The Alabama Baptist: A Case Study in the GCR Debate

You may not be Southern Baptist, and you may not be from the state of Alabama, but if you’ve got a moment and care about the Great Commission Resurgence, I like to offer a few thoughts.  I am one of those boys born and raised Southern Baptist, and for 20 of my 31 years of life, I was an Alabama Baptist–one saved (1987), baptized, licensed (1997), educated (University of Mobile, 1997-2001), and ordained (2001) in Alabama Baptist churches.  As a college student, I traveled and preached in numerous Alabama Baptist churches, and my childhood pastor (Fred Lackey) was two-time president of our state convention.  While many 20 year old guys were defeating the latest video game, I found myself debating old, bald-headed CBF dudes on the convention floor of our state convention annual meeting about inerrancy.  I suppose I could bore you with more stories, but I share this because, while I was born and raised Southern Baptist, I grew to become a Baptist by conviction and appreciation of our rich confessional and missional heritage.

Although I am no longer an Alabama Baptist (I pastor in sunny South Florida in a county where evangelicals comprise less than 5% of the population), I still try to keep up with all that is happening back “home.”  In recent months, I have come to see that, under the direction of its editor, Bob Terry, The Alabama Baptist has become a significant factor in opposition to the Great Commission Resurgence.  Consider the steady flow of articles, beginning from early March of this year:

While Bob Terry has authored several of the opinion pieces mentioned above, he is not alone.  Sammy Gilbreath, a well-known Alabama Baptist and director of evangelism for the state board of missions has come out saying that the GCRTF recommendations would “devastate” the state convention.  Rick Lance, the state’s executive director, was reported to be “disturbed.”  But perhaps the most influential person from the state of Alabama is the current president of ABSC, Jimmy Jackson.  Jackson, who has allowed himself to be nominated as president of the SBC to secede Johnny Hunt, is decisively against the GCR and wants to bring the current movement to a halt.  Collectively, it appears that the most influential Alabama Baptists have provided a united front against the GCR Task Force and its recommendations.

The Pro and Con Articles

Of course, I am not the only one to have noticed the barrage of article against the GCR.  My good friend and fellow UM alumni K.J. Pugh expressed concern for this lack of balance in a letter to the editor, to which he (Terry) responded by asking him to write a pro-GCR article that would appear opposite to another anti-GCR article.  The difference between these two articles could not be more stark.  I strongly encourage you to take five minutes and read K.J.’s article, and I believe you will read a tight, convincing, and heartfelt argument for a new, compelling missional vision for the future of the SBC.  As far as the average reader of The Alabama Baptist goes, K.J. is an unknown figure, and yet his voice is numbered among many, especially in our generation, who are praying and hoping for gospel-centered renewal in our lives, families, and churches.

The anti-GCR article was written by Mike McLemore, another influential figure among Alabama Baptists, serving in various capacities not the least of which as president of the state convention and executive director of the Birmingham Baptist Association.  McLemore’s main arguments against the GCR included:

(1) the genesis of this movement began with a few influential leaders rather than pastors,
(2) the usage of the term “bloated bureaucracies”,
(3) the younger generation are not well-informed on the CP (and presumably if they were, they would not be for the GCR),
(4) the “unraveling” of the Cooperative Program
(5) potential fragmentation of the SBC family

Allow me to take a moment to briefly respond to McLemore’s rationale, as I believe his arguments are unfounded and his concerns unwarranted.

Responding to McLemore on the GCR

First, McLemore claims that the GCR movement began with a small group of influential denominational leaders.  While the GCR really picked up steam over the past two years, people have been arguing for serious evaluation and reform in the SBC for a number of years.  Three years ago, I spent a week writing about the issues in the SBC needing to be addressed, including reaching the major urban centers, the Cooperative Program, state convention allocations, state of the SBC, and gospel and mission, among others.

Aside from my personal attempts (as someone certainly not among the influential elite) to address the need for a GCR in the SBC years ago, there is something rather ironic about this claim by McLemore.  Was McLemore aware that the (perhaps only) pro-GCR article in The Alabama Baptist came as a “cry” from a low-ranking pastor of a local church in Alabama?  Indeed, the only two other pro-GCR pieces I’ve read from Alabama Baptists came from local church pastors, David Platt and Al Jackson (and now Stan Lewis, another small-church pastor in McLemore’s association).  On the other hand, all the guys “at the top” of the Alabama Baptist echelon have spoken out against the GCR, from the president to the executive director, to the director of evangelism, to the state paper editor.  It’s hard to believe that the “top-down approach” that McLemore has been castigating is not in full effect among “a group of influential leaders among us” in the state of Alabama.

Second, McLemore laments the usage of the phrase “bloated bureaucracies.”  I think this phrase will go down second only to the “cussing pastor” used against Mark Driscoll.  Opponents of Driscoll used this phrase time and again to criticize Driscoll without realizing that it was a passing comment by Don Miller in a book and not (at least no longer) a defining mark of Driscoll’s life and ministry.  The term was mentioned one time and retracted, but opponents of the GCR have worn it out to get as much mileage from it as possible.  But be that as it may, let me go on record to say that I do believe that we have a bloated bureaucracy.  For the year 2010, the Alabama Baptist State Convention is going to spend $26,450,000 of Cooperative Program money given through local churches in state.  For what?  How do you justify spending that much money in a state where there are Southern Baptist churches on just about every corner?  Since the Conservative Resurgence (1979), that means an approximately $775,000,000 was kept in the state of Alabama.  How do we account for 3/4 of a billion dollars spent in one state for the past 31 years? (This statistic is inaccurate as has been pointed out in the comments. I stand corrected.)

