Author: Leland Acker

If you could go back…

16708472_10211627013496723_1898660107827657514_nDuring the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump introduced a slogan that continues to be his trademark well into his presidency, “Make America Great Again.” This slogan indicates that the President is looking back at America’s history, and seeing a time in which America reached its peak, and that he wants to return it to that status. So, on my talk show, I asked my audience, “When was America at its greatest? If you could go back in time and live at any point in America’s history, where would you go?”

What I found was that my audience tended to look back on their adolescent and young adult years as the best years in America’s past. Those who came of age in the 1950s wanted to go back to the 1950s. After all, everything was cheap, good jobs were easy to find, and it was so easy to dance to Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Those who were in their 40s and 50s tended to gravitate toward the 1980s… the years they were in high school or college. Again, good music, good movies, the country was prosperous, and times were simpler. My 30-somethings liked the 90s. Same themes… good music, good movies, prosperous times and a simper life.

Everyone longs for the “good ole days,” but were the “good ole days” really that good?

Sure, the 1950s provide a good postcard for freedom and prosperity in post-war America. Hamburgers, Homes, Cars and Rock and Roll. However, the 1950s were not a good decade for the African-American community, who, having come home after fighting the war, found themselves once again being locked out of the new American prosperity. Hence, Dr. Martin Luther King’s statement that in a sea of prosperity, African-Americans found themselves on an island of poverty.

Furthermore, the 1950s saw an increasing threat from the spread of communism, war on the Korean peninsula, an ever-growing threat of nuclear annihilation, polio, and a political system that was rapidly becoming more volatile. People living in the 1950s lived under the constant threat of instantaneous and unexpected annihilation. Yet, they continued with life, and look back on those days with happy memories.

The 1980s saw American prosperity and good culture as well. Like the 1950s, there was even a Spiritual revival. Yet, the 1980s saw the last great standoff with the Soviet Union, manufacturing being outsourced, costing American jobs, AIDS, crack, homeless veterans, a mental health crisis, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, inner-city gang violence, and the rise of drug cartels.

The 1990s saw all of that, along with the emergence of the internet, the rise in global terrorism, domestic terrorism, mass shootings, job outsourcing, and the economic boom sparked in the 80s began to unravel. Plus, we were cursed with NSync and the Backstreet Boys.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a teenager in the 1990s was loose and carefree. So was being a teenager in the 1980s. Heck being a teenager in the 1950s was an okay proposition. But, the fact of the matter is that we can neither return to those decades, nor can we become teenagers again. Even if we could, we’d be disappointed to find that major problems existed, even back then.

To live the human life is to live with problems. They’re numerous, and they’re critical. As Agent K said in Men In Black, “There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague.” The key to finding the peace and serenity you seek in returning back to the glory days is to understand that, and to be able to live your life in spite of that. The key to doing this is to understand that God is in control of all things, and that you can trust Him to manage the uncontrollable events of your life.

If you master this, and if you learn to be thankful for the good things in your life, you will always be living in your glory days, regardless of your age, or what decade it is.

What the Elwood Superintendent’s Decision Reveals about Societal Values

11156384_10206298906337374_6382280851986253488_nThere are two words I was never allowed to say when I was in school, “Yeah, but….”

The words, “Yeah, but…” usually accompanied an excuse I had for a misbehavior, a bad decision, or a reasoning for why the other kid should be in worse trouble than me. In fact, in my mind, the other kid’s behavior was often so much worse than mine, that my infraction should be excused.

“Leland, did you just throw that paper ball at Billy?”

“Yeah, but…”

“No ‘buts.’ Out in the hall!”

I never got the opportunity to explain that I threw the paper ball at Billy because he made faces at me, pushed me into the dirt on the playground, or drew an ugly picture of me on manilla paper during art class. Nope. In this instance, the only thing that mattered was that I had violated class rules by throwing the paper ball at Billy, and so I had to face the consequence. Had I followed the correct course of action before throwing the paper ball, like telling the teacher that Billy was bullying me, then I would not be in trouble.

For what it’s worth, my story about Billy is a summary of several elementary school experiences rolled into one with a pseudonym of Billy as my adversary. I digress.

Public discourse today, whether social or political, is largely driven by the concept of “yeah, but.” For example:

  • Donald Trump bragged about groping women. “Yeah, but, Bill Clinton was a predator, too.”
  • “The Republicans expanded the size of the Federal Government and centralized power within it.” “Yeah, but the Democrats are worse.”
  • “Tom Brady cheated by deflating footballs.” “Yeah, but everybody cheats. Tom just got caught.”

