The terms contained in the new “Cooperative Agreements” and “Cooperative Budgets” are quietly altering the life of the SBC. “Cooperative Agreements” establish the terms that dictate how NAMB and State Conventions relate as they work together to accomplish our mission. State Budgets assign how money will flow from State Conventions to NAMB and other SBC entities. NAMB’s Cooperative Budgets determine how NAMB will release money to State Conventions. Together, they significantly impact how Southern Baptists partner, fund, prioritize, and staff to carry out ministry and mission.
However, the changes made in them are negatively transforming the ecosystem of Southern Baptist life. The changes impact all Southern Baptists through the stewarding over $400 million in NAMB assets with $285 million in unrestricted reserves—money accumulated by the NAMB leaders while our mission effectiveness has declined.
Background on Agreements: Why Important
Changing terms of Agreements and Budgets are not usually the subjects of news reports or reports by given by NAMB or State Convention leaders, but these changes are impacting the present and future of the SBC. Historically, Cooperative Agreements have left local and State convention leaders – who are situationally “closest” to the mission field – with significant power to make their own decisions about ministry priorities, staffing, and strategy development in their mission field.
But, the new Agreements with non-southern states significantly shift power and decision making away from local and state leaders to national level leaders at NAMB – a centralization of power and control unlike our SBC history. Furthermore, in securing these new Cooperative Agreements that bring State Conventions more under the determination of NAMB, Dr. Ezell used SBC money and power to threaten and bully into submission those state leaders who have resisted the loss of their Convention’s self-determination. His sinful actions have dishonored his position of trust and Southern Baptist leaders and members – and the Lord, Himself. The assumption of innocence that is normally afforded to the NAMB President provided a deceptive cover for his unbiblical actions and I assumed misled some of our NAMB Trustees.
Strength of SBC Ecosystem Weakened
Southern Baptists have long benefited from an interconnectedness cord of three strands: local associations, state conventions, and national agencies—each respectfully playing its unique role (The Future of Southern Baptist Cooperation). Now, essential elements that have blessed Southern Baptist life are increasingly “Going, Going, and Gone: Sold” through the strong-arming actions and the new “Cooperative” Agreements that leave NAMB in the driver’s seat. Partnership, cooperation, local autonomy, self-determination, mission effectiveness and mission capacities—things that have blessed us for more than a century—have all been weakened.
SILENCE: Money Threats to State Convention Leaders
In the Indiana Cooperation Agreement (an example of new Agreements since 2014), unlike past Agreements, the President of NAMB can cancel the agreement and pull all funding if…
- State Conventions disclose the terms of the agreement (now Dr. Ezell has written that states can make request permission to release terms of the Agreement).
- At President of NAMB sole discretion that a State leader has spoken critically about him or NAMB.
- Note: while recent permission allows states to publicize the Agreement, the threat of DEFUNDING for criticism has not been removed.
- The President of NAMB gives state 365 days notice – he can cancel agreement and funding without cause. Past agreements were perpetual.
From 2-Way to 1-Way Partnerships: Major Changes in Cooperative Agreements
In the 2012 and prior Agreements, State Conventions and NAMB jointly hired and funded multiple positions to serve both existing and new churches to advance the gospel through evangelism, missions and church planting. Things have now changed. In non-Southern state conventions, (except for the Northwest Convention which is still operating under the 2012 Agreement) according to the new Cooperative Agreements…
- Gone is a state’s ability to direct its own mission efforts. States and local church leaders NO LONGER select staff based on state priorities in the areas of evangelism, missions, and church planting. NAMB determines which missionary staff positions get mission funding. Example: NAMB has recently eliminated most funding for evangelism and missions staff, such as the State Director of Evangelism (SDOE).
- Gone is a state’s ability to initiate the new hiring it feels it needs with joint funding. NAMB staff will choose candidates taking State Exec input, have candidates go through NAMB vetting process, present candidate to the state for their approval process after tentative NAMB approval and then NAMB provides final approval. A political parallel: the President of the US in Washington selecting the state employees that you, as a citizen of the state, will have to deal with but allowing your input on their candidate and their employee.
- Gone is the ability of the State Executive Director or the State’s Boards to provide “ultimate” supervision of multiple employees: such as, the State Director of Mission (SDOM), other church planting staff and some other select staff. NAMB leadership—though remote from the field—can now direct, supervise and control staff to serve national interest.
- Gone are joint strategies and funding between NAMB and State Conventions. NAMB can now set, direct and fund regional strategies independent of state conventions or the local associations or churches who may have to live with any negative impacts of NAMB decisions, strategies, policies, and practices including all matters related to church planting and planters. Some might say that such a “top-down” approach allows a better focus nationally. However, history indicates that when national government run local programs, the cost rise and effectiveness drops.