Third, McLemore believes that the younger generation have a misperception about the Cooperative Program and are vulnerable in the debate due to ignorance of our baptist history.  As someone in the younger generation, this could be taken as an insult, but I will given McLemore the benefit of the doubt.  But I can assure you, that many in the younger generation know about the $46,000,000 CP budget for the ABSC, the $26,450,000 kept in state (57.5%), and the fact that the mainline 14 state conventions withhold a total of $242,570,113 due to their privilege of being the first to determine how much money allocated from the Southern Baptist dollar.  If those same 14 state conventions went to a 50/50 split in allocation, $40,527,870 more dollars would be sent outside their respective state conventions to give greater access to the gospel in unreached places in the world.

I would argue that the younger generation is increasingly informed about Southern Baptist life and the Cooperative Program because many are trying to decide if it is worth it to remain (or become) Southern Baptist.  Several of my friends have been forced out of friendly cooperation in local associations or defunded from state conventions for entirely unbiblical reasons.  They believe in cooperating for missions and have a genuine passion for the local church but cannot stand the politics, infighting, and bureaucracy that has come characterize our convention.  And we are paying attention to articles from our elder generation who are telling us that we are basically ignorant of our history and  aren’t smart enough to understand how the CP works.  For the record, everyone I have talked to about these matters believes wholeheartedly in the CP.  It is an ingenious idea.  However, the system and structure is inherently flawed and needs to be addressed.  If that happens, the CP will not die; rather, it will be revived and inspire the next generation to give even more so that the stated purpose of the CP actually becomes the functioning reality for its existence.

This leads to the fourth concern of McLemore–the “unraveling” of the Cooperative Program.  He exclaims, “If it is not broken, then leave it alone!”  Can I recommend this article I wrote in 2007 as a piece of evidence for why we should not just leave it alone?  No one is asking for the dismantling or unraveling of the CP.  Opponents of the GCR, McLemore included, keep telling us that the problem is spiritual and we simply need to do more.  But why can’t we take an honest assessment on where, why, and how our dollars are being spent and weight them with the commission Jesus gave us?  Southern Baptists who are told that their CP money is going towards a mission vision via SBC cooperation deserve to know if we are being poor stewards of the resources given to accomplish that mission.

Finally, McLemore is grieved by the possibility of the fragmentation of the SBC family.  I have not been actively involved in SBC life for a very long time, but it seems that every other week there is a controversy or debate that has the potential to bring fragmentation within the SBC family.  If it is not worship styles, it is Calvinism or whether you have Baptist in your church name.  We are a very diverse family with many streams, but what should unite us is the mission Jesus has entrusted to the church to take the gospel to all the world, especially those who have never heard His name.  Why is it that the one thing that has the greatest potential to unite us on mission and bring renewal through gospel-centeredness is also charged with the possibility to bring division and fragmentation in the SBC family?  I don’t think I have the answer to that question, but what I do know is that we are a declining if not dying convention of churches.  Regardless of what happens in Orlando, the SBC will not be the same.  I hope that the outcome will be unity fostered by repentance, humility, and willingness to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission Jesus has given His church.

Concluding Thoughts about Alabama Baptists

In March, I read through a litany of ways that the GCR would “devastate” the work of Alabama Baptists.  Two months later, in what can be perceived as unabashed triumphalism, Rick Lance tells us that Alabama Baptists have always been a Great Commission state convention and the SBC owes its existence in part to Alabama Baptists.  In a matter of weeks, it seems the attitude of Alabama Baptists moved from a sense of desperation to pride and ambivalence about the outcome of the GCRTF recommendations.

Lance, Jackson, McLemore and Terry have all argued that this is too much change being done too quickly without enough time to really study the causes behind the decline.  One of the issues raised in previous articles was the impact on church planting in the state of Alabama.  Gary Swafford, director of the office of associational missions and church planting for the SBOM, said, “Alabama is a missions field, too. This will change the way we do church planting.”  When I read this statement, I could not help but think back to an editorial by Bob Terry in 2007 in which he made the following statement:

“Alabama Baptists regularly start about 30 new churches each year. Unfortunately few of these are purposeful, intentional church starts. Most of them result from church fights and church splits. . . . Much of what we jokingly call our “church growth strategy” may be of the devil rather than of God. . . . Our overall history in church starts is something to confess, not something to celebrate.”

Did you catch that?  Alabama Baptists “start” approximately 30 new churches a year, but only a few are actual church “plants” while the majority of them are a result of church fights and splits.  If that is the case, then don’t Alabama Baptists need to change the way they do church planting?  If the Great Commission is best and most maturely measured in church plants, then how does $26 million a year result in more work of the devil than blessing from God (to use Terry’s own words)?  Instead of celebrating being a “Great Commission state convention,” is Terry not right in calling us to confession and repentance over this woeful and deplorable record?

In the end, I am left more convinced than ever that we as Southern Baptists need a Great Commission Resurgence.  If the GCR debate among Alabama Baptists is indicative of what is happening across the convention, my hope is that there will be a grassroots movement of foot soldiers coming to Orlando, young and old, from all streams of denominational identity, to rally around not the cry of an elite few but the call of only one–Jesus.  His call was to lose everything, embrace the mission, and gain the enjoyment of joining God in bringing glory to Himself.  If we can but see Jesus as glorious as He is, would that lead us to do whatever it takes to see His name and fame echoing among the darkest and farthest places in the world?

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50 Comments on “The Alabama Baptist: A Case Study in the GCR Debate”

  1. George Says:

    All these DOM’s and well-paid “administrators” are just shaking in their boots that they might lose their posh salaries if not their jobs entirely.

