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Boots on the ground

 

Some may consider this editorial to be self-serving, but I have prayed for objectivity and clarity in the writing of this treatise.

As editor of The Christian Index I have been a state missionary for ten years. Prior to my current ministry I was a pastor for over 40 years. I still consider myself a pastor at heart.

For almost five months I have been interim pastor of Cartersville First Baptist Church. I have loved every minute of it. It keeps me focused on the primacy of the local church in Baptist life.

Do I see weaknesses in our denominational structure? Of course I do. I also see weaknesses in the local church; and I even see weaknesses in my own family and in my own life. With God’s help I live, pray, and work to improve on all the above.

Baptist state conventions have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Some contend that state conventions are unnecessary or perhaps only minimally useful. The focus in Southern Baptist life seems to be on church planting and international missions. Who in the world could possibly argue against the essentiality of missions and church planting?

A recent blog has suggested that some state conventions are not transparent when it comes to the distribution of Cooperative Program funds. They insist, for example, that the GBC is wrong to claim that the state convention maintains a 50/50 funding split between state and national entities.

It is true that the GBC budget has a line item for shared expenses that amounts to almost 20 percent of the total budget. That means that 40 percent of the remaining budget goes to Nashville to be distributed among SBC agencies and 40 percent stays in Georgia to meet our missionary obligations in our Jerusalem and Judea.

The shared expenses portion of the budget is both allowed and endorsed by the national convention. But the critics seem to forget that the Southern Baptist Convention has voted numerous times to approve these shared expense line items. An understanding of our history should be sufficient to put an end to such folderol.

... I have become increasingly convinced that state conventions are absolutely essential to the overall Kingdom enterprise.

As a reminder, the SBC voted to approve the shared expenses of the budget as early as 1934. In fact, a 50/50 division of expenses necessary for administration and promotion related to the state convention’s responsibilities for collection and advancement of the Cooperative Program may be found on pages 38-49 of the 1934 SBC Annual and pages 42-43, 45 of the 1983 SBC Annual.

For example, the money The Christian Index receives from the Cooperative Program is considered a shared expense, because we not only report news within the state, but national and international news of interest to Georgia Baptists. The state Baptist newspapers also promote the work and ministries of our national agencies like the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.

State Baptist newspapers also promote the Cooperative Program for state, national, and international missions. In fact, Southern Baptists would know very little about the CP if it were not for the state news journals.

If the GBC sent all of the shared expenses to the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville, then they would be obligated by convention policy to send half of that money back to the state convention. That could become a logistical nightmare for all involved.

Some have suggested that there are too many layers to our Baptist structure and that state conventions are passé. Additionally, charges of bureaucracy have been hurled at state conventions. The leadership of the GBC has implemented an austere management of Cooperative Program funds and along with the recent recession any kind of excess that might have existed has surely been eliminated

So, is there still a place for state conventions in Southern Baptist life? I have observed the work of state conventions from the outside and now from the inside and through the years I have become increasingly convinced that state conventions are absolutely essential to the overall Kingdom enterprise.

It is the state conventions that put “boots on the ground” in our denominational life. I will never forget the first board meeting I had as the editor of The Christian Index. Our executive director, J. Robert White, was there. I apologized for having traveled so many miles for convention responsibilities. Dr. White responded, “While we want to be frugal in our expenditures, I am not concerned about miles driven in ministering and in meeting with our Georgia Baptist pastors and churches. I want you to be on the field loving Georgia Baptists and ministering to them.”

The national convention serves a very significant purpose, but it’s the state Baptist conventions that actually have the “boots on the ground.”

Brill Taylor Collins has the official website for “Boots on the Ground.” He writes: “The expression ‘Boots on the Ground’ is used in military circles to talk about the direct physical presence of troops in an area of conflict over against the other military options in an age of high technology.”

Collins continues, “Aerial bombardment, guided missiles, ‘stand-off’ smart munitions, and off-shore fleets can take the fight to the threat. But the job doesn’t get done until we put ‘Boots on the Ground.’”

State conventions assist churches in developing a ministry of presence. When pastors need training, encouragement, counsel, and support the state convention provides a ministry of presence. When a church has a crisis or a need for guidance or leadership development the state convention provides a ministry of presence.

Space is not available to present all that the Georgia Baptist Convention does to assist Georgia Baptists and their churches, but our state missionaries are committed to serving with a personal touch, with a ministry of presence, with boots on the ground.