A Rebuttal to Dean Inserra’s “Send New Orleans: An Opportunity and a Challenge”
I have the great privilege to serve as the moderator of the New Orleans Baptist Association of Churches (NOBA) but what follows is just my personal reaction to yesterday’s blog post at B21 regarding the New Orleans Baptist Association. I’ve lived in the metro NOLA area for 13+ years and have been amazed at what a unique, diverse and challenging place this is to live and to serve. You learn things in NOLA that I’m convinced you can’t learn anywhere else. I often joke with our pastors that we are the “Island of Misfit Toys” of the Southern Baptist Convention. We are all so different. Our theologies are varied, our worship styles—assorted and our skin color—diverse yet we find great joy and community in our unity (tell me another association where the “big church” pastors are just as involved in associational life as are the “small church” pastors… including a former President of the SBC). Maybe it is because we know that those outside our Island don’t quite “get it” the way we do. Maybe it is simply the fact that spiritually-initiated wartime trench-oriented relationships are some of the strongest and most meaningful bonds forged. Whatever the reason, New Orleans is a different place and to that I say vive la difference. It is from that background that my desire to be transparent and truthful has been cultivated and it is from that perspective that I must respond to the recent B21 article from Dean Inserra titled, “Send New Orleans: An Opportunity and a Challenge.”
I was called today by a NOBA employee to let me know about this article. More concerning for me than even the content of the article is the fact that B21 didn’t contact our Executive Director, me who serves as moderator, nor any member of the Administrative Team to offer an opportunity to address what has been written about our local work. I believe the integrity of B21 is at stake here (a ministry that I both appreciate and am often encouraged by). When such an article is to be published, journalistic (not to mention spiritual) integrity requires that a full vetting take place and at least some sort of contact be made with the organization being addressed so that an appropriate rebuttal, or at least clarification, could be rendered.
I appreciate Dean Inserra’s leadership in guiding City Church of Tallahassee to adopt NOLA as a partner. We love our partners and we appreciate the thousands of short term missionaries and partner churches who have given their time, toil and treasure to help us engage our mission field, but one of the many things I have learned while pastoring a church that has housed thousands of volunteers is that a “trip down” and a “tour around” our area, albeit important to introduce our ministry to perspective partners, could not possibly provide the necessary backdrop to our unique work in what is considered by many to be one of the most complex and diverse Baptist associations in the SBC.
I am certain Dean offers these critiques from a place of true concern, nor do I expect him to understand the history and very involved background from which this dialogue springs however, the substance of the complaint in this blog post is so scant and misguided that it is difficult to know where to begin in response. Let me do this piece-by-piece, starting with the most direct statement made by Pastor Dean…
First, Dean posits,
That sounds great, doesn’t it? Church buildings used by church plants from our own denomination to battle lostness in a Send city is a slam-dunk, right? It should be, except for the challenge presented by the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA). As proof of God’s continued work in this city, NOBA now owns several of these vacant buildings. Tragically, it seems the Association is not interested in using these properties as facilities for church planting, the reason given that they would rather sell the buildings in order to fund local social justice ministries. (emphasis his)
Nothing could be further from the truth. NOBA has not sold a single church building. Further, to my knowledge, the association hasn’t sold a church building in the 13 years I’ve pastored in the area.
NOBA owns exactly 6 “church” buildings. All but 2 of them (4) are currently used by an established congregation, mission or church plant. Furthermore our ample association office complex has been the home of a number of other church plants throughout the years an is always available for planting. It is my hope that the 2 church buildings that currently do not house any congregations (Hopeview – which has been used as a roughed out volunteer center post-Katrina and Lake Forest – used as a warehouse for NOBA’s rebuild material) will one day either return to use as local church facilities (Lake Forest) or be sold and the proceeds used for church planting (Hopeview). In fact, NOBA has already invited the submission of a proposal for a future plant in the Lake Forest facility but nothing has been received. As for the Hopeview site, after consultation with church planting and church health strategist as well as local pastors, NOBA concluded that it was not feasible to return Hopeview to service as a church for a plethora of reasons; deemed it surplus property; and has listed it for sale. NOBA has received no proposals for the expected proceeds from the sale of Hopeview, nor has NOBA taken action regarding the disposition of said proceeds, which I hope to see used for planting purposes. (By the way, in an earlier tweet I made the mistake of saying “no church building we have is being sold” I should have said, “has not sold a single church building” I want to be very careful with my words and point out my mistake here). Dean made reference to one particular building on Magazine. That building, which he seems to think is empty, houses Valance Street Baptist Church and is the oldest SBC church building in NOBA. They have had a pastor for longer than I’ve lived here and have only recently entered into a partnership with NOBA to help it become a stronger work by…. wait for it… submitting to become a NOBA church plant/replant. It is not the association’s prerogative to force a church to anything, especially as it has do with property.