    • Joe Blackmon Says:

      The DOM’s and folks associated with the Alabama State Convention that I knew were, by and large, overpaid, underworked, and would be clueless of how to earn a living if they actually had to work. They remind me of Paris Hilton on The Simple Life a few years ago when she was told she could go buy something at Wal-Mart and she said “What’s that? Do they sell stuff for walls there.”

      • J.T. Says:

        Why choose to hurl insults? Even if you believe this (which I doubt), at least make a helpful suggestion.

        The missionaries of the state board of missions are all people who left successful ministries to join a cause in which they believe. Having met most if not all of them, I have been very impressed.

        No one is perfect, but no one deserves to be devalued or degraded.

  2. Daniel Says:

    Thank you.

  3. Steven Says:

    Bro. Timmy:

    As an Alabama Baptist I can certainly appreciate your words. After I read Bro. Bob Terry’s editorial in my Alabama Baptist newspaper last night, I was wondering if anyone was going to respond. There is a small contingent of people (with all due respect, that are a bit younger than Bro. Bob, Bro. Rick and Bro. Mike) that are increasingly frustrated with the bureaucracy in the SBC, the ABSC and to a large degree in our particular churches as well. In my church, if I give $100 on Sunday, the church keeps $92 and sends $8 to the ABSC as part of the CP. The ABSC keeps $4.64 and sends $3.36 to the SBC. The SBC allocates $1.68 to the IMB. So, 1.68% of my $100 gift will go towards international missions. This is frustrating.

    I am not saying that my church does not use its $92 wisely or for God’s purposes. I am not saying that the ABSC does not use its $4.64 wisely or for God’s purposes. I am not saying that the SBC does not use the $1.68 that it does not allocate to the IMB wisely or for God’s purposes. On the contrary, my church does many great things and, by large, are good stewards with the blessings that God has given. Likewise, the SBC is doing wonderful works in support of the churches. My question, like yours, is what are the state conventions doing with all of that money that they receive?

    I know that approximately 50% of what the ABSC keeps goes to State Convention Entity Ministries such as Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries, Alabama Baptist Retirement Centers, Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union, and the three colleges (Samford, UM, and Judson). The other 50% goes to the State Board of Missions Ministries. The SBOM does some very good things. The question that I have is, are they doing the most important things most effectively. If most of our “church plants” in Alabama are in fact church splits, what does the Associational Missions & Church Planting Office, a division of the SBOM, do with its allocation of funds? This is just one example of the concerns that we have.

    I am excited about the GCR. I think that it will do wonderful things for the SBC. I would very much like to see this type of renewed focus and self-assessment happen at the state convention level. The major proponents of the GCR in the SBC have one common characteristic: they want to leave a strong convention for the young leaders that are developing. However, unlike the mentoring that is evident the SBC, the ABSC appears to be more concerned with protecting what it has as opposed to preparing the next generation.

    Steven


    • Steven,

      Excellent comments and very appropriate questions (both for churches and state conventions). I think the GCR is just and a means to a greater end. We cannot continuing going down the path we have been heading, and I hope our generation hangs around long enough to see that happen. If you read KJ’s article, he touches on the GCR in the local church (they are seeking to have 50% of their budget go to missions) through a swiftboat strategy.

      What the state convention does with $26 million a year is a huge question. I am all about caring for orphans and widows, disaster relief, and providing assistance through higher education, but there is so much that state conventions are doing that (I believe) they were never created to do. We have outsourced much of the ministry that belongs to the church, and instead of the conventions serving the churches, it is reversed.

      Thanks again for your comment. I hope our elder brothers in SBC life are realizing that we are informed, involved, and eager to see a GCR happen in our generation.

  4. Don Says:

    Timmy,

    I too am a current Alabama Baptist. My wife serves on staff at a large SBC church here in the state.

    What I’ve seen of the ASBOM over the past few years is weak at best. Their continued pride over having the largest state newspaper circulation and one of the largest state CP funds is disgusting.

    While those things may be surface issues, the greater problem is the incompentency of associational DOM’s and the bureaucratic waste on every level of the state convention.

    Here’s my biggest gripe: There comes a point when a church outgrows the local association. I’m not saying large churches don’t need to partner with smaller churches or other area churches, but right now, our church is more of a help to the association than vice versa. They look to US for direction. I’m sure the same could be said for other churches in the state like Tillman’s Corner, Brook Hills, Dawson, Shades, North Mobile, etc., and we aren’t even the size of those churches.

    With that said, eliminate the local associations. Empower local pastors and churches to partner with one another. Hold regional events instead of associational events.

    There are 75 local associations in AL. 75! You cannot tell me that in this day of technology that there needs to be 75 local associations for this state. We could easily divide the state into 6 regions and have a staff of 2 or 3 competent people handle communication and partnerships with local congregations. If every state in the 14 mainline states you mention did something similar, how much money could then be passed on to missions/church planting in our states and the convention as a whole?

  5. Sean Says:

    As a Coloradoan on the outside looking in this amazes me that you have 75 associations. We have 11 in Colorado and they are regional in nature. I am thankful that our DOM’s are catalytic leaders who foster church planting. Back in April as I was attending the T4G conference I had lunch with a young pastor who ministers in Mississippi (which I assume is very similar to Alabama in structure) and he shared with me the same frustrations mentioned above about too many associations and DOM’s that serve more as program directors and defenders of the bureaucracy instead of being catalytic leaders of church planting. Pioneer areas like Colorado don’t have the resources that many southern Conventions and our focus has been on church planting because 90% of our state is unchurched. Thank you Timmy for this post as it has opened my eyes to how conventions operate in the South. My dream is that the SBC would be led by local churches who see their primary role as fulfilling the Great Commission through aggressive church planting and that the state conventions and local associations exist to serve this mission rather than the local church existing to serve the mission of maintaining a bureaucracy. In Colorado most of our laypeople are somewhat uninformed about the CP. In my church, our people know that they are giving to missions and whenever we speak of CP most lay people (I presume) automatically think of international missions. Most would be very disappointed to find out that the money they are giving to missions is actually staying in the state that is already saturated with the gospel and has a church on every corner instead of going to unreached people groups around the globe who have never heard the name Jesus. Thanks for the case study. I will be in Orlando and am still praying about how to vote on the GCR.


