I am writing today after much prayer and soul searching. I hope you will take time to read this letter through, and give prayerful consideration to what I am trying to communicate.
Next week many of us will gather at the Westview Baptist Church in Martinsburg for the Annual Meeting of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists. I look forward with great anticipation to the good preaching at the Pastor’s Conference, to the Bible Study time in each of our convention sessions, and the Saturday morning preaching of my dear brothers Dan Jividen and Robby Gallaty. Danny is well known to all West Virginia Southern Baptists, and those of you who have never heard Robby are in for a great blessing. I especially look forward to the fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ from all around the Mountain State.
Our convention agenda will take care of the usual business of approving a budget, hearing reports from state and national agencies, and elect committees and officers for the coming year. However, one of the most important issues to come before our Annual Meeting is the report of the Strategic Planning Group, which was appointed by our State Convention President, Dr. Seth Polk last year. The SPG has met several times throughout the year and have prepared a report with recommendations to our Convention. Each Pastor should have received a copy of their final report, but if not, it is available online at the Convention website, http://www.wvcsb.org/
I am writing this open letter today to sadly advise you that I will be voting “NO” on the SPG report as presented, and to urge each messenger to the Convention to prayerfully consider how you will vote.
I am writing this letter after meeting for nearly two hours with our State Convention Executive Director, Terry Harper in his office on October 20, 2011. I thank him for the time he allotted for me and another pastor to ask questions and express our concerns. Our meeting was cordial and gracious, but we have agreed to disagree.
I have read with interest over the past several months, of the updates from the SPG which Brother Seth has been kind enough to share with all of us. I have listened with an open mind to the presentations by our State Leadership at meetings with our local pastors here in Greater Huntington Association, and at the Shepherding the Shepherd Conference at Pipestem. Now, after prayer and soul searching, I just feel that I have to speak out.
Please believe me when I say that my decision is NOT about personalities, but about principle. My vote in the negative is not because I am against reaching West Virginia with the Gospel of Christ, nor is it a vote against “my fellow West Virginia Southern Baptists who have worked on this committee”.
I am the pastor of a 96 year old Southern Baptist Church which, itself, exists from a church plant in 1915. Over the years it has planted numerous Southern Baptist Churches around West Virginia, and helped plant churches in Asia. We have long given 10% of our undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program, with an additional 3% for our local Association, and other gifts to various mission projects, as well as the usual gifts to Lottie, Annie, and Ola. We have not only financially supported missions at home and abroad, but some of our members have worked as Journeymen Missionaries for IMB, one served for more than 50 years as a missionary in Gaza and the West Bank. Many have made short term international mission trips and have served in Disaster Relief efforts. We are a missional church!
I have been privileged to serve as your State Convention President for two years, and to serve on several committees and as a trustee for one of our Southern Baptists seminaries. I have worked closely with our State Executive Director and staff. In fact, I am the one who nominated Seth Polk for his second term as First Vice President of our State Convention, as well as his first term as President. Furthermore, I was scheduled to do so for his second term last year, before I was called away from the meeting at Fairlea by a death in my church. I love these men, and I have the utmost respect for them, and for every man and woman who have served so faithfully on the SPG. Many of them are dear personal friends. My vote has nothing to do with any of these dear folks.
My vote is based on a principle. A principle that defines every aspect of Baptist life – the autonomy of the local church, the local association, and the State Conventions. We believe that the only authority higher than the local church is the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved it and gave himself for it. Unfortunately, over the past few years, it is becoming more and more apparent that we are seeing a hierarchy develop in the Southern Baptist Convention, and Baptists abhor an ecclesiastical hierarchy! Some in State Convention leadership have admitted in private that the mandate we have received from the North American Mission Board is a “top down” initiative, yet none of them will say it publicly.
The so called “Great Commission Resurgence” which was passed at the SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando last year was very controversial in how it was handled. Many of our WV messengers were strongly opposed to it. The issue did pass and we have been told that “The Convention has voted on this and we need to get on board”. I do not believe that the voting messengers of the SBC Churches had any idea that the leadership of NAMB would interpret this as a mandate to defund Associational Directors of Missions, BSU Campus missionaries and others, and force its program on the various State Conventions it supports. West Virginia (as a Pioneer State Convention) receives $1.2 Million from NAMB, and as a result, our leadership has taken the “cookie cutter” approach to church planting, and attempted to color it as a plan “devised for West Virginia, by West Virginians”. This is not the case. We are told that “this is all that NAMB will accept”.
There are numerous issues that have come out of this overarching issue of a hierarchy that exists with NAMB and the State Conventions it supports. I fully support NAMB’s efforts to focus on unreached areas and great metropolitan areas of North America, where SBC witness is small or non existent. Perhaps it is time that West Virginia should get off the NAMB dole and shoulder more responsibility (but that is another argument for another time).
Rather than go into any more detail here, let me say that I am not saying “vote NO just to vote No”. I am enclosing a list of concerns I shared with Brother Terry, along with my observations and suggestions as to how we could deal with this. Please look over them carefully. The State Convention Annual Meeting will not allow time for full discussion, so that is why I am sharing this with you today. I pray that you will take this in the spirit in which it has been sent, in love from a fellow WV pastor. Please allow God to lead you as to how you vote on this issue, if you are a messenger at Martinsburg.
I would be happy to discuss details with anyone who would like to talk further about this. We all want to reach WV, North America, and the world with the Gospel. However, the NAMB/SPG plan is NOT the only way that this can be accomplished. If you are not coming to Martinsburg, please pray that God will be with us, and give us wisdom in everything we do.
