By Tim Lubinus, BCI Executive Director/Treasurer
When I was growing up on a farm in Iowa we raised pigs, cattle, chickens, and even a few ducks. In the field we planted corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and oats. We had all the equipment needed to prepare the ground, raise the crops, make animal feed, and to feed the animals. When that equipment needed repair, my father repaired it in his own shop with his own tools. We had a variety of farm buildings, each designed for their function: to house the cattle or pigs, to store the various kinds of feed, to store and dry the grain, or to store the crop equipment. My father handled the accounting when the canceled checks came in the mail from the bank each month. He did all the planning, purchasing, inventory, and marketing.
By the time my father retired all the animals except for maybe a stray cat were gone. The buildings to house and feed the animals were gone. The equipment to produce and store the food for the animals was gone. The combine to harvest the crops was gone.
Did the farm fail? No! In fact it was twice the size as when he started and more productive and profitable than ever! As trends and technology changed, my father realized that he could increase productivity by specializing in the most productive farm businesses and dropping the rest. He knew that his overall productivity wasn’t measured by the farm’s complexity nor by the size of the farm’s support structures, but by its overall growth and return on capital.
Was it ok to eliminate some family farm businesses? Without the animals did our family still eat beef, pork, and chicken? Of course, other farmers who specialized in these industries produced these commodities more efficiently and my father got out of these businesses. Without the combine did the crops still get harvested on time? Of course, my father contracted with another farmer who had purchased a huge combine that could easily harvest crops from multiple farms each season. At the same time he transferred the headache of the increasingly complex task of maintaining the combine to a specialist in combine repair. Was the accounting still done? Of course, but the increasing complexity of accounting caused my father to hire an accountant in town who kept up on all the tax laws and serviced several area farmers so they could focus on their own specialties.
There are things we still miss and celebrate about the old days on our family farm when they were more diverse businesses. The wise path forward was to specialize, eliminate some farm businesses, and better partner with other specialists. We can celebrate the past, but must acknowledge that we can’t and shouldn’t recreate it.
Just a few years ago the Baptist Convention of Iowa was similar to my family’s farm when I was growing up. We claimed that we were leading nearly thirty ministries. We had several offices throughout the state to house over a dozen full-time ministry staff ministers and support staff people. We even had storage units to hold all of our ministry equipment and support equipment.
Like on the farm, historical and technological trends are allowing us to be more productive by specializing on ministries that have the highest impact for today.
We no longer have the goal to lead in thirty ministry areas. But like my father’s farm we’ll move toward doing fewer things better and develop partnerships with specialists in ministries that we can’t do as well.
The ministry for us is to become the premier church planting and church supporting organization in the state, even the Midwest. The measure of our effectiveness is not the number of full-time staff or square feet in our offices, but the overall growth and impact of our ministry. In some cases, we’ve learned that having less staff and office square feet isn’t a sign of decline, but of progress and better use of resources.
We want to do continue to grow the ministry in Iowa while maintaining the highest levels of financial commitment to our national ministry entities like the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, the six seminaries, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
There are things we still miss and celebrate about the old days of our state conventions when they were more diverse ministries. The wise path forward was to specialize, eliminate some ministries, and better partner with other specialists. We can celebrate the past, but must acknowledge that we can’t and shouldn’t recreate it.
Questions? Comments? Email me directly at TLubinus@BCIowa.org.