NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–To my knowledge, the release of the Final Report of the Great Commission Task Force is a first. There has been no previous committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that has brought a report to Convention that has so challenged the fragile nature of the cooperative relationships that make up the fabric of the Convention as this Report. I have continued to analyze it for what it actually says. In my years of service to Southern Baptists, I have not seen anything framed more appealingly that has such potential to damage our cooperative work than this document.
In this paper, I will review the assignment given the task force; I will analyze each recommendation in the order of its potential for harm to the Convention; I will review each component in terms of its fulfillment to the assignment given the task force; I will set a context for my concerns; and I will pose a number of questions that I believe must be answered before the Convention authorizes embarking on such a potentially destructive journey.
Since the phrases “as described in this report,” “as outlined in this report,” and “in alignment with this report” appear four times in the seven recommendations found on pages 15 and 16 of the GCTF Final Report, it is not enough merely to review the recommendations themselves; the context of the recommendations must be thoroughly examined as well.
THE ASSIGNMENT GIVEN THE TASK FORCE
The GCTF was assigned to report and bring any recommendations “concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”
This motion includes almost no instructions or parameters for the work of the task force. However, it is clear that the words in the motion “work more faithfully and effectively together” did NOT instruct the task force to consider ways to terminate cooperative agreements between the North American Mission Board and the states; remove the Convention’s ability to promote funding for its own ministries by defunding Cooperative Program promotion; transfer Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education for the Convention’s ministries to the states as unfunded mandates; or elevate designated giving to Convention ministries by giving designated giving an attractive and compelling name.
I do not believe that Southern Baptists authorized this task force to restructure the Convention, its Executive Committee, or the Convention’s entities. To argue that most of the components proposed by the GCTF are within the parameters approved by the 2009 Convention in Louisville, Ky., is at best a long stretch and at worst a leap in logic.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE REPORT’S PREAMBLE
Early in the Final Report of the Great Commission Task Force (GCTF) in a section entitled, “Urgency: A World of Lostness,” the urgency of reaching a lost world is eloquently stated. I think every Southern Baptist would agree with this urgency and the reason behind it; the human soul is lost without Christ as Savior and doomed to an eternal hell. It is a reality that must be reckoned with by all Christians who name the name of Jesus above every name!
The next section poses a question, “Reality: What is Holding Us Back?” Much to the credit of the task force members, the problem and the answer are given quickly and concisely in paragraph two of this section. The task force identified the problem by noting “there are signs that Great Commission commitment is diminishing among us.”
While it is true that baptisms have trended downward in recent years, only churches led by pastors who have a heart for lost souls and an urgency to reach them for Christ can reverse the trend. Conversely, the number of missionaries waiting to be appointed have trended upward in recent years to the degree that the International Mission Board (IMB), the entity for which the GCTF leaders have shown the greatest affinity, has publicly asked Southern Baptists to give more to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The president of the Convention called for an additional emphasis on the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, a “Christmas in August” offering to Lottie Moon for the IMB.
Thus on one hand, baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention are trending downward, while missionaries who are ready and willing to be appointed by the IMB are trending upward. Consequently, the statement that the “Great Commission commitment is diminishing among us” is at best, debatable. The irony is that the GCTF’s answer to the downward trend of baptisms in the United States is to raise funding to send more missionaries to foreign fields. Both are needed! Our churches baptize those who come to know Christ and God calls missionaries from our churches, especially those churches that accentuate the need for missionaries at home and abroad.
The observation, debatable or not, is made by the GCTF and their answer is given: “While a passion for seeing the world reached for Christ cannot be reduced to a question of money, there is no way that we can reach the world without the resources that are necessary.” The task force perceives the problem to be insufficient “resources.”
The need for resources becomes the launch point for most of the seven components and the task force goes straight to the heart of the problem as they perceive it. “Local Southern Baptist churches are now giving an average of 6 percent of annual receipts to the Cooperative Program.” Accepting that all Southern Baptists, including SBC officers, SBC entity presidents, state convention executive directors, and the GCTF agree on the necessity and urgency to obey the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), I agree with the assessment of the task force that more resources are needed. My disagreement is about how to generate funds to expand our Convention’s outreach for Christ around the world.
