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Baptist Newspaper Article Critical of Mission Board

Speaking engagements of North American Mission Board President Bob Reccord appear aimed at selling his own books and personal ministry instead of promoting home missions, an article in a Baptist newspaper suggests this week.

That’s just one of a series of tough questions raised in a 4,500-word “analysis” article in this week’s Christian Index, news journal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

The article, a rare instance of a state-convention owned newspaper criticizing a Southern Baptist Convention entity, begins by declaring that high expectations for evangelism, church planting and missionary recruitment have failed to materialize in the nine years since three former SBC agencies merged in an effort to streamline and modernize the denomination’s U.S. missionary outreach operation.

The article claims NAMB has failed to provide a “consistent evangelism strategy” for the SBC and inflates the number of missionaries it supports by lumping career and volunteer workers together. It says the agency is moving toward a “self-funded missionary force,” with nearly half of field personnel currently raising their own support, and reports the agency’s career-missionary headcount is actually in decline.

The 1997 denominational downsizing was supposed to save money, the report also says, but NAMB reserve funds have in fact decreased by $32 million in seven years.

Church-planting numbers have been slow to grow, and baptisms–despite the highly touted “conservative resurgence” aimed at restoring the denomination’s evangelistic zeal–are well behind totals tabbed in the 1970s.

Some of the most direct criticism is aimed at Reccord, the former pastor of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., elected as NAMB’s first president in June 1997. Reccord chaired the task force charged with implementing the massive SBC restructuring plan called the “Covenant for a New Century,” before stepping down when he became a candidate for the NAMB presidency.

The article says in 2003 Reccord brought in Steve Sanford, a consultant said to be a personal friend from Virginia, to conduct an audit of NAMB’s media strategy. Based on Sanford’s recommendations, NAMB laid off 40 workers, outsourcing some of the workload to Sanford’s new company, InovaOne. That, the article said, raised questions about conflict of interest and turning the work of long-time employees over to a for-profit business formed for the purpose of taking over their jobs.

It also spotlights Reccord’s own side business interests, namely Total Life Impact, a personal-coaching ministry that lists Reccord’s wife, Cheryl, as president and both of them as motivational speakers. The company also sells Reccord’s books.

A primary focus of NAMB has long been “partnerships” with like-minded evangelical groups, like Campus Crusade, Focus on the Family and others, the Index article says, “but it sometimes has been difficult to determine when its president has been speaking for NAMB or for his own personal ministry.”

“Reccord’s speaking engagements have been prolific but they may not have all been to promote North American missions,” it continues. It cites several interviews where Reccord discussed general topics, such as childrearing and fidelity in marriage, that aren’t directly related to NAMB’s primary objectives.

“The conflict, for many, comes when Reccord speaks on those topics and promotes his own books and the ministry’s Web site,” the article says. “If he is introduced as president of NAMB it would be expected that he would be an advocate for the mission agency’s family evangelism unit. But such is not always the case.”

“So, when is Reccord speaking on behalf of NAMB and when is he speaking on behalf of his and his wife’s ministry?” the article asks. “That’s difficult to determine.”

Some observers, the article goes on to say, even believe Reccord’s side business competes with NAMB’s family evangelism unit. “They maintain that Delta Air Lines would not allow CEO Jerry Grinstein to set up a personal charter jet service that would compete with the airline’s day-to-day operations, so why should NAMB allow any employee to launch a business that competes with the agency’s objectives?”

The article says Reccord is scheduled to speak at all 19 Promise Keepers rallies this summer and as a result may be unavailable for any additional speaking engagements for NAMB during that time. In reporting his speaking plans to NAMB trustees, Reccord reportedly said the invitations would benefit the agency, because 56 percent of Promise Keepers have a Southern Baptist affiliation.

But the Index said it contacted a Promise Keepers spokesperson, who gave a different picture. He said Promise Keepers doesn’t break down groups by particular denomination, but their research shows that 25 percent claim some kind of Baptist affiliation, though not necessarily Southern Baptist. That would mean at least 75 percent of a typical Promise Keepers crowd is some denomination other than Southern Baptist.

The article’s lead author, Joe Westbury, is managing editor of the Christian Index. A veteran Baptist communicator, he worked previously at two SBC agencies eventually subsumed by the 1997 restructuring. He left shortly after NAMB’s formation, but continued to write for the agency as a freelancer until as recently as last spring.

The article does not mention that history, but says the paper wrote the article “at the request of many pastors over a several-month period” voicing concern about how NAMB, which is based in Georgia, “is working to reach the lost for Christ.”

“We want to affirm our commitment to NAMB and especially to our missionaries,” Editor Gerald Harris wrote in an editor’s note. “We encourage all Georgia Baptists to sacrificially give to this year’s Annie Armstrong Easter Offering so NAMB can be more effective than ever in taking the Gospel to a hurting world.”

The offering mentioned by Harris, collected each spring, is NAMB’s largest funding source, comprising 44 percent of the annual budget.

NAMB posted a statement on its Web site Thursday afternoon said the agency was “extremely disappointed” that the Index “would by-pass accepted journalistic standards in a story about NAMB.”

The NAMB statement faults the Georgia paper for hiding “behind anonymous ‘critics’ conveniently labeled as ‘observers’ or ‘onlookers’ or ‘some who assert.'”

It also says the article “contains inaccuracies and unfair innuendoes” and that its release is timed “for maximum damage to North American missions.”

“Labeling the story as ‘an analysis’ does not exempt its author from the standards of fairness and disclosure Baptists expect from their reporters,” says the statement.

The controversy comes on the heels of conflict within the SBC International Mission Board over a blogging trustee who blew the whistle on internal politicking he believes is aimed at ouster of the agency’s president.

This week Baptist Press reported that the IMB trustee executive committee intends to propose to the full board in March that it reverse an earlier recommendation to remove Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson from the board, saying he broke trust by writing about board policies.

Burleson said Wednesday he has no plans to discontinue his blog.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Also see:
Blogging Trustee Drops ‘Crusading’ Conservative Label