Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Cost of Being "Independent"

When I was actively involved in the Southern Baptist Convention a couple of decades ago, the worst thing you could say about a church or its pastor was that they were “independent.” Although we proclaimed that every local congregation was autonomous, we were “cooperative” Baptists and not “independents.” Let’s fast forward to 2010 when “independent” and “congregational autonomy” have very different meanings.

According to Associated Baptist Press, David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention (Southern Baptist) notified trustees of the North American Mission Board, SBC, in an e-mail that their proposed candidate for the position of NAMB president--Kevin Ezell, pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky--is not acceptable. He stated, “Dr. Ezell’s excellent credentials in areas such as character, family, leadership and theology do not compensate for [his] demonstrated lack of support for the mission of NAMB.” Hankins further expressed concern that a “NAMB president who has chosen an independent church model will ‘send a chilling message’ to thousands of Southern Baptist churches who generously support CP [Cooperative Program] and the mission offerings.”

Evidently, Brother Ezell has taken congregational autonomy literally and his church has chosen which mission endeavors they wish to support and do not wish to delegate that decision to someone else. I am sure that Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a member of Ezell’s church would second that choice.

I heartily agree that the church has this freedom to choose, but I also understand Hankins’ objection to putting someone who has not supported the Board’s mission in the past in charge of the Board. Although I should point out that this is basically the strategy that has been pursued in SBC life since 1979—those put in charge of the conventions boards and agencies often came from churches that gave little or nothing to the Cooperative Program or the mission offerings. But I digress . . .

I have no problem with a church that chooses where its mission dollar will go. There are many churches that do this. My own church and many who have some affiliation with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have made those choices. The primary difference is that we no longer expect that our members will be invited to serve on the boards of the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board or that our pastors will be asked to become executive leaders. There are pluses and minuses to be “independent.”


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