]  One trustee of Louisiana Baptist College, Jay Adkins, attempted to publically expose the secretive actions of Louisiana College officials which were, arguably, undertaken in order to cover-up the malfeasance that occurred during Aguillard’s tenure.  However, Adkins achieved limited success and was met with stern resistance from convention insiders.  Adkins detailed his trying and compelling story in a series of personal blogs.[91]  The Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention is David Hankins, who co-authored the book One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists in which he encourages participation in the very Cooperative Program that funds his own scandal-plagued state convention.

On a national educational level, scandals seem to be rarer.  The six Southern Baptist seminaries are among the last institutions of theological higher learning in western culture that teach from a high view of scripture.[92]  These seminaries, because they exist to train Christian ministers, hold their students to considerably different standards than do secular schools.  Most notably, students are expected to be Christians and to live out a Christian lifestyle.  However, in 2014, an exception was granted to these standards at Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary.  Acting unilaterally, Page Patterson, the co-architect of the Conservative Resurgence the President of that school, admitted a practicing Muslim student into the school’s archaeology program.[93]  The reaction to this violation of seminary standards was mixed.  Some were outraged.  Others argued that the matter was a justified form of evangelism.[94]  This mixed reaction provides a perfect example of how the Cooperative Program fails to distribute funding in keeping with the specific concerns of the giver.  Rather than distributing money broadly to all seminaries through the Cooperative Program, a giver who disapproved Patterson’s actions could refrain from giving to Southwestern but freely give direct gifts to the other seminaries. Those givers who approved Patterson’s actions could continue to give to his school.  These direct giving options are available now but many fail to exercise them in deference to the Cooperative Program.  For all of the controversies discussed above, there are Southern Baptists on both sides of them.  It seems counterintuitive to expect all Baptists to broadly fund controversies to which they object, yet that’s exactly what the Cooperative Program is designed to actualize.

Big Pastors, Little Churches

“For all our lives the presidents of the SBC have been luminaries and mega-church pastors – celebrities who live in different worlds than we do. They don’t really understand how we live and we don’t really understand how they live.” Dave Miller, former 2nd VP of the SBC

As of 2007, sixty percent of SBC churches had less than 300 members.[95]  In order to support their families, the pastors of smaller congregations often have to work a second, secular job in addition to fulfilling their pastoral duties.  According to Frank Page, Southern Baptist Executive Committee President, “Some would say 35,000 of our 46,000 churches, maybe more than that, are in the two categories of small church or bivocational.”[96] Small-churches are the back-bone and norm of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Page has communicated that such churches are the “best way to make disciples in the 21st Century.”[97]  Yet SBC Presidents are often mega-church pastors with national followings.  In the last two decades there has been an almost unbroken chain of mega-church pastors elected to the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Ronnie Floyd, pastors a multi-site mega-church.[98]  Multi-site churches strain the limits of Baptist ecclesiology.[99]  Despite their questionable theological appropriateness, they are growing in popularity.  According to an article written by LifeWay researcher, Ed Stetzer, at Christianity Today, “Among recent church trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and more common. No longer just a new trend, they now number more than 5,000 churches, and growing. Among the 100 Largest churches, we find only 12 have a single campus…On the Fastest-Growing list, the number with a single campus is much greater—42, reflecting close to a split in the number of churches that do and do not have multiple campuses. Multisite is the new normal among large churches and widely embraced elsewhere.”[100]  Multi-site mega churches and mega preachers are not the norm of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Yet mega preachers are commonly elected to lead the convention.  The careers of these men are advanced.  Their books are sold.  Their speaking schedules are booked.  They become Christian celebrities.  Big Pastors grow rich and famous off of little churches.

The average Southern Baptist pastor is hardly a popular celebrity.  The average Southern Baptist pastor is hardly represented by the men who have recently held the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Although many of them sit on trustee boards, small church pastors are not a part of the oligarchy of elite power brokers that steer the convention.  (They are too busy serving their flocks and trying to make a living.)  Given that the Southern Baptist Convention is a democratic organization, it seems strange that obscure small-church pastors would elect multi-site mega preachers to lead their denominational organization.   Yet, it appears that they do.  A review of Southern Baptist Convention attendance records, however, indicates otherwise.  Small church pastors are, by and large, not electing un-relatable mega preachers.  In 2004, 8,600 messengers attended the Southern Baptist Convention.  At that time there were 43,465 affiliated congregations.[101]  That’s an attendance rate of less than 20%.  Such attendance is likely skewed towards larger church pastors who have the budget to make the expensive trip to whatever city in which the convention is held.  In many cases, the pastors of small churches can’t afford to go to the convention and don’t pay attention to what goes on there.  Still, politically disinterested small-churches send in Cooperative Program money to be controlled and distributed by the elite oligarchy.  This is terrible stewardship.  Millions and millions of Cooperative Program dollars are contributed by churches who put forth little to no effort towards seeing how reasonably it is spent.  Small church pastors should stop depending on unchecked bureaucrats to spend their precious mission funds.

Apathy Among the Laity

“There is an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups.” Reinhold Niebuhr

“Rather than useful jobs in our country, people have been offered bureaucratic ‘make work,’ rather than moral leadership, they have been given bread and circuses, spectacles, and, yes, they have even been given scandals. Tonight there is violence in our streets, corruption in our highest offices, aimlessness among our youth, anxiety among our elders and there is a virtual despair among the many who look beyond material success for the inner meaning of their lives. Where examples of morality should be set, the opposite is seen. Small men, seeking great wealth or power, have too often and too long turned even the highest levels of public service into mere personal opportunity.” Barry Goldwater

Congregants in church pews are perhaps even less engaged than their pastors when it comes to being aware and concerned about how the SBC operates and spends Cooperative Program funds.  The money that funds the state and national SBC network doesn’t just come from local churches, it comes from the pockets of pew-sitting Christians.  In the American church, the pew is fast becoming indistinguishable from the theater seat.   Both church music and preaching is becoming more and more entertainment-driven and less and less spiritually challenging.  Preachers can draw cheers by preaching politically palatable (and profitable) sermons that never convict congregants of sin.  This entertainment-driven and consumerist environment is an outworking of a seeker-sensitive mindset.  Priority is placed on getting lost people in the door and not upsetting them too much where they’ll leave.  Under this culture of revivalism, the evangelical movement has “cast aside an older model of leaders as holy men and instead (given) rise to leaders who (are) entrepreneurs – pragmatic marketers who (are) willing to use whatever (works) to get conversion.”[102]  The revivalistic seeker-sensitive mindset persists because personal evangelism rates among the laity are shamefully low.  “Only half (52%) of born again Christians say they actually did share the Gospel at least once this past year to someone with different beliefs, in the hope that they might accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.”[103]  Low personal evangelism rates are consistent with the “invest-and-invite” model that has been modeled by Baptist churches in recent decades.  Congregants give. Churches build buildings.  Congregants invite “seekers” to hear evangelistic messages given in big buildings by paid professional preachers.  Evangelism and missions, like many other tasks in the American economy, are outsourced to hired guns.  The SBC is perhaps the biggest hired gun in Christendom.  Apathetic and disengaged pew-sitters hire-out their great commission responsibilities at state, national, and international levels by giving to money to the Cooperative Program through their local church.  Without knowing to what and to whom they are giving, apathetic laypeople fund a largely unaccountable denominational bureaucracy.  Baptist laypeople should stop depending on unchecked bureaucrats to spend their precious mission funds.  It’s almost inexplicable that many every day Baptists are fed up with a massive, unaccountable federal government that taxes heavily and spends irresponsibly and contrary to their ideals but do next to nothing to exact denominational leaders to the same degree of scrutiny with which they examine the federal government.

Stewardship and Ecclesiology

We’ve all heard it hundreds of times—SBC Headquarters is the local church and not some denominational agency. If this line is nothing more than a misleading notion humbly tossed out under the pretense of sounding spiritual, then we should stop saying things we do not really mean.” Rick Patrick[104]

Church members are obligated to support their local congregations.  However, their ecclesiastical fiscal responsibility stops there.  There is absolutely no scriptural prescription for giving to the Cooperative Program or any other denominational cause.  There is a biblical mandate for good stewardship, however.  Since all local Baptist churches are autonomous, church members have the right and responsibility to consider whether or not it is a good stewardship to give undesignated funds to the Cooperative Program.  Such funds will be spent at the discretion of convention leadership or a denominational agency. Despite the protests that may come from denominationally indoctrinated pastors, it is not the responsible of a Southern Baptist church to give away money to relic of 1920s era progressivism, especially when the information age makes giving directly to a specific cause so much easier than it was to do in the 1920s.

Despite any misconceptions to the contrary, a church does is not required to give to the Cooperative Program in order to be considered Southern Baptist.  “A church is Southern Baptist by definition if it participates with the Southern Baptist Convention in at least one of the following ways: (1) gives to the Cooperative Program; (2) gives to the Lottie Moon Offering, IMB directly; (3) gives to the Annie Armstrong Offering, NAMB, directly; (4) is dually aligned with the SBC; (5) is a member of a local SBC Association; or (6) gives to the SBC Executive Board directly.”[105]  Giving to a local SBC association, for example, qualifies a church as “Southern Baptist”.  Its ministers are therefore eligible for Guidestone participation and its members are therefore eligible for discounted tuition at a Southern Baptist seminary.  Giving locally and directly not only qualifies a church to be a part of the SBC, it is conducive to better stewardship.  Receivers of local and directly given money are inherently more accountable.

