The Southern Baptist Convention is scheduled for June 15-16 in Nashville. To help Kentucky Baptists get to know the four known candidates for SBC president, Kentucky Today reached out to Randy Adams, Ed Litton, Albert Mohler, and Mike Stone.
We asked each of them to submit a 1,200-word essay addressing the following questions:
We are publishing the unedited essays by the last name in alphabetical order on May 16-19.
This is the essay from Randy Adams.
Many Southern Baptists are discouraged. They’re discouraged by the decline of the SBC. They’re disheartened by the lack of transparency, evidence of corruption, and top-down control by some in the SBC. In every direction you look, you will see evidence of grave concern.
I agreed to be nominated to serve as president of the SBC because our cooperative mission system, the genius of our forefathers, is in trouble and desperately needs renewal. God is still doing wonderful things through Southern Baptist churches, but the fact of steep decline is undeniable. Consider this hard reality:
5,258 fewer churches supported Cooperative Program (CP) missions in 2019 than 2007, resulting in a decrease of $85.1 million to CP, not including inflation. That is alarming and tragic. Even more tragic is a collapse in baptisms by over 100,000 souls per year since 2010. The lowest five years in baptisms in 75 years are the last five years. Church starts have plummeted to less than half the number prior to 2010, while NAMB’s church planting budget has exploded, growing from $23 million to $75 million annually. Even with all the money NAMB is spending, the five lowest years in new church starts in at least 40 years are the last five years. It is incredibly sad that we have 2,000 fewer IMB missionaries on the field than we did a little over a decade ago. Yes, the past decade has been the worst decade in the 175-year history of the SBC in terms of decline.
What must we do to advance God’s mission? Answer: We must restore trust through transparency, rigorous accountability, increased participation of churches, and rebuilding of partnership.
Transparency builds trust. Southern Baptist churches have a right to know the truth about finances and mission effectiveness. We live in a time when we need to prove we’re doing right before we’re accused of doing wrong. Our churches deserve to know the truth about our effectiveness in advancing God’s mission. Great marketing and public relations do not change the fact that Southern Baptist churches are losing trust in our missionary system, with 5,258 fewer churches supporting it. For trust to be restored we must confront the facts, even if they are brutal. As president, I will tell you the truth and I will appoint trustees who require our entities to operate with transparency. Trustees must represent the churches to the SBC entity, and they must require transparency from the entity and its leadership. Your church deserves this.
Accountability stops corruption. Corruption is a strong word, but in the past year alone we have learned that the former trustee chairman of Lifeway Christian Resources gave the outgoing president of Lifeway a compensation package exceeding $1,000,000 without informing the compensation committee of the trustees or the executive committee of the trustees. This former chairman continues to serve as a Lifeway trustee, even though he signed three-book contracts with Lifeway while serving as a trustee. This is a direct violation of SBC governing documents forbidding “direct or indirect” compensation for a trustee. If the SBC does not enforce its governing documents and hold leaders accountable for infractions, that is corruption and it must end.
Another example of corruption is the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) filing an amicus brief with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in which they claimed that Southern Baptists are a “hierarchy,” with the SBC as an “umbrella” over all churches, associations, and conventions. Yes, this really happened in the fall of 2020. When this deception was discovered, the ERLC admitted their court filing was terribly wrong, but to date, there has been no accountability for a dangerous deception of a federal court that could set precedent regarding ascending and descending liability in future lawsuits involving the SBC, churches, state conventions, and associations. Both NAMB and the ERLC have now petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking First Amendment protection for defaming or tortiously interfering with a minister who serves churches and organizations that cooperate with the SBC.
Yes, you read that right. Southern Baptists have petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for First Amendment protection when an SBC entity harms a Baptist minister not employed by that entity. For an SBC entity to seek protection from actions that are otherwise considered illegal is wrong. Accountability must be restored to the SBC missionary system if trust is to be restored.
Participation empowers churches. We need more churches sending messengers to the Annual Meeting of the SBC via remote locations in associations and state conventions. It’s too expensive for many to travel to the SBC. The widow who gives her mite should have an opportunity to participate. The “normal-sized” church pastor who turns a wrench to earn a living and pastors a church to fulfill his calling, needs an opportunity to vote on how CP dollars are spent.
If the SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville is typical, messengers will come from about 4,000-5,000 churches, leaving tens of thousands of churches without messengers. Remote participation would result in 10,000 or more additional churches sending messengers to the Annual Meeting. Getting more grassroots Baptists involved in SBC life will produce greater support for SBC missions.
Partnership enables missions. In the last decade, the SBC has become top-down in its mission work in North America. Partnership with local associations and state conventions has been greatly diminished or destroyed. Even partnership with churches has been reduced to a small subset of churches rather than the broad-based partnership that built Southern Baptists into the largest force for advancing God’s mission in U.S. history. New Testament missiology is bottom-up, never top-down. We must return to the biblical model of mission partnership. Just as the U.S. Federal government can’t run your local city with the same accountability as your mayor and city council, SBC and NAMB leaders cannot direct the church planting work in 50 states as well as those who live in those states.
Southern Baptists were put on this earth to advance God’s mission. We do this best when we work together, with mutual respect, empowering every church to participate in this grand missionary effort. That is my dream. It has been my life, as a pastor and as a leader in two state conventions.
If elected, it will be my honor to serve as SBC president. My dream is for every member to be confident that their mission dollars are well-spent, with financial transparency from our entities. Accountability will expose and stop corruption. It will enable us to restore confidence in the integrity of our convention and the trust of our churches. In an effort to empower every church, we will take steps to make remote participation at the annual meeting a reality. For more information, go to www.randyadams.org.
P.S. Kentucky played an early role in reaching the west. Not only did Lewis and Clark begin their journey in Louisville, the first Baptist pastor in the Northwest was Kentucky Pastor Vincent Snelling. In 1842 he travelled from Kentucky to Oregon, traveling the famed “Oregon Trail.” That marked the beginning of Baptists from the South reaching the west. Thank you for your commitment to Christ and His mission.
Randy Adams has been executive director-treasurer of the Northwest Baptist Convention since May 2013. Prior to that, he served for 28 years as a pastor in Texas and Oklahoma and as a key denominational leader for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.