- Gone is agreement on which works are to be funded. Unlike previous agreements, NAMB can now unilaterally give funds to directly to church plants, existing churches, local associations or others.
- Gone are the earlier safety checks that required greater coordination of financial resources getting to the field with accountability and without duplication or major gaps in support. Formerly, the hands, feet, and eyes all knew what was happening, but this has changed as NAMB can work around state conventions and fund directly with less local coordination.
- Gone is the states decision making powers related to policies, requirements, assessments, local and state engagement, and Cooperative Program and Association financial reinvestment requirements for church plants. NAMB can make all those decisions at headquarters as full owners of the planting staff and financial investors into plants. States cannot determine minimum levels of engagement with the state convention or local association, nor unlike our historic methods require reinvestments into mission efforts through their local Association or the Cooperative Program of the SBC.
- Gone is a united voice on the field. Instead, confusion, competition, and conflict of interest are growing. Pastors and planters don’t know who or where to turn for personal, church or financial assistance. The voices are many and varied in some states.
- Gone is required local field input into the mission efforts. Historically States and NAMB jointly agreed on regional priorities. NAMB can now set priorities from afar. Do NAMB personnel always know best or might local and state leaders actually see local issues and needs more clearly?
** Agreements are only as good as the trustworthiness of the signers. Dr. Ezell has repeatedly violated agreements, wrote new NAMB-centered policies and developed 2 new increasingly nationalistic agreements during his 5+ year tenure. “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
Actions of Dr. Ezell against State Exec. Director and MD/DE Convention
While I served as Exec. Director of MD/DE, Dr. Ezell made multiple offers for us to accept the new Cooperative Agreements. Because I saw the looming loss of self-direction by the State Convention as it would be force to submit to NAMB, I declined several times until finally Ezell made damaging claims against me – claims that were later verified to be false – in order to justify his cancellation notice to the MD/DE Convention. He did this while he/NAMB was violating at least 6 parts of the Cooperative Agreement. These violations were noted by MD/DE Board President Mark Dooley in Feb. 2015 Board meeting. Sadly, lies, false accusations, strong-arming tactics, and public and secretive threats finally allowed Dr. Ezell to accomplish his objectives of my removal and a new Agreement.
Progressive Steps toward new NAMB-Centric “Cooperative“ Agreements
NAMB pushed to get small and mid-state conventions to accept the terms of this new one-way, top down “Cooperative” Agreement. Written goal of GCR is the elimination of all Cooperative Agreements by 2017.
- 2010-2012 – NAMB worked to defund the previously jointly funded DOM missionaries in non-southern associations as a precursor to church planting as THE strategy for evangelism
- 2012 – year to divide out the larger state conventions under new agreements
- 2014 – year to get smaller state conventions into new agreements
- 2015 – year to gather mid-size state conventions into new agreements
New Strategy Results and Mission Failures
The unseen, but great damage to trust and goodwill are being revealed across the SBC. These two elements united Southern Baptists in heart, mind and financial resources. When these are damaged, so will mission effectiveness and mission dollars. As the last generation of SBC loyal givers pass away, we will see that the very fabric of our mission efforts, not just the structure, was being ripped apart at the seams.
There are measurable factors as well. Our annual baptisms (which represent evangelism) are at a SBC 70 year low. Additionally, Baptists are planting 592/year fewer churches for the last 5 years. NAMB has eliminated most other mission and evangelism efforts and spending twice the amount of money on church planting than previously.
National vs. State/Local Directed Approaches
If you prefer a highly nationalized and centralized system controlling power and money (that is, setting priorities, setting strategy, directing funding, staffing, accountability for what is played out in the local arena), you will applaud the new Agreements – for now. However, if you believe in a more local/regional and decentralized approach involving more local leaders — who are likely to be more accountable, effective, efficient, and knowledgeable about their mission field – then you should be greatly troubled by the new Agreements.
God’s View and Word Matters the Most
Regardless of one’s views on national versus locally directed leadership, if you believe obeying God’s Word and keeping agreements with brothers are important, you will not approve of the behaviors of Dr. Ezell. If God is not honored, not much else matters. The Great Commandment precedes and sets the boundaries for the Great Commission. Details and over 150 pages of supporting evidence can be found starting with my Letter of Concern to NAMB Trustees. Southern Baptists can and should demand accountability from Dr. Ezell.
