NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As the North American Mission Board goes, so goes the Southern Baptist Convention, Carlisle Driggers said in recounting the history of the mission board and its impact on the development of a national convention.
Driggers credits SBC general counsel James P. Guenther with drawing the conclusion years ago, and Driggers said he has watched Guenther’s observation play out in recent years, leading him to believe the saying is correct.
A former executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, Driggers made the comments in a chapel message at NAMB May 6 and released a copy of his remarks to Baptist Press.
“If the Southern Baptist Convention is now nationwide as indeed it is, how did that come about?” Driggers said, according to the text of his remarks. “How did we get from the size we were in 1845 to the size we now are in 2010? I have thought about that a lot through the years.
“What decisions were made that prompted us to begin to think nationwide and then become nationwide?” he said. “For a fact, there were three developments that took place during the 20th century which prompted us as Southern Baptists to think and act nationally.”
Driggers noted that the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 with 4,126 churches in the South, and in 2010 the number has reached about 44,000 with a presence in every state.
Southern Baptists, Driggers said, separated from northern Baptists mainly over the issues of slavery and control of missions dollars. From the start, they established the Board of Domestic Missions in Marion, Ala., and the Foreign Mission Board in Richmond, Va.
For years, the convention practiced the societal method of giving, whereby a society of donors and speakers might represent a Baptist children’s home or a Baptist college, Driggers said, but churches soon grew tired of having their worship and preaching time eclipsed by pleas for money.
The $75 Million Campaign was launched to collect a large sum of money to be distributed among the Baptist causes, Driggers said, and though only $58 million was raised, the success sparked the idea for the Cooperative Program, which Driggers identified as the first component of what enabled the SBC to become a national convention.
“No one knew at that time if the Cooperative Program proposal would last for a few years or would continue for a long time,” Driggers said, according to the text. “They obviously said, ‘We raised $58 million, we have moved away from having all those societal speakers come to our churches seeking money, and we have proved that cooperation works. Let’s keep it going and see what will happen as we ask God to bless our efforts.'”
The second development that led to a national presence, Driggers said, was the strife over comity agreements, which essentially were territorial pacts saying that northern Baptists only would plant churches in the North and Southern Baptists would plant in the South.
After World War II, when soldiers from the South began moving to northern and western cities to seek jobs, they began to express a desire for churches that resembled the churches of their youth. By that time, the Board of Domestic Missions had moved to Georgia, and it was called the Home Mission Board.
“Many of those southern boys and girls began to say, ‘We want a church like we had back in Vicksburg, Miss., or Atlanta, and we cannot find Southern Baptist churches anywhere near us in our new locations. We are going to begin a church like we had back home,'” Driggers said.
“They did so but did not ask permission from anybody. In reality, they had never heard of comity agreements. They only wanted a church where the worship styles and Sunday School classes were familiar to them,” he said.
“Soon they asked the HMB for help in starting and growing their churches. It is rather easy to see God at work in the lives of those young adults. In a short span of time, Southern Baptists were moving into the North, West and Northwest. The HMB began to respond by sending workers and missionaries to help in church planting in those regions of the nation.”
Driggers served for 13 years on staff at the Home Mission Board, and during that time he was a regional coordinator for the eastern seaboard states. In 1983, he was present just outside Boston when the Baptist Convention of New England was established, marking what he called a tremendous display of cooperation and commitment of Southern Baptists to reach that region for Christ.
“As much as any entity in Southern Baptist life, the HMB helped to move Southern Baptists to think and act nationally,” Driggers said. “When the decision to move beyond comity agreements was reached, Southern Baptists took off in expansion and development all over this land.”
The third element that enabled the SBC to expand nationwide was the enactment of cooperative agreements, Driggers said. He told how Arthur Rutledge, director of missions for the Baptist General Convention of Texas in the late 1950s, had appointed a missionary to work along the Texas border and then realized the Home Mission Board had appointed a missionary couple to reach the same area.
“He concluded that what was happening was an unnecessary duplication of time, money and personnel,” Driggers said. “He wondered why the HMB and the Texas convention could not agree to avoid the duplication from then on in order to spread missionaries and monies in a more effective manner. Rutledge called for and helped to write a cooperative agreement between Texas Baptists and the HMB for all mission advancement that would take place in the future.”
Rutledge went on to become president of the Home Mission Board, and cooperative agreements solidified Southern Baptist progress across the nation, Driggers said.
“It has been said and we know it well that the light that shines the farthest shines the brightest at home,” Driggers said. “Mr. Guenther, speaking to me about a dozen or so years ago, got it right. As NAMB goes, so goes the SBC. That has been our history and it is still true to this day.
“Without the strong, determined, competent, dedicated leadership resources and the strategizing of NAMB in place, our beloved Southern Baptist Convention, I dare say, will limp weakly into the future and may well fade into the sunset,” he said.
Driggers told Baptist Press he chose to discuss history because many Southern Baptists are unaware of the convention’s past, particularly in regard to home missions and the expansion of the SBC. Driggers said Richard Harris, interim president of the North American Mission Board, asked him to speak to the staff during a chapel service because of his perspective as a former state convention executive and as a former mission board employee.
“I was speaking to the staff of the North American Mission Board, trying to say to them, ‘Look, you folks have inherited a lot of good work, but you’ve got a lot to build on for the future. There’s a lot to be done,'” Driggers said.
In his talk, Driggers said, he did not intend to take a position on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report, which has called for the phasing out of cooperative agreements and a change in missions giving. In fact, he did not mention GCR at all in his remarks.
“I wasn’t taking a shot at the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in this, but if folks want to draw some conclusions, well, let them draw some conclusions,” Driggers said. “I was speaking to the NAMB staff. I realize it has ramifications concerning what that task force is doing, I know that of course, but that was not my primary purpose.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.