Giving Around the Cooperative Program

“We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.” F. A. Hayek[106]

No program is needed to facilitate giving to Baptist causes; any SBC entity will gladly accept a check from any church or individual person.  Mission board websites allow for on-line giving to specific programs (printing Bibles, buying meals in Africa, disaster relief, etc…) Seminaries have scholarship programs by which individuals can sponsor individual students.  An individual person can simply write a check to a seminary student (or school, or professor) they know and trust.  In fact, he can write a check to any needy person without the need for a national program to pass the money through three levels of bureaucracy.  International Missionaries are now available to Skype live from the mission field with the local churches that support them.  A local church does not need to go through IMB to support and interact with a foreign missionary.  The internet lists countless Baptist church plants that need support; money does not need to be passed through NAMB to get it to them.[107]  If someone was so inclined, he could even give money to the ERLC political cause.  If churches favor giving generally to entities such as the IMB, they can.  Churches who operate under unfavorable state conventions can give around them by giving straight to national causes.  Churches who prefer their state and local conventions can give designated funds to those organizations.

Direct giving is, at its core, free-market giving.  Giving through the Cooperative Program is essentially like asking one’s church to ask the state convention to ask the national convention to go to the grocery store to buy his groceries.  It would be more efficient if he went to the store himself and bought his own groceries.  He would get exactly what he wanted.  He would know exactly what everything costs.  He would think about what he was spending.  Direct giving engenders better stewardship because the giver has to consider the merits of the cause to which he is giving.  The direct giver sees every cent and can hold the receiver directly accountable…as God will surely hold him accountable.

There is no need to continue to engage in Cooperative Program giving, it is tantamount to Baptist socialism.  It has a caused enough ills.  It’s time for fiscally social conservative Baptists to pull their money and that of their churches out of the pockets of the mega preachers and denominational elites.  These men have, for far too long, have bestrode the narrow Baptist world like a colossus.  Their multisite churches are growing beyond control at a rate similar to the bloated United States government.  Their political machinations are more concerned with earthly kingdoms than heavenly ones.   Those who continue to financially support them are on a road to serfdom.  It’s time for those people to come off of it by implementing direct giving.

Those who do so may face stern opposition from those who have been long-time supporters of the Cooperative Program.  “When Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom attacked the welfare state and socialism in 1944, he characterized his adversaries as ‘single-minded idealists’ and ‘authors whose sincerity and disinterestedness are above suspicion,’ but his own book was treated as something immoral…”[108]  There are many good, well-intentioned Baptists who, to their own folly, support the Cooperative Program.  Speaking at a press conference, the first SBC President of the Conservative Resurgence, Adrian Rogers, remarked that Southern Baptists “have made a golden calf of the (Cooperative) program…It’s almost easier to be against the Virgin Birth than the program.”[109]  Pastors and lay people who advocate giving around the Cooperative Program should be prepared to face stern resistance from those who are faced with melting down their long-time idol and drinking a bitter elixir made from its ashes.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

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Reynoso, R. (2014, April 16). Faith on View. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from Louisiana College: lies, obfuscation, and a lack of repentance: http://www.faithonview.com/louisiana-college-lies-obfuscation-and-a-lack-of-repentance/

Shurden, W. B. (1996). Going for the Jugular: A Documentary History of the SBC Holy War. Mercer University Press.

Smietana, B. (2014). Are Millennials Really Leaving the Church? Yes — but Mostly White Millennials . Retrieved May 17, 2015, from FaithStreet.com: https://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/05/16/are-millennials-really-leaving-church-yes-but-mostly-white-millennials/32103

Sowell, T. (2008, December 23). Another Great Depression? . Retrieved November 2014, 30, from NationalReview.com: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/226599/another-great-depression/thomas-sowell/page/0/1

Sowell, T. (1995). The Vision of the Annointed. Basic Books.

Stetzer, E. (2014, February 2014). Multisite Churches are Here, and Here, and Here to Stay. Retrieved April 24, 2014, from Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/february/multisite-churches-are-here-to-stay.html

Strode, T. (2015, December 2015). ERLC Turns to Race Issue for March Summit. Retrieved May 17, 2015, from Pastors.com: http://pastors.com/erlc-turns-race-issue-march-summit/

Strode, T. (2013, September 13). TRUSTEES: ERLC budget set at $3.19M. Retrieved May 28, 2015, from Baptist Press: http://www.bpnews.net/41089/trustees-erlc-budget-set-at-319m

White, R. (2014, December 28). Why I’m joining #the15, and I’m not even an angry Calvinist . Retrieved May 2015, 2015, from Randy White Ministries: http://www.randywhiteministries.org/2014/12/28/ive-joined-the15-im-even-angry-calvinist/#sthash.Msr4jH7X.dpuf

Appendix 1

 Appendix 2 

1924 Presidential Election Map

1928 Presidential Election Map

 1932 Presidential Election Map

1936 Presidential Election Map

1940 Presidential Election Map

Footnotes

[1] Southern Baptists claimed a membership of 16,267,494 affiliated with 43,465 in 2004, according to Brand and Hankins

[2] I refer to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000

[3] Brand, C. O. (2009). One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists. B&H Academic. p. 100

[4] ibid

  1. 112

[5] ibid p.3

[6] Sowell, T. (2008, December 23). Another Great Depression? . Retrieved November 2014, 30, from NationalReview.com: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/226599/another-great-depression/thomas-sowell/page/0/1

[7] Baptist Studies Online. (2007, February). Original Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention. Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://baptiststudiesonline.com/: http://baptiststudiesonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/02/constitution-of-the-sbc.pdf

[8] Brand, C. O. (2009). One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists. B&H Academic p. 2-3

[9] ibid p. 2

[10]ibid p. 1

[11] Cumings, B. (2009). Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power. Yale University Press p. 259

[12] ibid

[13] See Appendix 1. For more information see “How the Faithful Voted” at the Pew Forum website.

[14] See Appendix 2. States in which the Democratic Candidate prevailed are show in blue.

[15] Georgia Bapist Convention. (2013). We Believe In the Cooperative Program. Retrieved May 22, 2015, from Georgia Bapist Convention: http://gabaptist.org/we-believe-in-cp/

[16] Greenspan, A. (2008). The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World. Penguin p. 267

[17] Branson, M. K. (2007). Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry. Lee’s Summit, MO: Father’s Press, LLC p. 15-16

[18] ibid p. 17

[19] Adjusted by the Consumer Price Index, this amount of money is worth 307,060,000 in 2015 dollars.  This means that the IMB budget has outpaced inflation while reducing its headcount of field missionaries since 2004.  I used the following online calculator to perform CPI calculations: https://www.minneapolisfed.org/

[20] Brand, C. O. (2009). One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists. B&H Academic p.141

[21] IMB. (2015). Fast facts. Retrieved May 28, 2015, from http://www.imb.org: http://www.imb.org/1307.aspx#.VWer0PlVhBc

[22] ibid

[23] http://baptistbanner.org/Subarchive_4/410%20GCRTF%20Glen%20Land.htm

[24] ibid

[25] NAMB. (2015). *2015 NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD MINISTRY REPORT. Retrieved May 28, 2015, from http://www.namb.net: http://www.namb.net/annualreport/

[26] Ibid p.142

[27] ibid

[28] Strode, T. (2013, September 13). TRUSTEES: ERLC budget set at $3.19M. Retrieved May 28, 2015, from Baptist Press: http://www.bpnews.net/41089/trustees-erlc-budget-set-at-319m

[29] Brand, C. O. (2009). One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists. B&H Academic p.143

[30] I used a 50/50 split as an example.  I did not confirm the actual CP distribution percentage used by the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

[31] The technical name Sowell gives for this vision is the “unconstrained vision.”  Those who hold to this vision believe that an anointed class is in best position to make beneficial decisions for society.  It is often associated with liberal academics and big-government progressives.  The antithesis of this vision is the “constrained vision”.  Those who hold to this view believe that society is too complicated for an elite group to centrally plan what is best for ever.  It is also associated with free-market capitalists.  For more on these competing worldviews see Sowell’s book A Conflict of Visions.

