TOPEKA, Kan. (BP)–Who could be against the Great Commission? Certainly no Southern Baptist who understands his or her Bible would be against that. But is being against portions of the report of the Task Force on the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR), which is being debated in the Southern Baptist Convention, really being against the Great Commission?
I am not against the Great Commission. As a matter of fact, I have spent the bulk of my adult life and ministry trying to follow God’s leading in accomplishing the Great Commission. I know that what we as Southern Baptists have done is not perfect. But I do know that we are part of a larger problem in American church life. That problem is spiritual, not structural. We are living in a time of spiritual disobedience, and Southern Baptists are as guilty of disobedience as any other Christian group in America.
Without a doubt, this disobedience must change. But do we, as Southern Baptists, need radical structural change to “fix” our commitment to the Great Commission? Will fundamental changes in the structure of our Cooperative Program arrangement really solve what is essentially a spiritual problem and magically bring us back to the right track?
I am fearful that the proposed structural change will bring change that hurts, rather than helps, our situation. Do we really want to make radical changes that may lead to disastrous consequences for us and for the Kingdom of God?
Let me examine each component of the initial report of the GCR Task Force and lay out some of the specific issues that cause me to wonder if we are moving in a dangerous direction:
GCR COMPONENT NO. 1:
This component describes the spiritual condition of the United States and Canada. In the first 12 pages the Task Force outlined for us the problem of lostness in North America and the need for planting more churches, for effective discipleship and for leadership training. The Task Force rightfully challenged all Southern Baptist churches to repent of our disobedience to the Great Commission. In my opinion, we need to begin here by confessing our sin of disobedience and, at the very least, humble ourselves and pray earnestly for God to renew our passion to be “missional.” We must become a people who are outwardly focused and must repent of our self-centered religion.
However, I have a significant disagreement with the direction of the recommended solution for the problem. Having described a spiritual problem, the GCR Task Force proceeded to outline organizational and structural changes as a solution to correct the spiritual problem. For me, it is like identifying a spiritual need and then trying to fix that need on our own without a renewed heart and a refreshed soul. In my simple way of thinking, we need a movement of God in the heart of His people and nothing less. If we try to fix our spiritual problem ourselves, the solution will be as effective as rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. In my opinion, we cannot reach North America without absolute dependence on a Holy God.
GCR COMPONENT NO. 2:
This component describes a major restructuring of the responsibilities of the North American Mission Board and the relationship between NAMB and state conventions, associations and churches.
One of the things that many in the missions community have feared is the desire on the part of some to have one mission board, even though NAMB and the International Mission Board (IMB) operate with totally different philosophies. The use of the terms “release” and “reinvent” in this context echoes the current philosophy of the IMB. This makes me wonder if we are being “set up” for a uniting of the boards in the near future.
The report calls for a renegotiation of cooperative agreements and the elimination of current cooperative budgets over a four-year period. Cooperative agreements have defined the relationship between NAMB and the various state conventions. In the current agreements, NAMB provides strategic support for missions while state conventions, associations, and churches have partnered to develop local, culturally relevant strategies. If Component No. 2 is implemented as stated, NAMB will become the author of local strategy while state conventions, associations and churches will not necessarily even be consulted. Local strategy will be entirely NAMB’s prerogative as indicated by the continued use of the seemingly (but not really) benign word, “direct.”
Another problem with the elimination of the cooperative agreements and with NAMB’s control of strategy is that they will also supervise and assign missionaries in our convention. Previously, the state conventions, associations and churches have defined needs, recruited personnel and provided onsite supervision. That will not be true in this new structure. Current state and associational missionaries, church planter strategists and other missionaries may be reassigned, relocated or released as NAMB sees fit.
The cooperative budget between the state convention and NAMB is a detailed explanation of how we will fund state missions within Nebraska and Kansas. Presently, NAMB provides 80 percent of the funding for missionaries assigned to our convention and we provide 20 percent. This funding formula is not unique to our convention but is a common formula. According to Component No. 2, the cooperative budget will be phased out in four years. That means the elimination of about one-third of our state convention’s budget and more than one hundred personnel currently serving in our two states. The current system is perceived by the Task Force to be ineffective and broken. In my opinion it is not, but only needs some fine-tuning as we move into the future.