    • My dream is that the SBC would be led by local churches who see their primary role as fulfilling the Great Commission through aggressive church planting and that the state conventions and local associations exist to serve this mission rather than the local church existing to serve the mission of maintaining a bureaucracy.

      That’s my dream, too.

      In my church, our people know that they are giving to missions and whenever we speak of CP most lay people (I presume) automatically think of international missions. Most would be very disappointed to find out that the money they are giving to missions is actually staying in the state that is already saturated with the gospel and has a church on every corner instead of going to unreached people groups around the globe who have never heard the name Jesus.

      Bingo. That is why we need a GCR so that our missional priorities are supported by our structures and processes. As you stated, if our people actually knew how Cooperative Program $$$ is being spent, they would shocked.

    • Erin Says:

      There are unreached people groups in every state and we need cooperative efforts to reach them. It is estimated that half of Alabamians are lost. Just because Alabama is in the bible belt does not mean that there are not lost people.
      Also, Alabamians are giving to the CP and as a result are helping support ministries in Colorado.
      Maybe you could help educate the church members about NAMB and IMB.

  6. Jason M. Says:

    Tim,

    You have articulated exactly what I think and better than I could express it. I also thank you.

    Jason

  7. Logan Says:

    Timmy,

    I appreciate your voice in the SBC, but as someone who is 27 and has rarely if ever seen a SBC church as missional I find myself often wondering what the point is in continuing with the SBC as it currently is.

    The fact that prominent “leaders” will fight against reaching the unreached and giving priority to places where people do not know Jesus is absolutely shocking and seems to epitomize the way the SBC is perceived.

    If the Alabam convention really views Alabama as a mission field, why are they not seeking to unleash their “lay” attendees to be missionaries instead of fighting over millions of dollars for churches?

    It all just seems like a flawed system that should be left to die so that efforts toward reaching the lost can go on without the infighting. It’s the infighting that makes the SBC look foolish and leads many to want to run away from their style, their ideas, and their authority.


    • Logan,

      I understand your frustration. What has helped me to deal with these feelings is to get my identity and involvement from the local church, not a denomination. I genuinely want to see change in the SBC, especially the bureaucracy, but as a local churchman, I am going to spend my energies on local church reformation, revitalization, and planting. My encouragement at this point is to hang in there. I think you will be encouraged with future opportunities of cooperation within the SBC, regardless of what goes down in Orlando. Thanks for chiming in. You are not alone in your sentiments.

    • Erin Says:

      The responsibility to send out laymen lies within the local church. Southern Baptist churches are autonomous. Many local churches fail to mobilize thie “laborers.” The State Convention and Southern Baptist Convention has a process for sending out missionaries and assisting them with ministry. If you are interested then maybe your should check out NAMB and the IMB and look for opportunities.

  8. Adam Shields Says:

    I don’t have a bone in this fight. I honestly don’t know if one or the other would be better. But I think you raise a couple of good points. But I think there are lots of questions that still need to be asked.

    The comment about about the 1.86% is exactly why I rarely ever give money directly to my local church. My church is fairly well off, they do not have debt, they pay their staff well, etc. They do not need my money, so I send my money to people that do need it. I send it directly and I know where 100% of it goes. I can tell you it is not going to denominational structure. I used to work for denominational structure and it was not pretty.

    I also think you have a strong point about why people are leaving and fighting, it is rarely theology, it is usually about culture or theory. As someone that worked in a predominately Catholic area, I thought it was a good idea work with local Catholics to reach our community. Local Catholics asked us Southern Baptists to teach evangelism classes. There was a movement to begin to pray together for evangelism. There was a strong movement to really do something to reach the community as the church. Instead, some people far outside of our area found out that a Catholic bishop was invited to pray at a community evangelism event that was funded in part by NAMB missions dollars. We were forced to uninvite him, the relationship was severed and that event had exactly zero effect in the area. In fact the whole association, is now essentially defunct. That was not about theology, it was about the control of a couple of people, that did not ask questions or inquire about purpose but instead threw their weight around.

    I have left SBC. Not over that specific incident, but over a long term drift away from evangelism and missions and toward a focus on culture and internal issues. I hope SBC will turn around, I pray for the denomination frequently and will be praying for them over the next couple weeks. I don’t have any answers, but I am pretty sure the Holy Spirit does if we want to pay attention.

  9. Jim Pemberton Says:

    I’ve only been a Southern Baptist for a few years. My wife and I abandoned a denominational ship that was truly sinking. From what I see, the SBC (and it’s various state conventions) has many good long years left in it.

    Perhaps it’s the health of the church I joined, but my family has been actively involved in missions, both foreign and domestic, most of the time we’ve been members here. Even next week, I’m going with a small team to India to conduct a pastor’s conference, a few Bible studies, and some one-on-one and open-air evangelism. This fall I’m headed to Dubai to meet with some Indian Christians and teach them some discipleship. My wife and kids have spent the past few summers in Venezuela helping with some church planting. We have also been to London to distribute Bibles to a difficult people group with some direction from IMB missionaries.

    With all this activity, I don’t have a clue what the CP does. It could be the greatest thing for missions since Pentacost for all I know.

