FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–More than 40 students and pastors in a doctor of ministry seminar at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary participated in a panel discussion July 6 on the Great Commission Task Force appointed by Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt at the SBC annual meeting in June.
The panel members discussed the committee’s role as a continuation of the Conservative Resurgence and how Southern Baptists can be involved in its deliberations.
Task force chairman Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., told the students he believes the appointment of the committee will be seen as a watershed event in Southern Baptist life.
“I believe that day was one of the great days in my life as a Southern Baptist pastor … because I saw a denomination really rally around the cry of the Great Commission,” Floyd said. “Let’s put everything on the table, and let’s see what we can do to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And that’s how Dr. Hunt and I are looking at it.”
Floyd called on pastors to inform their congregations that the convention is doing an in-depth study on better fulfilling the Great Commission and encouraged them to point their people to the “Great Commission Resurgence Declaration” posted online at greatcommissionresurgence.com.
Floyd admitted that the assignment given to the task force cannot be accomplished without God’s help. The group’s first two meetings are scheduled for August and Floyd requested prayer as they embark on this undertaking.
“My goal is to try to get 5,000 Southern Baptist Christians to walk alongside us in this with prayer,” Floyd said.
Panel member R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said younger pastors’ involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention is an issue of stewardship and cooperating to accomplish something greater than themselves. He expressed gratitude for the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence and excitement about the “new generation rising to responsibility in the SBC.”
“This is the generation produced by the Conservative Resurgence,” Mohler said. “Without the Conservative Resurgence, we would have no hope of seeing a generation of those who are now on our seminary campuses, young men who are now planting churches, younger pastors who really are rising to the moment of denominational leadership. I think it comes as we understand that we have inherited patterns for which we are grateful, in terms of the stewardship of the mission entrusted to the SBC, but even more pressing questions about what kinds of structures, processes and all will really fit a missional approach to the 21st century. What we’re looking at here is a generation that, to its credit, is disinterested in the older kind of patterns of Baptist cooperation.”
The Southern Baptist Convention needs to answer the questions younger pastors are asking, Mohler added.
“The denomination will either be the answer to what they seek to be the responsibility of the church to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, to see the nations exalt in the name of Christ, to see God-honoring, biblical congregations formed in the United States or this generation will find another answer to that question,” Mohler said. “I want the Southern Baptist Convention to be the answer to the question ‘How best do Southern Baptists do that together?'”
Mohler said the “tribal identity” — the “very corporate mindset” of the Southern Baptist Convention during the 1950s and ’60s — would not work for this new generation of pastors.
The SBC leaders of that era, Mohler said, “sublimated theological conviction to an institutional, tribal ethic. The leaders of the Conservative Resurgence were not only willing to break that tribal ethic, they basically became outlaws in the old denominational infrastructure.”
Panel member Nathan Lino, a trustee of the International Mission Board and pastor of Northeast Houston (Texas) Baptist Church, said he believed much of the groundswell for a Great Commission resurgence arose “out of a need at the IMB.”
The 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions fell nearly $30 million short of its goal, Lino noted, resulting in suspension of critical missionary endeavors and cutbacks on missionary appointments. Because of the shortfall, the board only has the funds to appoint 200 missionaries to the mission field in 2009, Lino said. As of May, 191 new workers already had been appointed.
“So, from May until December of 2009, are you as a Southern Baptist satisfied with the fact that we can afford nine missionaries?” Lino asked. “We have missionaries right now who are fully trained, appointed, ready to go, that we cannot send to the field, and we have people who are dying and going to hell over this.
“Here’s the sad factor: In 2008, if you count the money given to buildings, missions and budget giving, Southern Baptists gave $12 billion to our churches. Of that, 2.5 percent got to the IMB, and only 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States,” Lino said. “I think we need a Great Commission resurgence. I think we’ve lost our focus, and we’ve got to get back to valuing the people overseas who are dying more than we do the programs that satisfy our happiness here in the states.”
Later in the panel discussion, Lino said the IMB is “very efficient in its spending.”
“There’s this perception out there among some that the IMB is not as focused as they should be about spending. I can tell you as a trustee that is simply not the case,” Lino said. “Upwards of 70 percent of our income goes to personnel salaries. We invest Southern Baptist dollars in the people God has called to go there and do the work. There is not all this fat slush fund sitting around that is being misspent.”
Panel member David Allen, dean of Southwestern’s school of theology, expressed both excitement and concern over the Great Commission Resurgence Declaration, mentioning questions about the scope of the document’s Article IX and the meaning of the phrase “methodological diversity.” Allen noted that he signed the online document regardless.
“Like all documents, no document is perfect,” Allen said. “I’m in basic agreement with what the GCR document is all about. We’ve got to focus on the Great Commission, no doubt about it.”
As for the first generation of those in the Conservative Resurgence — including Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines, with whom Allen is closely associated — Allen noted that everything in the Great Commission Resurgence Declaration is “exactly what they were pushing.”
“A Great Commission resurgence, if it is done biblically, is exactly what we need,” Allen said. “So, from that standpoint, I am optimistic about where it could go and what could happen. Cautious but optimistic would be my way of viewing the document and why I’m supporting it.”
Allen said he is excited about those who have been appointed to the task force, and Southwestern is proud to have Southwestern graduates serving on it.
Steven Smith, associate dean for the D.Min. program at Southwestern, moderated the panel discussion. Floyd and Mohler, who participated via telephone, both encouraged pastors to contact them and other task force members with questions, concerns and suggestions.
Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (swbts.edu).