Posted on : Wednesday December 9, 2009

By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent and Bob Simpson

COLUMBIA, Md.—General Mission Board members met with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) representatives during a question and answer session on Oct. 20, 2009 to review the Strategic Focus City (SFC)/Embrace Baltimore initiative as it draws to a close this month. This was in response to questions posed to Bob Mackey, executive director of Embrace Baltimore at the May 5, 2009 General Mission Board (GMB) meeting. At that time, Mackey pledged to get the answers for the GMB and report back at a future date.

That future date became Oct. 20, 2009. Bob Mackey did not attend. Ritche Carney and Dave Howard, director of NAMB’s Strategic Focus City teams, presented a basic financial overview and answered questions about expenses and regarding the disbursement of remaining funds. Carney explained that when the calendar year ends, designated church plant money will be disbursed and any remaining funds will be returned to the NAMB.

“That’s standard operating procedure,” Carney said.

“Is there any reason that money couldn’t stay in the state?” Daniel Sheard, pastor of Calvary Missionary Church asked. We’re reproducing, he said, referring to the Embrace Wilmington initiative, which is a partnership of the Delaware Association (DBA) and the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D).

Howard answered that funds are tight and reiterated that the money returning to the NAMB is standard policy.

Sheard asked if other states have attempted to do a strategic focus on a city without NAMB funding.

Howard answered yes, Georgia is doing it and other states and associations have taken SFC components and put them in practice.

Tim Simpson, senior pastor of Greenridge Church, expressed appreciation at receiving some financial data which Carney provided, but suggested that having more detailed financial information and having it earlier in the partnership would have been beneficial. It helps to know what questions to ask, Simpson said, adding that BCM/D operates openly with all numbers, including salaries available for review.

“This data is very important for transparency,” Simpson said.

Howard said NAMB is also open but has a specific policy against revealing individual salaries.

Danny Crow, senior pastor of The Church at Covenant Park, Ellicott City, said he doesn’t have to know individual salaries, but that an aggregate number should be reported.

Crow said it all boils down to one question–what did SFC/Embrace cost?

Carney said that number is available with the exception of salaries. Howard clarified that they can only show what the NAMB spent on SFC in total.

EDITORS NOTE: At press time BaptistLIFE received an update from Mike Ebert, NAMB communications team leader. According to the SFC staff, the amount spent on Embrace Baltimore was $2,894,809 if the 2006-07 ramp-up is included.

Several pastors expressed frustration at the confusion that it caused in reviewing the Embrace Baltimore budget, not knowing in what areas and how much other entities have been contributing.

“There is no way to know exactly all that it costs…there is a certain amount of ambiguity and that’s just part of the cooperative world,” Howard said.

For example, when Ritche Carney travels for SFC, that travel expense comes out of NAMB’s budget, not out of the individual SFC budget. Howard explained. “There are so many layers. That’s the depth of complexity…,” he said. Salaries and contributions come from many different funding streams.

“Maybe the lesson we walk away from here with is that there needs to be a central entity that can be reporting collective means of income that can then report back to a group like ours,” Sheard offered.

BCM/D executive director, David Lee, said he doesn’t know of such a document that includes every resource. There’s really no way to track that, he said. We can track BCM/D, NAMB and Baltimore Baptist Association (BBA) dollars. If we could start all over again it may be worthwhile to have that kind of system.

Embrace Baltimore did have a central group that met monthly to provide oversight to the SFC in Baltimore. That group, the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) was made up of Bob Mackey, Ritche Carney, David Lee and Gary Jennings (LifeWay Christian Resources).

Bill Cochran, pastor of First Church, Lansdowne, said, “I can tell you, as a BBA pastor, and a satisfied participant, that I have complete trust in the integrity of the system and am thrilled Baltimore had the opportunity to be the last recipient.

“The system was set up very carefully with integrity and accountability. On the association level, as an autonomous body, the BBA understood the system and has had, what I feel, full disclosure. BBA trusted that system and where the dollars went. BBA chose to leave decisions to a leadership team.

“I think the Embrace folks did a wonderful thing in a city that desperately needs Christ,” Cochran said.

“Thank you for the partnership,” Carney said. “I love working with pastors and working in cities.”

Lee thanked Carney and assured pastors that though SFC Embrace Baltimore remaining monies will not stay in Baltimore, NAMB will still be working with BCM/D to help support the convention and is open to requests for needed funding.

Lee asked board members what type of reporting would provide the kind of information that they want as the convention moves to Embrace Wilmington?

David Hemphill, pastor of First Church, Edgewater, suggested that Embrace Wilmington should be represented at General Mission Board meetings, that the numbers be clear, and that if there are ten staffers, that the salaries are shown to come from a specific fund for a certain amount.

“All that stuff should add up and make sense,” Hemphill said.

David Lee assured members that Mitch Dowell, Embrace Wilmington executive director, will be at every Board meeting to give an update, a written report and answer questions.