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BOBBY WELCH: A view of the crossroads

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–During his 40 years of ministry, Bobby Welch has served the Southern Baptist Convention from a wide range of perspectives including prominent pastor, SBC president and now as strategist for Global Evangelical Relations (a ministry that continues already established relationships and builds others in the wake of the SBC’s withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance).

Such diversity marks not just his roles in the SBC, but also his life and service:

— During the Vietnam War, he was a reconnaissance platoon leader who was shot and given up for dead and then experienced God’s call to ministry through God’s intervention.

— He is co-developer of the F.A.I.T.H. evangelism strategy thought to be the most widely used by Southern Baptist churches.

— Nominated by Johnny Hunt, SBC messengers in 2004 elected Welch as the convention’s president and he launched his term with an unprecedented 30-day bus tour (and sometimes by plane) to visit with Southern Baptists in all 50 states as part of his effort to focus the SBC on evangelism and discipleship.

He also is unique in that he led his last congregation, First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., with the goal to regularly contribute 15 percent of undesignated receipts as gifts through the Cooperative Program for Florida and SBC missions and ministries. FBC Daytona was one of a handful of mega-churches that contributed more than 10 percent of collections this way.

Welch agreed to share his insights from these various perspectives about the crossroads at which Southern Baptists find themselves. The following interview was given by phone, with follow-up by e-mail, exclusively for Baptist Press readers:

BW: I believe when a man is elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, he is not just serving for the year or years he actually leads, but is taking upon himself a sacred trust for life. I take seriously the trust placed in me to speak openly and honestly for the interests of all causes of the Southern Baptist Convention so we can make the best decisions at the crossroads we now face.

BP: How would you describe this crossroads?

BW: Six years ago I made a prediction about the Southern Baptist Convention that has now come to look more like prophecy. I wrote in part on Tuesday evening, 6-15-04, “As the SBC celebrates the 25th anniversary of the conservative resurgence I believe it has also crossed the threshold toward its next great transition. In all likelihood, the coming transition would be at least equal in part to anything in the last 25 years. It is not at all clear where the new transition will lead and leave us as a convention — better, worse, or stagnated.”

“It is my belief that within 6 years we will be committed to a course which is being determined now. If it is a course that leads us to worse or to stagnation, then it is highly unlikely we will ever recover our momentum and leadership in the world for His Kingdom’s cause.”

I wrote that on Tuesday, 06/15/04, and now we’re coming down to Tuesday 06/15/10 — exactly 6 years later.

Again, comparing the date of that quote, Tuesday (6/15/04) pm to the date and time of the Orlando SBC Tuesday (6/15/10) pm, it seems we are, in fact, at that big crossroads.

BP: With regard to this crossroads, when you consider the parts and the whole of the final report, what has the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force gotten right and wrong? Does it point Southern Baptists in the right direction for the future? Why or why not?

BW: The GCRTF has done its fundamental job as the SBC’s alarm clock to wake us, stir us, and get us on the move. As we leave this house of our past and present for what indeed has the potential for our most glorious days imaginable for Great Commission soul winning evangelism and church planting — everything in us will say ‘take a good look before you depart.’

This convention must be extremely careful to take a slow, clear, calculated and focused look around at where we’ve been and where we are, presently. No doubt about it, it’s time to move on to our next best! But it will not be our next best if we are not careful in this transition. Are there some huge, critical components of the SBC’s strength, influence and works that are still needful and waiting for a comprehensive, outside evaluation in order to be most powerfully in sync with all the other adjusting components?

That sensational best all of us in the SBC crave for, in our future, will require all components be realigned in order to interact with each other in the power of the Holy Spirit. To do more and better for Him in our future requires at least four things that cannot be left behind: 1. A comprehensive evaluation of all resources; 2. The correct direction to travel; 3. The unity of purpose; and, 4. The gospel guts to go do it for Jesus and lost souls.

All of us have an obligation to be certain to not just charge into the future, halfcocked, allowing the door of our past and present to close and lock, leaving behind critical assets required for His future plans. Once these doors close we will never be able to go back for whatever critical and essential things we may have left behind, of which the most important is people.