    What I do know is that local churches being actively and intently involved in fulfilling the GC at home and abroad is a sure sign of spiritual health. Participation in mature, strategic evangelism levels the political playing field. It’s not that it gets rid of it, but it places it in proper perspective; that is, people going through various levels of sanctification will have their disagreements (Paul certainly did), but we learn to see the smallness of such disagreements in light of the mission of the gospel of Christ to the world.

    So, I don’t care about any bureaucracies in the SBC or state conventions. The gospel has been around much longer than the political machinery we have created to help spread it. One way or another, God will provide for his people to accomplish his purposes.

    I just had a discussion with one of the team leaders in the factory I help run. One way we try to keep costs down is by keeping our efficiency high. There are some who occasionally desire to have more hours so they can make more money. what many of them don’t understand is that we can win more orders by being able to offer lower prices than our competitors. And it’s paid off. Our people have jobs because we keep on them to work efficiently. The result in the short term is that they may work harder for less hours. In the long run, they will have more work to do because we have earned the orders of more customers. Likewise, staying focused on what is important in the life of our church may mean making short term sacrifices like the replacing of one program for a better one, but the long term has in store a much more spiritually healthy local fellowship.

    “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Mat 6:33

    • Erin Says:

      It is wonderful that you support missions in a personal and familial way. However, the greatness of the CP is that smaller churches, and even non well-to-do families can be involved in missions through a cooperative effort. Hence the cooperative in cooperative program. It is great that FBCWoodstock can support mission trips, church plants, etc. But most churches in the SBC have to work together to accomplish these goals.

      • Jim Pemberton Says:

        Well, it sounds good. Sounding good and being good are two different things and I’ll have to investigate the debate to see the merit of either side. As it is, my family’s not well-to-do, but God provides for his purposes anyway. I can say that he doesn’t use the CP to do it for us so I don’t really have a horse in this race. He may use some interested members in our church who are well-to-do to help us out behind the scenes, but I don’t know who if any that would be. It’s best to give God the glory anyway.

  10. Dave Miller Says:

    I think it is time for a more independent Baptist Press – what we have now is a Morris Chapman opinion vehicle. We don’t really need an adversarial press, but we do need an independent press.

  11. Rick Says:

    Friends,

    Ten years ago I moved from another southern state to Alabama to pastor a church. At both the association level and the state mission board level, I have received mentoring, support and encouragement in ministry that far exceeded anything I had known in previous pastorates.

    The irony in all of this is that Alabama went through its own “Great Commission” vision casting process more than a decade ago when Dr. Rick Lance cast the following vision for Alabama: “One Mission–the Great Commission; One Program–the Cooperative Program; Many Ministries–Great Commission Ministries.” These principles have guided Alabama Baptist life for over a decade and served us quite well.

    Do you see? Alabama was about a decade ahead of everyone else in sorting out most of these issues. There is a reason why no Baptist state newspaper has a larger circulation. “The Alabama Baptist” is a great paper and Bob Terry is a great editor. There is a reason why Alabama Baptists lead the convention in Cooperative Program giving. We have kept our focus on what the GCTF Report refers to as “the central and preferred channel of missions support.”

    Many of the comments on this stream border on ridicule. For Joe to compare the state missionaries in Alabama to Paris Hilton is absurd. They are much smarter than she is and not nearly as attractive!

    Whereas many other states have divided into two conventions, Alabama remains united, strong, well led by capable men of God and served by faithful churches who give strongly in support of missions and all Southern Baptist causes.

    Okay, so what if Alabama tends to predominantly oppose the GCTF Report while other states whose architects originated it like North Carolina and Kentucky tend to support it? Consider that the Woman’s Missionary Union, largely responsible for promoting Cooperative Program giving in every church is headquartered in Birmingham!

    I implore you not to be too quick to discredit men like Bob Terry, Rick Lance, Mike McLemore, Sammy Gilbreath, Gary Swafford and Jimmy Jackson. These are fine Christian men who will definitely consider the suggestions of other fine men like Danny Akin, Al Mohler, Johnny Hunt and Ronnie Floyd.

    But they are not likely to respond well to the accusations of a “bloated bureaucracy” even though the charge has been officially retracted — and is now apparently being officially restored. You did not hear these fine Baptist statesmen suggest, for example, that we reduce the funding for Southeastern or Southern Seminaries.

    And why not? Because they respect not only the autonomy of local churches, but also the autonomy of state conventions, trustee boards and other agencies. I for one do not appreciate the leader of one Baptist entity leveling charges against other Baptist entities or dictating how they should spend their resources. Neither do I appreciate the way some of you have spoken concerning my friends and Great Commission partners in this great state convention.


    • I implore you not to be too quick to discredit men like Bob Terry, Rick Lance, Mike McLemore, Sammy Gilbreath, Gary Swafford and Jimmy Jackson. These are fine Christian men who will definitely consider the suggestions of other fine men like Danny Akin, Al Mohler, Johnny Hunt and Ronnie Floyd.

      I do not think anyone here is discrediting these men. I will speak for myself and disagree with them. I do, however, think they discredit their own arguments against the GCR with the points I mentioned in my post. I hope that people will see that this is not about people’s character or ad-hominem arguments. It is about the issues that have been raised and debated here and elsewhere.

      • Rick Says:

        Timmy,

        Perhaps you are right and no one is discrediting them. I must have misunderstood words like “overpaid” and “underworked” and “clueless” in Joe’s comments, not to mention his Paris Hilton comparison. Then of course we have Don’s use of the term “incompetency” prior to his suggestion of eliminating all Baptist associations. The comment stream reads like a full frontal assault on Alabama’s excellent leadership.