The Great Commission initiative was birthed in angry language about “bloated bureaucracies,” but sold to messengers in Louisville around the cry for a Great Commission resurgence. Since then the focus of the task force has devolved back to the narrow agenda originally intended. Yet, to some task force members’ credit, a number of them have said that along the way they discovered that much is right about the organizational operations of the SBC and realized how God has blessed Southern Baptists. Several members of the task force told me they were thrilled to serve because they had come to a new appreciation for the Convention.
However, they still faced the dilemma that had been identified by certain leaders who were appointed to the task force. Several task force members at varying times have said to me, “We are not getting enough money to the International Mission Board; therefore we need to reallocate the Annual SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.”
But, surprisingly, in its Final Report the task force correctly identified the problem as a downtrend in Cooperative Program giving, NOT a problem with the allocation through the Cooperative Program. You may ask “Why?” There is one reason. Because reallocation produces no additional income. Only increased giving by our churches will do so. Since the GCTF determined that the problem is decreased giving through the Cooperative Program by our churches, it is very odd indeed that the task force made only one recommendation that deals with resources. It recommends that 30 percent of the Executive Committee’s CP allocation ($2 million) be transferred from the SBC Executive Committee.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE REPORT’S SEVEN RECOMMENDATIONS WITHIN THEIR CONTEXTS
In the analysis that follows, I address the GCTF Final Report recommendations in the order that I perceive them to threaten the long-term health of the Convention, from the most threatening to the least.
RECOMMENDATION 3 Great Commission Giving
The GCTF is to be commended for its affirmation of cooperation and the Cooperative Program. The Final Report states, “We call upon Southern Baptists to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach.” Additionally, the task force states that “the greatest stewardship of Great Commission investment and deployment is giving through the Cooperative Program.”
Nevertheless, the proposal that concludes the section calls “upon Southern Baptists to give as never before, to SUPPORT the Cooperative Program as never before, and to CELEBRATE every church’s eager and sacrificial support of Great Commission Giving AT EVERY LEVEL.” (emphasis added)
The “Great Commission Giving” proposal is a very subtle demotion of the Cooperative Program as the time-honored and central means of funding Convention work. I have written my concerns about Great Commission Giving previously (see “What’s in a Name?: The Cooperative Program and Great Commission Giving,” at www.baptist2baptist.net/gcr/articles/MHC-05-07-10.asp ).
Of the seven components, I am convinced this one has the greatest potential for harm to our ability to “work more faithfully and effectively together” for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Rather than pooling our resources for maximum effectiveness, the Great Commission Giving category will foster competitive giving as our entities will increasingly be driven to cultivate relationships with individual churches with the purpose of generating designated giving to their particular ministries.
Unfortunately, the appointment of the GCTF was propelled by some who are strongly invested in “designated” giving to certain Convention causes. This Final Report is about taking the first significant step toward a Great Emphasis upon “Designated Giving.” If adopted, I predict it will not be the last step taken.
The leaders of the GCTF are good, godly, and intelligent men, as are all the men and women on the task force. They know that “cooperation” is the very means, the very nature, the very spirit by which we work together for the Kingdom’s sake. And, to varying degrees, they agree with the concept. They are well aware that Southern Baptists will not be persuaded to “throw away” the concept of “cooperation.”
Given their understanding of the cooperative ties that bind us together and their appreciation for those aspects of cooperation to which they are personally committed, what would be the logical choice to achieve the desired goal of celebrating designated giving from local churches? It would be to propose a concept that will hopefully be seen and understood as a complement to cooperation and the Cooperative Program. By lifting up both the Cooperative Program and the desire for pastors to be recognized for designated giving to SBC causes, what better way to do this than through a new, compelling name for designated giving called “Great Commission Giving”?
The only way to “sell” the concept to those for whom cooperation in their denominational support is truly primary, the umbrella of all giving to Southern Baptist causes would include the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, other designations to SBC causes, as well as gifts to states and associations. As stated earlier, this strategy subtly de-emphasizes and demotes the Cooperative Program as the primary means of Convention support.