In summary, what does this mean for us as a state convention and associations? What are the proposed changes and how will they affect us?
— The potential loss of our working agreement with NAMB (cooperative agreements — which are not cumbersome or complex).
— The gradual decrease of our cooperative budget (four years).
— The potential loss of state and associational missionaries, church planter strategists, language missionaries, collegiate ministers, church planters, and church and community missionaries. All will move to the direct supervision of NAMB. Mission personnel potentially could be allowed to stay in our convention, be relocated or be released.
— The potential loss of our ability to determine local strategy with NAMB directly controlling our strategy.
In my opinion, these potential consequences are unacceptable.
GCR COMPONENT NO. 3:
This component calls for the IMB to be tasked with reaching unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographic limitations.
With this proposal, IMB will begin working with unreached people groups and under-served people groups in the United States. Both NAMB and IMB currently work alongside each other in Canada. From conversations with my Canadian friends it does not work well there. My experience tells me this is unlikely to work here, either. I have been in denominational life for more than 35 years, and I know how poorly NAMB, IMB and LifeWay have communicated with each other in the past. If this practice comes to the United States, there are many questions to be answered. What will be the working relationship between NAMB and IMB? How will IMB work with state conventions? Who will determine who the unreached people groups are and where they are located? Who will determine who the under-served people groups are and where they are located?
IMB is adept in understanding unreached people groups in foreign lands where indigenous people are at home in their own culture and land. In the United States, however, we have people groups in a culture and land other than their own who are in the process of becoming Americanized. What IMB does internationally and what we do in the US to reach language/people groups is different in approach and should remain so.
This approach makes me again wonder if we are being “set up” for a uniting of the boards in the near future.
GCR COMPONENT NO. 4:
This component calls for state conventions to take over promotion of Cooperative Program and stewardship education.
I don’t believe this will have a negative impact on our state convention.
GCR COMPONENT NO. 5:
This component reaffirms the Cooperative Program as our “central” way of supporting our mission activities, but it also calls for Southern Baptists to “celebrate” any “Great Commission Giving” that goes to Southern Baptist causes. This would give equal affirmation to designated giving outside of the Cooperative Program channel.
I do not believe the Task Force language is strong enough in its description of the place of the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program has been THE giving channel for Great Commission causes among Southern Baptists. The GCR Task Force is asking for Southern Baptists to bless designated (or in their words, “Great Commission Giving”) as Cooperative Program giving. In effect this will encourage individual churches to select and support projects or missionaries that they choose. In turn, the sponsors of those projects and missionaries will be inclined to campaign for funding for what they are doing. This means that we will be returning to a “societal” form of mission giving which has failed not only Southern Baptists in the past and led to the creation of the Cooperative Program, but has failed other denominations as well. Until recent years Southern Baptists have trusted our mission boards to choose projects and missionaries. “Great Commission Giving” seems to say we do not trust the denomination to disseminate our mission dollars. Perhaps the churches think they know better where their mission dollars need to be spent. Is this the beginning of the end of the Cooperative Program, as we have known it?
GCR COMPONENT NO. 6:
This component has as its focus increasing the percentage of the funding allocation going to International Mission Board from 50 percent to 51 percent.
I think all Southern Baptists would celebrate increasing our mission dollars to reach the nations.
In my opinion, if adopted as printed the Task Force report:
— Seems to indicate a lack of appreciation and/or understanding for state conventions and associations in newer work areas of Southern Baptist life.
— Could have a devastating effect on newer work state conventions and associations from the standpoint of strategy, staff and budget.
— Is setting NAMB up for failure.
— Seems to be setting the stage for a one-mission-board reality.
— Seems to indicate that a centralized, distant mission strategy is better than a local, culturally sensitive strategy.
— Seems to think changing organizational/structures will solve spiritual concerns.
— Seems to indicate a lack of appreciation and/or understanding of the Cooperative Program itself.
My prayer is that the Spirit of the Living God invades our churches, associations, state conventions and national agencies. We need to be a people who are totally obedient to the Great Commission challenge. The call to be missional is perhaps the greatest message in the Task Force report. We need to be a people who focus our energy outward on a lost and dying world. God, forgive us for caring more about our agendas than Yours.
Robert Mills is executive director of Kansas–Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists.