The denominational stool revisited…part 4: trustee accountability

Four problem areas in SBC life:

1) trustee accountability

2) evangelistic emphasis

3) cooperative giving

4) discipleship and baptismal retention

It’s time, my loyal reader…onto the number one issue for the Southern Baptist Convention: trustee accountability. This is most definitely a touchy subject…and one that will most likely not be solved by my discussion of it. Indeed, this post may be my downfall for anyone who may in the future search this blog for dirt (there goes my denominational career!)Triangle of intended interactions among SBC members

As I see it, there are three populations that interact with and interdepend on each other in denominational life. At least, they are SUPPOSED to interact and interdepend! Too often, in recent years, the pattern has been reduced to:
1) Entities and their leadership report annually to the messengers (6)
2) Messengers elect the annual slate of new trustees (1)
3) The trustees supervise the entites (3)
4) The entities report to their trustees (4)
…and the cycle continues.
Rarely, messengers will question and contact the entities (5). But I have never personally, in 5 Conventions in the past 12 years, seen the trustees or the entities report to the messengers about their decisions (2 or 6).

This is the problem: our view of church/denominational polity has become unbalanced in practice. We elect messengers and trustees in order to take care of our denominational well-being while we minister and live in our individual communities. Yet somehow we have lost touch with the entities, beyond the official annual report and any communications they may send to the churches.

Many have become disenchanted with this “party line” method, resulting in anger and discontent over some policies the elected boards have enacted. It also seems that there is no recompense, other than overturning the decisions by replacing the trustees. In fact, this method was effectively utilizied during the Conservative Resurgence to regain control of the entities. But this is not an option for us today.

First, we lack the grass-roots support to attempt to overturn the Committee on Nominations’ nominees (this may not even be a option, given Bylaw 15-K) or to elect Convention presidents for three consecutive years that will appoint Committees on Committees, which will appoint Committees on Nominations that will enact the new slates of trustee nominees (yes children, it requires five or more years of concerted effort to bring about top-down change!)

Second, it is not in the best interest of the denomination to force the trustees and the entities to “circle the wagons” and require a Convention floor fight over issue that those irritated themselves see as tertiary. In my opinion, this year’s controversy-free Convention was a refreshing respite, one that I personally would not sacrifice if I could help it.

Third, to be frank, it is those who are best at that method that it seems to be the ones who some want removed themselves! Again, it is not in the best interest for us to fight among ourselves. WE are not the enemy…we are just in disagreement!

So, you might ask, what is the solution? If I may be so bold, we simply need more communication and respect when it comes to potentially (or actually) controversial issues and decisions. But how can that be fostered in the present system? It must be (at least at some level) systemized itself…it must become part of our denominational/Convention DNA…a habit we begin and maintain.

Let us return to the two directions of accountability that I have found lacking or absent in recent years…I did research this phenomenon (in the Convention proceedings back to the late 1960’s) and have found little evidence of it since the early seventies, when the Sunday School Board changed the name of Training Union and was called on the carpet for it! So what is needed is a mechanism so that controversial trustee decisions, but not all entity choices, can be reviewed by the messengers.

First off, we do not need to hobble the trustees, making them bring every jot and tittle to the Convention floor for our approval. To do so would negate the need for trustees in the first place and would overwhelm the Convention. If we had to approve every allocation of funds, every appointment or hiring, we would become quickly bogged down with trivialities…think of how few messengers attend all the entity reports, much less actually pay attention and desire to ask questions!

No, the solution lies only in the area of controversy: policy making. I propose the following rough draft of a amendment to the ministry statements which govern the entities and the trustees in their decisions:

Any action by an entity which acts to interpret the Baptist Faith and Message, as approved by the Convention, or any governing policy set by the Convention must be, following its approval by the trustees of the entity, disclosed to the subsequent Convention and be approved by a majority of the messengers in attendance therein.

Thus hiring decisions, budgets, and other decisions which we can in good faith entrust to the wisdom of the trustees will not unintentionally be put on hold until the next June. However, any additions to or expansions of BFM or other Convention policies will be brought before the scrutiny of the messengers…again in good faith and as a check against the machinations of some thirty or forty like-minded individuals against the will of the larger community of Baptist churches.

Similar action is not unprecendented. First, the Convention has historically approved the governing charters of the entities, some of which include interpretations of Baptist views (i.e. the Abstract of Principles). Second, the Convention retains the right of review of changes to the ministry statements themselves….why not their application in the real world? In my opinion, my motion is in the spirit of and in accordance with the letter of rights #5 and #7. Third, most entities have yet to even seem to contravene the will of the Convention or her member churches…so very few of these reviews would take place at any time.

Having finished my expansion of my four needs in these past few posts, I will later discuss these lines of communication (see below) and they can be strengthened and used appropriately. I encourage you to respond with your thoughts and comments. Once I have processed any feedback you may have, I will forward this amendment to the trustee boards of each entity for their feedback, as is the recommended method for any major policy change. Again, if we work together, we can achieve harmony nad understanding on the issues that threaten to keep us distracted and divided.

Needed modes of communication for united denominational life:

1) messengers to trustees

2) trustees to messengers

3) trustees to entities

4) entities to trustees

5) messengers to entities

6) entities to messengers

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2 Responses to “The denominational stool revisited…part 4: trustee accountability”

  1. boydluter Says:

    Andrew,

    I agree whole-heartedly with both your diagnosis and treatment of this systemic problem of the SBC. One of my first posts was on trustee accountability and you have taken my thinking about the problem much further, as well as offering a better solution.

    Blessings, Boyd

  2. “We need to talk”: messengers to trustees (1) « A-dub’s Weblog Says:

    […] A-dub’s Weblog The weekly ramblings of an old soul in a young man’s body « The denominational stool revisited…part 4: trustee accountability […]

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