RALEIGH, N.C. (BP)–Alabama pastor and Southern Baptist Convention presidential candidate Jimmy Jackson made a two-stop campaign tour in North Carolina in early June harboring “serious concerns” about potential negative effects on the Southern Baptist Convention if the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations are approved by messengers to the SBC annual meeting June 15 in Orlando.
The three other candidates for the SBC presidency — Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention; Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.; and Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. — offered Baptist Press mixed reactions to Jackson’s comments.
Jackson, hosted by Tim Rogers, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Indian Trail, had a breakfast meeting in Monroe, then a luncheon at Oakdale Baptist Church in Statesville where he answered questions from a dozen area pastors.
Speaking quietly but firmly, Jackson, the 70-year-old pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., said he knows and loves those who are promoting the GCR task force recommendations, but he is concerned that their rhetoric is establishing an invalid dividing line as if some support the Great Commission and others do not.
“We’ve all read, preached and believe the Great Commission,” Jackson said. “We’re in favor. We’ve spent our lives in one way or the other trying to do the Great Commission.”
He is concerned that the Great Commission is being defined only as planting churches and evangelizing, both efforts he heartily endorses. But all Christians are to be involved in the “make disciples” and “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” parts of the Great Commission that are not given sufficient emphasis in the task force report.
He feels adoption of the report will lead to further neglect of church health, weaken Southern Baptists in the long run and diminish the role of lay men and women who are Great Commission Christians when they do the work of the church. He mentioned as one example adults who tended the nursery so a single dad could hear the Gospel presented in worship service, where he was saved.
Christians do the Great Commission “by our giving, by serving, by helping people, by going on mission,” Jackson said. “It’s not something that rests on my shoulders alone or on yours. It would crush us. But we all have our place.”
He said it is vital to teach people “not just how to witness” but “how to live their life” because problems don’t “suddenly go away” when you become a Christian. It would not take long if the church neglected disciple making before it would be so shallow it would be helpless, ineffective and broke.
He identified three typical groups in a period of change. He said the status quo group resists all change; the “go go” group wants to change everything yesterday; and the growing middle group recognizes, “We need to make changes, but not changes that are detrimental to us and not helpful.”
Jackson said outgoing SBC President Johnny Hunt was driven to implement the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force from his “passion to win souls.”
But Jackson’s approach would have the new SBC president sit with the boards of every SBC entity and ask their input directly in what they can do to move their entity to higher effectiveness in winning souls, shedding any unnecessary bureaucracy and inspiring Southern Baptists to give more money to support their cooperative work.
Jackson said he put the GCR recommendations before a northeast business consultant and asked if the proposals would increase efficiency of the organization or decrease costs. He received a “no” to both questions.
Jackson acknowledges the convention faces issues but says the report offers no solutions.
As the business consultant told him, “Companies that try to change from the top down have failed,” Jackson said. “You need to start with the local churches. Work with them. Help them get on fire.”
He said there may be some associations that could consolidate for more effectiveness, but that those issues need to be studied individually, not with a mandate from a select committee.
As to whether the GCR recommendations would help Southern Baptists baptize more people, the consultant told Jackson, “I think you will have such division and confrontation if this is pushed through, that you’ll go backwards.”
“I’m concerned that we’re getting stampeded,” he said of the “Madison Avenue” promotion of the GCR proposals, with a steady stream of endorsers being released to the GCR prayer partners and to Baptist news outlets daily. “Hasty decisions are not usually healthy decisions.”
Jackson, president of the Alabama Baptist Convention, said the bulk of Southern Baptist cooperative work “is going on behind the scenes in our states,” and he listed many services and ministries “that keep us alive and strong.”
He realizes his church is not a “pacesetter” in Cooperative Program giving, sending 4.64 percent of undesignated gifts through the Cooperative Program. It gives nearly an equal amount divided between the special offerings for international missions and North American missions. He said he is going to talk to his leadership about directing more gifts through the CP because if others are designating away from CP, the nuts and bolts funding required for missions is being lost.
The funding issue is at the heart of much of the GCR impetus, with high profile pastors not getting the “credit” they feel their churches deserve when their percentage of giving to CP is low. Jackson said he wonders if the GCR push “came from people that have some grudges going on.”