[32] Sowell, T. (1995). The Vision of the Annointed. Basic Books. p.6

[33] Sowell, T. (1995). The Vision of the Annointed. Basic Books. p.3

[34] Elliot, H. (2007, November 27). Georgia Baptist resolution criticizes Baptist blogs. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from Baptist Standard Publishing: https://www.baptiststandard.com/resources/archives/47-2007-archives/7247-georgia-baptist-resolution-criticizes-baptist-blogs

[35] James, S. (2015, MAy 7). What Not to Do When a Fellow Christian Embarrases Us. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from Patheos.com: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/inklingations/2015/05/07/what-not-to-do-when-a-fellow-christian-embarrasses-the-rest-of-us/

[36] Bisagno, J. R. (2011). Pastor’s Handbook n (Kindle Edition ed.). B&H Publishing. p. 25

[37] For a more in-depth critique of the Moses Model see my article “Dismantling the Jethro Principle” at https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/dismantling-the-jethro-principal/

[38] Bisagno, J. R. (2011). Pastor’s Handbook n (Kindle Edition ed.). B&H Publishing. p. 75

[39] Malphurs, A. (2003-09-01). Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership (Kindle Edition ed.). Baker Publishing Group.

[40] Miller, D. (2015, May 8). “Dave Miller for President” and Other Dumb Ideas! Retrieved May 16, 2015, from SBCVoices.com: http://sbcvoices.com/dave-miller-for-president-and-other-dumb-ideas/

[41] The reader should ask himself if an ambitious career-oriented pastor is the kind of shepherd he desires for his family and church.

[42] Dunn, S. (2014, June). Jared Moore or Ronnie Floyd? 10 Points for Gryffindor. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from gsethdunn.wordpress.com: https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/jared-moore-or-ronnie-floyd-10-points-for-gryffindor/

[43] Branson, M. K. (2007). Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry. Lee’s Summit, MO: Father’s Press, LLC. p.4

[44] White, R. (2014, December 28). Why I’m joining #the15, and I’m not even an angry Calvinist . Retrieved May 2015, 2015, from Randy White Ministries: http://www.randywhiteministries.org/2014/12/28/ive-joined-the15-im-even-angry-calvinist/#sthash.Msr4jH7X.dpuf

[45] The 2014 ERLC budget was $3.19M according to a Baptist Press article dated September 13, 2013.  According to the Gospel for Asia website, an Asian national missionary can be sponsored for $360/year.

[46] Miller, D. (2010, November 2010). A Great Commission Suggestion: Pink Slip the ERLC. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from SBC Voices: http://sbcvoices.com/a-great-commission-suggestion-pink-slip-the-erlc/

[47] ERLC. (2013, May 30). Russell Moore: The call to ministry & the public square. Retrieved MAy 16, 2015, from ERLC.com: http://erlc.com/article/russell-moore-the-call-to-ministry-the-public-square

[48] Moore, R. D. (2011, June 11). Immigration and the Gospel. Retrieved May 15, 2015, from RussellMoore.com: http://www.russellmoore.com/2011/06/17/immigration-and-the-gospel/

[49] Dunn, S. (2014, November 3). Celebrating Sin? Retrieved May 30, 2015, from The Pulpit and Pen: http://pulpitandpen.org/2014/11/03/celebrating-sin/

[50] Kwon, L. (2012, June 1). So. Baptist Leader Richard Land Reprimanded OVer Traymon Martin Comments. Retrieved May 30, 2015, from The Christian Post: http://www.christianpost.com/news/so-baptist-richard-land-reprimanded-over-trayvon-martin-comments-75927/

[51] Patrick, R. (2014, January 21). Memo from SBC Headquarters. Retrieved November 11, 2014, from SBC Voices: http://sbcvoices.com/memo-from-sbc-headquarters/

[52]Branson, M. K. (2007). Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry. Lee’s Summit, MO: Father’s Press, LLC. p.3

[53] ibid

[54] ibid

[55] Branson, M. K. (2007). Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry. Lee’s Summit, MO: Father’s Press, LLC. p.5

[56] Baptist News Global. (2007, March 26). Church’s offering for Reccord raises questions about six-figure severance – See more at: http://baptistnews.com/archives/item/2021-churchs-offering-for-reccord-raises-questions-about-six-figure-severance#sthash.iPYPX4Dj.dpuf. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from Baptist News Global: http://baptistnews.com/archives/item/2021-churchs-offering-for-reccord-raises-questions-about-six-figure-severance

[57] Branson, M. K. (2007). Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry. Lee’s Summit, MO: Father’s Press, LLC. p.113

[58] Dunn, S. (2014, June). Jared Moore or Ronnie Floyd? 10 Points for Gryffindor. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from gsethdunn.wordpress.com: https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/jared-moore-or-ronnie-floyd-10-points-for-gryffindor/

[59] Modern Day Downgrade A Call for Repentance to Southern Baptists and Other Evangelicals.

[60] ibid

[61] As of three years ago the NAMB marketing department consisted of a single person Ashley.  I know this from personal experience.  Ashley is a schoolmate of mine and an intelligent young woman.  She did not contribute an opinion for this document.

[62] North American Mission Board. (n.d.). Send Ciites. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from North American Mission Board: http://www.namb.net/cities/

[63] The Send City program is very similar to an older NAMB program called “Strategic Focus Cities.”  $14.1 million dollars was directed to the Strategic Focus Cities program in 2006. More information about NAMB activity at that time can be found in a Baptist News Global article located here: https://baptistnews.com/archives/item/948-southern-baptist-missions-suffering-under-nambs-leadership-report-says

[64] White, R. (2014, December 28). Why I’m joining #the15, and I’m not even an angry Calvinist . Retrieved May 2015, 2015, from Randy White Ministries: http://www.randywhiteministries.org/2014/12/28/ive-joined-the15-im-even-angry-calvinist/#sthash.Msr4jH7X.dpuf

[65] ibid

[66] This is especially apparent near the city of Atlanta, where I worked for nearly a decade.

[67] Horton, G. &. (2014, May). Southern Baptists to open their ranks to missionaries who speak in tongues. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/southern-baptists-to-open-their-ranks-to-missionaries-who-speak-in-tongues/2015/05/14/1fddd28a-fa7e-11e4-a47c-e56f4db884ed_story.html

[68] ERLC. (n.d.). Ledership Summit. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from ERLC.com: https://erlc.com/summit2015

[69] Strode, T. (2015, December 2015). ERLC Turns to Race Issue for March Summit. Retrieved May 17, 2015, from Pastors.com: http://pastors.com/erlc-turns-race-issue-march-summit/

[70] Smietana, B. (2014). Are Millennials Really Leaving the Church? Yes — but Mostly White Millennials . Retrieved May 17, 2015, from FaithStreet.com: https://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/05/16/are-millennials-really-leaving-church-yes-but-mostly-white-millennials/32103

[71] ERLC. (n.d.). Ledership Summit. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from ERLC.com: https://erlc.com/summit2015/schedule

[72] Branson, M. K. (2007). Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry. Lee’s Summit, MO: Father’s Press, LLC. p.184

[73] Calvary Church 2014-15. (2015). About The 2015 SBC Pastors’ Conference. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from SBCPC.com: http://www.sbcpc.net/#speakers

[74] Dunn, S. (2015, May 7). Ben Carson, the IRS, and an Implicit Rebuke of David Uth and First Baptist Orlando. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from pulpitandpen.org: http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/05/07/ben-carson-the-irs-and-an-implicit-rebuke-of-jeff-uth-and-first-baptist-orlando/

[75] Seventh Day Adventists believe, among other strange doctrines, that Jesus Christ and the angel Michael are the same person.  When considered against Southern Baptist Doctrine, many Seventh Day Adventist beliefs are heretical.

[76] Dunn, S. (2015, May 7). Ben Carson, the IRS, and an Implicit Rebuke of David Uth and First Baptist Orlando. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from pulpitandpen.org: http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/05/07/ben-carson-the-irs-and-an-implicit-rebuke-of-jeff-uth-and-first-baptist-orlando/

[77] Baptist Press. (2015, April 20). Greear to nominate Floyd for 2nd term. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from Baptist Press: http://www.bpnews.net/44590/greear-to-nominate-floyd-for-2nd-term

[78] Calvary Church 2014-15. (2015). About The 2015 SBC Pastors’ Conference. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from SBCPC.com: http://www.sbcpc.net/#speakers

[79] Hefley, J. C. (1989). The Truth in Crisis: The Controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention (Vol. 4). Hannibal Books p.6

[80] ibid

[81] These adjectives were used by C.B. Scott in a phone conversation with me.  We were discusses the weaknesses of trustees at Baptist entities. Scott is a veteran of the Conservative Resurgence.

[82] I am personally reminded of the story of F. Ross Johnson, the former President who essentially tried to “steal the company” using a leveraged buyout.  Johnson was an expert in manipulating his board of directors.  His story can be found in Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by John Heylar

[83] I do not have at my disposal many published sources to support this argument.  I do not, however, make it out of complete ignorance of the trustee culture.

