NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists who worry the Cooperative Program will be undermined if the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations are adopted should ask whether the Cooperative Program isn’t already in more danger than they realize, the chairman of that task force said May 12.
Whether promoting undesignated contributions under a new “Great Commission Giving” banner would harm Cooperative Program giving is “a very legitimate question,” said Ronnie Floyd during an online panel discussion hosted by CAA Ministries at outreachandevangelism.org. “But if they think the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report is a threat to the Cooperative Program, then the Cooperative Program is in more danger than any of us realize.”
Task force member Robert White, who is executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said the GCRTF report — which will be considered by messengers to the June 15-16 SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. — is intended to state “very succinctly and with pristine clarity that the task force 100 percent believes in and supports the Cooperative Program.”
“Some have feared that with the word ‘celebrate’ we would elevate designation and diminish the Cooperative Program,” White said. “I can tell you, by personal testimony and by sitting in the room, this has not been the intent of the task force. It has not been in the heart of anybody in the room that I have been able to detect whatsoever. I think there is a unified desire to see the Cooperative Program grow and continue to bless this ministry in the years ahead, but also to express appreciation to churches for what they will to do to bless Kingdom ministries through the Southern Baptist Convention.”
White said he was surprised and distressed to learn that local church gifts to non-Southern Baptist causes were included in the Annual Church Profile report submitted to the SBC each year.
“It’s been years since I’ve even been in the process of filling out an ACP. I honestly did not realize — I’m confessing here openly — I didn’t know until recently that a church could account as ‘other’ missions gifts, in that designated column, things they gave to missions organizations that were not even Southern Baptist,” White said. “So we have actually narrowed the field considerably in designations that these designations go only for SBC, state convention or associational mission causes. We have really homed in on the work and ministry of Southern Baptists.”
White also said he strongly supports the task force’s proposal to turn more North American missions money away from states with established state conventions toward areas where Southern Baptist work is newer and not as strong.
The executive directors of the Southern Baptist state conventions “are some of the finest men I have ever known in my life, totally committed to the Kingdom of God and penetrating the darkness in our own nation,” White said. “The fact of the matter is, we can do a much better job than we have done, primarily in the Northeast, the upper Midwest and out West.
“We have state conventions — some that have been in existence for 50 to 100 years — that are heavily dependent on support from the North American Mission Board because of the need to plant more and more churches,” White added. “They acknowledge this need. They are doing a great job in their state conventions, but us older and larger state conventions would like to see a greater concentration of funds going to these new work states.
“States like Georgia, Florida, Alabama and others are saying, ‘We see the need to penetrate the darkness in these darkest areas of our country,'” White said. “We’re willing to return to the North American Mission Board a total of between $11 and $14 million, to see those dollars sent to our new work areas for the purposes of evangelism and church planting.”
The task force recommendation would end NAMB’s cooperative agreements with all 41 state and regional conventions and with Canada totaling $51 million direct support and about $62 million overall. About $48 million of the overall amount would be taken from 36 pioneer states and Canada — some with large populations and top 10 global urban centers — and reprioritized by NAMB.
Task force members also responded to a question about churches that may think the task force report offers too little change at too slow a pace.
“This is a very, very large ministry and we can’t throw everything away because everything is not a problem. In fact, most of what we do is not a problem,” Floyd said. “I have said this again and again. This is not about good versus evil choices. This is about what’s good and what’s best. That’s why it’s so tough for all of us to get our arms around it at times and to go together in those tough areas.”
In an organization the size of the Southern Baptist Convention, dramatic change cannot happen overnight, added task force member Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“We realize there are changes that probably need to be made in all areas of Southern Baptist life and those changes cannot be made overnight,” Akin said. “We are not turning a speedboat here. We are trying to turn an aircraft carrier. It has to be done step by step at a time or we run the risk of toppling the ship and doing greater damage.”
The task force members “all recognize the need to make changes but we need to do so in a responsible way that honors our past but also sets a course for the future,” Akin said. “To do that doesn’t happen in a day. It will happen, I believe, over many years as we incrementally move forward in the right direction.”
The panel also was asked whether, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, task force members had removed themselves as candidates for open leadership positions at the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and SBC Executive Committee.
“That’s an interesting question,” said Floyd, laughing. “I’ll be very honest with you. This task force has been so busy with the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and our responsibilities, we have been so focused that that’s where our focus has been. We’re praying every day for those entities that are searching for leaders because we know that, while plans can be given to those entities, we’ve got to pray that God will lead the right men there. That’s what we’re doing. Our task force is very deliberate over that. That is definitely what we want to see happen.”
Task force member Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., and chairman of the presidential search team at NAMB, said their group had not declined to consider anyone because of membership on the GCR task force.
“I don’t believe this ever came up in any of our meetings, as far as ruling out or taking someone off of any list,” Traylor said. “I would say, from our perspective, we are looking for God’s man. If he’s in this task force or out of it, that’s what we’re looking for. I think the short answer to that is I don’t believe we have set anybody aside because they served on the GCR. It may be that because they served on the GCR they wouldn’t touch it with a hundred-foot pole, but we’ve not set them aside.”
Also participating in the panel discussion were task force members Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church of Woodstock, and Harry Lewis, a senior strategist at the North American Mission Board.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.