Disqualifying Behaviors of the NAMB President
The President of NAMB has the rights of his position under the trustees of NAMB to biblically apply national strategies. The President has a great deal of power. Dr. Ezell demonstrated this when he fired over 100 NAMB staff members at one time very soon after his arrival in 2010 and about 50 more over the next year. Additionally, Dr. Ezell has the positional authority to fire every single NAMB employee – should the trustees and governing documents allow.
HOWEVER, when the President of NAMB, Dr. Ezell:
- lies in writing on multiple occasions to cover himself and damage others
- refuses to meet and work with an Executive Director but states otherwise and then works around him with the state convention President in violation of partnership and the Agreement
- makes verified false damaging accusations against the Executive Director of a State Convention (libelous)
- repeatedly ignores and violates terms of written agreements at his pleasure
- uses SBC entrusted money and power to threaten a state convention’s supporting churches, ministry and staff
- with absolutely NO AUTHORITY by law, agreements or position ties SBC NAMB funds to the removal of an Executive Director and then delivers on his public and secretive threats (evidence for tortious interference)
- strong-arms state convention leaders into new 1-Way Cooperative Agreements with financial threats to silence criticisms….
Then, he has sinned against God and people, violated his sacred trust, weakened our current effectiveness, damaged trust and goodwill among Southern Baptists and thereby impacted our future mission capacities. More importantly by his actions he has forfeited the privilege of stewarding SBC mission efforts and the human and financial resources of Southern Baptists.
Going, Going, Gone – Sold:
Things formerly precious in SBC life are disappearing:
- …State and local self-determination sold for national money and greater national dependency by states conventions and weaker local associations
- …Partnerships built on mutual respect and operations in the light sold for secretive financial arrangements, strong-arming tactics, threats and national directives
- …Vitally important trust and goodwill sold for required compliance with NAMB agendas and accompanying financial rewards and punishments
- …Cooperative spirit and partnership sold for a nationalistic directed approach
- …Multi-leveled evangelistic thrust sold for a single focused, unproven national church planting strategy that is failing in both in evangelism and church planting
- …The historic financially regenerating cord of three strands ecosystem of the SBC (local, state and national) sold for short-sighted agendas to get a few dollars to particular mission fields and consolidate control
- …Strategies that emerged from leaders in the fields sold for ones set at national headquarters
- …Parts of the future of the birthrights of local associations and state conventions sold for national controls, financial resources, and policy making for church plants
- …I am afraid, we have sold Baptist and mission essentials and future mission strength to a failing leader, failing cooperative spirit, and failing strategies. We wish it were not so.
Dr. Ezell acted to get what he wanted even if he hurt others and that is not acceptable. He may have believed it was expected with the GCR (Great Commission Resurgence) that was adopted in 2010. (including Component #4: redistributing resources, calling for a reinventing and refocusing of NAMB around church planting, adjusting the relationships and work of state conventions and associations by phasing out all Cooperative Agreements by 2017). He acted to get this new form of dominating Cooperative Agreement.
** Nationally during Dr. Ezell’s application of the GCR, Southern Baptists have seen declines in baptisms and church planting, and more importantly damaged partnerships, goodwill and trust which are essential to our future. Sadly, the picture reveals a Great Commission Regression. (For article on 5 year reflection: GCR After 5 years)
In the end, many wrong actions have roots in selfish ambitions, money and power, even among Christian leaders. Dr. Ezell has damaged me and the MD/DE Convention in numerous ways. The evidence is documented, immovable, witness verified and unimpeachable. It is organized and readily available on my website. After denials from earlier more direct approaches to resolve these matters and in the absence of airing matters before a court (1 Cor. 6:1-11), it is time for NAMB Trustees or the SBC to steward well in providing oversight accountability by calling for an independent investigation into the actions, results and leadership of our North American Mission Board President. It is time for Southern Baptists to examine the direction of our SBC with these new “Cooperative Agreements”.
RELATED DOCUMENTS and LINKS:
- McRaney …Follow-up QUESTIONS for Southern Baptists to Consider
- McRaney…Open Letters of Concern to Southern Baptists
- Christian Examiner article: Southern Baptist State Leaders Accuse Mission Organization of Strong-Arming
- Baptist News Global article: State Baptist Exec Blames Firing on Interference from SBC Agency
- Petition to NAMB Trustees from Southern Baptists calling for Independent Investigation
- SBC Today article: Can Pepper Hamilton Investigate NAMB?
- Indiana Strategic Cooperation Agreement 2015
- Maryland/Delaware Cooperative Partnership Agreement 2012
- Sandy: Unscripted – Helps and Hurts from the Perspective of a Wife, Mother, and Ministry Partner