[84] This is according to Dr. Rick Patrick of Southern Baptist Interest group Connect 316.  His comments and a discussion around them can be found at http://sbcvoices.com/breaking-news-sbc-will-survive-carsons-appearance-at-the-pastors-conference/#comment-287672

[85] Dunn, S. (2015, March 19). Lifestyles of the Rich and Baptist: Creflo Dollar and Robert White. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from PulpitandPen.org: http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/03/19/lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-baptist-creflo-dollar-and-robert-white/

[86] Dunn, S. (2013, December). Brewton Parker, Ergun Caner and the Issue of Stewardship: A Georgia Baptist Reaction and Solution by G. Seth Dunn, CPA, MACC. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from gsethdunn.wordpress.com: https://gsethdunn.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/brewton-parker-ergun-caner-and-the-issue-of-stewardship-a-georgia-baptist-reaction-and-solution-by-g-seth-dunn-cpa-macc/

[87] McKissic Sr., W. D. (2015, February 5). IS A GEORGIA BAPTIST COLLEGE COVERING UP RACISM? Retrieved May 18, 2015, from dwightmckissic.wordpress.com: https://dwightmckissic.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/is-a-georgia-baptist-college-covering-up-racism/

[88] Allen, B. (2014, February 28). Documents suggest Louisiana College paid hush money to potential whistleblower – See more at: https://baptistnews.com/ministry/organizations/item/28411-documents-suggest-louisiana-college-paid-hush-money-to-potential-whistleblower#sthash.imfDPnoV.dpuf. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from Baptist News Global

[89] Reynoso, R. (2014, April 16). Faith on View. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from Louisiana College: lies, obfuscation, and a lack of repentance: http://www.faithonview.com/louisiana-college-lies-obfuscation-and-a-lack-of-repentance/

[90] Fryer, K. (2015, 21 January). LBC PASTORS: “TOO MUCH POWER IN THE BAPTIST BUILDING”. Retrieved May 18, 2015, from pulpitandpen.org: http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/01/21/lbc-pastors-too-much-power-in-the-baptist-building/

[91] The story of Jay Adkin’s struggle to improve the situation at Louisiana College can be found at his blog, The Crescent Crier.

[92] For the purposes of full disclosure, I do not write from an objective position about SBC seminaries.  I attend an SBC seminary and am quite fond of the institution which I attend.  I hold to a high view of scripture and naturally favor any institution that teaches from that same view.

[93] Burleson, W. (2014, May 16). Istoria Ministries Blog. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from Southwestern Baptist Islamic Theological Seminary and the Center for Cultural Engagement and Firing: http://www.wadeburleson.org/2014/05/southwestern-baptist-islamic.html

[94] I do not cite specific published documents here but recall my own memories of the various reactions to the Muslim student’s enrollment at SWBTS.  I spoke with Dr. Patterson about the matter myself; he handled the matter quite gracefully.  I personally did not support the enrollment of the non-Christian student, who has now left the school.  I did not agree with any of the arguments used to justify the enrollment.

[95] Kumer, T. (2007, May 7). Little People In Little Places: The Average Size Of SBC Churches. Retrieved April 24, 2015, from Said at Southern: http://saidatsouthern.com/little-people-in-little-places-the-average-size-of-sbc-churches/

[96] Chandler, D. (2014, September 17). Bivocational church model best, Page says. Retrieved April 24, 2015, from Baptist Press: http://www.bpnews.net/43375/bivocational-church-model-best-page-says

[97] ibid

[98] In recent years, Floyd’s church has removed the word “Baptist” from its name.

[99] But not franchise business models

[100] Stetzer, E. (2014, February 2014). Multisite Churches are Here, and Here, and Here to Stay. Retrieved April 24, 2014, from Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/february/multisite-churches-are-here-to-stay.html

[101] Brand, C. O. (2009). One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists. B&H Academic p.102

[102]Pearcy, N. (2004). Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. Crossway Books p. 286

[103] Barna Group. (2013). Is Evangelism Going Out of Style? Retrieved April 24, 2015, from Barna Group: https://www.barna.org/barna-update/faith-spirituality/648-is-evangelism-going-out-of-style#.VTsL0CHBzRY

[104] Patrick, R. (2014, January 21). Memo from SBC Headquarters. Retrieved November 11, 2014, from SBC Today: http://sbcvoices.com/memo-from-sbc-headquarters/

[105] My source on this is a church endorsement form from a Southern Baptist Seminary.

[106] Hayek, F. A. (1972). The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[107] While their IMB counterparts are generally able to depend on salaries paid by IMB, NAMB missionaries are largely expected to raise their own personal financial support.

[108] Sowell, T. (1995). The Vision of the Annointed. Basic Books p.3

[109] Shurden, W. B. (1996). Going for the Jugular: A Documentary History of the SBC Holy War. Mercer University Press.

Lecrae, Sadie Robertson, and the Devil Went Down to Georgia

“Behold, the sower went out to sow;  and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Jesus, the Son of God

Lecrae rapped.  Sadie Robertson spoke.  Nine hundred twenty-five unchurched young people committed to Christ.  I wept.

So goes the story in Meansville, Georgia as reported by the Christian Post.  According to Marc Pritchett, founder of RUSH Ministries, these commitments took place during a ministry event put on by his organization on May 9th, 2015.  Pritchett claims that “10,000 souls” have been reached through Rush Ministries since its founding over a decade ago.  Pritchett estimated that approximately 7,000 young people attended his May 9th event in Meansville.  By the numbers, Pritchett is claiming that 13.21% of attendees were saved.  This figure is quite the coincidence given that Georgia Baptist Evangelist Tony Nolan spoke at the event.  Last October, Nolan spoke at a Chapel Service at Brewton-Parker College in which 108 at salvations were recorded.  This amounted to 13.88% of that school’s student body.  13 seems to be the magic number for vaunted evangelist Tony Nolan.

According to eye-witness accounts that have been relayed to me, a typical Tony Nolan sermon consists of manipulative appeals to walk the aisle. Nolan encourages his hearers to imagine things such as having their face burned off in a car accident in order to get an idea of the eternal hell to which they are headed.  After such scare tactics, compounded by raise-your-hand type peer pressure decision counting methods, Nolan records numerous salvations which are then gleefully reported to the public.

The discipleship statistics of Nolan’s converts are not widely, if at all, publicized.

Burning in Sun and Choking in the Weeds

Nolan’s seemingly inflated conversion numbers are troubling in and of themselves.  However, something Marc Pritchett said to the Christian post disturbed me to my core.  Given that I often write about apologetic and discernment concerns, a lot of troubling stories come across my desk.  I usually address them from a coldly logical and intellectual perspective; that’s my nature.  There’s so much charismania, corruption, hero-worship, and capitulation to worldliness in the visible church that it’s almost easy for me to become simply used to it in the same way that a police officer becomes used being around the corpses of murder victims.  Yet, last night, in the midst of these tragedies that have become so common place, I reacted viscerally to something that Marc Pritchett, told the Christian Post:

“The nature of [the] event, whether it be concerts, celebrities, games, or other things that we do, are all aimed at getting those kids in the community, or in the world if you will, not in the church necessarily, but to get the church friends to bring the students that may never walk into a church…They realize not only is being a Christian fun, not only is it cool, but also, eternal hope is sandwiched within all that stuff.”

Pritchett and his companions, in the midst of a concert atmosphere told unchurched young people that being a Christian is “fun and cool”.  Then, they invited them to become one.  After reading Pritchett’s words, I turned in my Bible to Matthew 13:3 and read, “Behold a sower went out to sow.”   I didn’t read the rest of the pericope.  I knew it already.  In the parable of the sower, Jesus told of people (I have always imagined them to be young) who received the gospel message with joy but later burned up like a parched plant in the sun when persecution and affliction arose.  Others received the gospel with joy and yet worldly worries and the deceitfulness of wealth choked them out like a plant among the thorns.

I thought of nine hundred twenty-five young people, in the company of wealthy celebrity Christians like Sadie Robertson and Lecrae, being sold the outright lie, along with their purchased tickets, that Christianity is fun and cool.  The sadness I felt in the midst of this thought was a deep one.  From my reading of the Bible, I do not take Paul to have communicated that being shipwrecked, beaten, hungry, thirsty, in hardship, and in danger as fun and cool.  Tradition tells us that Paul was beheaded.  The book of Acts tells us James the brother of John was beheaded.  Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified.  Thousands of Christians have been persecuted and killed for their faith.  The one Apostle, John, who was not killed for his faith (merely exiled to a lonely island) wrote of having a vision of “all the souls who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.

Rap music is cool.  Duck Dynasty is cool.  Being persecuted and beheaded is not.  I’ve never been beheaded but I have been through times when living out my Christian convictions was not fun.

I’ve gone to professional and social events where I was the only one not drinking.  I did not feel cool.  I’ve lost my job (at a former employer) after challenging the ethics of a practice.  I did not feel cool.  I’ve been escorted out of my (former) church for protesting the choice of a charlatan evangelist.  I did not feel cool.

Jesus said:

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

“In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

Marc Pritchett is a liar and, I believe, he is helping the devil sow tares among the wheat.  There is a very real devil out there, seeking whom he may devour.  He is a terrible and ancient foe who comes to steal kill and destroy.   He’s done since the time of the Garden of Eden and will so until Christ returns.  Lecrae sells records.  Sadie Robertson sells her clothing line.  Nolan sells tickets.  The devil sows tares.  They help.

