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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: SBC Culture, Seminaries in Decline, and MinistryWatch’s Shining Light Awards

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be.

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast.  This week we saw something we rarely see in evangelicalism: a stunning rebuke of a man who was once one of evangelicalism’s most prominent leaders.

Bart Barber, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has publicly denounced one of his predecessors.  Barber released a statement on Tuesday saying, “I would permanently ‘defrock’ Johnny Hunt if I had the authority to do so.”

Hunt served as president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination from 2008 to 2010, but he stepped aside from public ministry in May after allegations that he had sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife were made public.

Then, last week, a group of pastors announced that Hunt has been restored to ministry, less than six months after Southern Baptists passed a series of reforms designed to address a sex abuse crisis.

In addition to his statement, Barber went on social media to call Hunt’s return “a repugnant act.”

And this is where it gets interesting, because Bart Barber is not only confronting Johnny Hunt’s wrongdoing, but he is also rebuking the group of pastors who reinstated Hunt.

Barber was elected at the SBC’s 2022 annual meeting, where the delegates charged him with implementing abuse reforms passed in the same session. But Barber’s defrocking comment points up the challenges he and the SBC face in trying to address abuse.

Because the denomination’s churches are autonomous, no SBC official, including its president, has the authority to discipline Hunt.  But, on the other hand, this group of pastors doesn’t have the power to restore Johnny Hunt, either.

Here’s Barber on this point: “The idea that a council of pastors, assembled with the consent of the abusive pastor, possesses some authority to declare a pastor fit for resumed ministry is a conceit that is altogether absent from Baptist polity and from the witness of the New Testament. Indeed, it is repugnant to all that those sources extol and represent.”

This incident highlights how difficult it is to change the culture of a large organization.  It hightlights, too, how culture can often swamp strategy, even a sound strategy.  I recently spoke with Bart Barber.  We had our conversation before the events of this week, but we did discuss the fact that – as management guru Peter Drucker reportedly said – “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  You can listen to that conversation here.

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More Troubles for Higher Education.  North America’s 280 Christian seminaries enrolled 78,000 students this fall, about 600 fewer than last year.

Online seminary classes continue to be a powerful draw for students, many of whom study part time. The growing menu of Master’s degree options continues to attract a more diverse and older student body.

While COVID had little impact on the number of students enrolled, it did shift significant numbers into online classes, leading to a one-year enrollment increase in 2020.

These are just a few of the highlights in Steve Rabey’s excellent story about evangelical seminaries.  Steve spent a couple of weeks on this story, doing a deep dive into the statistics, and the story reiterates a trend we’ve been seeing for a while in higher education:  it’s in decline.

If you care about the future of the church, you should care about seminary education in this country.  You can read Steve’s story here.

MinistryWatch’s 2022 Shining Light Awards.  MinistryWatch has been around since 1998, and one of our longest running traditions is our Shining Light Awards.  We identify ministries every December that we think exemplify best practices in regard to transparency and accountability.

This year, we changed our scoring criteria a bit.  We have identified ministries that that have five out of five stars for financial efficiency, and an “A” Transparency Grade.  We narrowed the list further by requiring the Shining Lights to have a Donor Confidence Score of 90 or above.

The good news is that even using these very strict criteria we identified more than 60 ministries for this year’s list.  We hope you will use this list as a guide to year-end giving.  If you are a ministry leader, we hope you will take a good look at this list in order to see how your ministry compares and how you can make decisions that will bring your organization in line with the highest standards of the Christian ministry sector.

You can see the complete list here.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.