Lost in all the “Yeah, buts…” is the truth. There is a standard of morality, a standard of behavior that we are right to expect from one another, especially when one’s actions affect the livelihood and well-being of another. However, the tribalization of America has led to a mentality of “winners and losers” where we feel the need for our side to be the winners, no matter the effect on everyone else. And this is what will ultimately pull our country apart.

Nowhere can this be better illustrated than the case of Elwood School Superintendent Casey Smitherman, whose decision to seek medical treatment for a student while filing it on her insurance led to her facing criminal charges and ultimately led to her resigning her position with the school.

According to the Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Ind., Smitherman:

  • She didn’t get permission from the boy’s guardian or parents to take him from the house, cart him around town and seek medical care for him.
  • The superintendent was alone with the teen in a car, a major no-no for school staff and administrators.
  • She committed fraud by claiming that the boy was her son so that she could use her health insurance to defray the $233 bill for the clinic’s care and antibiotics.
  • She didn’t report her suspicion that the boy was suffering from neglect. School staff and others who come into contact with youth through their jobs are required by state law to report such suspicion.

These are very serious infractions, not only on a technical level, but on a moral level as well. Yet, the internet is reacting to her actions by lauding her as a hero, and criticizing “big insurance,” Trump, Congress and the Republican Party for what happened.

Instead of looking at the entirety of the case, most of the internet is focusing on the fact that she took a kid to the doctor… and who wouldn’t want to see a kid taken care of? Therefore, she should be a hero.

However, the morality of Smitherman’s benevolence went out the window the second she shifted the cost of her humanitarianism to others, that is, those who pay premiums to her insurance company. When you consider that the cost of the care could have counted against her annual deductible and/or out of pocket expenses, you might even be able to make the case that her actions were a little self-serving.

If Smitherman wanted to provide healthcare for a student and did so out of her own pocket, then I can understand the admiration. However, lying about her relationship to the student to get the insurance company to pick up the tab is insurance fraud, and is not true benevolence.

That action can have widespread consequences to others, such as increased premium costs to other policy holders. Think about it. If it were moral and legal to file a claim on your health insurance by lying about your relationship to the patient, then few of us would need to buy insurance. We could simply find a friend with insurance, and mooch off their policy, the same way many people mooch off of each other’s Netflix accounts. Fewer people paying premiums with more claims means higher premiums, which will drive others off insurance. This is not a good situation.

Again, this is a serious infraction. Yet, many in our society are praising her. “Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but we should’ve had universal healthcare in the first place.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but Congress has failed the American people and should all resign.”

“Yeah, she committed insurance fraud, but at least she stuck it to a greedy corporation.”

I could go on. The “yeah, buts” are in plentiful supply.

Smitherman has since apologized for her actions, citing a lapse in judgment. I’m willing to forgive and move on. Sometimes decisions do sound good when made, and only after do you realize the full ramifications. However, to justify this behavior by pointing out the flaws elsewhere in our system with a series of “yeah, buts” is to concede that we are to remain on a trail of constant injustice until our whole moral fabric is completely unraveled.

Bad decisions cannot bring about good. Immoral decisions can not bring about morality. Darkness cannot drive out light. And sinful attitudes will not bring about revival.

Be understanding. Be forgiving. But be truthful.

The Texas State Missions Program

The mission policy proposed by Bro. Marion Reed leading into the 2009 MBA of Texas meeting was a thing of beauty. That policy was ultimately approved by the messengers of the association, which led to a more efficient state missions program. This mission policy, under which we currently operate, upheld the Landmark doctrine of the authority of the local church, provided flexibility in the way mission work is done in the state of Texas, and resulted in more request, but at lower amounts.

Prior to the passage of the current mission policy, the MBA of Texas set salaries for state-supported missionaries, then paid up to 80 percent of that salary. The program mirrored the ABA’s salary structure for interstate missionaries, however, a 10% raise approved by messengers at the 2006 meeting in Longview boosted the salary to a higher amount than the ABA salary. As of the 2009 MBA of Texas meeting, full salary for Texas state missionaries was set at $3,822 per month, with the association paying $3,057.60 toward that amount.

Some missionaries elected to receive half-salary in the amount of $1,911 per month, which allowed them to work secular jobs to obtain health insurance, and reduced the burden on the sponsoring church.

This system had a few disadvantages.

First, the missionary’s salary, paid by the association, was often left out of the mission’s budget. The only part of the missionary’s salary included in the budget was often the 10-20 percent of the salary for which the mission took responsibility. As a result, if a missionary wished to decrease support from the state association, he often had to simultaneously ask the mission or sponsoring church for a raise. Anyone who has been in ministry any length of time can attest to how uncomfortable, and unworkable that proposition is. As a result, missionaries who requested decreased support often did so at their own expense, and thus, few missionaries requested decreased support. The result was that missionaries stayed on salary for extended periods of time (up to 15-20 years).