RECOMMENDATION 6 Cooperative Program Promotion and Stewardship Education
In addition, the task force is recommending that responsibility for promoting the Cooperative Program and Stewardship be transferred from the Executive Committee to the state conventions. This will be a tragic first. The SBC has never given up the task of CP and stewardship promotion. Do Southern Baptists, for the first time in history, want the SBC not to promote the Cooperative Program? GCTF leaders are beginning to say, “Oh, we want the Executive Committee to promote the Cooperative Program”; but that is NOT what the Final Report states. Furthermore, the task force continues to recommend that the Executive Committee’s budget be drastically reduced by 30 percent. The members of the task force know that the Executive Committee cannot fund the promotion of Cooperative Program and stewardship if it loses $2 million of its CP funding.
The final report gives a single sentence quotation from Albert McClellan, long-time associate executive secretary of the Executive Committee that seems to imply that the states, not the SBC, were the primary promoters of the Cooperative Program in its early years. Amazingly, the sentence was lifted from its context, conveying an incomplete and inaccurate thought. There has never been a time since the Cooperative Program was instituted in 1925 that the SBC did not take the lead in promoting the CP to the churches. To imply otherwise is historically incorrect and misleading.
The state conventions have always worked alongside the SBC in promoting the Cooperative Program. In fact, the states have always served as the primary collection partners in receiving Cooperative Program receipts from the churches. This arrangement was agreed to by our Baptist forbears from the beginning of the Cooperative Program. But, this has never meant that the SBC has not itself promoted the Cooperative Program and provided significant resources in partnership with the states.
A number of our state conventions employ one individual to lead a “CP and Stewardship Promotion division.” Many of these CP and stewardship leaders expressed a desire to combine the Cooperative Program with Stewardship at the national level so they could work with one national representative. Consequently, in 2006, the Executive Committee requested and received permission to recommend to the Southern Baptist Convention that the promotion of Stewardship be given back to the Executive Committee. It had already received CP promotion back when the Stewardship Commission was dissolved in 1997.
Since 1925, the Executive Committee has been responsible for CP Promotion a total of 44 years with other SBC entities charged with the assignment at varying times along the way. The Stewardship Commission had the assignment for a period of 37 years. For the first four years the Executive Committee was assigned the duty of promoting the Cooperative Program. Then it was transferred to the SBC Promotion Committee for 2 years. It was returned to the Executive Committee when the Promotion Committee was dissolved. The promotion of the Cooperative Program stayed with the EC for 27 years until it was assigned to the Stewardship Commission in 1960 and remained there for 37 years. When the Stewardship Committee was dissolved, the assignment returned once again to the Executive Committee in 1997 to the present. The record confirms that if the GCTF would leave CP Promotion where it belongs within the SBC, with the Executive Committee, it will save a future ad hoc committee from reassigning it to the Executive Committee!
The states are directed by their messengers to promote the state convention ministries first; only secondarily do the states promote funding for the Southern Baptist Convention. Given the proximity of the states to the churches, this is why the old line state conventions have never achieved the original CP ideal of a 50/50 split with the SBC. Given the multiple needs at every level of SBC life, why should anyone think that by giving away the responsibility for promoting the SBC’s interests will result in stronger giving and support for the Cooperative Program?
Just four years ago, the SBC transferred the assignment of stewardship from LifeWay Christian Resources to the Executive Committee. Since then, stewardship promotion has been one of the fastest growing ministries in the Southern Baptist Convention. In four brief years, the Stewardship department of the CP division of the Executive Committee has developed a stewardship ministry with extraordinary resources. More than 3,000 pastors have attended a one-day conference, It’s a New Day, in 100 locations across 28 states.
The ministry continues to grow rapidly. In fact, 1,200 seminary students have attended It’s a New Day conferences on five of our seminary campuses. Over 4,000 copies of a four-sermon series on stewardship has been distributed and will be available free to pastors at the 2010 annual meeting of the SBC in Orlando. The packet includes sermon outlines, PowerPoint presentation and listening notes, and a DVD plus four weeks of age-graded, Sunday School lessons which complement the sermons. The Executive Committee developed a national partnership with Crown Financial Ministries that has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in the price for Crown’s personal money management and church-related resources, a great benefit to our churches.
As you might expect, I find it incredulous that the task force wants to remove CP promotion and stewardship from the Executive Committee when our staff has not wasted time or resources while pulling together and printing CP promotion resources for use in the state conventions and stewardship education promotion in the churches and state conventions. Plus, if the GCTF Final Report is enacted, the costs to the state convention budgets to ramp up promotion to the degree necessary will increase significantly. In fact, many of the smaller state conventions do not have the budget for much promotion now, much less when the cooperative agreements are eliminated as suggested by the GCTF.
