Thursday, April 16, 2009

Are Southern Baptists ready to wake up, smell the coffee, and do something about their bloated, irrelevant bureaucracy?

A key, sitting Southern Baptist leader has finally admitted publicly the truth about the denomination's wasteful, irrelevant, unnecessary, and gigantic bureaucracy.

Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, this week spoke the truth when he said, "We (Southern Baptists) have become bloated and bureaucratic."

"It is easier to move some things through the federal government than the Southern Baptist Convention. Overlap and duplication in our associations, state and national conventions is strangling us," Akin said. "We waste time and resources, and many are fed up.

"The rally cry of the Conservative Resurgence was, 'We will not give our monies to liberal institutions.' Now the cry of the Great Commission Resurgence is, 'We will not give our money to bloated bureaucracies.'"

According to Baptist Press, "Akin called on Southern Baptist leaders to rethink everything they do—boards, organizations, agencies, structures—in light of a Great Commission agenda that maximizes cooperation and minimizes bureaucracy in planting churches and getting the Gospel to all people, everywhere."

I just hope and pray the average Southern Baptists in the pew will listen intently to Akin's words. I also hope and pray the SBC bureaucracy won't muzzle, character assassinate, or try to harm Akin for speaking the truth.

As I've said many times over the years, the SBC bureaucracy is the largest and most cumbersome church organization in the United States today.  While Southern Baptists used to point fingers of shame at the Roman Catholic Church for its curia and its bureaucratic style, members of America's largest Protestant denomination were actually busy constructing their own indigenous form of the Catholic curia that dwarfs anything the Roman Catholic Church has in America today.

If the Southern Baptist Convention were a regular business, its wealth and personnel would rival some of the biggest companies in America today. So vast is the denomination's enterprise that it's difficult to calculate all the billions of its assets, all the thousands of its employees, and all the tentacles of the organization that reach into almost every country in the world today.

Yet the graying denomination today is mired in its own form of recession—falling church rolls, declining income, stagnated purpose, fragmented direction, and dwindling support among its next generation of church lay people and leaders.

Life in Southern Baptist's mammoth "Baptistdom" (my term for the SBC bureaucracy) has taken on a form of its own. It often would be unrecognizable to the SBC's founders and first-century Christians.  More Southern than Baptist, more polite than effective, more navel-gazing than evangelical, the SBC's bureaucracy looks more like the federal bureaucracy than it does the biblical City of God Set on a Hill that it should be.

A couple of days ago I was chatting on the phone in a personal conversation with a former top leader of the SBC. He surprised me greatly when he suddenly said, "You know, Louis, we Conservatives have done a really poor job of managing the denomination's bureaucracy. I have to admit that the Moderates were much better at it." 

Bullseye!  The Moderates built the foundation and first tier of the Southern Baptist curia. And they managed their creation very well. The Conservatives revolted, took it over, and at first threatened to downsize it, reform it, and minimize it. Then they suddenly made a U-turn when they found the wealth, power, and creature comforts the bureaucracy affords so appealing.

In a day when taxpayer anger threatens the federal, state, and local governments as well as multinational corporations, Baptistdom could face severe headaches when SBC church members wake up, smell the coffee, and realize how much of their hard-earned tithes and offerings are wasted on airplane tickets, hotel rooms, catered lunches, fancy automobiles, beautiful offices, above-average salaries, wasteful practices, and all the other perks and accouterments that feed the denomination's bloated and ineffective bureaucracy.

We'll discuss this further in the days ahead. For now, keep your eye on Daniel Akin and what develops from his recent comments. Let's all pray he gets the respect he deserves for such courageous and right-on remarks.