Satansowing

Here Am I Send Me

“There’s a retired businessman named Red
Cast down from heaven and he’s out of his head
He feeds off of everyone that he can touch
He said he only deals in cash or sells tickets to a plane crash
He’s not somebody that you play around with much”
Bob Dylan

Christian reader, you and I can’t stop the Tony Nolans and Marc Pritchetts of the world from trying to sell tickets to their festivals and then claiming victory after recording emotionally charged and very likely disingenuous salvations.  What you can do is stop patronizing their business and farming out your evangelism to them and their elite group of professional evangelists.

If you have been saved through the repentance of sin and belief in the risen Christ’s Lordship, then you have the Holy Spirit.  You are empowered, by God Himself, to successfully evangelize the lost and successfully disciple new Christians.   You do not need Christian rap.  You do not need Duck Dynasty.  You need the Bible and the Holy Spirit.  You have both.

I want you to look long and hard at the picture of the devil and the picture of that crowd.  Then read the words of Christ as posted above.  Take it all in.  What are you going to do about it?  That devil is really out there, really sewing.  Are you going to keep giving your children or friends tickets to the Tony Nolan Show?  Are you going to keep sending your youth groups to Winter Jam?  May I suggest something novel to you brothers and sisters?

Take hold of the young people in your church and in your community and you give them something to eat.  Use the money otherwise spent on a concert festival ticket and buy some bible commentaries and systematic theology texts.  Then, you sit down with someone one on one and disciple him.

To the 925

Dear young person, if you were at this festival and are reading this, then I want you to know what it really takes to become a part of the family of God.  You need to genuinely repent of your sins and believe in the Lordship of the risen Jesus.  After that, according to scripture, you are expected to live a life in keeping with the tenets of the Christian faith.  You are expected to live Holy and set apart from the world.  You will be persecuted for it.

Do you know the reason that the headline of the Christian Post article says that you made a “commitment” to Christ instead of saying that you were “saved”?  For one thing, Sadie Robertson’s Church of Christ teaches that you aren’t truly saved until you are baptized.  You’ve made a commitment on her view, but you aren’t saved.  Did she, Lecrae, or Tony Nolan tell you that?  Did they tell you that the Christian life is not easy and that it’s not going to get any easier in our country as our culture becomes more hostile to biblical faithfulness.

If you still want to take up a cross, an instrument of torture and shame, then take it up and follow Christ.  I’ll be glad to call you a brother or sister.  Know this:  When you come to genuine faith in Christ, it’s not just your commitment, it’s His.  You can never uncommit.   Thousands of people have made a decision for Christ of some kind at the kind of festival you attended.  Many of them uncommitted when the sun burned and the weeds choked.  If you made or if you make a genuine commitment, you will not be burned or choked.

Sit back and think about that.  Pray about it.  Consider it.  If you want to discuss it, one on one, contact me.

It’s not about cool, it’s about Christ…and He’s the Lord and judge of all creation.  If you come to Him, He will not forsake you.  In all these years, I can tell you, He’s never forsaken me.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Turn in Your Bibles to 2 Timothy 1:5 – The Economics of a Mother’s Day Sermon

“I never really thought that I was lost, ‘til I heard my dying mother sing Old Rugged Cross. Lee Thomas Miller

Many a pew-sitter heard a Sunday sermon preached from 2 Timothy 1:5 on this Mother’s Day 2015.  For many of them, it was the same as or similar to the sermon they heard on Mother’s Day last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and so on.[1]  Even independent churches that belong to congregational denominations which do not preach from a lectionary seem to turn in unison to 2 Timothy 1:15 on Mother’s Day.   Some pastors who make a practice of preaching expository sermons, verse-by-verse, through a given book of the Bible will stop their current sermon series on Mother’s Day, and turn to 2 Timothy 1:15 to undergird a topical sermon on Motherhood.  2 Timothy itself is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy.[2]  In the opening chapter of this epistle, Paul reminds Timothy of the sincere faith within him that is also shared by his grandmother and mother.   Although the chapter mentions Timothy’s mother and grandmother, it is absolutely unrelated to the modern holiday known as “Mother’s Day” and is not meant as an admonition to mothers to act in a certain way.  It could not have been meant as such given that Paul is writing a letter to a man and not a mother.  In fact, no biblical writer would have had any knowledge or understanding of the modern holiday called “Mother’s Day.”   So why is 2 Timothy 1:5 the most popular passage of scripture preached in evangelical churches on Mother’s Day?  The answer is simple and two-fold.


(Warning, the clip above contains what some would consider mild profanity, a word used to describe a male child of unknown siring)

  1. Mother’s Day is the perhaps single Sunday when the most wayward and even lost sons of Christian mothers are in the audience.

Mother’s Day rivals Christmas and Easter as the day when the most people attend church.  Even the most worldly son of a church-going mother will make every attempt to be at his mother’s side at church on Mother’s Day.[3]  Given that such sons aren’t in church regularly, it is safe to assume that these young men are lost in their sin and dead in their trespasses.   Knowing that a high number of lost people are in attendance, preachers attempt to preach a highly evangelistic sermon.  The message of a 2 Timothy 1:15 Mother’s Day Sermon is usually something like “Your salvation is dependent upon your own repentance of sin, not that of your parents.  If you haven’t repented, do so now. ” A respond to such a call to repentance would answer the prayers of many a Christian mother.  Find a Christian mother who does not pray daily for her children, especially for the salvation of any lost children, and you will likely find a woman who is in a coma or otherwise mentally incapacitated.  Thus, especially evangelistic emotional sermons tend to be preached on Mother’s Day.  Many lost people are there to hear them.  It is not uncommon for churches to bring in a guest-preaching evangelist on Mother’s Day who specializes in such messages.   Preachers know that thinking about the love and dedication of one’s mother can cause even the most hard-hearted man to well up with tears.  Many hope these emotions will spill over into a profession of faith (decision for Christ).  Unfortunately, it can be the case that these emotions spread over into a walk-the-aisle profession but not true repentance.  While salvation is an emotional experience, preachers should be careful lest they manipulate emotions to a false conversion.  Preachers should also remember that a Sunday sermon should never be catered specifically to lost people.  The purpose of a Sunday worship service to worship God and edify the body of Christ.  Lost people cannot worship a God whom they reject and are not a part of the Body of Christ.  Unfortunately, a preacher who did not give an expressly evangelist message may have a hard time explaining that to the mother who only manages to get her lost child to church three of four times a year.  This one of the reasons that churches leaders should do everything within their power to break the “invest and invite” model of baby boomer evangelicals.  Rank and file Christians should, in light of the great commission, see themselves as evangelizers.   Pastors are not hired-gun evangelists.   They are shepherds of the saved.

  1. The American church tends to contextualize American Culture into the life of the Church, often to the neglect of God’s glory.

mother's day
Fourth of July church services tend to honor American along with or instead of God.  Memorial Day church services tend honor the military along with or instead of God.  This should not be.  Each Sunday, each Lord’s Day, is a celebration and remembrance of the first Easter Sunday.  Unfortunately, American holiday observances and themes are often syncretistically mixed in with the worship of God.[4]  Mother’s Day is no exception.  It’s certainly true that the Bible gives specific admonitions to the family.  Children are to respect parents and parents are to raise children in the nature and admonition of the Lord.  Yet, the Bible doesn’t give certain days on which Christians should especially remember and obey certain commandments better.  Furthermore, scripture does not advocate that a certain group of Christians be given more honor on a certain day than another.  On Mother’s Day, mothers in the congregation are often asked to stand so that the congregation can recognize them with applause.  This is not fitting (especially for women who have had trouble conceiving or have lost children to death, their attention may be turned away from God by ill feelings).  God alone should be the object of adoration in the worship service.  A church that has a stand and clap tradition will have a rough go if it tries to end it.  Mothers who are used to their day of honor may bristle against such change.  Such a bristling would be sinful but it may manifest itself nonetheless.[5]  It’s best to be cognizant of the primacy of God in the worship service with which to begin.  Christians are to be holy, set apart from the world.  This does not mean they cannot celebrate holidays within their culture.  However, it does mean that culture should not inappropriately encroach on God’s church

A Christian Response and Reaction

Christians who feel that their church inappropriately gives priority to holidays should approach their church leaders with their concerns in a respectful way.  They should keep in mind that church leaders likely mean well when engaging in themed services.  The church is the family of God, so to speak, and the local church is essentially comprised of families.  Church life edifies Christian families and it is not surprising that church leaders would want to recognized family-oriented holidays.  However, church activity should always be done for the right reasons.  Those reasons must always be the same: to glorify God and edify the body.  Holidays should not be used as opportunities for Finneyistic church growth schemes and filling for the pews and plates. Each Sunday is a special day in and of itself and should be used by those in pew to pay homage to their Savior.

If you were one children in the the pew with your Christian mother on this Lord’s Day and you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I pray that you follow her example and come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by repenting of your sins.  Contact me, if you like, and I will tell you more about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

**I dedicate this blog to my own mother, who always demonstrated a sincere faith and raised me in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I know she prays for me each and every day.

