FBC Jax members - if there is anything about Mac Brunson and his inner circle that concerns you: whether it be his occasional abusive preaching style, how he talks about us to other churches, how he made significant church bylaws changes with absolutely NO explanation, how he put his wife and son on staff after he came and to this day there is no communication to the congregation as to what specific ministries they are responsible for; or maybe its the spending of $100,000 on the pastor's suite before he even arrived, or the $307K land gift for love and affection, or the wedding reception for his son, or his generally lavish lifestyle - if ANY of those facts concern you, I recommend you carefully review what has happened at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
This is the church pastored by Jerry Sutton - Sutton was a nominee for SBC president back in 2006 - he was the favorite of the big shots in the SBC, and authored the book 'The Conservative Resurgence", but he still lost big to Frank Page anyway.
Here's the summary of what has transpired of late at the church: On Sunday May 12th, 77 long-time, faithful members were kicked out of the fellowship, as they demanded to see church financial records - including expense and salary records. They were concerned that church monies had been spent on the pastor's daughter's wedding reception, and other irregularities. Access to these records was not granted, and they decided to file a lawsuit last year to grant them access to these records that they believed they had the right to inspect under Tennessee law. The suit was dismissed, although the judge did grant access to some records, but still questions remain unanswered by Sutton. Fast forward to May 4th, 2008: a vote was held to ex-"communicate" or remove from the fellowship, the 77 members who inquired about the finances. However, perhaps the Lord intervened, and miraculously, the effort to remove them failed by a very close vote. This did not stop the pastor. He then took matters into his own hands, and since the 77 members being voted on were allowed to vote on the motion, the pastor on May 11th, at the conclusion of the service, held a "show of hands" vote on whether those 77 votes should count. The motion to not count those 77 votes passed, and the members were then kicked out of their church home. Never mind that the church bylaws specifically state that all members are allowed to vote on all motions before the church.
OK, I've probably overlooked a lot in that one paragraph summary of what has transpired. But thankfully, churches like ours have a full record of what has transpired, on the Internet.
You can do your own Internet research, so here are some links for you to visit and read:
1. Read the series of articles at Baptist Press that have to do with Two Rivers. Click here for the list of these.
2. The "dissenters" who are demanding openness and accountability from their church leadership have a website - click here. Visit their website, and notice some of the questions they have of their church leadership, which they have not received answers to.
Just a few things that concern me over events at that church as they relate to our own church:
- the chain of events that has now blown up at Two Rivers into a move by the pastor to kick out long-term members of the church started with some questions that members had in 2006 about spending and personnel decisions at the church. Suppose Sutton just answered the questions. OK, maybe there was some embarrassing information. Maybe even some spending improprieties. Would answering the questions honestly, openly, quickly, humbly have been better in hind sight knowing now what has transpired? Some of the questions were concerning using church funds for personal expenditures of the pastor and his family. Any of this sound familiar?
- the pastor's response to questions regarding salaries, expenditures, etc could have been a move to more openness, more accountability to the people of the church - but instead questions were not answered. Since the pastor was stonewalling information, someone dared to sue the church to exercise what they believed were their rights as members to know details on how money was being spent, and the members who participated in the lawsuit are viewed as the recalcitrants. While our church has not gone that route yet, there are more than 77 people gravely concerned over the decisions of our pastor the past 2 years - and our pastor takes every opportunity he can, and so does Jim Smyrl, to cast a negative light on those who attempt to hold the pastor accountable. While Brunson and his supporters make the issue that his critics are seeking to be "anonymous", Two Rivers shows the issue is not one of anonymity - questions will NOT be answered whether its b y anonymous recalcitrant bloggers or 77 members with their names on letters. And of course its easier to expel members once they put their names on a letter. So don't be fooled by the pastor whining about anonymous emails or bloggers. That won't change anything except maybe invite a very public lawsuit.
- The Two Rivers dispute shows the importance of a church's bylaws. You'll notice as you read about Two Rivers that one of the issues related to expelling these people from the church is what the church bylaws have to say about church membership, church discipline, and pastoral authority. Is it a coincidence that as the lawsuit was unfolding last year at Two Rivers that our pastor, Mac Brunson, clandestinely changed OUR church bylaws to give himself more power, to define how church conflict is handled (which can affect the rights of members to gain access to financial information), and the formation of discipline committee? Why would the pastor make these significant bylaw changes without explaining them in any fashion to his congregation? Why would he not give members copies of the new bylaws before the vote?
Its a shame, but these mega church pastors refuse to move into the 21st century when it comes to church finances and accountability to the people who are giving the money. Is there any wonder that mega churches in the Southern Baptist Convention are on the decline, as admitted by SBC president Frank Page recently? While the trend of mega church pastors in the past 20 years has been to accumulate huge wealth for themselves and their families, and while they keep preaching the need to be willing to change methods and styles to reach a new generation, they ignore the need to be completely accountable to all donors of their churches as to how the money is spent. Pastors like Mac Brunson (who sometimes appear to be CEO wannabes) love to look to the business community for examples on how to run their organizations, how to use the latest marketing and advertising gimmicks to attract people to their church, but one lesson they refuse to learn from business and government is the importance of complete financial transparency. One need only look at the trends in government and corporate governance to know that less accountability and openness as it relates to finances is actually harmful to an organization in the long run - hiding executive salaries from the members is to the advantage solely of the executive, but it does not serve the mission of the organization. It might allow mega church pastors to accumulate more wealth and enjoy more perks for themselves and their families, and it might allow them to serve the interests of the close inner circle of supporters, but it is harmful to the church as a whole. One need only look at Two Rivers and First Baptist Church Jacksonville to see this.
So what can church members do? Well, Two Rivers shows one thing: no matter how ugly the dispute might get, mega church leaders will NOT let church members know how the money is being spent. Period. It will not happen. It took a lawsuit at Two Rivers, and all that did was cause the church members to be expelled as recalcitrants. While our mega church pastors look to corporate America for the latest marketing trends on how to attract new members, the members would do well to learn a business lesson also: corporate America only listens to you as far as it effects their pocketbooks. So, if you have any doubt that your church is spending money on pastor wedding receptions, huge salaries for pastor and family, perks galore, your pastor is accepting huge personal gifts from donors of the church, then my friends and brothers and sisters, there is only ONE way you can "request" and be heard when it comes to more openness regarding church finances: that is with your pocketbook. Churches often ask us to "boycott" companies who take actions that we disagree with as Christians. Why, because they realize that a drop in profits will get the shareholders and leaders attention. I would humbly suggest we do the same. We need to stop our giving (not "to God", but to FBC Jax) until the leadership is more open with all receipts and expenditures: and answers questions about the pastoral transition that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars of gifts, perks, and even conversion of valuable ministry building space to a personal office suite. No ugly litigation needed, no blogging needed, nothing but a simple drop in receipts will force the leadership to respond to their donors. The alternative? Just keep giving more and more every time a "special offering" is asked for to further Mac's personal ministry, keep giving your "tithes and offerings", and let Team Brunson spend the $14 million dollars how they see fit. Would you send $1000.00 to someone who assured you he would give $1 to the local food bank? Or to someone who thanked you, told you they loved you, and then kept asking you for more and never gave you any accounting. Would you "trust God to deal with the man" or would you use your God given mental abilities to demand an accounting? Please pray about what God would have you do... We already know what Team Brunson would have you do.