NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The “Great Commission Resurgence” declaration being circulated by Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt represents a heartfelt effort to deal with the challenges churches face with witness and ministry in today’s culture, four men who signed the declaration have told Baptist Press.
“I signed the document because I believe it is a good faith effort to provide direction for Southern Baptists moving to the future,” said R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Clearly, we have a generation that is wondering about who Southern Baptists are and what we intend to do as we look to the challenges of reaching the world in this new century. I also wanted to lend support to Johnny Hunt, who as president of the SBC has asked for Southern Baptists to rally around a unifying message.”
Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, agreed.
“I was delighted to sign the Great Commission Resurgence for one clear purpose,” Rainer said. “It is my prayer that Southern Baptists across the nation, our churches, and our institutions seek to bring glory to God by becoming more faithful to the Great Commission mandate of Christ.”
The declaration, which has garnered more than 1,500 signatures at greatcommissionresurgence.com, “looked like a good attempt to address the concerns we have,” said Jimmy Draper, the retired president of LifeWay who also has served at virtually every level of Southern Baptist life. “There are so many concerns: lack of baptisms, lack of real discipleship, still losing 80 percent of our kids when they graduate from high school before they get out of college, and the same thing with kids coming into the teen years. We need to refocus on things.”
‘WE CANNOT CONTINUE THAT PATTERN’
Terry Harper, executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, said he is concerned that Southern Baptists must not remain on their current path.
“My reaction to the [declaration] is that we need something to call us back to the task. We as Southern Baptists have lost our way to some extent,” Harper said. “Do we want to go the way of the Methodists and other mainline denominations? We have had negative growth for the last two years and we cannot continue that pattern. While some states are growing and reaching new people, most are in decline.”
Mohler does see hopeful signs among Southern Baptists on several fronts.
“I’ve had the opportunity to be on the mission field and to see a generation of young Southern Baptists who are giving their all to the task of the Great Commission, going where Southern Baptists have never been before and pioneering new ways of reaching unreached people groups,” Mohler said. “Every day on our campus, I get to see a generation of young students who are passionate about the Gospel of Christ and they are looking for the mobilization of Christ’s people and Southern Baptists in particular for the cause of the Great Commission. I spend so much time in our Southern Baptist churches, and what I am so thankful to find in virtually every case is a church looking to reach the world. We now face unprecedented opportunities to do just that.”
Rainer noted: “Much good is already taking place in many of our churches and institutions, but we can do more. It is my prayer that this document truly reflect the hearts of Southern Baptists who desire to see a great move of God to reach our land and all the nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Passion for the Great Commission, however, doesn’t burn in the hearts of enough Southern Baptist churches, Draper observed.
“There are some churches that are doing very well and focusing on reaching people … but by and large, we’re not really passionate about reaching the lost,” Draper said. “I preach in about 50 different churches every year. It is rare to find a church that has a real concern for the lost. It’s rare to find a church that’s not having some real disruptive things in the fellowship.
“I have preached for a number of years, but especially here lately, we are in a battle for the life of our faith,” Draper added. “Some way, the truth has to become passionate for us, not only for the fulfillment of the Great Commission but also for our survival as a people of faith.”
‘A WORK IN PROGRESS’
The declaration must be understood as a work in progress — from the April 16 chapel address by Danny Akin at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, to the original version of the declaration circulated immediately afterward by Johnny Hunt, to the revised version now posted on the website, to the ongoing discussions about what happens next, Harper observed.
“I think the final document closely resembles the address delivered in chapel by Dr. Akin. I have listened to the chapel address and I have read the document carefully,” Harper said. “The document was revised from its original form and that was badly needed. The first document sort of lumped all state conventions together -– old-line states and the emerging regions — which was unfortunate, but with the changes that were made, it was a document I could support.
“Of course it is a document that needs further refining and more clarification. Something like a task force will need to take this further and come with solid recommendations,” Harper added. “Some of the recommendations may be hard to face and deal with, but we need to ask some hard questions. We cannot remain the same and simply continue to float downstream.”
As the former head of an SBC entity, Draper said the declaration appealed to his belief that Southern Baptists could make better use of the missions dollars given by congregations.
“The big thing that caught my mind was the need for synergy, for maximizing resources between entities, making sure we are not overlapping and that would be true for the SBC, state conventions and associations,” Draper said. “There are times when we do duplicate our efforts. And an attempt to get good synergy and maximize resources, I think, is a very healthy thing. I think everybody wants to do that. The question is how you do it.
“The good thing is the document doesn’t tell us what to do. Obviously it’s going to have to have some study,” Draper said. “I think this is just a first step, sort of a call to awareness and there will have to be a work group or some larger committee of some kind to study it and bring recommendations to the convention.”
Whatever one thinks about the declaration itself, the fact is that Southern Baptists need to take a hard look at what it will take to get them moving forward again, Draper said.
“I appreciate the passion to move us off dead center. We’re still using the same language and bragging about our membership, yet last year we baptized less than we did in 1954, and only three times since 1954 did we baptize less than we baptized last year,” he said. “We baptized 350-some-odd-thousand in 1954 with 6 million Baptists, now with 16 million, we claim, we couldn’t do that good this last year.
“So obviously, if we take the Great Commission seriously, we need to really look at what needs to be done.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.