***I also dedicate this blog to my wife, Laura, the mother of my children who prays for and raises them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord every day.  Darling, there is no flaw in you.

family

[1] Occasionally, a sermon from 1st Samuel will find its way into the Mother’s Day mix

[2] Liberal churches who deny the Pauline authorship of Timothy surely have to find other ways to recognize Mother’s with topical sermons on this particular holiday.

[3] I recall that most of the last few occasions when I found my own wayward brother in church either happened upon a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

[4] This is to commit the same error that the early Roman Catholic Church committed, by associated pagan feast days with Christian Saints instead of pagan gods in an obvious attempt to conform to worldly culture.

[5] My pastor’s wife relayed the story to me of standing up on Mother’s Day to be recognized while pregnant with her first child.  Other women (who obviously weren’t thinking about when life begins) in the church later complained that a woman without a child stood.  My church, unsurprisingly, does not participate in this activity.

40 harmful effects of Christianity – #18

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:17

This post is the eighteenth in a series that addresses a list of “40 harmful effects of Christianity” that originated on the American Atheists Facebook page and has since made its way around the internet. In this post, I examine the following “harmful effect” from the list

Harmful Effect #18: Children spending the period of their lives when the brain is most receptive to learning new information reading, rereading, and even memorizing religious texts.

If this “harmful effect” of Christianity were factual, one would expect to see those cultures which are historically Christian lagging behind those that are not in the areas of education and child development.  This is not seen; quite the opposite is observed.  During the heyday of Communist Russia, eastern bloc countries where Christianity was outlawed failed to produce the same level of innovation and economic prosperity that western nations where Christianity flourished were able to produce.  Third world countries where animistic and polytheistic religions dominate are mired in poverty and produce almost no innovation.  Where Christian missionaries have opened schools in such places, the educational environment has improved substantially.  Islamic cultures fare somewhat better educationally than those countries which embrace polytheism; however, the education of little girls is given almost no priority.  It’s hard to believe that the Christian-influenced west, where both boys and girls are given substantial opportunities to study, outpaced the rest of the world in the areas of innovation and economic prosperity while educationally retarding its own children.

Education has long been a concern of the Christian church.  Sunday Schools were originally instituted by churches to teach working-class children fundamental reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as the Bible.  On the whole, the Christian church has encouraged educational pursuits and Christian schools, which teach much more than theology, are innumerable.  Of course the vast success Christian educational endeavors does not negate the argument that Christian children could spend the time they take learning scripture to study other subjects.  However, the case has not been made that reading the Bible is not the highest and best use of a certain portion of a child’s educational time.  The atheist author(s) of this list just presupposes that the Bible is harmful.

The venerable nature of Christian wisdom literature (such as the book of Proverbs) proves otherwise.  Biblical wisdom literature is replete with advice which, if followed, leads to a successful life.  In addition to wisdom literature, the rest of the Bible teaches that all people are created in the image of God, are inherently valuable, and are deserving of respect.  If these teachings are followed, society is a more livable place and more conducive to child development.  It does little good to educate a child if he is not provided a just culture in which he can thrive and put his education to use.  Christian influence has provided just that with western culture.  The natural rights philosophy of John Locke, which undergirds the western idea of property rights, is grounded in Christian thought.  Economist Hernando De Soto has argued that capitalist economies thrive in the west because of the formalized nature of western property systems.  Economist Max Weber argued that the Protestant Ethic, especially Calvinistic Protestantism, nurtured and promoted economic development in the west.[1]  Where scripture memorization is concerned, it should be noted, Calvinistic Protestants have long been proponents of the catechism of children.

Harmful Effect #18 is clearly preposterous.

In my next post in this series, I’ll address the following:

Harmful Effect #19: People who believe the world is about to end neglect their education, are not financially responsible, and in extreme cases take part in mass suicides.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] For more on the thought of these two economists, see “Hernando Desoto and Property in a Market Economy” by D. Benjamin Barros.

UnPhiltered Moral Philosophy: Phil Robertson Speaks Out Again


About 15 months ago, Duck Dynasty star, Christian media mogul, entrepreneur, and popular preaching circuit speaker Phil Robertson took some flack in the press for his candid and biblical description of homosexual behavior as recorded in an interview with GQ.  In the midst of a controversy over his comments, Robertson was suspended from his own A&E Network Reality show.  The outcry over his comments, as well as his suspension, was short.   In little time, Phil’s legions of supportive, evangelical Christian fans demanded that he be returned to A&E’s airwaves.  He was.  Consumers demanded and the market supplied.  This week, Robertson has once again come under fire for candid and graphic comments.  In a recent speaking engagement at the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast Robertson said:

I’ll make a bet with you. Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot them and they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And then they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’

Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day.’

If it happened to them, they probably would say ‘something about this just ain’t right.’”

There is no shortage of outrage over Robertson’s latest candid comments.  Even in the Christian community, some have complained that Robertson’s comments were too graphic.  Others have complained that Roberston’s comments did not fairly represent the atheistic worldview.  Dustin Chalker of the Mobile (Alabama) Atheist Community reacted to Robertson’s comments by saying, “Robertson has made a mistake so old and so worn out that it can only be a deliberate lie or a result of sheer ignorance.  Atheism is not, and never has been, a synonym for moral nihilism… Rather than obedience to a mystical authority that probably doesn’t exist, atheist morality is based on things that we can prove: other humans exist and behavioral self-regulation is necessary for peaceful coexistence.”  Is Chalker correct?[1]

Notice that Robertson did not argue that atheists can’t act morally.  It’s a misunderstanding of his argument (a common one) to state otherwise.  Rather Robertson’s argument was that atheists have no objective justification to declare actions moral or immoral.  As Chalker noted, Robertson’s argument is an “old” one, but it’s hardly “worn out”.  As Christian Philosopher William Lane Craig has noted, z moral argument like the one used by Robertson is perhaps the most powerful argument against the atheistic worldview.  It’s not hard to image that Robertson, who has a master’s degree in education, knows that Fyodor Dostoevsky’s wrote through his character Ivan Karamazov that “everything is permitted” in a world without God.  There is hardly any outrage to be had over the classic writing of Dostoevsky.  Yet, Robertson is roundly condemned. Robertson, in his straightforward manner, has put forth a classic argument that Christian theists commonly level against atheism.

  1. If God does not exist, Objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Atheists and theists alike generally agree on premise 1.  Where they differ is on premise #2.  Robertson’s comments were clearly meant to engender an emotional and intellectual reaction that would cause his hearers to affirm premise #2.  Using rape an example of an objective moral evil is a common tactic, not just of for frank country boys like Robertson, but for intellectuals and academics.   The following story was republished in Jeremy Evans’ The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Beliefs in order to demonstrate the moral evil of rape:

“[Consider] a little girl in Flint, Michigan who was severely beaten, raped, and then strangled by her mother’s boyfriend on New Year’s Day of 1986. The girl’s mother was living with her boyfriend, another man who was unemployed, her two children, and her nine-month old infant fathered by the boyfriend. On New Year’s Eve all three adults were drinking at a bar near the woman’s home. The boyfriend had been taking drugs and drinking heavily. He was asked to leave the bar at 8: 00 p.m. After several reappearances he finally stayed away for good about 9: 30 p.m. The woman and the unemployed man remained at the bar until 2: 00 a.m. at which time the woman went home and the man to a party at a neighbor’s home. Perhaps out of jealousy, the boyfriend attacked the woman when she walked in the house. Her brother was there and broke up the fight by hitting the boyfriend who was passed out and slumped over a table when the brother left. Later the boyfriend attacked the woman again, and this time she knocked him unconscious. After checking the children, she went to bed. Later the woman’s five-year-old girl went downstairs to go to the bathroom. The unemployed man returned from the party at 3: 45 a.m. and found the five-year-old girl dead. She had been raped, severely beaten over most of her body, and strangled to death by the boyfriend.”[2]

The graphic story above is about the brutal rape of a little girl and it was printed in a philosophy book published by an academic press.  No one is criticizing Professor Jeremy Evans in the Huffington Post. Robertson’s words are hardly shocking to Christians apologists regularly engaged in defense of a Christian worldview.  The question, “Is it always wrong to murder a child for fun?” is the stock question asked by Christian apologists to atheists to support premise 2 of the moral argument.

Despite to the rhetoric of Dustin Chalker, atheists cannot prove that is objectively wrong to rape and murder children…even though they know it is.  Phil Robertson is right.  Evangelical Christians should support these statements rather than decry them.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

[1] Atheist Philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche would almost certainly disagree with Chalker.

[2] Evans, Jeremy A. (2013-03-01). The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Beliefs (NONE) (p. 24). B&H Academic. Kindle Edition.

