NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Reaction to the “Great Commission Resurgence” declaration in various quarters of Southern Baptist life includes questions about its tone, focus and lack of clarity.
Article IX of the document, which was released April 27 at greatcommissionresurgence.com, asserted that some denominational structures “need to be streamlined for more faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted to them” and called on Southern Baptists to “address with courage and action where there is overlap and duplication of ministries, and where poor stewardship is present.”
“We must take steps toward simplifying our denominational structures in an effort to streamline our structure, clarify our institutional identity, and maximize our resources for Great Commission priorities,” the document said. “Our denomination must be restructured at every level to facilitate a more effective pursuit of these priorities.”
That softened the language of an earlier version, which echoed chapel remarks by Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, that the Southern Baptist Convention is “bloated and bureaucratic.” Akin specifically addressed state conventions, saying that “if folks in the pew knew how much of their giving stayed in their state, they would revolt and call for a revolution.”
“The rally cry of the Conservative Resurgence was, ‘We will not give our monies to liberal institutions,'” Akin said. “Now the cry of the Great Commission Resurgence is, ‘We will not give our money to bloated bureaucracies.'”
“There is much in the document with which I am in agreement,” Jimmy Barrentine, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, told Baptist Press. “I wish it had been cast in positive language, affirming language, that started out with the presupposition that Southern Baptists have been diligent and faithful and we want to be even more diligent and even more faithful in the future.
“I wish the [original version] had not implied that somehow state conventions and maybe even associations are wasting missions money,” Barrentine added. “I don’t know what’s going on everywhere. That simply hasn’t been my experience where I have lived and where I have ministered.”
John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, told the Florida Baptist Witness he appreciated the fact that the language had been toned down. He said he didn’t feel such a statement applied to the Florida Baptist Convention because it regularly examines its structure.
“I am not going to become defensive on behalf of Florida Baptists,” Sullivan told the Witness. “We do our work in the sunshine. We constantly evaluate our organization…. We have no priority that has not been approved by the State Board of Missions.”
Barrentine said he wished the document had been more specific about where the needs for change exist.
“I do not believe that we see evidence that there needs to be another complete overhaul, fresh overhaul of all expressions of Southern Baptist life,” he told Baptist Press. “If there had been a statement in there indicating that we need to be open to and even consider changes in order to meet today’s needs and future needs, I’d be a lot more comfortable with that. But the call for change before the needs are even disclosed, I’m having a hard time getting there.”
One Oklahoma pastor told Baptist Press he also is concerned about vague charges of inefficiency and wastefulness.
“What is particularly broke?” asked Robin Foster, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Perkins, Okla. “I am not saying that everything is running smoothly, but I would like to know what the framers of this [Great Commission Resurgence] document believe is not working and how will a streamline reorganization fix the problem? Will [the North American Mission Board] be absorbed into the [International Mission Board]? Will the Executive Committee be reorganized and mission redefined? Will all six seminaries come under one main centrally located administrative framework, removing the current administrations of each seminary, causing them to lose their own distinctiveness and autonomy?
“I understand the size of our convention can use some trimming to cut down on unnecessary costs and inefficient systems, but I would like to know where the inefficiencies are before I sign the document,” Foster said. “I would like to know how reorganization would benefit the local churches of the SBC in accomplishing the Great Commission.”
One Texas pastor said he did not believe “the redrawing of organizational charts will do anything substantive either to bring about or to hinder a Great Commission Resurgence,” the Florida Baptist Witness reported.
“Some of the ideas being bandied about under this heading have the very real potential to be the most disastrous mistakes that the Southern Baptist Convention has ever made to eviscerate our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission,” said Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas. “Why would one require the affirmation of organizational reshuffling to determine who is or who is not in favor of the SBC growing in faithfulness to the Great Commission?”
Barber said he agrees with the declaration’s framers “that the apportionment of Cooperative Program funds by some of our state conventions is no less than shameful. And I do believe that this phenomenon is related to the Great Commission and our attempts to obey it.” He said, however, that he believes it is a mistake “to include matters of tactical and organizational bureaucracy in a document that should stick to the highest ideals.”
BAPTIST FAITH AND MESSAGE
The declaration’s assertions about the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 also need to be clarified, Barber said.
Article V of the declaration calls for “all Southern Baptists to look to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord’s Commission.”
Barber said he thought some readers would interpret that as an endorsement of the “Garner Motion” at the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. That motion sought to limit the governing role of SBC trustees to the explicit wording of the statement of faith; its opponents argued the BF&M should merely define the minimal expectations governing Southern Baptist entities.
Article V “is nearly the precise wording of the ill-fated Garner Motion that, in the end, amounted to little more than a Rorschach test dealing with what role the Baptist Faith & Message should have in the governance of our entities,” Barber said. “Since this particular wording has been so contentious among Southern Baptists in the immediate past, to think that the bald assertion of such a consensus-destroying phraseology would lead to the building of consensus among Southern Baptists is unwise.”
Dialogue about change in the convention needs to be civil in tone and involve a wide range of voice from Southern Baptist life, Barrentine told Baptist Press.
“I am open to any change that will help us do the work better. But let’s do it in harmony and in fellowship with one another without using pejorative language, without vilifying one another in any way,” Barrentine said. “I believe we need to include representatives from a broad spectrum of the Southern Baptist Convention in order to effect real and lasting change.
“I just believe that if we can approach this from a positive standpoint, we can tackle anything the Lord puts before us, provided He is with us,” Barrentine added. “But let it be positive. We’ve had enough of the negative.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. With reporting from James A. Smith Sr., executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (floridabaptistwitness.com), newspaper of the Florida Baptist Convention.