As they have done for nearly two centuries, messengers to the Baptist General Association of Virginia will gather in annual session in Fredericksburg to celebrate successes, identify challenges, engage in worship and conduct business. This year they will consider a recommendation to restructure the BGAV’s governing board. In my estimation, this action is long overdue.
In a white paper presented last April, a study committee led by Jim Baucom, pastor of Columbia Baptist in Falls Church, identified five key issues that needed to be addressed:
• The current Virginia Baptist Mission Board is too large to function effectively and efficiently.
• The current structure does not ensure the diversity or skills necessary for the Mission Board to act on the BGAV’s behalf between annual meetings.
• The current structure scatters strategic functions for managing mission resources across several bodies.
• The current structure leads to a divided view of the BGAV’s work by separating Mission Board members into committees which mirror the board’s staff.
• The current nominating process does not ensure that churches which strongly support the BGAV participate in its governance.
In addition to Baucom and BGAV president Carl Johnson, who named the study committee, other members are Tommy McDearis, pastor of Blacksburg (Va.) Baptist Church and current BGAV first vice president; Mark Croston, pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., and immediate past president of the BGAV; Don Davidson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va.; Ann Brown, immediate past president of Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia; Pat Bloxom, a former WMUV president; Steve Allsbrook, executive director of missions of the Dover Baptist Association; Darrell Foster, a former BGAV president; and Dan Carlton, pastor of Downtown Baptist Church in Alexandria.
If any committee recommendation should be considered simply on the merits of those making it, this would be the one. But the merits of the recommendation are even more compelling.
Even if the current organizational structure efficiently coordinated the work of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and its BGAV partners, the sheer size makes it unwieldy as a decision-making body.
Having a 100 member board all but eliminates the possibility of efficient planning, strategizing or policy-making and virtually guarantees a “rubber stamp” tendency. To their credit, John Upton, Eddie Stratton, BGAV officers, VBMB staff and the board members themselves have resisted the tendency, but with a governing board of that size it is impossible to ensure that all are equally informed, much less to expect that each is equally willing to engage in discussions. Inevitably, some board members will simply trust the judgment of others and vote accordingly.
In truth, the organizational structure often impedes good communication rather than facilitates it. A prime example of this involves budget requests from partner organizations.
When I served as team leader for the VBMB’s empowering leaders team, a committee of BGAV board members related to that team just as other BGAV board members related to each of the other teams through similar committees (glocal missions, emerging leaders, courageous churches and business services). Every board member serves on a committee.
The way the organization is set up, each BGAV partner organization is assigned to one of those committees and makes budget requests through it. As in the case of the empowering leaders committee during my tenure, budget requests were presented from the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies, the Baptist Center for Ethics, Ministering to Ministers and perhaps others. Although a representative from each group is invited to spend a few minutes acquainting the committee with its work and justifying its request, the committee has little understanding of the total challenges each group faces. The other committees hear from other partner organizations.
Moreover, after hearing from each group, the committees then make recommendations for funding to the budget committee. This they do with no awareness of what the other committees are recommending or what the anticipated receipts for the coming year are likely to be. Partner organizations are not notified of the recommended amounts. As a team leader, and more recently as executive editor of the Religious Herald, it has been easy to see how inefficient and ineffective this process is.
Since these recommendations are made in isolation without benefit of the bigger financial picture, it is no wonder that the BGAV budget committee cannot take them seriously and largely ignores them.
In addition to all this, each budget committee is independent and recommends a budget to the BGAV without regard to previous budgets adopted. This means that partner organizations are unable to develop long-term plans where BGAV funding is concerned because those funds are subject to being cut or even eliminated with only a few months notice. This structure is inherently counter-productive.
Suffice it to say that restructuring has long been needed and even desired by BGAV leaders, but they hesitated to suggest a revision out of respect for the representative system in place. They did not want to suggest that the church members sent by district associations were somehow not capable.
Anyone acquainted with BGAV board members knows how false that notion is. The problem lies not in the people but in the structure.
Assuming the new proposed structure is adopted, I have no doubt that as time passes certain shortcomings may become evident. But for now this appears to be a quantum leap forward. And, in the future, when the time comes for another restructuring, we can hope that our successors will be aware enough to know when it is time to embrace something better and wise enough to propose it.
Jim White ([email protected]) is executive editor of the Religious Herald.