Trustee e-mail addresses rumors of NAMB president removal

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A trustee of the North American Mission board has expressed concern about rumors that other trustees are planning to seek the removal of NAMB president Geoff Hammond during a meeting of the board's executive committee scheduled for Aug. 11 in Atlanta.

Concern about the possibility of that action led other trustees to request the meeting be changed to a special called meeting of the entire board.

In an e-mail dated July 29, Jason Pettus, pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., told other trustees that the previous day he had received a telephone call and an e-mail from other trustees, saying they had heard about an effort to remove Hammond. Pettus said he and the other two trustees agreed to pray for Hammond.

"After praying throughout the day, I recalled our chairman, Tim Patterson, telling us in May at our spring meeting to contact him if we had any questions or concerns," Pettus wrote in the e-mail, which was sent to Baptist Press by someone who had received it. "I had both, so I called Tim. He was meeting with Geoff Hammond when I called, but he called me back on his way home.

"I shared with Tim what I had been told and I asked him if indeed the executive committee was planning and seeking the removal of [Geoff] Hammond as president of NAMB at their next meeting on August 11," Pettus wrote. "He told me that he did not know if that would be the outcome, but that he and the executive committee had several 'serious issues' that they needed to talk with Geoff about."

Now other trustees have asked the Aug. 11 meeting become a called meeting of the entire trustee body, said North American Mission Board spokesman Mike Ebert.

"The topics to be covered at the upcoming Aug. 11 meeting of the executive committee of our board of trustees are issues being discussed among our trustees," Ebert said in a statement prepared for Baptist Press. "NAMB's president, Geoff Hammond, recently asked the chairman of our board of trustees if there was anything he could do to prepare for the meeting, as is standard protocol, and he was told there was not.

"Some of our trustees have expressed concerns about what is to be discussed in the Aug. 11 executive committee meeting," Ebert added. "In accordance with NAMB trustee bylaws, they have requested a specially called meeting of the entire membership of our board of trustees to take place at 9 a.m. on Aug. 11."

The mission entity's bylaws require 20 percent of its 56 board members agree to call such a meeting before it can be held. At publishing time, it was unclear whether this threshold had been met.

Pettus said Patterson, who is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., identified three issues some trustees have with Hammond:

-- that Hammond had stopped meeting with an executive leadership coach trustees had hired to work with him and was seeking a different coach,

-- that Hammond had hired an administrative associate without consulting trustee leadership,

-- that morale among board staff is at "an all-time low and people within the entity and outside of it are unhappy with the way things are going."

"Tim stated that this was an example of problems he and the executive committee had been having with Geoff for 18 months," Pettus wrote. "I shared that I was not aware of any problems any trustees were having with Geoff. It was and is a surprise to me because Tim had made glowing remarks about Geoff at the commissioning service in May and then we as a board affirmed the great job Geoff was doing as our president in May. Tim shared that he had kept these problems from the rest of the trustees for practical reasons. He did not want these problems to be a distraction for us or those that work at the board."

A November 2008 article in The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, criticized Hammond's leadership in NAMB's new "GPS -- God's Plan for Sharing" national evangelism initiative and alleged staff morale at the entity was being hurt by micromanagement and a "top-down governing style."

In May 2009, Patterson told The Florida Baptist Witness he believed Southern Baptists ought to consider a merger of the convention's two mission boards into a "singular world mission agency." Noting the SBC's declining membership and baptism statistics, Patterson said he had been concerned about the "direction of our denomination for some time." While the society, culture and world have changed in the past five decades, the SBC structure has not, he said.

Later that month, however, Patterson apologized for the way his perspective was shared, saying he did not intend to speak on the board's behalf. He affirmed Hammond as one "who for the past two years has led NAMB with a steady, efficient and effective hand. He has consistently sounded the clarion call that North America is a mission field. And he has done all this with a Christ-like attitude that I have had the privilege to witness firsthand." In that meeting, trustees unanimously approved a resolution describing NAMB as "an efficient and effective Southern Baptist entity that takes seriously the good stewardship of the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering dollars entrusted to us by Southern Baptists." Their resolution said the entity is "crucial to the weaving together of Southern Baptist partners to fulfill the Great Commission."

In that same meeting, trustees unanimously re-elected Patterson for a second year as chairman of the board.

Pettus wrote that he asked Patterson if he was seeking Hammond's removal as president.

"Tim said he had no desire to see Geoff removed as president, but that members of the executive committee could pursue Geoff's removal and that he would be serving only as the leader of the meeting and would have to allow the members of the executive committee to pursue what they believed was needed," Pettus wrote. "He said that some on the executive committee had strong negative feelings about Geoff. He said that some on the executive committee were very 'angry' and 'frustrated' with Geoff. He also said that the executive committee has the authority to act on behalf of the entire board when the entire board is not in session."

Pettus acknowledged he did not personally know whether the trustee executive committee had such authority and added, "All of this is very disturbing to me and I believe every trustee of NAMB needs to be aware of this and be in prayer for our mission agency."

The trustees' second vice chairman, Mike Palmer, pastor of Salmon Valley Baptist Church in Salmon, Idaho, told Baptist Press he has not heard any claims about Hammond made in a trustee forum yet and therefore would not draw any conclusions based on rumors.

"Dr. Hammond speaks for the North American Mission Board and our chairman speaks for the trustees, so I am speaking neither for NAMB or the trustees" said Palmer, who is a member of the NAMB executive committee. "At the moment, what we are hearing is that some have said people are saying, 'We hear this' or 'We hear that.' There's no name, no reputation, no integrity attached to it. Therefore we are shadow boxing.

"I don't want to say everything is great; I don't want to say everything is wrong, because honestly we've not seen some people who will stand and substantiate or even make the claim. Truly, we've not heard the problems yet," Palmer added. "And even when that happens, there's still 'OK, what's the other side of the coin?'

"There's been so much rumor swirling around Baptist life and I think Jason was merely trying to see whether there is substance to these rumors," Palmer added. "Once I saw that [e-mail], I think these are issues that really require the whole board to come in and just get clarity."


Mark Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

Download Story