Baptist21 continues interviews with the men who will be nominated for the office of President of the SBC. Up next is Minnesota-Wisconsin Executive Director Leo Endel
Will you give us a brief introduction to who you are?
My dad grew up Southern Baptist in Houston, Texas. My mom grew up Catholic in Tonopah, Nevada. I was born an Air Force brat in Tampa, Florida. Six months later we moved to Anchorage, Alaska. I accepted Jesus as my Savior and was baptized in 1968 at Immanuel Baptist Church in Billings, Montana. Most of my life has been lived in the North or the West where Southern Baptists are not the dominant religious group: Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Nevada, Upper Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota. When God called me into the ministry I knew immediately that I would not serve in the South. God had prepared me to serve in the non-traditional areas of Southern Baptist life.
I have pastored a small-town First Baptist Church in Leeton, Missouri and a very small church of 35 in Sioux City, Iowa. God blessed the growth of Southern Hills and we were able to build a multi-purpose center and a new sanctuary while planting three new churches. I was able to work extensively with other evangelical leaders in our area, within the Northwest Baptist Association, and eventually serve as president of the Baptist Convention of Iowa. These were the experiences that led Minnesota-Wisconsin Southern Baptists to call me as executive director in 2002. Serving in this capacity has given me firsthand experience in working with the SBC’s leadership, boards, and agencies.
I have been married to Sarah, a Missouri farm girl, for twenty-five years. She teaches college mathematics, and we have two daughters. Rachel is 20 and is a junior math major at Union University and Lydia is 18 and received her associate’s degree two weeks ago. She plans to begin her junior year of college at the University of Hawaii this fall.
Serving as the President of the SBC is a massive time commitment. Why are you willing to commit to such a task?
Because I believe we need a voice that is representative of who we have become. We are no longer simply a Southern denomination but instead a national and even international partnership of churches. I believe God raised me in the same pattern that he grew Southern Baptists. I have a Southern heritage but a national identity. Electing a president outside of the South would be an important step toward embracing our national mission field.
How do you think your gifts and vision will help the SBC?
In the next six months Southern Baptists will seat three key leaders. Among my strongest gifts is the ability to bring people together and synthesize shared direction. I believe this kind of leader will help us make this crucial transition an opportunity for fresh vision and effectiveness.
I understand personally and organizationally what a streamlined missions convention looks like. The MWBC has only six state staff members and six associational missionaries/ church starter strategists working in an area exceeded in size only by Alaska, Texas and California. Working together through our 150 partner churches and 20 church planters we are trying to reach 10.9 million people with the gospel. We are structured to maximize the resources invested in the mission field. I believe God has shaped my perspective in the mission field and Southern Baptists would benefit from this missions focus.
What is one of the greatest strengths of the SBC? Why?
One of our greatest strengths is the delicate balance between autonomy and cooperation. We keep the primacy of the local church but provide the cooperative relationships that can leverage the resources of millions by providing strategic and synergistic missional impact.
What is one of the greatest weaknesses of the SBC? Why?
Our greatest weaknesses are usually a dark reflection of our greatest strengths. This delicate balance between autonomy and cooperation can too easily be lost by an over-focus on tertiary issues that diffuse our Great Commission focus.
What is one of the most encouraging trends right now in SBC life?
There is an awakening in our churches for personal involvement in a missional strategy to reach the world with the gospel. Southern Baptists no longer simply want to give and pray for missions we want to go to the world. Technology and travel have opened the world to every believer. We can all be missionaries. This generation of young pastors and college students are going to take the gospel to the world.
What is one of the most discouraging trends right now in the SBC?
Again, our strengths are our weaknesses. Our desire to be missional has not always led to a passionate commitment to missions funding or to the Cooperative Program. I have heard more than one missionary express mixed feelings about the effectiveness and efficiency of churches spending $50 or $60,000 to send a team to on a mission trip. Mission trips are effective because someone in the field can follow up the witness and investment of the team. This ongoing ministry is provided through the Cooperative Program. I am concerned that we may be flirting with personal involvement at the expense of strategic and effective missions engagement. If we can find a healthy balance of missions funding and missions going our weakness will become our strength.
What kind of ministry should women have in the life of a local church? How is this applied in your church?
I believe the Bible teaches that the pastor/teacher of the local church should be a man (1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-9). I believe most other positions within the local church are open to women. I believe we often confuse leadership, authority, and ministry. Most leadership within the local church ought to be done not so much out of authority but out of ministry or service. The pastor/elder/overseer (1 Peter 5:1-3, Acts 20:17, 28) is a position of ministry and authority.
What are some of the strengths of the GCR?
- We can all embrace the biblical call to a recommitment to the gospel and the Great Commission
- It affirms “the primacy and centrality of the local church” (5)
- It affirms that Associations, State Conventions, and Mission Boards are tools for extending the efficient and effective impact of the local church by synergistically combining our resources
- I believe in the conversation—we need ongoing discussions like these in Baptist life; it has interrupted “business as usual”
- It gives an accurate perspective on financial trends within Baptist life—the declining percentage given by believers to the local church and the declining percentage given by our churches to the Cooperative Program.
- It has opened the way for renegotiating the Cooperative Agreements (NAMB/State Convention); these agreements need to be fluid and renegotiated on an ongoing basis
- The conversation has caused us to rethink our priorities and retest our effectiveness.
What are some of the weaknesses of the GCR?
- The Task Force had precious few voices from new work areas, from our ethnic groups, or from our small churches.
- Because of our polity, the GCRTF is short on details. We really do not yet know how these components will be implemented. The new president of NAMB and his trustees will make these critical and strategic decisions; I believe the actual content of the GCRTF report is not nearly as important as the selection of the new NAMB president. We must be praying for a gifted, capable, godly leader for NAMB.
- While affirming the Cooperative Program as “the central and preferred conduit” for Southern Baptist missions giving, I believe the establishment of a new category of Great Commission Giving that includes all designated gifts to SBC causes will result in a weakening of our funding system. The beauty of the Cooperative Program has been the effective and efficient funding of missions across the full spectrum of Acts 1:8. A unified budget voted on by the convention messengers best reflects the priorities of Southern Baptists. Designated giving bypasses the priorities of the majority by emphasizing the priorities of a select few. Competition for resources can too easily replace cooperation and coordinated strategy. Designated gifts are accepted and celebrated already. Our focus needs to be on encouraging undesignated gifts without which, as the report says, “we would be left with no unified and cooperative strategy” to fulfill our “commitment to the Great Commission task.”
- The Cooperative Program is especially powerful for the small church—with limited resources, the small church can still be a contributor to proportionally do their part to fulfill the Great Commission. The SBC is still primarily a convention of small churches, and the Cooperative Program is still the most effective means for doing the Great Commission together.
- One final concern regards the loss of cooperative program material development from the SBC executive Committee. It is my opinion that the assistance of the Executive Committee has saved all Southern Baptists millions of dollars by helping us collectively develop materials rather than forcing every state convention to separately develop these materials. Videos and printed materials are much cheaper when developed together and produced for one centralized source. It seems to be unknown that the State Conventions partner with the EC and actually buy the materials and then distribute the materials. The EC covers the production cost and the state conventions cover the per piece cost of the product and the distribution of the promotional materials to the churches. Without this service the loss to the larger Southern Baptist family will be far more than the money saved by cutting the work of the Executive Committee.