Secondly, this system blocked struggling churches from being supported, and ceased support for missions that organized. While struggling churches were often added to the program, (as was famously done in Longview to support the construction of a fellowship hall), such a move required the setting aside of mission policy, which invited difficult floor debate.

Thirdly, this system was problematic for missionaries following the “church-planting” model of mission work, as opposed to the traditional model where a mission was an arm of the sponsoring church. Missionaries who followed the “church-planting” model established autonomous churches, bypassing mission status. However, these new churches often struggled financially, hence the need for missionary support.

Wanting to maintain an avenue for traditional mission work, while opening up a way for newer mission techniques, Bro. Reed introduced the current missions policy, which changed the way state missions are oriented.

The former policy was missionary-oriented, meaning the support was intended for the missionary. That is, we paid the missionary’s salary. Seeing the disadvantages of that system, and fearing IRS intervention if the government perceived that the association was paying “salaries,” and therefore had employees, Bro. Reed’s new policy redefined the money sent to missionaries as “support.”

In addition to switching the practice from paying salaries to sending support, Bro. Reed’s new policy changed the orientation from being missionary focused, to project-focused. Sponsoring churches were no longer required to recommend a missionary. They could recommend a project, or (before a recent change to the policy) a ministry such as Berean Bible Study, or Texas Mission Development.

Amounts of support were no longer defined by the associational policy. Instead, missionaries and sponsoring churches calculated a need, and requested the appropriate support from the association. The association then had the prerogative to either approve, or decline the request, and the policy was written to show that a vote to decline the request in no way denigrated the legitimacy of the project.

When the new policy was approved by the messengers of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas, several pastors told me that they feared that missionaries would request “lavish” levels of support. Looking at the history of the new policy, that fear has not been realized, as missionary requests are frequently well below the former “full salary” designation. In fact, of the seven requests that were approved at the 2018 MBA of Texas meeting, only one came close to the former “full salary” amount, and that request undercut the former “full salary” amount by $200. The average request for state support comes in at $1,864.29, which is even less than the former “half-salary” amount.

It should be noted that the missionaries and sponsoring churches, once freed to determine their needs and purposes for the support, were able to request lesser amounts from the association. And with three significantly reducing their requests over the past two years, it is demonstrated that the new system actually promotes the growth and maturity of the mission projects.

I say all of that to remind, and encourage our association, that our missions program is strong, and well-designed. If sponsoring churches and missions utilize the program as it is intended, then we will see new works started which will become self-supporting in shorter time frames than under the previous policy. However, this requires an understanding of how the program works. While one need not obtain a Ph. D. in missions to figure it all out, there are two keys to remember regarding our current mission policy.

  1. The association does not pay salaries. Years of seeing missionaries request “full salary” and “half salary” has programmed a lot of messengers, and well, missionaries and sponsoring pastors, to see state support as a salary to the missionary. This is no longer the intent of the program. The association does not pay “salaries,” and over the next few meetings, the association would do well to replace the word “salaries” with “support” in some of the more recent changes to the policy.
  2. The association supports “projects.” While the policy is worded to allow a sponsoring church to recommend a missionary or a mission work, it must be noted that the sponsoring church is the entity requesting the support, and receiving the help. This may seem like an obsessive attention to a minor detail, but that detail can be the difference maker in whether a work progresses toward becoming self-supporting.

The beauty of those two keys is that, by designating the associational support as “support” and not “salary,” the association’s support becomes a line-item in the budget. Thus, that support can decrease without directly impacting the missionary’s salary, thus moving the mission toward self-supporting status.

With all of this information, let’s explore how a new mission work can become self-supporting more quickly under this system. If I were starting a new work, here’s what I would do. These steps only address the financial end of mission work. We’ll study the spiritual end of mission work in another post.

  1. Determine the financial need. What would my personal needs be regarding salary? Housing? What would the new work need in terms of rent? Utilities? Outreach materials? Marketing resources? How much funding would be needed to acquire property and build a building? Or is it possible to purchase an existing building?
  2. Based on that need, I would set a budget, including start-up expenses for the first year.
  3. I would do deputation for one full year to raise funds to meet the needs of that budget.
  4. I would then set my request from the association according to the need of that budget after direct support from sister churches was factored in.
  5. Each year, a new budget would be set, factoring in offerings received from the mission, offerings received from sister churches, and support received from the association. As the offerings from the mission increased, the request for support from the association would decrease.
  6. This trend would hopefully continue until there was no longer a need for associational support.

