Friday, November 16, 2018

MBA of Texas, 2018

This last week, the messengers of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas met. Each church is independent, but we voluntarily send in offerings to support missionaries, and meet together to discuss things of mutual concern. In the MBA of Texas, we do not pay the salaries of missionaries, but instead allow a sending church to request a monthly amount of help for their church plant, which is then used as they see fit. This year, Bro Steven Haney, who runs a college ministry (MBSF - Missionary Baptist Student Fellowship) was endorsed to receive designated funds, where the secretary-treasurer passes along offerings received, rather than a set amount from undesignated offerings.

One missionary we had supported last year (a good friend, Bro Cory Page who served in Austin) has left the mission field, so he dropped off support. The other missionaries were all approved for another year by the messengers, with one (Bro Daniel Tijerina, serving in McAllen) being added back on, after previously being on $1530 a month from 2009-12. We do not have attendance or salvation/baptism statistics for him because he was not on support last year (I wish that were included on the request form).
Bro Glenn McCarver, veteran missionary who held his first services in El Paso at the end of September, was on designated funds last year. Here are the key stats for each (more is available from
Missionary Location Years on Field Support (2018-19) Baptisms Avg AM
David Smith Mansfield 4 2850 1 19
Joe Bozarth Conroe 6 2000 (down 500 this year) 0 12
Victor Rice San Antonio 9 1600 4 20
Leland Acker Early 10 1500 (down 500 last year) 1 20
Donald Trussell Kerrville 9   2100 (down 300 last year, 100 this) 0 13 (PM, AM is 11)
Daniel Tijerina McAllen 12 1000 not reported not reported
Glenn McCarver El Paso 1 2000 1st service was 9/30/18
While I would certainly like for the number of baptisms and service attendance to be higher, the missionaries reported a total of 11 professions of faith; you certainly cannot put a dollar figure on that. All of these men who have been on support before have shown progress, either by growth or by a voluntary decrease in support (and corresponding increase in the responsibility of the church plant). That is encouraging to see.
Changes to Mission Policy
Bro Curtis Gilbert, the Secretary-Treasurer who travels as an underpaid advocate for missionaries and is responsible for distributing the offerings, proposed three changes to the mission policy. He does an excellent job with his responsibilities and his portion of the meeting flows very well (the moderator, completing his second and final term this year, also did a great job).  The first two passed, the last did not. If you are friends with other pastors on social media, you may have heard about some people getting stirred up. This is a little overly dramatic, everyone was civil and agreed on the broad strokes. We just disagreed on some of the specific implementation.

Proposal 1 - Approved
I am going to go into more detail about this one than it really deserves, since I was involved in the debate and some of you may have heard about it.
"If the MBA of Texas funds decline to $20,000, the Secretary/Treasurer will be permitted to use his discretion to prorate the funds or offering proportionately for all request and all salaries, (with the exception of the Secretary/ Treasurer because they have no direct church sponsorship). Reimbursement will not be implemented until the balance of the MBA of Texas reaches $25,000."

The substance of this amendment was voted in a couple of years ago. This was just adding it to the formal policy. I voted for it when it was first incorporated, and voted for it again this week. I did propose a substitute motion (which failed), for two reasons. First, I think this is overly wordy and unclear. While everyone who was present understands the intention, a policy should stand alone. Second, I think that a policy should be robust enough to stand the test of time. We should not pass something which will need to be changed if the number of missionaries changes or with inflation every few years.

My substitute motion attempted to follow the same structure as the original: "If the MBA of Texas funds decline to one month of approved expenditures, the Secretary/Treasurer will be permitted to use his discretion to prorate the funds or offerings proportionally for all requests. Reimbursement will not be implemented until the balance of the MBA of Texas reaches one and one half months approved expenditures."

The immediate significance of this would be to change the two numbers in the original to about $16,000 and $24,000. The advantage was that if the amount the MBA sends changes drastically, these figures will still make sense. Since the only salary the MBA pays is the Secretary/Treasurer (and, if his salary is dropped, there is no sponsoring church to pick up the slack), the middle section is unnecessary. I probably would have been wiser to leave that part alone and just try to improve on the use of set dollar amounts.

Several people later told me they would have voted for the substitute motion if they had seen it in writing, but could not understand it at the time (partly poor acoustics in the room, partly the way that I tried to explain the amendment in terms of the original instead of just reading the final result and partly people who never would have voted for it, but who wanted to tell me what they though I wanted to hear). I wish that amendments to the mission policy proposed by officers were sent out before the meeting so we could be prepared with written improvements, but understand that is not always practical.

As I said, I voted for giving this discretion to the Secretary/Treasurer, and think the policy is a good one. I am not proud of the way it is worded, which I think is unnecessarily sloppy for a standing policy. That is actually a recurring complaint, since I still get ribbed for correcting them when they had ie and eg mixed up a few years ago. I am not ashamed of that: we are doing God's work, and representing Him and our association of churches. We ought to take the time to do it right. But, a necessary policy was formalized and no real harm was done.