Now, if Dean is referring to the sale of two former compassion ministry sights (Carver and Rachel Sims) then that is another story. First of all, these buildings are not and never have been “church properties” (although a small mission church did for a short time utilize one of the large cavernous facilities) Second, these buildings were given to NOBA during the time NAMB was ridding itself of compassion ministry sites. When representatives from NOBA went to visit NAMB’s leadership to share our newly minted and ratified areas of focus—church health, church planting and compassion ministries—we identified our desire to reach into underserved communities with the gospel witness through compassion ministries including the possible introduction of a health clinic. NAMB loved the idea. Thus, for a number of years we have planned on selling these two properties to help further our compassion ministry efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward – where today we have the first of what I hope to be a number of gospel centered medical ministries in which our doctors tend to physical needs while also praying for and encouraging its patients. Tell me of another Baptist association that has a medical clinic.
Dean also argues, “the money invested in these ministries will be spent and gone for good.” Again, he is mistaken. Our hope is that this is an investment which will have a financial return to our association to further our vision. To suggest that we are impeding church planting by investing funds into compassion ministries is tantamount to suggesting that a church is not about global missions if it also is involved with funding local ministry. Dean also suggests, “One would think that starting and maintaining healthy churches would be the priority for a local association, rather than social programs.” Wow, I’m not sure how to respond here. Dean is simply presenting the fallacy of a false dilemma. Why can’t we do both? Further, we are not just talking about “social programs.” We are talking about meeting the physical needs of a neglected and underserved community (something that Jesus himself did). The fact is, not every penny spent by NOBA will go to church planting. NOBA has a gospel-centered strategy to expand the kingdom of Christ across the greater New Orleans region that involves three prongs: Church planting, Church health and Compassion Ministries; or as some have described it—Sharing Jesus, Starting Churches and Shaping Culture.
Pair that with the fact that, if you will allow this analogy, the “church-planting” faucet (so to speak) is wide open. A significant amount of funds are available from the SBC, the LBC and church partners from all around the country for church planting. There are however, NO funds for compassion ministries through CP efforts (however, since my original post one brother has let me know that there are some funds for local churches to engage in compassion type ministries). That we need to defend why we want to use this one-time asset (which was dedicated to compassion ministries) for the furtherance of our compassion ministry is very frustrating to me, especially when it comes from someone in another state who clearly has some but not all the information. I’ve already had friends from around the country contact me about this. That this post might jeopardize our current and the possibility of future partnerships is upsetting and such irresponsible misinformation is disappointing to say the least.
To suggest that NOBA is not passionate about church planting is absurd. NOBA and its churches have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to church planting and church planters in an effort to see this city inundated with the Gospel. We have used both NOBA owned and our locally owned buildings to house plants. My small church has relationships with two plants outside of our state (Utah and Vermont) and one in the next community over from ours. No one, and I mean NO ONE has any more heart for this city than those of us who daily work and labor here. To suggest otherwise is, and I’ll say it as nicely as I can, without understanding. The men and women, pastors and servants of NOBA work together in a way I have seen no other association do in order to fulfill our cooperative call to exalt Christ. We do so with joy in our diversity and singleness of heart in our effort.
You want to know about church planting / church life in southeast Louisiana? Come for a visit and talk to those of us who have walked it. I’d encourage you to get to know the pastors who have grown up here, those of us who were here through Katrina, and those who have come here to plant and pastor since that deluge. We will continue to prayerfully seek God’s direction for our association to impact our neighbors around our home. At least, if you’re going to publish something about our work, talk to one of us first… please.
Editorial Note and UPDATE: I have come to understand where the author of the original blog received his limited information. Although I am very disappointed with the circumstances surrounding this stir and I remain indignant that this piece was written, much less published without an attempt at engaging the Executive Director or the Administrative Team of NOBA. That was simply not the way Christ tells us to deal with others… at all. In fact, it is contrary to Scripture. I do however, now know that there was no intention on the part of the author or publisher to present false information. He seems to have been speaking from what what he was told. What is clear to me is that he only had bits and pieces of information. What remains disappointing is that such an article was written in the first place considering our work is a local Baptist work and historically, entities and individuals outside of an association do not have a place to nor should they be lodging complaints or directives toward an association that is not their own… especially about properties owned by the association. Because of that I want to make a couple of adjustments to my post. Anywhere I suggested or insinuated that someone was deliberately presenting false information I am retracting. Understand that I am NOT retracting the facts I have carefully presented nor am I discounting my disappointment with the article and its deployment but knowing that there was no deliberate attempt to deceive is enough for me to soften my language in some areas.