We have employed this technique at Life Point Baptist Church, and as a result, decreased our request for support by $500 last year, and anticipate decreasing our request again this next year. This system is encouraged by our current mission policy, and judging by the number of decreased requests for support, I’d say it’s working.

So, take heart, sister churches of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas. We have a great missions program. Let’s utilize it the way it was intended, and let’s support it so that our current missionaries can remain on the field, and so that new works can be started.

Thank you for your prayers and support.

In Support of State Missions

For the past 10 years, I have been blessed to be a state missionary supported by the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas. In the past 10 years, I have seen a robust missions fund be exhausted by new and continued requests for support, and I have seen that fund rebuilt by God’s provision through the generosity of the churches of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas. I have seen us go from “We have all this money and no missionaries” to “We have all these missionaries and no money,” to “let’s try to keep that from happening again.”

Bro. Curtis Gilbert is right to try to shore up the mission policy for the betterment of the program. I fear, however, that some policy is being put forth on common misconceptions. I will put forth statements made at this past week’s meeting, match them to the misconception, then address the misconception.

We have missionaries on the field for 14 years.” This is false. This has been a problem in the past, but has not been a problem since the passage of the new mission policy. The state missionary who has been supported the longest by MBA of Texas is myself, and I have been supported for 10 years. We started this work¬†from scratch 10 years ago. We had no property, no money, no congregation and no connections in the community. This work was not started by a split, and we didn’t obtain a “launch team” from another congregation.

Over the past 10 years, we have evangelized this community, acquired resources by raising support from our sister churches (both individually and through the MBA of Texas, and associational ministries), discipled those who came to know Christ through our ministry, and reached many that had been isolated in their faith. As a result, we saw a congregation rapidly grow over the first 5 years.

Then, Satan entered in through a few individuals, we experienced some conflict, and we had some move out of town. In 2014, we basically had to start over. We did. We utilized the resources God had provided through the MBA of Texas, built a building, and God built a new congregation. I believe we are within reach of going self-supporting.

We went through some hard times, but the MBA of Texas was with us every step of the way. Thanks to the MBA’s generous and patient support, we were able to recover and we will have a local church here in Early, Tex. We could very well be off support after this year.

I share that story to show that when a missionary is on support for a lengthy period of time, there is often a back story to that situation.

We need to get our missionaries and sponsoring churches to refocus.” This statement indicates that the state missionaries are not focused on their work, or don’t know what they’re doing, or cannot assess whether God is still in the work. I don’t get to fellowship with all of the state missionaries, but I see 3 or 4 of them regularly at Southwest Association mission rallies. Their mission projects and ministries are all they think about.

When things fell apart with my work in 2013 and 2014, I spent much time in prayer searching whether God was finished with the work or not. Absent of a call to leave the field, I found that God still wanted the work to continue. At that point, to have left the field would have been disobedient to God, would have resulted in the waste of associational resources, and would have left those who remained in the congregation without pastoral leadership. It would have (in my case) been irresponsible and selfish. So, we continued. The “refocusing” that was called for is happening.

We need (annual reductions in support) for accountability.”¬†Actually, that idea does not create accountability. Accountability is the setting of goals, the formulation of a plan to reach those goals, and the direction to keep the missionary on task to accomplish that plan. That responsibility falls on the sponsoring church.

Regarding the reductions in missionary support, I actually think it’s a good idea. That is the goal, to increase offerings from the mission while decreasing support from the state association. That’s why at least 3 missionaries I talked to at the meeting reduced support. It’s also why we reduced our request last year by $500/month, or 25%.

The reductions sought by the proposed (and failed) change to the mission policy are already happening on a voluntary basis. Many times, these voluntary reductions are happening at greater percentages than the policy change proposed. Furthermore, these reductions are being taken from requests that are significantly smaller than the historic “full salary” designation.

Brethren, I hope this post has not come across as defensive or angry. It is neither. I am merely trying to encourage you that our state missions program is strong. We have good men on the field who are laboring for the Lord, who wish to do so at minimal expense to the association and our sister churches, who wish to organize as soon as possible. These men are sufficiently funded by the generous support of MBA of Texas churches, who have never failed to answer the call to keep missionaries on the field.

As we look toward the 2019 meeting, I know that the mission policy and the program will be on the minds of many who will look to make improvements over the next few years. This is a good thing. I am blessed that we have so many pastors and churches concerned about state missions that they want to make sure the policy is optimized for a robust missions program. My only desire is that the changes are made with the right perspective, and factually correct information, and not on misconceptions based on anecdotal instances that are now past, and are no longer impacting the work.