ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (BP)–Here we are, a little less than two weeks from that which some of us would call “D-Day” (Decision Day) for the Southern Baptist Convention, the day when Southern Baptist messengers say yea or nay to the proposals of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, which messengers to last year’s meeting charged with the task of recommending “how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.” The final version of the task force’s report was released May 3.
There are portions of the report that bother me, but there are also some things related to it that encourage me even more.
Like many of you, I believe, I am a tad troubled by some of the extreme rhetoric being used by both some of those who want to see the report pass and some of those who are eager to see it bite the dust. I certainly understand the propensity many preachers have toward exaggeration, because I am one, and you’re liable to see some evidence of that even in this column. I’d much rather use someone else as an example of that, though, and that would be Ronnie Floyd, who was appointed to chair the task force. Shortly before the release of the final report, he said, “We’re voting on the future of the SBC. We’re voting on whether the Great Commission matters, whether the SBC is willing to have a climate for change. It is imperative for the future not only of the SBC, but of the Great Commission.”
Was Dr. Floyd saying, “If Southern Baptists don’t vote in favor of the report, the SBC has no future”? Was he saying that the Great Commission matters only to those who would vote yea? Was he saying that those who would disagree with the recommendations are not open to change? Giving him the benefit of doubt, which I think I should do, I find that hard to believe. He didn’t say any of those things, and I am relatively confident he would energetically deny that he believed any such nonsense.
But the way he said what he did say could give some folks the impression that he was saying that a vote against the report would be a vote against the future of the SBC and the Great Commission. At the same time, some of those who oppose the report are doing so in such a way that some folks could get the impression that they are saying that a vote for the report would derail the Great Commission and the SBC. Using hyperbole to emphasize a legitimate point tends only to confuse the body of people entrusted with the huge task of deciding what WE TOGETHER believe God would have US AS A BODY do.
I also am bothered by the massive scope of the changes to the SBC that are being proposed. It seems to me that the task force is saying, “What we’re doing and the way we’re doing it isn’t achieving the desired results, so let’s put all that aside and try something entirely different.” (Don’t say I didn’t warn you about what my propensity toward exaggeration.)
Those who know me know well that I am all for change … sometimes. I’ve changed considerably throughout my ministry, which is now in its fourth decade. The Baptist New Mexican is an obvious example of that; it’s a far cry from what it was when I assumed its editorship back in 1993. (And believe me, I’ve heard what many of you think about that, both good and bad.) Some of the changes we’ve made were, I found out the hard way, ill-advised, to say it nicely. Those that I consider to be the best were determined and implemented very carefully and prayerfully, with considerable (sometimes, though, way too much) amount of study and analysis of the costs and benefits of such a change. After all, Jesus even counsels people to do that kind of cost and benefit analysis when deciding whether to become one of His disciples (Luke 14:25-34)!
I am of the opinion (which is NOT infallible) that the task force did not adequately weigh the costs and benefits of implementing their recommendations, which I fear could move us away from, instead of toward, a Great Commission resurgence. For example, surely there is a cost to reducing Cooperative Program revenue to one of our entities by nearly 30 percent (the Executive Committee) in order to increase CP funding of another entity by a “token” 2 percent (the IMB).
I’m intentionally resisting the temptation to give you more details about why I disagree with some of the report’s recommendations, because I get a lot more excited when I think about the bright side of the decision we will be making, be that for or against the proposal.
If the majority of messengers decide in favor of the task force’s “compelling missional vision” on June 15, trustees of all of the SBC’s entities should very carefully and prayerfully contemplate just how to move their entities toward fulfillment of the vision. During such a process, some of the changes envisioned by the task force may look considerably different and some may be deemed unnecessary or impossible to implement.
Furthermore, God is fully capable of enabling His people to correct mistakes they make (and mistakes we WILL make). A former Home Mission Board missionary who is now a North American Mission Board missionary told me a few years ago that he believed such a thing had happened after Southern Baptists voted to replace the HMB, the Brotherhood Commission and the Radio and Television Commission with NAMB back in 1995. He said simply, “As time goes on, NAMB looks more and more like HMB.” If we make a mistake, God can move us to correct it. Of course, the cost of making a mistake related to the Great Commission can include the loss of important momentum and time during which countless souls slip into eternity without Christ.
The missions organizations Southern Baptists in North America have built over the years — our associations, state conventions and the SBC — are truly impressive, but no one I respect would say they are perfect. We should continually work toward making them more perfect, but they don’t have to be to be used of God to enable us to more effectively carry out the Great Commission.
I much prefer the way we do missions today to the way the American Baptist Home Mission Society did missions in the mid-19th century. But God used that flawed way of doing missions to begin and spread Baptist work across the New Mexico territory. In 1912 we decided to affiliate all of our churches in the brand-new state with the SBC, which also utilized mission techniques we have since rejected. Still, God blessed and used our flawed organizations to impact our state for Christ. The same is true today, and the same will be true after June 15, regardless of the vote.
I don’t know any Southern Baptists who would deny the affirmation of the Apostle Paul, “that our God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine …” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV). If there is one thing Southern Baptists are for, it is a genuine Great Commission resurgence. Thank the Lord that we have the opportunity to cast our votes that reflect our convictions concerning what we believe we should look like and how we should operate to best make that a reality. And pray earnestly that regardless of what we decide, He will do what He alone can do, and when all is said and done, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Eph. 3:21).
John Loudat is editor of the Baptist New Mexican, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.