If you can read my passion for the work of the Executive Committee, I am glad. The Executive Committee has prioritized its expenditures wisely and spent conservatively while developing what I believe are the highly successful results of undertaking assignments given us by the Southern Baptist Convention, both in the SBC Bylaws and by motions adopted overwhelmingly by the Convention. If this Final Report is approved by the SBC, it will gut the major work of Cooperative Program and stewardship promotion. Why is the GCTF willing to gut the budget of the SBC Executive Committee that is approved each year by the SBC to transfer 30 percent to the International Mission Board while not asking one SBC entity to do so? The proposal has no logic and will eliminate the SBC from having any CP promotion.
I am in the final months of my service to Southern Baptists as president of the Executive Committee, thus what I am saying is not self-serving. It comes from the heart and mind of a man who has been engaged actively in the process for twenty years, who loves the Lord, is passionate about evangelism and missions, loves the SBC, believes in the Cooperative Program, and has served with a heart’s desire to build the Kingdom of God.
Why would any committee of the Convention, especially one that claims to believe in the priority of the Cooperative Program, give away the Convention’s right and responsibility to promote the Cooperative Program? Most of our SBC entities were and are dependent upon Cooperative Program income. This is both illogical and impractical.
The Southern Baptist Convention, through the Executive Committee and for a time, the Stewardship Commission, has always been a full partner working together with the state conventions in the promotion of the Cooperative Program and stewardship. The Final Report recommends that state conventions be responsible for the assignment. But, the mutual partnership should be maintained. The EC and the state conventions have stood as Great Commission partners working together for a common cause: to encourage the churches to give through the Cooperative Program and to encourage the churches’ members to practice biblical stewardship. That’s the way it should be!
The partnership between the SBC and the state conventions is based upon cooperation, not a chain of command. It has worked successfully and I am confident my successor and the state executive directors will work diligently to enhance the partnership with innovative thinking for God’s glory. From the beginning of the CP, the SBC has always taken the lead in the promotion of CP and stewardship education. In cooperation with state conventions, it has produced much needed literature and a variety of promotional materials for CP and stewardship. Most of the state conventions utilize print and other media materials developed by the Executive Committee.
RECOMMENDATION 4 Eliminating Cooperative Agreements with the States
I have little doubt that the GCTF will make a high-powered, polished presentation that has been prepared to persuade you that you would be foolish to vote against its Final Report. I will not be surprised if guest celebrities are presented in person or by video or direct television feed. For the greatest part of an hour or more, the presentation will be geared to convince you that if you vote against the Final Report, you will single-handedly bring division and dissension to the Convention and defy God’s Will for the Convention.
Yet the proposals of the GCTF have already divided Southern Baptists. These proposals are about what man can do to address the pressing financial needs of the Convention. We need proposals that focus on what God can do, proposals that drive us to serve our Lord with brokenness toward Him instead of bitterness toward each other. If the task force was set on uniting Southern Baptists they would have proposed a plan for all the churches to pray for a spiritual awakening and God’s people to obey the Great Commission in a way heretofore unseen by Southern Baptists. It would have called on NAMB to develop a Convention-wide plan for evangelistic renewal at the local church level.
Southern Baptists have been waiting for the task force to guide them toward spiritual renewal. Instead they have brought proposals for structural and funding changes of SBC entities. In the process, they are offering changes that will be a blow to the Cooperative Program, to the cooperative nature of the Convention, and to the cooperative agreements between NAMB and the state conventions.
Throughout the process of the last twelve months, the International Mission Board has been extolled by the leaders of the task force. On the other hand, the North American Mission Board has been criticized as needing a series of “re”s – to be refocused, reinvented, reclaimed, reprioritized, and released, with a corresponding call to replace the cooperative agreements between NAMB and the states.
Although the final report calls for NAMB’s responsibilities to be streamlined, the call is primarily a shedding of tangential assignments that have never been the Board’s core objectives. In addition, once the cooperative agreements cease going to the state conventions in seven years, NAMB stands to gain a minimum of $50 to $60 million dollars per year for more centralized church planting efforts. As noted above, the Executive Committee is the only organization that will emerge with less CP dollars and gutted ministry assignments if the GCTF components are approved by the SBC.
