Wednesday, October 14, 2009

revisiting the "merger"

Apologies to my readers for my tardiness.  I have been traveling a lot lately, and it hampers my ability for the real important things in life--blogging. ;)

I recently posted on some possible ways to merge NAMB and IMB, and Mike Ebert, Communications team leader at NAMB, was gracious to post a reply.  I am going to comment on his reply here, rather than in the comments section, because I believe my readers will gain something through our interaction.  If it happens in the comments, it will probably just be ignored.  I would encourage you to go to that page and read his complete comment in its context as I am going to pull out specific quotes.

I'm sorry you didn't get your questions answered properly, but don't give up on us just because someone wasn't able to clearly explain how we work!

For the record, I do view NAMB to be a valuable entity.  Like most SBC entities, however, I think that we need to make changes so that we continue to look outward.  My question to the gentleman at NAMB was specifically "Does NAMB have any cross cultural church planters working in my city?"  That is when he explained to me NAMBs connection through the state and association levels.  I am deeply concerned to find that we only have one person doing this kind of work through any SBC entity.  Our city is a "majority minority city.  It is the 4th largest hispanic city in the world.  We have the third largest Vietnamese population in the States and are home to over 100,000 Muslims.  One person just seems inadequate. 

I only really went looking for answers at NAMB because some people who heard about our project thought that we were putting ourselves in competition with NAMB.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  We certainly don't need just one more organization.  Turns out we are not. 

Because all of NAMB's mission field—North America—is on someone else's home turf—state conventions, associations, churches—we're very careful to work through SBC partnership. That means some missionaries who receive partial funding from us don't even receive a paycheck that says "NAMB" on it. It comes from the local state convention or the association or the church and those entities receive dollars from NAMB.
And isn't that the way we would want it?

This is the mentality that I keep running into--Turf.  I do realize that for the sake of the local church we don't necessarily want national resources being used to set up a church just down the road which "competes" with at existing church.  Why would the first church give to such an organization?  At the same time, this is exactly the problem we need to address--turf. 

Each level of SBC entities adopts the same mentality.  I currently am working at an association; and that is where I realized the problem.  We, as an association, have been doing people group research for our city.  Our mentality was that we would have the information ready (who the PGs where, where the are, a basic worldview document, and a few pointers on strategy for working in that context.).  Our SOP was to wait for the initiative of the churches to come to us with this burden.  We were poised to help them once they came to us (though we were beating this drum at every meeting).  The problem, is that when you look at our city in terms of "red dots" (think of the IMB world evangelization map), that we have many red dots just waiting for the gospel, and most churches are only thinking about themselves, their Sunday event, and their bottom line.  If reaching a red dot doesn't help them, then they aren't interested.  We, the association, needed to change and become more proactive.  When I went looking for partners, I looked to those organizations closest to us-state convention and NAMB-and realized that they were operating under our old paradigm.  They wait on the initiative of the churches.  The red dots can't wait.  This isn't really anyone's turf since most of these people are not candidates for the churches in our city, not to mention the fact that most of the churches are in the suburbs and most of the internationals are in town.  What is true of the world (that all of the resources and the green dots are in the west) is also true of our city.  The resources and believers are out of town and all of the major areas of lostness are in town.

It doesn't matter to me whose name is on the check or who gets credit {and I think it is positive that NAMB is funding stuff that doesn't bear its name-kudos}, but we need to get past respecting churches, associations, and states turf.  We need to be proactive in our mission--unilateral if necessary.  In our overseas operations we deal with many of the same issues.  What is the role of the local church in reaching the majority people group?  There are instances in which we work with and through the local church.  But in the 10/40 window, more often than not, the work must be done in spite of the local believers {there are significant cultural, religious, and even ethnic barriers which explain why the churches are reluctant, and at times resistant, to reaching out}.  All of this is particularly true in the Muslim world.  In the same way, we need to be willing to send missionary church planters to the international population in our major cities just like we do overseas.  Though our churches at home don't have the same soci-cultural issues, they are still reluctant to get into local internal work.

Most state conventions or local associations or local churches for that matter don't want (or need) a national entity coming in and telling them where they need a church. So we work in conjunction with them.

I agree.  We don't need a top down organization.  But at the same time, the local church is not equipped to look at their city as a strategy coordinator would.  That is to say, most churches think they are effective if their sanctuary is full and if their budget is met.  They only start asking questions when they see empty seats. 

Regarding restructuring our denomination, I personally am in favor of getting rid of the middle man (the state conventions).  I do realize that will never happen.  But while we are dreaming...  I think that NAMB can be a cooperative way for all of our churches to channel their money towards local missions.  NAMB can funnel money and provide guidance at the strategy level {Someone has to be keeping their eye on the red dots and funneling people and resources to them}.  The local association can provide local and regional strategy and guidance.  All of the other activities of the state conventions {since we just got rid of them} need to be carried out as an integral part of the strategy to impact lostness.  {this is actually a great way to evaluate church programs at the local level.  Leadership sets the focus and strategy and then evaluates programming in light of that.  Some things get cut.  Others get refocused.  Our ESL program might stay, but we tweak it so that we are using this as a part of our strategy to reach a particular branch of our community with the gospel}.  We need orphanages, hospitals, etc, but how do they fit in to our overall strategy?  I think they are important and useful, but, perhaps, there is a better way of structuring them so that they make more sense strategically {we still provide the same services, but in a format which better demonstrates our commitment to meeting needs and reaching people}.    

We provide research, training, strategy, experienced church planters, resources, etc. And, yes, funding.

All of this is great, but this is exactly what the state conventions and local associations provide.  There is one thing that each level needs to add to their list of services--Leadership.  I am not all negative concerning the local church.  There are a great many of them which are interested in reaching the internationals in their community, but they have no one to show them how.  Thus, they either do nothing, or strike out on their own.  You and I both know that there are resources available, but the churches don't know that.  I am with the IMB {its complicated} and have visited many churches that don't know that the IMB is the SBC mission board!  This is true at the local level as well.  Many of the rank and file at our churches don't know that they are part of our association or what our association does.  There is a disconnect between our entities and our churches and if the SBC will go forward effectively this needs to be remedied.  But what if an entity {be it NAMB the association or the state} were to use money to fund a missionary church planter who served as a networker to compel and lead churches to action?  I think a lot of church  which are sitting on the fence would jump on that.

As for MSC missionaries. They've been a part of what we do since the late 1970's. We don't appoint an MSC missionary unless the local state convention tells us they fit with their state mission strategy. True, they are not funded in the traditional SBC missions model way, but the origin of the paycheck is not what makes a missionary. Our state convention partners provide local oversight of MSC missionaries and hold them accountable to the missionary ministries they are performing.

I wasn't trying to say anything negative about MSC.  We have had MSCers at our church before and it was a real blessing and I assume that is the case wherever they go.  By definition, this couple who served in our church were not missionaries.  They did play a vital role in our church, they just weren't missionaries by definition or role.  When the average southern Baptist hears that we have 5,000 missionaries stateside, he is hearing that we have 5,000 people who are on the street, sharing the gospel and planting churches.  Truth be told, most rank and file Baptists, pastors included, probably don't know what NAMB does, and this is a problem {the same is true of the SBC, State conventions, local associations, IMB--and we wonder why we are in trouble...}.

Mike, I appreciate your time and interest.  I do understand the political restrictions on NAMB {which also apply to the associations and state conventions} but to me, that is the problem.  The goal of a missionary is to take the name of Christ where it is not known.  By definition, that is no one's turf.

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