“If the average Southern Baptist showed up in Orlando in numbers we’d vote this thing down and the election would be over,” Jackson said. “Whether they come out or not is the issue because we didn’t have $250,000 of CP money to promote this thing.”
The money Jackson referred to is the funds allocated by the SBC Executive Committee to conduct the work of the task force.
“The value of what Johnny [Hunt] has done is to fire a shot over the bow” to alert Southern Baptists that “some people don’t like the way things are done,” Jackson said. This is an opportunity to sit down and evaluate how we can meet the goals of winning souls, being efficient and increasing giving, he said.
He just doesn’t believe the GCR task force report is the right vehicle.
Contacted by Baptist Press for a response to Jackson’s remarks, Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, said he believes effective change requires “an integrated and focused strategy,” much forethought and prayer.
“I am not afraid of change,” Endel said. “I recently wrote an article entitled Change or Die. Not only is that true for a local church but it is also true for the SBC. But change is not always positive. In 2008 the United States was in the mood for change and we got it. In 2010 Southern Baptists are in the mood for change and we are likely to get it. But what kind of change will we get? The details are too few, the process is too rushed, and the perspectives are too limited to assure me that the changes will result in greater effectiveness.
“Change without an integrated and focused strategy may result in upheaval but will it result in transformation and effectiveness?” Endel asked. “I am not convinced that the process has been strategic or inclusive enough to result in positive change. In many ways I feel like we are about to repeat the old adage: ‘Ready, fire, aim.’ I am grateful for the conversation, but I believe we have an artificial deadline that is forcing us to make decisions without finishing our homework. Change will come, let’s take the time to think it through.
“We must be careful not to gather around personalities and single perspectives that build walls rather than open doors to discussion, discovery, and alignment under the mandate of the Great Commission,” Endel added. “Our diversity of perspective is our strength. We need every voice. I am becoming more convinced each day that the key to a Great Commission Resurgence is not new methodologies, budget reallocations, and new categories of giving but instead spiritual renewal where Southern Baptists humble ourselves before God and each other, stop posturing ourselves for position and recognition, and quit protecting our kingdoms at the expense of His Kingdom. Perhaps we would be better off in Orlando to spend an hour in prayer seeking God’s guidance rather than spend an hour of promoting, discussing, and voting on the Great Commission Resurgence recommendation. I have heard a call for a SBC solemn assembly; I pray we hold it soon.”
Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., and a member of the GCR Task Force, said the report “challenges individual Christians to a ‘radical pursuit of the Great Commission,’ that begins with repentance and renewal and results in “obedience to evangelize, to disciple, to go, and to give more than ever before.”
As leaders from national and state Southern Baptist entities expressed their concerns about the report to the task force, “we were overwhelmed,” Traylor said. “The downward line graph in baptisms for over ten years in the SBC disturbed us. We came face to face with the reality that we as a people have neglected the imperative of the Great Commission. There are 6 billion lost people and 6,000 unreached people groups in the world. That reality became an urgent motivator to our task.
“The positive solutions presented in our report are a beginning. We recommend moving a greater portion of our resources to the unreached and underserved regions of America and the world,” Traylor added. “This will take sacrifice on the part of every church, association, state convention, and Baptist entity. Together we can do this.”
Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., had just returned from a trip to Israel and asked to submit as his response a previous statement of support he had made for the task force report.
“I’m so thankful for Johnny Hunt’s leadership in forming the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force to help our denomination reprioritize reaching the world for Christ,” Wright said at the time. “I support the Task Force’s recommendations in that I firmly believe we’ve got to get more people out on the mission field in order to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. The recommendations of the Task Force are a hugely important first step, but they are only a beginning. The selection of the men to lead the IMB and NAMB are also hugely important.
“As the one called to plant Johnson Ferry, I am encouraged that the task force sees the importance of planting churches in the areas of greatest need in the United States — particularly in our pioneer states and large cities,” Wright added. “And I agree with the Task Force that every church should be a ‘missional center.’ My prayer is that every local church will consider going on a mission trip in the coming year, as well as focusing on their local community as a mission field.”
Norman Jameson is editor of the Biblical Recorder (biblicalrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. With additional reporting by Baptist Press staff.