Fellowship denies motion
to restrict funding for 'partner'
___By Bob Allen
___Associated Baptist Press
___BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (ABP)--The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship declined to intervene in a dispute over leadership of Friends of New Churches, denying a motion to restrict use of the $152,000 in Fellowship funding due the "partner" organization this year.
___Lynn Walters Wardell of Smithville, Tenn., was a founding board member of Friends of New Churches, a network of about 100 new, Fellowship-friendly congregations founded in 1995. She resigned from the board in 1997 over differences with the agency's executive director, Will Carter, and last year signed a letter with current and former board members calling for him to be fired. At a called meeting Dec. 3, the Friends of New Churches board voted 6-5 against a motion by the executive committee to fire Carter, prompting four board members and one staff member to resign.
___In light of that controversy, Wardell brought a motion to the Fellowship General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., asking that all Fellowship money and gifts given to Friends of New Churches "be designated specifically for grants to new churches."
___In accordance with rules governing the General Assembly, Wardell's motion was discussed in a business breakout session. After debating the matter about an hour, the breakout group voted against the motion 27-21.
___During discussion, Wardell, a former pastor who also has experience in setting up and running non-profit organizations, said CBF partners should be held accountable for funding they receive from the Fellowship. "I am concerned that there has never been any real accountability," she said, for funds disbursed by the Fellowship's global missions ministry group to the Friends of New Churches.
___Since Carter went full time as executive director in 1997, Friends of New Churches spends too much on administration and too little on grants to new churches, she charged. Carter recently wrote a letter advising that in light of an anticipated cut in funding, the organization might have trouble in fulfilling grants it has already committed.
___Friends of New Churches has budgeted $26,500 in grants and aid to new churches in 1999-2000, out of a total budget of $232,760. Staff salaries and benefits total $106,075. Carter, who is 63 and has been in ministry 41 years, will earn $48,000 in salary and housing.
___"The most important thing Friends of New Churches can do is give grants for new churches," said one small-church pastor during discussion.
___"Unless you're in one of these churches, you don't understand how important that $200 or $400 a month is," said another.
___But Carter said grants, while important, have never been the main focus of Friends of New Churches, which exists mainly to network, encourage and support new churches.
___The Fellowship's global missions ministry group appointed a subcommittee to study the group's relationship to Friends of New Churches in light of the leadership dispute. The subcommittee's chairman, Kyle Henderson, said Friends of New Churches has kept terms of a covenant it signed with the Fellowship four years ago.
___Henderson said the Fellowship should honor its five-year funding commitment to Friends of New Churches, which expires this year. Current plans call for the Fellowship to phase out funding for the organization, in part to free up money for a new church-starting emphasis within the Fellowship's own global-missions program.
___The Fellowship Coordinating Council received a report from a church-starting task force. The report calls for the Fellowship, through partnerships with other organizations, to "take initiative in strategically planting new CBF churches nationwide." The initiative will require multiple funding sources and hiring additional Fellowship staff, said Jimmy Lewis, chairman of the task force.
___Henderson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Athens, said an extension to the partnership covenant with Friends of New Churches is being developed.
___Also opposing Wardell's motion in the breakout session was Ed Vick, a businessman in Raleigh, N.C., who was just elected to the Friends of New Churches board. He called the motion "punitive," noting it was directed at only one Fellowship partner.
___Ray Graves, chairman of the Friends of New Churches board, said the motion was merely an effort to resurface issues that had already been dealt with by the organization's board. "It is much of a poor-loser's syndrome," he said.
___Another board member, Charles Chandler, protested "innuendo coming out of a prejudiced mindset" behind the motion.
___In its written report to the Coordinating Council, the global-missions subcommittee said the minority members of Friends of New Churches' board "did not work to establish agreement with other board members, thus short-circuiting the process by which FNC might have been redirected without disruption." The subcommittee also found that an internal staff dispute "polarized the board and resulted in a fracturing of the board in December of 1998" and caused the executive director to be "viewed from an adversarial point of view and cast in the worst possible light."
___Wardell sent an unsolicited four-page memo to subcommittee members in March outlining charges including questionable travel expenses, the purchase of a computer and other equipment and a blurring between Friends of New Churches and First Fellowship Church, where FNC rents office space. Carter has retired as pastor of the church but remains as part-time co-pastor without pay. Wardell said it was her frustration with the Friends of New Churches' board's unwillingness to confront those and other issues that prompted her to resign.
___Carter's supporters on the board, however, said they suspect Wardell's main agenda in seeing Carter fired was so Susan Parrish, who quit her job as resource coordinator Dec. 10, could have his job. Wardell denies the charge, and Parrish says she wasn't interested in becoming executive director.
___Friends of New Churches did not address the dispute at its annual meeting June 26. The board chairman had written members saying the matter had been adequately covered in the press and inviting concerned individuals to contact him personally. Instead, the group kicked off its "One Vision, Purpose, Mission" fund-raising campaign. Carter said the effort would enable the organization to raise more of its own funding, while allowing the Fellowship to take the lead in funding new-church starts.
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