Editor’s note: This column is the first in a two-part series.
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — I’ve made up my mind – I’m giving up on the Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s not that I’ve been opposed to the concept of a GCR. In fact, I enthusiastically voted in favor of forming the GCR task force at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009. I strongly supported the task force recommendations the following year. Now, though, I’m giving up.
I suppose the reasons not to give up are numerous. Local churches are taking the lead to send short-term mission teams around the world. Our SBC seminaries and Baptist universities are filled with young men and women committed to going where the Gospel has not gone. Our new mission board presidents, Tom Elliff and Kevin Ezell, are passionate about evangelism and church planting. Still, I’m giving up.
Several state conventions have affirmed the reports of their own Great Commission task forces. Some have made intentional commitments to incrementally increase missions giving beyond their state. The employees of LifeWay Christian Resources completed their 100th mission trip in November 2011. Our SBC president, Bryant Wright, is a Great Commission pastor leading a globally minded church. None of this changes my mind, though — I’m still giving up.
Here’s why: we’re seeing every day that we cannot create a Great Commission Resurgence. We can cast a vote to form task forces, but whether God visits us with renewal is not determined by Baptist democracy. We can affirm recommendations for change, yet not consider that only God can transform apathetic hearts that led us to stagnation in the first place. We can, it appears, significantly increase our discussions about the Great Commission even while our baptism and membership trends hardly reflect God’s blessing. We simply cannot generate the resurgence that we need, so it is time to give up.
My motivation is a fear that Southern Baptists who prayed for a Great Commission task force three years ago — and I am one of those Baptists — are now praying too little for God to send us a heart-wrenching, world-reaching, devil-defeating Great Commission revival. Unless I am misreading Southern Baptists, we who passionately joined Ronnie Floyd in praying for the GCR task force settled into prayer mediocrity once the task force recommendations were adopted. Some continued to pray as their state conventions tackled the same Great Commission issues, but I suspect that praying, too, has since diminished. That happens when a denomination is generally more focused on human effort than divine blessing, more on corrected structures than broken hearts, more on programs than prayer. That happens when your Christian life is more about trying hard than giving up.
At the same time, more than 3,600 unengaged people groups in the world show us that our efforts have not yet dislodged the prince of darkness. Millions of lost people in North America are constant face-to-face reminders that we are doing church without threatening the enemy’s kingdom. We are an army that prayerfully voted to go to war and then returned to our own strength to fight the battle.
Too few are the church leaders who would cry with the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon:
“Oh! men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival of religion — men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here.”
Here, our SBC leaders who have called us to prayer this month are right on target (http://www.namb.net/sbccalltoprayer/). While critics might argue that this is just another programmatic approach, it is surely much more than that. It is a call to repent of our prayerlessness, which is, at its core, nothing less than idolatry of the self. It is an admission that the tasks assigned to us are daunting — impossible, in fact. Our leaders know there will be no Great Commitment Resurgence unless the God who gave us the Great Commission also grants us the resurgence.
A call to prayer is, in fact, an admission of powerlessness. We can only wave the white flag of surrender in this task called the Great Commission. Not one of our 16 million Southern Baptists can penetrate the darkness in his own power. No church can move heaven without first longing for the God of heaven. No denomination will ever be large enough to make hell shake simply because of its numbers.
The God of the Scriptures seeks a humble, desperate, repentant people to do the Great Commission. We get there not by growing strong, but by being weak. And, in a strange but biblical twist, we will have no Great Commission victory unless we give up first — that is, unless we surrender to God and seek his face in prayer.
Chuck Lawless is the International Mission Board’s vice president of global theological advance.
Note: This column is the first of two columns. The second will deal with practical ways to lead a church to “give up.”
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