        Even in your original post you used the term “unabashed triumphalism” to describe Rick Lance when he simply pointed out that Alabama Baptists already are a Great Commission people and one cannot change the historical fact that the SBC is our daughter and not our mother. The Alabama Convention existed twenty years before the national one.

        “Unabashed triumphalism” has overtones of pride and a haughty spirit.
        Timmy, we could not possibly be talking about the same man.

        I do agree with you about one thing: this is no place for ad-hominem arguments or personal attacks. I simply find them present in this stream of comments and wish people would stick to the issues.


        • Rick,

          Regarding the comments of others, I will let them respond. I hold to a rather free and open comment policy and allow for people on both sides to speak their mind on things (unlike the strong bias of the Alabama Baptist). To say that the comments are a “full frontal assault” is simply not true. Do most us disagree and lament the direction the leadership Alabama Baptists have taken, yes. But a frontal assault? Not even close.

          I think you have a problem with Christians being critical of decisions and actions of your friends without thinking we are attacking, assaulting, or discrediting them. Regarding unabashed triumphalism, Rick Lance’s comments were *perceived* to me just that. It may not be what his intentions were, but that is how I (and several others I talked to) perceived what he wrote. It came across as an arrogant reaction to the GCR discussion. Sure, there were many state conventions existing before the SBC, and associations existing before state conventions, and churches before associations, state conventions, and the SBC. So, if we want to get to who the mother of the SBC is, it is local churches. The SBC is a convention of churches, not a convention of state conventions.

          You are welcome to share your comments, and I hope you feel welcome to interact. Obviously, people feel strongly about these issues, but given that we share one Lord, one faith, and one common commitment to the Word of God, we should be able to disagree and debate these issues in an honorable way.


        • One more thing I would like to mention, Rick. You stated at the end of your comment that you wish people would stick to the issues. I agree with that. However, you have spent most of not all your comments here defending your friends and criticizing those who disagree with them. I am open to your comments about the issues I raised and my arguments in the post, but simply logging another comment in favor of your friends and against others commenting isn’t contributing to the discussion you are hoping would take place.

          • Rick Says:

            Timmy,

            Does your “free” and “open” comment policy not allow me to question whether or not there are, in fact, personal attacks here? You have now added the words “arrogant reaction” to the discussion. Again, not the Rick Lance I know. This will be my last comment suggesting that there are personal attacks here because every time I make the claim and give specific examples, the result is the appearance of additional attacks.

            Moving on to your request that we focus more upon the issues, perhaps referencing someone who is NOT an Alabama Baptist but espouses the same ideas would be helpful in depersonalizing matters. Toward that end, I highly recommend Morris Chapman’s latest post from June 3rd entitled “PERSPECTIVE” found on sbc.net. May God’s Will be done in Orlando.


            • Rick,

              Again, your comments have yet to deal with the substance of my post. In any case, yes, the comments are open to your question as you have done. I’m just responding by saying that you have not contributed anything to this discussion other than defend your friends and castigate those who disagree with them. If you cannot differentiate between criticism and disagreements with “attacks” and “assaults,” then there is not much left for meaningful dialogue with you.

              • Rick Says:

                Timmy,

                Sorry if I have not dealt with the substance of your post due to my preoccupation with castigating others. I get that all the time. “Rick, please stop castigating others!” I’m trying to quit.

                I am beginning to agree with you that there may not be much room left for meaningful dialogue. But let me try one last time to interact with the intention of your post.

                Your thesis that Alabama’s leaders oppose the GCR is one I agree with entirely. Bob Terry, exercising freedom of the press, writes good editorials that clearly favor the viewpoint of those who oppose much of the GCTF Report.

                I believe they have every right to oppose it, just as you and others have the right to favor it. I simply believe that those who favor the report (using this blog’s acceptable language) are: “clueless” and “overpaid” and “underworked” and are “reminiscent of Paris Hilton” and demonstrate complete “incompetency” serving ministry organizations that should be “eliminated.” The “unabashed triumphalism” of the GCR position is an “arrogant reaction” that only “castigates” those who disagree with them.

                Thank you for showing me how to season my speech with such grace, something I never learned from those Alabama Baptist leaders.

    • Steven Says:

      Bro. Rick:

      In my comments I did not intend to disparage any of these fine brothers that you mention. Bro. Rick Lance was magnanimous in his discussion a few weeks ago concerning the GCR and I appreciate his words. If the Convention accepts all of the recommendations of the GCRTF report, he will have some hard decisions to make. Bro. Rick Lance might have to deal with this not only as a matter of personal and denominational accountability, but also as an administrator. We should be in prayer for him, and others in similar positions, and for those whose livelihoods might be affected.

      You point to the Alabama Baptist newspaper as the most widely circulated Baptist paper. This is good, but does it really serve as a measure of our collective faithfulness? You point to Alabama’s predominance in CP giving. When I look at this statistic compared with other state conventions I am proud. When I look at it compared with the lack of gospel missionaries in other parts of the world, I am rightfully ashamed. We need to be sure that we are measuring all we are doing against the commands of God, not against the performance of our brothers.

      No one has ever said, to my knowledge, that the ABSC or any of its entities is doing anything bad with their allocation of funds. The question is whether we all are using the limited resources in the best manner. In my church, when the economy began to sour last year, the administration asked people to register on-line to receive the weekly newsletter. The administration did this to save money. Was there something inherently wrong about mailing the newsletter? No, but the church administration determined that it was not the best use of the funds that the church had entrusted to it. In a similar fashion, the SBC is looking at how it relates to the state conventions and the churches and determining what is the best way to use the funds that the churches have entrusted to it.

