NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Penetrating the lostness of North America will require a shift in strategy — how Southern Baptist Convention missionaries and money are distributed across the continent, members of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force told associational directors of missions in a March 16 conference call.
The Network of Baptist Associations, which represents 370 of 1,100 Southern Baptist local church associations, hosted the panel discussion in which task force members responded to questions submitted in advance by conference call participants. The host for the call was Bobby Gilstrap, director of missions for the Huron and Southeastern Baptist associations in Michigan. Call participants did not have the opportunity to ask questions during the discussion.
The task force, which is charged with finding ways for Southern Baptists to be more faithful and effective in sharing the Gospel with a lost world, released a “progress report” on its work Feb. 22. How the recommendations envisioned by that report would affect the denomination’s current structure became the immediate focus of discussion, especially on the Internet. Gilstrap noted that about 200 associational directors of missions are funded by “cooperative agreements” that would be renegotiated if the preliminary task force recommendations are approved — raising questions about the future of their ministries.
How Southern Baptists allocate their missions resources must change because the denomination is not making a significant enough impact on North American lostness, said task force chairman Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark.
“We are committed to the future. We’re just saying that the future is going to look a little bit different than the past,” Floyd said. “I foresee personally that, in many of these areas, these strategies will continue as long as these people are connected to a strategy to penetrate lostness and there is a beginning time and an ending time of that partnership, which is exactly what happens now in relationship to cooperative agreements. It all is going to depend on how and who is there to penetrate the lostness of our nation.”
If Southern Baptists want to see baptisms and church planting to increase, they must make changes that will be painful, Floyd said.
“I don’t know how much the report might change [before it is finalized],” Floyd said. “What I do know is that we want to do what’s right. No one wants to hurt anybody…. At the same time, there’s going to have to be sacrifice. There’s going to have to be change…. The process precedes the product. If I want a different product, I have to change the process. Some of the processes in Southern Baptist life need to be addressed.”
The task force recognizes the value of experienced associational missionaries but Southern Baptists must come to terms with the need to prioritize the allocation of their resources to have maximum effect, added task force member Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
“Obviously we have a limited amount of resources with seemingly an unlimited number of people who need to know Christ in North America,” Richards said. It is “absolutely essential for us to have cooperative agreements with a state convention and an association. Now, cooperative agreement and cooperative budgeting are two different things and obviously the cooperative budgeting aspect of it would have to be done on those projects and efforts and strategies and events and goals and long-term and short-term measurable results that would advance the Kingdom and carry out the Great Commission at its highest maximum investment. That has to be done among partners.
“I can’t speak for the task force but, for my personal opinion, … it would be foolish to try to bring new personnel into areas that are working, that people who have the gifting and the skill set, and who have the passion for that area, and who are willing to transition to prioritize their efforts and energy to carry out church planting as the No. 1 emphasis in their job description,” Richards added.
Crafting a strategy to reach North America for Christ requires collaboration and partnership at every level of Southern Baptist life, Floyd noted.
“We are not trying to create a North American Mission Board that is operating in and of itself. The NAMB can do nothing apart from the churches and can do little apart from the associations and the state conventions. We need each other,” Floyd said. “We just believe that we need an overall national strategy…. Just like the International Mission Board is the guiding strategist towards touching the world … we’re saying that we want the NAMB to be that. We’re saying they’re not going to do that in and of themselves.
“It’s very obvious [the leaders who serve in pioneer areas] are going to know their regions better than some person located in Alpharetta, Ga. So to operate in a vacuum, to say, ‘We’re going to go up there and we’re going to do this,’ well, you better talk to the people who are boots on the ground and figure out the best way to do that. But the strategies will be strategies that will be created to penetrate lostness. That’s where we are very convinced, as a task force, that our role and goal should be.”
How the recommendations for reaching North America in the task force’s final report are implemented is up to leadership of the North American Mission Board, Floyd added.
“The task force understands its assignment to be primarily one of vision casting,” said task force member David S. Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn. “Our responsibility, as we understand it from the convention, is to come up with an overarching vision of how to more effectively, more faithfully carry out the Great Commission as a convention, which includes all aspects of our convention — the national convention, the state convention, its entities, local associations and local churches. Inherent in that vision is a renewed commitment to cooperation and collaboration.
“Once we extend the vision, it will be then up to the administration and the board of the North American Mission Board to think about more appropriate strategies and implementation,” Dockery added. “It will be up to state convention leaders, local association leaders to work together in partnership … in moving this vision forward.”
The kind of changes the task force envisions will appeal to a “post-denominational” generation of young adults, said Kathy Ferguson Litton, a task force member and women’s ministry leader.
“I think the emphasis on the local church really takes [off], perhaps, the unhealthy emphasis that some might perceive on the denomination,” Litton said. “We’ve used the word ‘partnership.’ When churches of all sizes partner with ministry and missions opportunity, it gets everybody’s hands dirty. It doesn’t have to go up some food chain. It comes to the local church. I think the post-denominational era will embrace the emphasis on the local church.”
Floyd said he believed shifting the emphasis away from denominational mechanics to the local church will draw unaffiliated congregations into the Southern Baptist fold.
“I can’t tell you how many young pastors we’ve already heard from who absolutely loved everything they heard about our report,” Floyd said. “We have given them a vision. The vision is compelling, to plant churches and to penetrate lostness…. It’s all about the local church. That’s what they understand…. If we will just stay there and take them where they are and have a broad enough entry point into the ministry of this denomination to receive them, in love, in a way that would honor the Lord and honor biblical truth, they can help in a tremendous way.
“Many of them are saying that if the Southern Baptist Convention will adopt this, there will be a real interest out here among a lot of people … of their generation [who] have fallen by the wayside towards denominational matters, to re-engage,” Floyd added. “They also believe there will be many people who are more independent-minded in various movements out here who do not have a cooperative partnership with any denomination, that they will be turned on to this vision if we could turn the Southern Baptist emphases to reaching and penetrating lostness, to global evangelism and to planting churches in the North American area of the world.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.