In His Grace,
Too FAST – First we were told 7 years, then 2 years, Suddenly 6 months! Why the rush?
Other states have taken up to two years to make the changes
Top Down Process (which Reeks of denominational Hierarchy) –
· Slap in face of autonomy of churches, associations, and state convention
· WVCSB is too dependent on NAMB funding
· We are a “New Work” state that is 41 years old!
· Perhaps our churches would give more if they saw us being weaned off NAMB funds, and moving more to 50/50 CP Split
· We have a welfare mentality
1. WVCSB receives $1.2 million from North American Mission Board
3. $51 thousand from Florida Baptist Convention ·
· Send on 38% CP $456,000.
· Is NAMB a “Partner”? I think not. They tell us how we must use these funds
1. to keep our funding from NAMB
2. but NAMB doesn’t have any money
3. WVCSB doesn’t have any money
4. they only have what monies our autonomous churches give
Church Planting Model – Church Planting Catalyst Missionary
· Where did this model come from? It did not originate in WV!
· SPG did not come up with it. It was presented to them as to what NAMB would accept
· it is a Cookie cutter plan NOT, as reported “What was best for West Virginia”
· The only concession was getting 5 regions rather than the original 4 regions proposed
· If we vote against this, the implication is that we don’t care about reaching WV for Christ…
· Or we are voting against our fellow WBCSB brethren who worked so hard for us. I reject these statements as written in our Executive Director's column in the State Paper
This Plan will create a Growing State Office Staff –
· Florida Baptist Convention is reducing state staff by 55 positions.
· Under this plan we are actually growing state staff-
· Fill the Evangelism position first determined to leave vacant
· 5 new CPCM’s
1. 20% of their salaries (80% paid by NAMB)
2. six cars & travel expenses (counting evangelism position)
3. Computers & I phones
4. Health Insurance and other benefits
· How will this be possible due to extra staff and expenses?
· Associations are expected to tighten belts and be self supporting
· Local churches are also facing financial difficulties, have to take on more support of Local Associations,
· Yet are asked to increase CP Giving
· Everybody is downsizing and tightening the belt except State Convention Office Staff
Collegiate Church Plants – foolish and unfeasible
· Campus missionaries are needed, but a campus church plant seems unwise.
· Most on campus are very young and strapped for cash
Now The SPG Report has been Pushed upon us
· If we vote against it, the implication is that we are against the Great Commission and reaching WV for Christ
· This is how we were treated in Orlando with the GCRTF report
· If we vote against it, we are painted as those who do not support “our fellow WV Southern Baptists who have worked so hard for us”
· Allowing only a small time of discussion by including it in the Friday afternoon Miscellaneous Business Session, along with Election of Officers (pres and 1 vp), Discussion of Budget, Nominating Committee Report, then Report of SPG is not sufficient time for debate
· Then voting in evening session (without discussion) right after Frank Page
· Slick video presentation will not change the facts that our state is very divided on this report
· There seems to be the False assumption that only WVSBC can evangelize WV with new church plants (while there is a huge presence of American Baptists, Independent Baptists, Free Will Baptists, and other evangelical denominations all across WV.)
· The Greatest need is for strengthened existing churches – then we will see church plants, from strong congregations
· Our Region's CPC will cover 12 counties – the job description calls for him to spend 60 percent of his time in church planting activities and 40 percent of his time to be spent in Church Strengthening. That will be tough to do since 90 percent of his time will be driving! The idea that he can effectively help strengthen churches is an insult to our intelligence!
The SPG Report
I can support three articles of the report
· #1 Church Strengthening (fully support)
· #2 Church Mobilizing (except for the collegiate church planting part)
· #4 Cooperative Program (support 100% - way past due)
I cannot support two of the articles
· #3 Church Planting (could support this with some changes especially CPCM on Page 9 and Collegiate church plants on Page 10)
· #5 Associational Relations (Cannot support at all. Reject the premise on page 12)
· could support these two with changes
If Required to vote on report as a whole – Will have to vote NO and urge others to do the same
(this was what most of us West Virginians wanted in Orlando with the GCRTF Report, and were all disappointed when we could not)
This Process Has Been Done BACKWARDS
· Forced upon us by our “partners” at NAMB
· Took cookie cutter approach
· Shove it through, apply spin and pressure to approve
· Alienation and demonization of those who disagree on principle
· THEN we are asked to pray for 8 weeks for Unity (after damage is done)
· Should have had major prayer emphasis first – then proceed
· Top down procedure – Denominational Hierarchy
· Calloused treatment of DOM’s and some other faithful state missionaries
· Cookie Cutter approach – yet saying this is best for WV!
· Not open to any options suggested (the only “concession” went from 4-5 regions)
· Bloating of the state office budget with extra staff, and related expenses – there by delaying moving to a 50/50 CP split (because monies may not be available)
· Implying that vote against this report is a vote against evangelizing WV and against our fellow WV Southern Baptists
· Let Us Vote on report article by article
· For any article that is rejected - Re-impanel the SPG to come up with other options for our consideration (some compromise idea have already been proposed)
· Bathe the undertaking in fervent prayer
· Present new findings to State Convention annual meeting in 2012
· Explore ways to wean ourselves off the NAMB funds so they can be best spent in more unreached areas (according to their strategy)
· This exercise has been backwards from the start.
· Neither Associations nor Conventions plant churches. Healthy churches plant churches!
· Great damage has already been done to the unity of our state’s Pastors and churches in West Virginia
· Passage of this report (as is) will do irreparable damage to our unity, fellowship, and financial support of the CP in West Virginia