SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP)–At last year’s Southern Baptist Convention, a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) was appointed by President Johnny Hunt and given a task as vast and complex as the lost world in which we live. How should Southern Baptists work together in the future to more effectively reach the billions of people in thousands of people groups that are our Great Commission responsibility?
Implicit in their assignment was the recognition that we as Southern Baptists are presently struggling, certainly compared to years past, but especially compared to the challenges and threats of tomorrow’s world. Most churches are not growing. Many are not giving cooperatively at the rate they once did. And, we are seeing fewer baptisms, fewer disciples, and a diminishing impact on our increasingly secular culture.
There’s no question the recommendations proposed in the initial GCRTF report, if approved by the SBC and implemented by its national entities, would result in major adjustments in Illinois. The report’s Component No. 2 calls for the discontinuance, over four years, of the North American Mission Board’s cooperative budgets with state conventions. This would eliminate the $1.6 million Illinois currently receives through NAMB (from Southern Baptists everywhere) for missionaries and their ministries in church planting, evangelism, and associational missions. That would be 18 percent of the Illinois Baptist State Association’s (IBSA) current annual budget, and provides almost two-thirds of the funding for approximately 30 Illinois missionary and contract positions.
Let me quickly add that at least some of those missionaries would presumably become NAMB direct missionaries (though they may or may not still be assigned to Illinois). That’s one of the primary intents of the recommendation: to give NAMB more direct strategic control of its missionaries, though certainly they would seek to work in cooperation with the churches, associations and states in which they serve.
These NAMB missionaries would not be the only ones appointed by the SBC to work in Illinois. Under Component No. 3, the International Mission Board would also be free to send missionaries to Illinois, and certainly Chicago and other urban centers would seem to be priorities for that new initiative.
While the Task Force’s proposed direction would impact IBSA and Illinois significantly, we are a “medium-sized” state convention. If Southern Baptists elect to direct their funds more through national entities, it would be uncomfortable for IBSA, but we can and would make the necessary adjustments to live within the means of Cooperative Program giving from Illinois Baptists alone. Smaller state conventions, however, would be impacted much more dramatically. Larger state conventions would have more options for weathering the change.
Yet while many state conventions and local associations would undergo much change and sacrifice from this new direction, there are many who feel the Task Force’s report does not go nearly far enough.
Component No. 5 recommends the affirmation of all designated SBC missions giving (in addition to Cooperative Program giving) as “Great Commission Giving.” And Component No. 6 recommends increasing the CP allocation received by the IMB from 50 percent to 51 percent. Yet champions for international missions convincingly argue that these changes only begin to scratch the surface of the need to move resources quickly and sacrificially to the ends of the earth.
How will churches respond to the Task Force’s current proposal and the ensuing, dissonant voices? Right now I can’t help but picture someone entering a room and hearing four different voices, each urgently calling out from their respective corners. In some cases the person might choose a voice and run to it, because it was the first, or the loudest, or the most persuasive. But faced with that scenario, many people I know would just stand in the middle of the room — confused, cautious, frustrated — until the voices became clearer or more unified.
It seems the Task Force’s report in its current form is resulting in the church’s four primary missions partners — the association, the state convention, NAMB, and the IMB — pulling apart into four corners and appealing passionately for the needs of their mission field, rather than pulling together in support of a new vision for cooperative missions.
But the Task Force’s work is not yet complete. They plan to issue a final report May 3, and then whatever recommendations or motions come from the report will be presented at the June 15-16 SBC meeting in Orlando.
As I now pray for the Task Force, and invite you to do the same, I am praying the Lord gives them supernatural wisdom to further shape their report. And, I pray the directions they finally propose will lead our dissonant voices from the four corners of that room toward the one, unifying doorway that leads to a more effective future. For the sake of our Great Commission task, I’m eager to follow them through that doorway.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Reprinted from The Illinois Baptist, online at www.ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist/current/.