BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–It was 1998 and Rick Lance — executive director-elect of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions — pondered how he would lead Alabama Baptists into the 21st century.
In a matter of minutes, Lance scribbled down what he believed was a word from God and his new “north star” — one mission, the Great Commission; one program, the Cooperative Program; many ministries, Great Commission ministries.
Now, 12 years later, that phrase is as much a part of Alabama Baptist life in general as it is Lance’s personal focal point as Alabama’s executive director.
“We have always sought to be guided by the Great Commission,” he said. “The discussion of and debate about the Great Commission is not new to Alabama Baptist life.”
That’s why he’s glad to hear the topic being talked about so frequently in Southern Baptist circles.
Even though some aspects of the recently finalized Great Commission Resurgence Task Force proposal concern Lance, “the good news is, we are talking about the Great Commission again.”
“We can reclaim that discussion in Baptist life, and good can always come out of any kind of debate,” he noted.
But no matter what happens with the task force proposal, “we are not going to allow disagreements to define relationships,” Lance told those attending a state board meeting in Montgomery on May 14.
“We are not going to be obstructionists or antagonists. That’s not our spirit,” Lance said, noting he is committed to the traditional cooperative spirit that defines Alabama Baptists.
“We are going to be ministry partners with the [Southern Baptist Convention],” Lance said. “I think we all want the same thing. We may want to go about it differently, but we all want the same thing.
“We all believe passionately in the Great Commission. Not any of us are anti-Great Commission,” he said, also commending the GCR Task Force members for their “good hearts” and passion for the Great Commission. “I would hope no one would think that in Alabama nor as we meet in Orlando [Fla., for the June 15-16 SBC annual meeting].”
GC BIBLICAL MANDATE,’ NOT GCR
The Alabama state convention president, Jimmy Jackson, agreed.
“The Great Commission is a biblical mandate from the Lord Himself, but the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force itself is not,” Jackson said. “I want to be able to vote against it without being labeled being against the Great Commission. It will be unfair if we are labeled that way.”
Lance’s concerns about the task force’s proposal revolve around the potential change in relationship with the North American Mission Board, state conventions and associations; an SBC-recommended encouragement of designated giving to any entity; CP/stewardship responsibilities assigned to states and reworking missions fields to include a “borderless” International Mission Board.
“The change in relationship with NAMB is pretty much centered around cooperative agreements,” he said. “These have been called into question in recent days and that caught me a bit by surprise. If this had been an issue that we needed to debate as Southern Baptists then NAMB could have done that with state conventions.”
‘DO WHAT WE HAVE TO DO’
If the cooperative agreements end, then Alabama’s funding from the North American Mission Board — including NAMB missionaries in the state — will be gone in seven years.
“It won’t be easy,” he said. “But if it helps advance the work, then we’ll do what we have to do to cooperate.”
As far as Great Commission Giving, “I do not completely understand what it is,” Lance said, but “my main concern is whether or not that will overshadow CP giving.”
“The unified budget of Southern Baptists and the state conventions is the CP,” Lance said, noting Alabama will be expected to find funding to promote CP giving among Alabama Baptists under the proposed plan.
Still Lance said the Alabama convention will continue to “passionately promote the Cooperative Program.”
“It is the central, preferred, predominate way we do missions together as the conduit in reaching Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth,” he said.
And the GCR Task Force has also reaffirmed the CP, Lance noted. “Other ideas were floated … but the final report does reaffirm giving through the CP.”
As far as ministry partners within the state, “we will keep a close-working partnership with churches and associations,” Lance said, noting the SBOM will also remain strong ministry partners with existing entities.
“Whether or not NAMB has funds to help us in church planting, we are going to do church planting in Alabama,” Lance said. “We have needs that need to be addressed and we must find ways to do that.”
The task force members emphasize church planting and “that is very important,” Lance said. “Church planting is a very important evangelistic tool for Great Commission ministries. It is not the only way to do evangelism, but it is a very effective way to reach people.”
The idea of a “borderless” International Mission Board working in North America as well as the North American Mission Board and the state conventions is an “untested paradigm,” Lance explained.
Noting he believes in reaching all areas for the gospel as spelled out in Acts 1:8 and doing it simultaneously, Lance said he is just not sure the strategy has been thoroughly vetted.
“I’m sure those kinds of relationships can be worked out. The world has come to our world, and the various ethnic groups will be the focus of the IMB,” Lance said. “But once people come to America, they acclimate themselves more than we think they do.”
While the state convention’s strategy and NAMB’s strategy are not flawless, neither is the IMB’s strategy, Lance noted. But it seems that the main examination happened with the North American entity.
“I think the motion [at the SBC annual meeting] last year was to study Great Commission effectiveness in Southern Baptist life,” Lance said. “Attention was given to NAMB, but the same amount of attention was not given to the IMB.”
And what about studying the seminaries, asked Travis Coleman, chairman of the state board.
“They [the task force] have not done a thorough job of looking at all aspects of Southern Baptist life, such as the seminaries,” Coleman said. “It looks like this has been in a hurry to get this done in a year.”
Jackson agreed, calling for Southern Baptists to take more time to study the report and its ramifications.
Lance added, “Thoroughness sometimes takes more time than just between conventions.”
But even with the concerns raised by some Alabama Baptist leaders, many leaders affirmed the portion of the task force’s report calling for spiritual renewal.
“They call for personal and corporate renewal,” Lance said. “That is commendable … but maybe it should have been first, then the study.”
“We are a Great Commission state convention,” Lance said. “We’ve been at this since 1823, 22 years before the founding of the SBC.
“In many ways, the SBC is our child. We helped parent the SBC,” he explained. “We are going to be good family members as we look forward to the future together. We are going to give it our best to be a Great Commission state convention even more so as we have in the past.”
Jennifer Davis Rash is managing editor of The Alabama Baptist, online at www.thealabamabaptist.org.