BP: The task force recommends a new nomenclature, “Great Commission Giving,” be applied to all monies contributed for Southern Baptist work at any level — whether contributed to a special interest or to the whole work of Southern Baptists. What do you see as the immediate impact and the long-term prospects for the Cooperative Program and cooperation? Will this approach raise new revenue for Southern Baptist causes or simply re-divide what already is being given?

BW: Without a doubt, all gifts for the sake of winning lost souls and empowering Kingdom growth certainly should be recognized and celebrated!

To my knowledge, each year there is provided a place to record and report giving other than CP.

Another question waiting to be answered, “Does celebrating giving lead to accelerated giving?” Will giving rise overall? But the highest risk enquiry is, “Does reporting all gifts together and celebrating all gifts together cause not all gifts, but CP gifts, to increase year by year?” The risk of this question seems extraordinarily high. We know what we’ll do if CP goes up but what is the proposal plan, suggestion and idea if CP goes down? Did we talk about that?

A guess is about all I can offer on this question, since no one truly knows. Likely such a new approach will initially make little or no upward change in CP giving. This recording of giving will put the spotlight on categories of giving that heretofore have not been so revealed and compared. Plus, I would guess percentages will appear by each amount in relationship to their church’s budget — like CP now. It will be more than interesting to track the responses.

As a pastor, trying to give near 15 percent to CP, I found, each year, that CP hinges upon a single question. “Does it have highest priority?” It is easy to understand what has the highest priority in a local church by how much or how little shares its priority timeslot, i.e.: How many other things are allowed to take place during the Sunday morning preaching time? If the #1 spot is shared there ceases to be a #1. So, the big question is, “Will our actions speak louder than our words about the place of priority, and affect CP downward?”

My personal hope has been that we would find ways to promote, spotlight and celebrate all our giving but at the same time continue to reserve the priority place for CP giving; during the same time providing extreme, radical and very proactive convention-wide, unified efforts to raise all giving to unparalleled percentages. That is why the equal sacrifice of all entities, for missions, sounded so very radically encouraging for all. That is also why keeping a convention-wide CP/Stewardship promotion going could create such unity of purpose for all causes, to say nothing of the fact that most states will be strained, strapped and unable to produce those type of materials and efforts on their own.

BP: Specifically about you, now, in your role as SBC strategist for Global Evangelical Relations: What impact do you perceive that the task force recommendations will have on your work for Southern Baptists among like-minded believers around the world?

BW: “ELIMINATED,” in all truthfulness, is the only one-word answer to that question that comes to my mind.

Global Evangelical Relations will be “eliminated” as the relationship building ministry for all causes for the SBC around the entire world.

That truly is the most honest answer that can be given if I understand correctly the recommendation to the Executive Committee.

The cutting of one-third of Cooperative Program funding that goes to the Executive Committee will not only delete CP promotion and stewardship education, but also result in the elimination of Global Evangelical Relations entirely as a facilitating ministry of the SBC. At that demise, all GER’s overseas efforts and good faith agreements and commitments for the next five years and even beyond will be reneged and gone.

Parenthetically, one state paper printed an article that indicated what seems to be a larger, better and more equitable approach to this attempt at demonstrating the SBC’s deep commitment to missions giving. That is — to not only call on the Executive Committee to cut into their operating resources so deeply but to simultaneously make the same clear call upon all 12 of the entities to each cut and contribute an equal amount.

Undoubtedly, a record amount of giving to IMB would exceed any expectation. At the same time, such would allow each of our entities to example publicly their cooperative spirit and sacrifice. Doesn’t that approach appear to be far more helpful, meaningful, fair and encouraging? Also, such a fair and equitable across-the-board expression, by all entities at the same time, would likely be the best stimulus possible for states, churches and members to follow and do more than ever before, would it not? If we are serious about this, why not try it?