Interestingly, a convention-wide survey confirms the observations made by the GCTF in the first paragraph of component four. It found that “reaching North America with the Gospel was a clear concern and priority.” In a 2008 survey sent to all 45,000 cooperating churches, with 9,020 respondents (far more than is necessary to determine statistical accuracy), the majority of respondents indicated that if anything should be done to the Cooperative Program allocation formula, it should provide greater resources to the North American Mission Board to assist churches with evangelizing our own nation.
With the demotion of the Cooperative Program and the incremental elimination of the North American Mission Board’s cooperative agreements with state conventions, the cooperative nature and spirit of the denomination seem to be the victims of the GCTF Final Report. Cooperation, the glue that has bound us together, will fade away like an old soldier, never to be heard from again. The Convention will become a network of independent Baptist churches, NOT autonomous, cooperative Baptist churches representative of an ecclesiology that has provided the ways and means to populate a mission force of more than 5,000 missionaries on foreign fields. To say that Southern Baptists have failed is to build a straw man for the sake of destroying it to achieve the desired effects of making radical changes.
Surely the men and women who served on the task force love Christ and have a desire to serve Him. That is not in question. However, when you read through the Final Report, there is one nagging question that troubles me above all. The one common thread that winds its way through the GCTF proposal is the lack of enthusiasm for all things cooperative. The Report does not bode well for any aspect of cooperation throughout our Convention. Instead, the Report lifts up individualism, personal recognition, and a gradually-diminishing emphasis upon cooperation. The proposal sounds more like an attempt to manage the Convention through centralized control than through bilateral cooperation. It will only take a little time for the proposals in this report to begin to erode cooperation within our Convention.
Instead of these proposals, why not ask the North American Mission Board to provide leadership and biblical materials toward bringing spiritual renewal in our churches? Once this has occurred, our churches will be spiritually prepared to fulfill the Great Commission in ways never experienced by our Convention of churches.
Obedience to the Great Commission is not a strategy or a carefully crafted proposal to change the structure of the SBC. It is a willingness to obey our Lord in every aspect of our lives until we speak the name of Jesus with an ease that will touch the hearts of men. Our God-called missionaries are making a powerful impact for the Gospel. Let us not try to help them in our own strength, but in the spirit and strength of a Mighty God.
Failure to fulfill the Great Commission is not a structural problem and cannot be accomplished by structural solutions. It is not a funding problem and cannot be accomplished with funding alone. It is a heart problem, a spiritual problem, a stewardship problem, thus a problem of failing to obey God’s Holy Word. Until we get our hearts in tune with our Lord Jesus Christ across this Convention, in church after church, pew after pew and pulpit after pulpit, all the structural and funding changes that can be envisioned will be meaningless. We must be honest with ourselves. We are not experiencing a Great Commission Resurgence. We cannot conjure up or manufacture a resurgence of God’s power simply because someone declares it to be so. The resurgence of God’s power and blessings will fall upon our churches when God’s people obey 2 Chronicles 7:14. God promises what He will do if we will obey Him. As is the nature of God to do, the promise is conditional. He says, “If my people.” If we obey Him, He will pour out His blessings upon us. And the wonderful thing about God is that He has never broken a promise.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land”(2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV).
RECOMMENDATION 7 Changing the Executive Committee CP Budget Allocation
The Final Report was written with the knowledge that the Executive Committee cannot promote the Cooperative Program and stewardship education if the SBC adopts a vision that proposes reducing the EC budget by almost one-third. The GCTF is not proposing that any other entity make this kind of sacrifice in its CP budget. In the final report, the GCTF demotes the Cooperative Program, removes a major assignment of the Executive Committee, and reduces the EC’s CP allocation by 30 percent. Given the report’s effusive verbiage about the CP being and remaining our central means of funding our ministries, doesn’t it seem a little odd to you that the Executive Committee’s budget and use of resources for promoting the Cooperative Program and providing stewardship education is the only ministry targeted for reduction in its Final Report? It does to me.
