CAPE CORAL, Fla. (BP)–Providence and a desire to be as thoughtful as I can have kept me from posting my thoughts on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) report presented by Chairman Ronnie Floyd to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on February 22, 2010. The report has received much attention, as you would expect and as it rightly should. Some of the assessments are very helpful and some are absurd, again, as expected.
From the outset I have been hopeful about and supportive of the GCRTF and their work. I encouraged our local association to express support for this effort. I was interviewed by the Missouri Baptist Pathway two weeks ago and answered some questions about the GCRTF report.
Overall, I am encouraged with the work of the GCRTF. I believe that the team that Johnny Hunt assembled has done a great job of assessing our current SBC structures in light of what ought to be our fundamental purpose for existing (as the report puts it, “to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations”). The report consists of 6 “components” including 8 “core values.” It is worth reading, or watching the video presentation of it, on the GCRTF website.
The task force has also been very open with Southern Baptists about their work and have sincerely solicited input. The job they undertook (and are still undertaking — this is an “interim” report; the final one will be released May 3, 2010) is monumental. Their recommendations, if approved and implemented by the SBC, will have implications for years to come. If nothing else, the GCRTF report should serve as a call for every Southern Baptist church to pay careful attention to the next three months and to send informed messengers to Orlando to vote on the recommendations with discernment.
Following are some of my thoughts on the report.
1. The call for repentance is refreshing to hear, coming as it does from respected pastors and denominational servants. It is a call that every Southern Baptist needs to heed. Joined to it is a call to stop the divisive “rhetoric” that has marred our fellowship and witness. Who cannot be grateful for the following words from Ronnie Floyd: “I believe with all my heart that God is calling us to return to Him now in deep repentance of our sin, in brokenness over our sin, denying our pride and selfishness and returning to God with complete humility. The boasting, ego, and pride that goes on in our lives, our churches, and our denomination is unacceptable to God. The disunity in our churches and in our denomination is so wrong and sinful. We need to repent and return to God.”
2. I am grateful for the demographic realities that are highlighted in the report. Our too-Western, too-American, too-Southern perspectives on the gospel, church and lostness need huge doses of reality that such demographics can provide. We ought to be embarrassed that we keep so many of our resources — personal and financial — so close to home when, 2000 years after our Lord’s commission to make disciples of the nations, there are (in the words of the report) “5,845 people groups who have no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
3. I appreciate the emphasis on the local church. This needs to be asserted and reasserted all across the SBC. The report states, “We must return to the primacy and centrality of the local church in our denomination. Jesus loved His church and gave His blood for us. The headquarters of our denomination is not in Nashville, Louisville, Dallas-Fort Worth, Richmond, or any other location of one of our national Baptist entities. The headquarters of our denomination is in each one of the 50,000 local churches and congregations in our convention.”
I wish that this emphasis had been spelled out more clearly and directly connected to the call to repentance. How Southern Baptists typically practice church life needs to be reexamined in the light of Scripture. Such an exercise will provide enough reason for repentance to keep us on our knees for a long time.
4. I wish the eight core values that the report spells out were more gospel-centered. Christ-likeness, truth, unity, relationships, trust, future, local church and kingdom. Under truth the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” is celebrated and under unity it is stated that our working together in love is “for the sake of the Gospel.” The gospel is also mentioned under the local church and kingdom values. My concern is that we are living in a day when the gospel has largely been lost because it is too often assumed by evangelicals, including Southern Baptists. Greater emphasis on the person and work of Christ as a core value would be helpful.
5. I wish more radical recommendations were made about the North American Mission Board (NAMB). In fact, my recommendation was that it be shut down and the Disaster Relief Department be fully funded to continue doing what they do better than any other relief organization that I know. The restructuring that has been proposed is significant and perhaps even visionary. I appreciate the move toward decentralization of the work of church planting and of calling on less bureaucratic money-shifting between NAMB and the state conventions. Ronnie Floyd described the current system this way:
“While our state conventions keep an average of 63.45% of the dollars within their respective states, the North American Mission Board then sends back to the state conventions an additional $50.6 million due to these cooperative agreements and budgets. This process complicates the work at times, resulting in a lack of productivity and accountability.”
The task force’s proposal addresses this inefficient system.
6. I am most encouraged by recommendations related to the International Mission Board (IMB). The recommendation that Cooperative Program (CP) allocations going to the International Mission Board be increased by 1% is a start, but in my mind, it is too small of a start. I wish a more radical increase had been proposed.
What is more significant to my mind is the addressing of the irrational policy that has too long existed that restricts our IMB workers, while on stateside assignments, from directly ministering to immigrants from their target people groups who reside in America. When I first learned a few years ago that our IMB workers were “not allowed” to engage immigrants from their people group while in the USA (what used to be called “furlough” but now is “stateside assignment”) because such was regarded as encroaching on the domain of NAMB, I found it hard to believe. I knew that if Southern Baptists were made aware of such a policy, whether formal or informal, they would blow a gasket. So I rejoice at component number three of the report that encourages Southern Baptists to “entrust to the International Mission Board the ministry to reach the unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographic limitations.”
7. I think the suggestion that “Great Commission Giving” by a church be recognized while reaffirming our commitment to the CP is healthy (component #5). The CP is ingenuous but when it is used as a stick with which to beat churches who sacrificially give to the work of missions in other ways as well, its effectiveness is greatly hindered by the very people who think they are promoting it.
All in all, I believe this is a good report and I could recommend that we adopt it as is. My hope is that it will be strengthened before it is released in its final form. Did everything that I suggested to the committee get addressed? No. Some things did not even get addressed. I am sure that is true for hundreds if not thousands of Southern Baptists who, like me, took the committee up on their invitation to offer input. This is how Baptists work together. I am greatly encouraged by the direction to which this report points us as a convention and I intend to continue to pray for Ronnie Floyd and his task force until their work is complete. I encourage you to do so, also.
Tom Ascol is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., and executive director of Founders Ministries, a group that promotes Reformed theology/Calvinism among Southern Baptists.