      Steven

      • Erin Says:

        I appreciate your response and agree that we should pray for all of the State Convention heads, including Rick Lance if GCR continues.

  12. Alvin Reid Says:

    Great thoughts Timmy. Like you, I grew up in the heart of Dixie. I graduated from Samford (where I met my bride, which was worth the time there!). I spent a summer serving the state convention as a traveling youth evangelist just after college.

    But I stopped reading the Alabama Baptist years ago. I still go back to see my folks there and occasionally preach there, as there are some great churches in my home state. But when I read the AB the thought “parallel universe” comes to mind. Whenever I begin to wonder if all the effort for a GCR is worth it, I think of my home state.

    What really makes me sad is to think of how a southern state with so many resources could do so much to reach, say, New York City.I love my home state. There are some great men who serve the convention. But I am not holding her up as a model of greatness in our time. As a former state staff member (evangelism director for Indiana), I know the differences in resources available for a state in the south versus one in the north. I pray we can rescue a book-of-Acts, relentless attitude for fulfilling the Great Commission in our time.

  13. Stan Lewis Says:

    Thank you! Finally someone is responding to the relentless drumbeat of negativity and mis-characterization in the AL Baptist. There has been no balance or any real effort to present the facts about the GCR issue. I think that Bob Terry has succeeded in hurting the paper that he is the editor of, and the AL Baptist will pay a price for him pushing his agenda down the throats of the readers.


  14. […] Brister at “Provocations and Pantings” has written an excellent article analyzing the bias of Bob Terry and the Alabama Baptist press. Bob Terry has been one of the most […]

  15. Steven Says:

    “These denominationalists were buttressed by an army of journalists who through the official state papers were the major channels of communication to Baptists in each state. These, almost to the last journalist, were vigorous in their support of the status quo and often vitriolic in their opposition to the conservative renewal movement. Several hundred directors of missions were ostensibly the servants of the churches in local associations but had actually become, for the most part, the servants of the elite in state and national denominational leadership.”

    This quote comes from the book “Anatomy of a Reformation” by the esteemed (and I mean that genuinely) Dr. Paige Patterson. I am struck by the similarities between Dr. Patterson’s impressions of what was taking place nearly forty years ago, and many people’s impressions of what it taking place now.


    • Steven,

      That is a great quote from Patterson and very apropos. I may be mistaken, but Bob Terry was not a close ally of the Conservative Resurgence (and still isn’t).

  16. Ron Harvey Says:

    Timmy,
    WOW! I was playing golf with my neighbor for the first time and having a spiritual conversation about where he was going to spend eternity when you posted this.. I am at best disappointed with the response of the Alabama State Convention’s anti-response to the GCR. I would hope that they and the rest of us come prepared (I will not be there but my senior pastor will)to the SBC to honestly say we are doing evangelism in our personal lives and leading our churches to do the same. If we are then the GCR should pass. Just sayin’!


    • Ron,

      Great to hear from you. I agree. While the SBC certainly needs a major overhaul, I would imagine all of us personally need to prayerfully and earnestly contend for a resurgence of the Great Commission in our own lives and churches.

  17. J.T. Says:

    “In the past 31 years, Alabama Baptist Convention has only received $589,472,980.87 through the Cooperative Program http://www.cpmissions.net/2003/State%20Statistics/Alabama.asp, yet you say Alabama Baptists have spent 3/4 of a billion dollars in one state during the past 31 years? Where did you get this 3/4 of a billion dollars number? Alabama Baptists have not spent that much in Alabama since 1925.”


    • J.T.,

      The estimate was based on an average of the most recent years of CP allocation and budgets. I did not have access to the information you listed above and will make the corrections in light of this error on my part. Thanks for the correction (to be duly noted on my blogpost).

  18. Sean Says:

    Timmy,

    I’m almost positive you have read the Baptist Press article today from Dr. Chapman proposing “A Better Way”. I am curious if you are going to address it on your blog. I’m assuming that Dr. Aiken at “Between the Times”, J.D. Greear, and the guys over at B21 will have something to say, but I definitely think it needs a response. There is no mention of church planting at all in his proposal. What excites me about the GCR report is the focus on aggressive church planting to reach not only North America but the nations. Also, how does this not look like another top down program where all churches are asked to adopt a unified strategy. This proposal (I guarantee, although I shouldn’t) will not resonate with the younger pastors in our Convention (which includes me although I am 38). I’m curious to see your thoughts. Thanks.


    • Sean,

      No, I will not be addressing Chapman’s nearly 19,000 words against the GCR over the past week. While it may need a response, I doubt that even Akin, B21, or anyone else will engage Chapman. Perhaps it is best to leave it in isolation.

      Regarding church planting, I’m excited about the future. Stay tuned for more developments on that.

      Chapman is making his curtain call this year at the SBC in Orlando. Consider this last barrage of articles as his parting words. His influence, although great at one time, is coming to an end quickly, and IMO, most people are looking ahead without lending credibility to his proposals. As Nathan Finn tweeted the other day, Chapman’s rant last year in Louisville had a reverse effect on his efforts to stop the GCR with a 95% approval of the task force motion. My hope is that Chapman’s words will continue to have the same effect–galvanizing and unifying more folks for a GCR.