DISMANTLING THE JETHRO PRINCIPAL

Overlaying the Jethro Principle

For those who believe in the inerrancy of scripture, the essential questions of Christian theology were settled long ago by the church fathers and their answers reiterated by the reformers.  Except for the finer points of eschatology and soteriology, evangelical theologians have all but settled upon a systematic theology of Christianity.  For those in the publishing business, this poses a peculiar conundrum.  There is nothing new under the sun about which to write, but books must be printed to keep the presses, academic and popular, in business.  This is perhaps why the top-selling Christian books of 2014 included superficially biblical titles about dieting, money-management, relationships, signals of the end-times, heaven tourism, (montanist) devotional reflection, prosperity-gospel motivation, and Christian celebrities.[1]  One of the top-selling books of 2014 was I am a Church Member by Christian leadership guru Thom Rainer.  Church Leadership has become a very popular subject in Christian circles.  Since the theological question of what the church is is long-settled, some authors have take to writing about the contemporary question of how the church should be administered and marketed; they search the scriptures to support their findings.  In so doing these authors run the risk of advocating for “scriptural” leadership principals that aren’t really prescribed in the bible.  The “Jethro Principle,” purportedly gleaned from the book of Exodus, is one such principle.  Christian leadership teacher Robert Welch has identified and written-about common-sense business management principles regularly taught in secular business schools,[2] which are potentially helpful in administering churches, and overlaid an eisigetical biblical foundation over top of them.  While these business principles are good, useful common grace insights and sometimes proper to use in a church context, they are not scriptural and should not be considered as such.

The book of Exodus is a historical narrative that “recounts the formative event in Israel’s history, ‘the departure from Egypt.’…The book centers on two crucial divine acts in Israel’s history; God mightily delivered his people from slavery in Egypt (1:1-18:26), and he entered into covenant with them at Mt. Sinai (19:1-40:38).”[3]  Within the eighteenth chapter of this powerful and dramatic account of God’s power and providence, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advises him to appoint judges to help administer the nation of Israel’s large population lest he wear himself out trying to do so all on his own.  It is within this chapter of Exodus that Robert Welch purports to have identified “A Biblical Foundation for Organization.”[4]  Welch is mistaken.  Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush made no mention of a mini-leadership academy put on by Jethro for the former prince of Egypt, Moses, in their comprehensive book Old Testament Survey: The Message Form, and Background of the Old Testament.  In considering the implications of Exodus 18, Venerated biblical commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “We have reason to value government as a very great mercy, and to thank God for laws and magistrates, so that we are not like the fishes of the sea, where the greater devour the less.”[5]  Henry made no mention of management principles in his commentary.  His assessment is very good in that the immediate audience of the book of Exodus, the ancient Israelites, could look back upon their own history and understand the way in which they came to be governed.

Robert Welch has claimed something more for this biblical text, however.  In Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry, Welch presents Exodus Chapter 18 as illustrating a “Moses Model”[6] of leadership.  Paraphrasing the text, Welch put the following words in the mouth of Jethro, “You’re crazy! If you keep this up you are going to experience burnout in ministry. What will become of my daughter if you go over the deep end? But worse yet, what will become of the people?”[7]  Chuck Smith, pastor and founder of Calvary Chapel, similarly paraphrased Jethro in his commentary in Exodus 18 as follows, “Hey Moses, hey you’re gonna kill yourself, man, trying to keep up that heavy schedule. You can’t do it. So it isn’t right that you just wear yourself out in doing it. So you need to get other men to help you with this thing.”[8]  Both Welch and Smith transform Jethro from an ancient Midianite priest giving advice to his son-in-law to a modern management consultant rapping with a client in a hip vernacular as he presents his “Jethro Principle” of leadership.  To do so stretches the historical narrative of Exodus beyond its exegetical limits.  There simply is no prescribed Jethro Principle in scripture.  Sam Storms communicated the matter well in his article The “Moses Model” – A Recipe for Disaster, writing that those who advocate the Moses Model “ground their authority in an unbiblical appeal to the example of OT figures.”[9]  Storms rightly concluded that the structures and spiritual authority operative in the Old Covenant aren’t necessarily applied to life of the church in the New Covenant.  This doesn’t mean that such structures are not useful and worthy of consideration.  Even where common-sense management principles are eisegesed, they can be useful.  There are eight key concepts of the Jethro-principled “Moses Model” which deserve the consideration, the careful consideration, of those in church leadership:

  1. One individual cannot do the work of ministry alone
  2. It will lead to burnout – of the leader and the people
  3. The leader is to do the primary task – represent to God, instruct and teach, etc.
  4. The leader is to select qualified persons to assist him
  5. The leader is to delegate to those individuals portions of the task
  6. These subordinates report back to the leader
  7. The load will be lightened; the leader will endure
  8. The people will be satisfied participants

 #1 – Going It Alone

It’s hard to imagine a CEO running a company all by himself, working noon and night everywhere from the factory floor to the penthouse boardroom.  It just can’t be done.  Similarly, Moses could not reasonably be expected to judge every contentious situation that arose around among millions of sojourning Israelites.  His father-in-law’s advice to appoint judges to help do so was good.  Moses was smart to take it.  A pastor who tries to take care of every facet of church business by his lonesome is almost certainly doomed to failure.  A pastor who is surrounded by a plurality of elders and servant-hearted deacons will find that many hands make light work.  However, it should be noted that the offices of CEO, Prophet, and Pastor are very different.  Though each is a leadership office, what works for one may not work for or be appropriate for another.  Moses was not a CEO and neither was he pastor.  The “Moses Model” seems to justify the existence of the highly-compensated mega-church CEO-model pastor who has no time to personally shepherd each member of his flock because there are far too many of them for him to do so.  The local church and the million-strong[10] Old-Covenant ancient political nation of Israel are simply not comparable on an apples to apples basis.  The best possible comparison to a Moses Model pastor of millions is the Pope of Rome, who no evangelical pastor should seek to emulate.  When a pastor becomes a “Moses” he gains his own cult of personality. While such a cult is workable for for-profit companies such as Apple and its visionary founder, Steve Jobs.  All too often a vision-casting pastor becomes as venerated as Moses when the only personality cult a church should subscribe to is that of Jesus Christ.  It’s His church.

#2 – Flaming Out

Ministry “burnout” was not an extant concept during the time of Moses.  Neither was the local church or seminary.  It’s true that “between one-third and one-half of a seminary’s graduates are not in church ministerial leadership positions a decade after graduation.”[11]  However, this statistic is completely irrelevant to the life of Moses, who was called by God out of the burning bush.  Moses’ call is indubitable since it is recorded in Holy Scripture.  The “calling” of individual seminary students is not a matter of biblical revelation but their own personal claims.  The droves of seminary graduates who do not last in vocational ministry may have just made poor career choices and gotten a professional degree not suited to themselves.  73% of protestant pastors work more than 50 hours a week.[12]  Such grueling workweeks are similar to the ones worked in other high-burnout professions such as law and accountancy.[13]  In an article posted at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants website entitled The Key to Avoiding Career Burnout, Ron Rael, a CPA and “leadership consultant”[14] recommended that CPAs combat burnout by “developing a personal mission statement.”[15]  This is the same advice given by church leadership consultant Aubrey Malphurs in Chapter 8 of his book, Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership.  In The Key to Avoiding Career Burnout Rael cites career burnout causes that are very similar to the ministry burnout causes cited by Robert Welch in his book.  There is simply no “Jethro Principal” for how to avoid burnout.  Burnout is just a potential pitfall of any stressful career.  Though the idea of ministry burnout was unheard of in Moses day, people did know what it was like to get tired.  Moses was no exception.  He needed Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms while the Israelites battled Amalek[16] because his arms were tired.  Moses needed to appoint judges over the people to keep from wearing out both himself and the people awaiting his decisions.  Pastors don’t need examples from historical narrative to tell them not to try and do everything themselves.  Common grace provides that common sense insight.  Rael’s advice rings just as true as that of Welch and Malphurs without an artificial scriptural overlay.

 #3 – Preaching and Teaching

Moses is not a type of pastor; Moses is a type of Christ.  In the New Testament church, Jesus has replaced Old Testament figures such as Moses as the mediator between God and man.[17]  The Jethro Principal idea that pastors somehow represent God before the people is a faulty one.  Each member of the New Testament church is a member of the priesthood of all believers and is in relationship with God Himself through Jesus.  A pastor does, like Moses, have a responsibility to preach and teach.  Being two thousand years removed from the writing of the last book of scripture, pastors need significant study time to determine how to communicate timeless truths recorded in ancient languages to contemporary people.  In his day, Moses talked to God to God “face-to-face”[18]; pastors have God’s word in old, written scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Reading the Bible is not exactly a face-to-face conversation and communicating it requires intense study. Without day-to-day shepherding assistance from fellow elders, a teaching pastor may not be able to adequately present an understandable sermon each Sunday.

#4 – Looking for Help

There are clear scriptural qualifications for the offices of elder and deacon.  No church should appoint individuals to these offices who do not meet those qualifications.  This is not a requirement gleaned from any secular management school and it’s certainly not a Jethro Principle.  It is a requirement plainly stated in Paul’s Pastoral Epistles.  The Pastoral Epistles do not speak to the hiring of janitors and secretaries (W-2 employees).  Neither does Exodus 18.  In Exodus 18, Moses is essentially appointing officials in the Israelite civil government.  This scripture simply does not apply to hiring paid church staff nor does it imply that such hires should be made at all.  If church leaders do choose to hire paid staff, they should use the same caution and business sense that secular business use.  Furthermore, they should stop and ask themselves the questions, “Are we employing hirelings like a secular business would do?  If so, Why?”

#5 – Sharing the Load

The larger a secular business organization becomes the more employees and more departments it needs to run: finance, operations, warehousing, shipping, legal, human resources, and administration.  Additional executives, middle managers, and shop-floor managers are needed to help operate these departments and carry out their business functions.  In the realm of secular business, no one would ever call such leaders “commanders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.”[19] Even to many Christian businessmen, doing so would seem completely absurd.  Hiring such managers is simply how business…not church…is done.  To be certain such managers should, like Moses’ judges, be trustworthy men who abhor corruption.  Crooked managers are bad for the bottom-line.  As churches grow (perhaps into megachurches), more and more middle-managers are needed.  However, it sounds tacky at best to call church leaders “middle-managers.”  Thus, they become ministers of certain age groups and operations functions.  Under the “Moses Model” this is biblical.  On any other model, it’s simply business as usual.

#6 – Supervision

Advocates of the Jethro Principle believe that it demonstrates by biblical example that subordinates should report to their supervisors.  This is perhaps the biggest strain on credulity foisted by the Jethro Principle upon those who study church administration.  Even before Exodus 18, Joseph reported to Pharaoh, his jailer, Potipher, and his father.  His doing so doesn’t seem out of place to the biblical reader because that’s just what subordinates do…they report to their leaders.  The idea that Exodus 18 somehow draws this out for the church to see is ridiculous.  Of course subordinates, in any organization, should report to their leaders.  The better the relationship between subordinates and their leaders, the more efficient and effective their organizations will be.  Supervisors, whether they are shop-floor managers or sergeants, should be trained to manage people respectfully.  Church employment, paid or volunteered, is no exception.  No one needs Exodus 18 to understand this.  It doesn’t teach this.

#7 Enduring in Ministry

Some leaders will burn out no matter what their job is.  Leaders with a great support staff are less likely to burn out.  This is true of anyone from a football coach to a construction foreman.  If a top leader, such as a CEO, has a great supporting team from top-to-bottom, his company is bound to be successful.  Pastors are not CEOs. Pastors are also not Old Testament prophets.  Moses endured because it was simply the will of God that he do so.  He was called for a specific task by God and God’s plans do not fail.  It may be the case that a given pastor endures in ministry because it is God’s will for his life.  Endurance in the ministry is not a matter the financial bottom line, a support staff, or an organizational chart.  It is a matter of prayer and spiritual strength and the sweet and gentle mercy of a loving and forgiving God.  It’s not a Jethro Principle matter at all.

#8 Satisfied Sheep

It’s a commonly accepted tenet of business that it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than to win a new one.  There is a great danger of in the ministry of looking at church attendees as not served sheep but satisfied customers. In November of 2014, Thom Rainer wrote a blog post about the “Top 10 Ways to Drive Away” First Time Guests.  In his post, Rainer listed reasons why someone might visit a church once but never again.  Many of the reasons were the same reasons someone might not go back to a restaurant or tourist attraction after an unsatisfactory visit.  People don’t like to wait in long lines at the DMV, the theme park, or to be judged by a prophet.  Churches need to do a gut check when engaging in Jethro-Principle-style delegation.  Are they doing so to meet ministry needs or are they doing so to keep people from going to church somewhere else.  Hungry people are going to out to eat somewhere; saved people are going to go church somewhere.  Pastors should concern themselves with being available to their sheep themselves, not concerned simply with making someone available. If a church is as big an Old Testament Israel so that a few elders can’t handle everyone’s needs, maybe it’s just too big.

A Personal Perspective

Before I enrolled in seminary, I completed two business degrees at secular public universities.  I’ve worked in the business world as an accountant for almost 10 years.  I’ve had plenty of leadership training during my time in school and time at work.  The only difference between what I’ve been presented with in that training and what I’ve been presented with studying leadership in seminary is a facade of scripture.  Otherwise, it’s no different.  I think it should be.  Christian leaders err when they pretend that there are scriptural Jethro Principles of leadership in the bible that just happen to look like common-grace business ideas from the for-profit, government, or military world.  It’s said that Alexander the Great wept when there were no more world’s left for him to conquer.  Perhaps the academic theologian wept when he saw that Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley had already written all the theology left to write.  Christian orthodoxy was pretty much figured out except for two pedals on a tulip and millennium that may or may not have come.  Drying his tears, the academic theologian decided he could write on biblical leadership…and it came out looking a lot like John Bisagno’s recommendation to make the church look like Starbucks and Disney World.

Secular business ideas work; they are good….but they are not scripture and they are not meant for a profit-disinterested church.  I see no difference between the Ron Rael’s of the world and the Aubrey Malphur’s of the church.  Why does the church need a management consultant?  Didn’t God give it a Bible and His Holy Spirit?  Career ministers who have never worked in the secular world or been educated at a secular college may think they are receiving some unique Christian insight when studying Jethro-Principal-type material.  They are not.  I understand that it is the responsibility of a seminary to prepare pastors to work in churches.  I understand that modern churches are becoming more and more corporate as they struggle over attracting a dwindling attendance base.  Teaching leadership is a good thing.  Yet, somehow my most frustrating experience as a seminary student has been studying secular leadership and profit-making principles subtly disguised as biblical wisdom.  It shouldn’t be this way.  I love God and I love His word.  It’s so much greater than the wisdom of this world.  I’ve been blessed beyond measure to be able to study God’s word with fine brothers in seminary.  Christians should respect God’s word and be honest enough to not teach secular leadership, no matter how useful it seems and how good it sells, and say it comes from God’s Holy Word in Exodus 18.  It does not.

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

Bibliography

Christian Book Expo. “Christian Bestsellers, Best of 2014.” Christianbookexpo.com/. 2015. http://christianbookexpo.com/bestseller/all.php?id=bo14 (accessed March 10, 2015).

Henry, Matthew. “Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Exodus 18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Exd/Exd_018.cfm?a=68024 (accessed March 9, 2015).

High Road Institute. “About Ron.” HighRoadInstitute.com. http://highroadinstitute.com/about/ (accessed March 10, 2015).

Holdridge, Bill. “The Real Moses Model.” Calvarychapel.com. 2015. http://www.calvarychapel.com/resources/article/view/calvary-chapel-and-the-moses-model/ (accessed March 9, 2015).

LaSor, William Sanford and David Allan Hubbard and Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message Background and Form of the Old Testmament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Rael, Ron. “The key to avoiding career burnout.” CPA.com. September 18, 2014. http://www.cpa2biz.com/Content/media/PRODUCER_CONTENT/Newsletters/Articles_2014/career/careerburnout.jsp (accessed March 10, 2015).

Smith, Chuck. “Chuck Smith :: C2000 Series on Exodus 16-18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/c2000_Exd/Exd_016.cfm?a=68024 (accessed March 9, 2015).

Storms, Sam. “The “Moses Model” – A Recipe for Disaster.” Samstorms.com. July 14, 2014. http://samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/the-moses-model-a-recipe-for-disaster#comments (accessed March 9, 2015).

Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011.

Wikipedia contributors. “Chuck Smith (pastor).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. February 20, 2015. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chuck_Smith_(pastor)&oldid=648007395 (accessed March 9, 2015).

[1] Christian Book Expo. “Christian Bestsellers, Best of 2014.” Christianbookexpo.com/. 2015. http://christianbookexpo.com/bestseller/all.php?id=bo14 (accessed March 10, 2015).

[2] Welch has written about about Drucker and Taylor, both of whom I studied while earning my undergraduate business degree.

[3] LaSor, William Sanford and David Allan Hubbard and Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message Background and Form of the Old Testmament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996, p.63-65.

[4] Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, p. 1

[5] Henry, Matthew. “Matthew Henry :: Commentary on Exodus 18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Exd/Exd_018.cfm?a=68024

[6] Welch does not use the term “Moses Model” in his book but this somewhat popular term accurately described what he presents.

[7] Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, p. 1

[8] Smith, Chuck. “Chuck Smith :: C2000 Series on Exodus 16-18.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/c2000_Exd/Exd_016.cfm?a=68024

[9] Storms, Sam. “The “Moses Model” – A Recipe for Disaster.” Samstorms.com. July 14, 2014. http://samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/the-moses-model-a-recipe-for-disaster#comments (accessed March 9, 2015).

[10] Fighting men alone were 603,550 according to Number 1:46

[11] Welch, Robert. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. Kindle Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011, location 80 of 10184

[12] Ibid 165 of 10184

[13] I am an accountant.  I have personally witnessed and experienced high turnover and burnout in the public accounting profession from working long hours.

[14] High Road Institute. “About Ron.” HighRoadInstitute.com. http://highroadinstitute.com/about/

[15] Rael, Ron. “The key to avoiding career burnout.” CPA.com. September 18, 2014. http://www.cpa2biz.com/Content/media/PRODUCER_CONTENT/Newsletters/Articles_2014/career/careerburnout.jsp (accessed March 10, 2015).

[16] Exodus 17

[17] Hebrews 9:15

[18] Exodus 33:11

[19] Exodus 18:21