Proposal 2 - Approved
This policy simply allows a missionary to continue to be paid for 6 months if he is forced by accident or illness to resign, and his widow and dependent children can receive the funds if he dies. It passed without discussion or opposition. The wording is a little problematic, since the MBA pays support to missions, not salaries to missionaries. At some point, we should probably iron out everything to use consistent language. But the idea was unanimously approved, and rightly so.

Proposal 3 - Rejected
"At the beginning of the sixth year, in the same mission location or with the same congregation, the missionary/ project will have their 5th year request reduced by 5% per year (rounded to the nearest dollar) for each subsequent year thereafter on the remaining request, unless it is reduced by the missionary/ project or sponsoring church beforehand. This will be implemented in the 2020-2021 fiscal year."
The American Baptist Association (the national association) has a similar policy. The ABA is not federalist, where the local associations are part of the state association and the state association is part of the national, although people often use imprecise language that would suggest that. Each part is separate, and you could fellowship with one and not the others. So the ABA policy does not automatically hold any sway on the MBA of Texas.
I voted against this at the national level, and voted against this one too. On one hand, I think an automatic step-down is a cop out; every field is different and we should confront missionaries who are not deserving, rather than hide behind a system. Yet, there is a need to teach new churches to support God's work, so there probably is some place for at least a guideline, and the mission policy can be set aside by a simple vote if there were extenuating circumstances. Godly people with similar goals and good intentions can clearly disagree on this one. The reason it failed is the confusing implementation. Since we no longer pay salaries, there is no natural cap to the requests, and someone could request a higher amount in the 5th year to preserve their salary in the sixth year. Missionaries could voluntarily cut their own salary by 4%, and the language "unless it is reduced...beforehand" would technically allow them to avoid the spirit of the policy. Although we would hope no one would behave in such a way, we cannot write policies for the best case scenario.

Further, all of our current missionaries who would be affected have voluntarily cut their own requests by more than this policy would require. Without any immediate benefit, the majority of the messengers felt this policy should go back to the drawing board for refinement. A motion was made and passed to appoint a committee to improve the language, but then (in a weird twist) a motion was made and passed to postpone the appointment of the committee to next year. So, next year, we will take it up again, and maybe come up with a cleaner solution. But for now, no change. Churches can request the amount of support they want to, and the messengers can decide to approve or reject on an individual basis.

Key Points from Reports

  • The Texarkana Baptist Children's Home is being negatively affected by a newly passed and signed federal law: The Family First Prevention Services Act. It prioritizes extended family members except in extreme circumstances, and is specifically designed to weaken group homes. 
  • Brother Dean Grigsby is doing an excellent job as business manager of Bogard Press. The VBS this year is farm themed, and will go through the life of Joseph. 
  • The History and Archives Committee has all minute books from the inception of the MBA of Texas to now in digital format. It is a very cool resource.
  • The Youth Camp Committee made a special presentation to Brother Marion Reed, longtime trustee. He served as the former Secretary/Treasurer of Missions and is truly a great man. He does architectural work for churches, and has a true servant's heart. The standing ovation was well deserved.

Overall, it was a great meeting. Unity Baptist Church of Texarkana did an excellent job of putting it on, the officers each carried out their responsibility with distinction, debate was held in a good spirit and we were encouraged and strengthened to continue advancing the work of the Great Commission in the state of Texas. It was an honor to represent AMBC.

Changes to Meeting for 2019
This one is a little bit of inside baseball, so if you are not ever going to go to a meeting and are not concerned about they operate, you can consider this post over. But, since we were chosen to host the meeting in 2020 (2019 will be in Center), I hope you will attend one very soon!

In response to the survey taken a few years ago, a new agenda has been adopted on a trial basis for 2019. There are three big changes. Two were presented as recommendations by the officers: (1) All of the reports will now be printed and distributed, instead of read aloud. (2) The Men's Work, Electronic Media, ABA Credit Union and Music reports are being removed entirely. (As a consequence of these, the Wednesday afternoon session will close at 4:30 instead of 5, to give you plenty of time to get back from Cracker Barrel for the annual sermon.) I am not sure how I feel about not reading the reports. Certainly some of the submitted reports are a waste of everyone's time, but the solution is to improve them. It will be interesting to see how this trial year goes. I am pleased with the reports they have chosen to remove, and hope that in future years we can narrow the focus further.

The third change is that the Wednesday night speaker will now be chosen a year in advance, instead of on Tuesday. That means that the speaker will probably not get to be a missionary passing through (like Brother Danny Kennedy, who did a great job this year), but the speaker will have ample time to prepare, instead of one night to cram. On balance, I think this is a very good decision.