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Giving change could hurt funding, NAMB leader says

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–A proposal to create a broad category of “Great Commission” missions giving among Southern Baptists has the potential to result in less money for North American missions, the interim president of the North American Mission Board told a group of associational church leaders June 13.

Richard Harris spoke to the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions in Orlando, Fla., as they celebrated their organization’s 50th anniversary at the Rosen Plaza Hotel.

In addition to Harris, the anniversary celebration program included presentations by Ed Stetzer, research director for LifeWay Christian Resources, and International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin, who is scheduled to retire July 31 after 17 years at the helm of the global missions entity. The June 12-14 event included a 50th birthday party sponsored by the North American Mission Board.

A recommendation of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force to institute “Great Commission Giving” in addition to the SBC’s traditional category of Cooperative Program giving could result in churches giving according to their passions, rather than in a systematic, comprehensive manner, Harris said.

“On one hand, it could give us more money. On the other hand, when you designate money and NAMB’s not in that designation, then we’d get less money, obviously,” Harris said. “I have some concern that we could get less money…. It depends on what people’s passions are.”

Harris praised the task force’s challenge to churches to dramatically increase giving to NAMB’s annual missions offering, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. He noted that giving to the offering has been increasing, while giving to the Cooperative Program has been declining. Harris said he believed that showed Southern Baptists love missions and will take care of their missionaries, even when they are giving through designated channels.

During a question-and-answer period, the directors of missions asked several questions about the GCRTF recommendation to phase out, over seven years, “cooperative agreements” between NAMB and state Baptist conventions that fund staff positions at both state and local levels.

Harris said he believes some form of cooperative agreements are necessary and that his perception has been the task force never intended to imply such agreements would no longer exist.

“We need to look at [cooperative agreements] but we cannot operate without agreements. We need good, clear understandings about who’s going to do what and how we’re going to do it together,” Harris said. “All along, even back from the February report, I’ve assumed that what they were saying was that the cooperative agreements would go away as they are now. I’ve never thought or understood that there would be no cooperative agreements.

“In my mind, we might come back and renegotiate each one,” Harris said. “I think the seven years gives us opportunity to say, ‘How can you be self-sufficient? How can we make this work together as we go forward?’ I think there is, in this final report, room there to where it says that we’ll take each state individually.”

Many Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or declining because over the years they have drifted away from evangelism and neglected crucial tasks like discipleship training, mission education and doctrinal training, Harris said.

“A lot of young folks don’t know what we believe; they don’t know our polity; they don’t know our organization,” Harris said. “I’m not saying you have to go back to the way we did [these things in the past] but somehow we’ve got to come with that training … and turn this tide of so many churches plateaued and declining.”

“I do think we have drifted. Years ago, an old Methodist minister … said the natural tendency of the church is never toward evangelism; it’s always away from evangelism,” Harris said. “We’re doing a lot of good things but we have tended to neglect the great thing.

“We have an army but we can’t just do everything under the sun,” Harris said. “We have got to get back to doing the right things for the right reason — for the glory of God and not the promotion of man.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.

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