While I have heard many whisper (and some discuss publicly, most notably my friend Marty Duren in his Re-Imagineering posts) about the need for change for some time we have not had sufficient substantive discussion about the topic so here goes nothing! 🙂
I’ll start by stating what I believe to be the obvious. I am convinced that we need to eliminate the state convention as we know it. This applies, of course, to the Missouri Baptist Convention, of which my church is a member, but in reality I am thinking more generally about state conventions as a whole. I am of the opinion that state conventions have outlived, and more specifically, outgrown their effectiveness. In fact, I will go on record saying that I am convinced that state conventions stand in the way, far too often, of the effective distribution of our ministry resources. Let me try and explain my thoughts and then, in a later post, try to provide what I believe is a possible solution.
We in the SBC love bureaucracy. Really, I guess, this isn’t limited to the SBC but rather is true of humanity in general. Nothing, as a general rule, gets smaller. Instead we get larger and larger. State conventions are no different. In fact, I believe that we have grown our state convention and added significant staff to the point where we are reduplicating our efforts through the deployment of people and resources that could be more effectively used if we streamlined our efforts. Adding to the problems of the reduplication of efforts is the overlapping of financial expenditures as a result of the efforts of the local church, the association, the state convention and SBC ministries such as NAMB and LifeWay. It seems to me that we are at a place where we are not being as accountable as needed in the area of the distribution of finances and personnel.
Beyond the problem that I mentioned above, and this may be true of me simply because I am in a contentious state convention, but in our current context state conventions seem to be providing places to foster contention as much as they are providing a place to foster partnership for the sake of the gospel. Baptists, in particular, practice a polity that demands the existence of politics due to our majority “rules” sort of philosophy and as a result we constantly struggle with unity amongst ourselves. State conventions, though not intentionally I am convinced, have unfortunately fostered much when it comes to breeches in our unity. (See North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Florida and of course, Missouri) As a result pastors and lay people are dedicating a ridiculous amount of time to attempting to correct these problems of disunity – with precious little success, I might add – as opposed to devoting themselves to ministry and evangelism. This is particularly true in my home state of Missouri where we have dedicated countless man hours, money, sweat and angst over a lawsuit rather than devoting that time to pushing back lostness.
Both of these significant problems pose the need for radical restructuring, in my opinion.
Of course, compounding these problems is the reality that if we are to change our approach to the state convention we must recognize that many, many lives will be affected. Downsizing, streamlining and/or outright dismissal of a state convention is going to cause significant change in the life of staff/employees through the loss of income, jobs, etc. The need for the spread of the gospel, however, is far too great to believe that God would not sovereignly provide for those affected, I am convinced. While I am concerned about the lives of those involved, to be blunt about it, I’m more concerned about lostness and unity. These parallel concerns should be our focus and priority, regardless.