  19. Will Says:

    Timmy,
    Grace & Peace to you my brother. I too am a “young” pastor on staff in an SBC church and have spent my entire life in SBC churches.
    I believe we need to be careful when we start grouping ourselves into old and young, us against them.
    I believe that many people are simply waking up to the fact that our time here is short and there are a lot of people who still need to hear the gospel. And maybe the way we have always done things needs to be streamlined so that more resources (dollars & people) can be sent out to share the gospel.
    I do respect those who have come before us and I truly believe they want to see the name of Jesus spoken to every nation. However, what I have seen in my dealings at each associational level is a mentality to “maintain the machine”. I am the Missions Pastor at our church so I deal with each level on a regular basis. In my opinion, there needs to be major changes brought to the SBC if we are going to be able to reach the nations. I know there is a “radical” movement taking places in many churches and in individuals (young and old) that have a “do what it takes” mentality to take the gospel to those who have never heard. We are called as followers of Christ to deny ourselves to follow Him. For too long, I believe that we have been building our own kingdoms (mega churches, top heavy associational entities, etc.) and we have missed the mark on truly building God’s Kingdom.
    Not everything is broken! But I do think the GCR did not go far enough. I think we should take a hard look at each level (Local, State, NAMB, and the IMB) and see where we can really “trim the fat” and put everything we can towards sending people out to those who have never heard.
    For example, here in AL, I believe it is ridiculous that we give millions to Samford University while 26,000 children will die today because of malnutrition and diseases related to malnutrition. I am all for education, but at what cost. We need to re-evaluate the call of the gospel and “examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.”
    Thank you for speaking out – keep it up!
    Will

  20. jon Says:

    I find it quite interesting that you guys that are speaking the loudest against the Alabama Convention are Samford graduates. Where were your protests when you were being educated with some of that Alabama CP money??

    As far as the newspaper is concerned, it is the ALABAMA Baptist. Not the FLORIDA or NORTH CAROLINA Baptist. Bob Terry is speaking to our people. Here is a thought–you don’t like it, don’t read it!!

    • Steven Says:

      Jon:

      As an Alabama Baptist and a Samford grad, I find your comment understandable in light of Will’s comment. I appreciate my Samford education and am grateful for the many people, churches, associations and the ABSC that subsidize SU. It was a great blessing to me. I also disagree with Will’s implication that by providing for education, we are neglecting the poor. The truth of the matter is that we have a responsibility to do both. Should we do more for the poor? Absolutely. Should we provide Christian education? Absolutely. The two are not mutually exclusive. To present them as an “either-or” is a false dichotomy.

      As far as the ABSC newspaper being the “Alabama Baptist”, you imply that its message is limited to matters of importance to Alabamians alone and therefore Alabamians alone should have the right to comment. This is clearly wrong. Indeed, Bro. Timmy cites to several articles in the “Alabama Baptist” where Bro. Bob Terry or another author quote people from other state conventions concerning issues of national Baptist interest. Furthermore, the “Alabama Baptist” newspaper is circulated, intentionally, to people all over the nation. My point is that the “Alabama Baptist” is a nationally recognized publication dealing with issues of importance to Baptists nationally. Therefore, it is fair for our brothers in other states to comment and opine as to the issues.

      Steven

      • Will Says:

        Steven: I am not implying that we should not have an education system. I have personally benefited from an SBC seminary. I believe we can do both – get an education & serve those in need.
        I do take issue that our State Convention is giving more money to schools than we are to seeing that the gospel is taken to those who have never heard and are dieing without hearing – namely International Missions.
        We will be held accountable that while our pristine campuses were manicured and more of our dollars & resources were kept right here in the “Bible Belt” while millions of people have died. There has to be a better stewardship of the resources God has given us.

  21. jon Says:

    Steven,

    So if I am offended by something in the NY Times, then I should shout it out and expect them to change their editorials because I am offended? Should I expect them to present both sides of an issue? I don’t see that happening. When I don’t like what I read in the TImes, I lay it aside until I forget what I was offended about! Same thing with the AL Baptist. I don’t always agree with everything that is published, but I don’t make a case of it. I simply don’t read it. Editorials are the opinion of the editor. You don’t like his opinion, then don’t read it.

    I do find it interesting that we spend so much money on the three Baptist schools. They have other sources of income than CP; two of the three would probably not even miss what CP money they receive. Until recently, when there was a presidential change at Samford, I was not even sure Samford was still a Baptist school. Thankfully, the new pres has made great strides in turning it back in the right direction. I still am amazed though at the people who are lashing out at the AL Convention are those whose education was provided by AL Baptist institutions. MOre than one person on this blog is a graduate of one of these schools. THese folks have been direct recipients of the CP money that stayed in AL. How quickly they have turned on a convention that educated them. Truly sad. One would think there would be some degree of appreciation; but alas, the long reaching arm of the latest mega church pastors has pulled them away from their past.

  22. Steven Says:

    I realize that it is a bit late to return to the party concerning this post, but I saw something that is relevant to the discussion that you began hear. As I am sure you saw, the Alabama Baptist featured an article a couple of weeks ago concerning Kevin Ezell’s election as President of the NAMB. The article spent more time focusing on what Bro. Kevin’s church does not do than it did focusing on what the church does do.

    My point is not necessarily on the article, as one-sided as it was, but on the ramifications. I just read a church bulletin with a statement from the pastor concerning Bro. Kevin’s election. The preacher stated, based apparently on nothing more than the article, said the following:

    “The wheels continue to come off the vehicle called Southern Baptist because we choose leaders to drive that do not really want to pay a fair share of the expenses. Kevin may well be an outstanding Christian, excellent pastor and wonderful preacher but he is a poor example in leading a church forward in mission vision. Oh yes, he can meet the NEW adopted 12 percent of their budget toward Southern Baptist causes. We continue to turn off traditional Southern Baptists because the ‘good ole boys’ want to run the show while the rest of us sacrifice faithfully to help pay the bills. Chalk this one up to another non-visionary decision.”

    The Alabama Baptist, which boasts of its wide circulation, can be a tool of great blessing or great destruction. I think we see here how these articles are taken and the salient points are distributed to an even wider audience.

    Steven


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