A number of persons, including Great Commission task force members, IMB personnel and others, have offered words of concern and urgency to see Global Evangelical Relations continue in what they characterize as “unprecedented acceptance and effectiveness, globally,” especially at this critical time and the world’s need of more favorable relationships for Christians. However, beyond those encouraging words, nothing substantial I know of has occurred to change the brutal fact that GER is on the way to being eliminated all because of the inability of most to understand the implications and ramifications of the language being used.

One man, not a Christian, said “even a dog food company knows enough about global relationships to keep a ‘factory representative’ overseas for goodwill, credibility, trust-worthiness and brand appreciation. What has taken all you Southern Baptists so long to catch on to that?” On the dog food salesman’s point, it is obvious if the SBC backs away from all these relationships and commitments made through GER — then our Convention will not only have done irreparable damage to its global standing and goodwill, it will also have cost us dearly for the Kingdom’s work and future generations.

“Are You Kidding Me!” is the surprised protest exclaimed when anyone comes to understand that GER is about to be eliminated. Clearly, the trouble is that most people simply do not understand the deep long-range consequences of the language and terms being used. We just must do better at trying to understand and explain these deep, long-range ramifications before we make irreversible decisions like eliminating GER and its future relationships overseas for all causes of the SBC. If we do not, “Are You Kidding Me!” will not be a joking expression in our future.

BP: As SBC president, you expended extraordinary energy to rally Southern Baptists to reach the lost. What was successful and what was not about that effort? What did you learn about what is needed for Southern Baptists to reach the lost in the U.S.?

BW: You are accurate about an extraordinary expenditure of time and energy being given over the two years I was president in 2004-2006. I was not only attempting to reach lost souls but to also find a way to create and generate a “unity of purpose” that would rally the SBC forward toward increased evangelism, worldwide. There are indeed irrefutable lessons coming from this two-year case study experience.

Lessons to be learned, both positively and otherwise:

CHURCHES — Church people and pastors were (and still are) very desirous, open and loved being involved in intentional, convention-wide, personal evangelism and discipleship.

POSSIBLE — The two-year effort proved that it is absolutely POSSIBLE to rally the entire SBC to a “unity of purpose” that begins with the local churches of all sizes, shapes and forms.

I have read that greater than 90% of CP giving comes from churches with under 2,000 in attendance, with 63% of that number from churches with attendance less than 500. Additionally, churches with attendance under 200 give more than 1/3 of that 93% total (and more than 50% of all SBC churches have 100 or less in attendance).

Without a doubt, when churches have that wide, deep and sacrificial level of support overall — they will, of course, respond more favorably and quickly to things that process by way of their base and commitments.

Understanding this fact is exactly why I, for two years, practically lived out in that huge SBC environment via bus, car, plane, foot, etc. That, in turn, created an extraordinary grassroots groundswell for something near and dear to their hearts. It was also directly helpful immediately to their personal calling and task at their local church for reaching and discipling lost souls.

To most on the field, this grassroots path is viewed and appreciated as a very sharp contrast to what they consider to be the so-called “top down – our idea” approach.

The grassroots road is a road less traveled but it is the only path to our only hope — which is “unity of purpose” for the sake of lost souls!

ROADBLOCKS — There are already roadblocks to such an effort for soul-winning evangelism and discipleship. Some of those growing forces that are rapidly choking such an effort to death are the lack of evangelistic leadership, examples, theology, churches, direction, materials, emphasis, etc. However, hardly any negative effect could be more damaging than the determination by so many leaders in the churches and denomination to find a soft, easy way to do the work that cost Jesus His very life.

There has never been, will never be, and is not now, an easy, soft, safe way to fight hell and the devil for lost souls. However, a wholesale determination to do that can and will most certainly put out any sparks left for a fire for global soul winning.

NOW — While odds are high against us, it is still indeed POSSIBLE to have a “unity of purpose” that will yield a revival of a convention for the sake of lost souls!!! However, it requires a “unity of purpose” of our local churches and pastors from “across-the-board” from “bottom-to-top” from “top-to-bottom” and from “side-to-side”!!!
Will Hall is executive editor of Baptist Press.

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  • Will Hall