Over the past twenty years, the average percentage of undesignated receipts given by the churches through the Cooperative Program has dropped from just over 10 percent to 6 percent. This represents an aggregate loss of hundreds of millions of dollars that would have been funneled to overseas missions, North American missions, and seminary education at the national level of SBC life. Instead, these funds have remained under local control and, in many instances, have funded an array of local ministries that have benefited a local church, but have not promoted a cooperative Great Commission passion.
As noted by the GCTF, the principal problem faced by the Convention in the area of resources rests with the churches and their leaders, especially the pastors. Great Commission pastors are called to lead God’s people to a strong awareness of and obedience to the Scriptures in their daily lives. I concur with the task force that our only hope for resources sufficient to reach the world is for God’s people to obey His Word and abandon all of self for all of Christ. This is the lesson of stewardship taught in the example of the widow who gave all she had to the Lord. Along with the task force, I fear that many of our churches have lost their zeal for the unsaved of the world and feel little compulsion to do anything about it. I am grateful the task force concluded that a reallocation of the SBC Cooperative Program dollars would not solve the problem. I wholeheartedly agree.
But then, incredulously, the task force does just that in a “token” gesture. It acts as if the reallocation of a single percentage point of national CP dollars will affect a Great Commission Resurgence. I ask, “Why act as if mere reallocation is an answer? Why take away from the SBC Executive Committee thirty percent of its budget receipts received from the SBC CP Allocation Budget, most of which funds the promotion of the Cooperative Program and stewardship?”
A major component of the GCTF Final Report calls for Promoting the Cooperative Program and Elevating Stewardship. The inference one must draw is that the task force does not think that the Cooperative Program and Stewardship division of the Executive Committee is prioritizing the promotion of the Cooperative Program and elevating stewardship! You ask, “How do you know the inference is what GCTF is saying?” Because the final report guts EC funding and transfers the primary promotion of the Cooperative Program to the state conventions. Whatever protestations task force leaders may offer, the proof is in the final report.
RECOMMENDATION 5 IMB in the United States and Canada
Under Component Five, the GCTF proposes that “Southern Baptists entrust to the International Mission Board (IMB) the ministry of reaching the unreached and underserved people groups without regard to any geographic limitation.” This proposal has the sound of innocence until you begin to think though it relationally, operationally, and administratively.
For the first time ever, the International Mission Board will be given the rights to work within the borders of the United States at its own initiative in territory already assigned to the North American Mission Board. The final report states that this proposal has been thoroughly considered with NAMB leadership. The phrasing is careful not to state “considered by NAMB leadership.” In other words the Report does NOT say that NAMB has conducted an extensive review of the proposal and is fully confident that this proposal is a positive step. Rather, the emphasis is upon the conclusion of the task force itself: the task force is “fully confident that these two mission boards can and will . . . maximize their combined reach by working together in reaching these unreached and underserved people groups where they are found in North America.”
So, what NAMB leaders were consulted? One is the immediate past chairman of the NAMB trustees who, a year ago, without authority from his trustees or in collaboration with his executive staff, unilaterally announced that NAMB should merge with the IMB. Another leader is the chairman of the NAMB presidential search committee and a member of the GCTF.
Still another is the interim president, a highly capable home missions strategist whom I greatly admire for his vision and passion for missions, evangelism, and church planting throughout the United States and Canada. However, an interim president’s immediate responsibility is to manage the entity until a permanent president is elected. The timing and circumstances highly favored a unilateral decision by the GCTF. The few officials at NAMB who were consulted about this proposal were either in full agreement with the GCTF proposal or in no position freely to discuss the pros and cons of the proposal.
Since the release of the Final Report, an official of the International Mission Board has stated there should be no expectation that the IMB will place missionaries throughout the United States. He noted some difficulties in doing so would be a “matter of proportion” and “indigenous strategies.” He said, however, that he “envisions IMB’s primary role will be to mobilize, train, equip, and mentor local churches, associations, state conventions and the North American Mission Board.” (emphasis supplied)
This proposal is unimaginable. The IMB mobilizing, training, equipping, and mentoring the North American Mission Board? It will be an administrative and logistical nightmare!
Had the GCTF leaders begun their research with the determination to allow the research to guide them toward reasonable and workable components, this proposal never would have seen the light of day. Had GCTF followed logic without bias and the practical rather than the theoretical, it simply would have proposed that NAMB enlist IMB to assist in training personnel and volunteers for reaching people groups in the United States. In fact, NAMB and the IMB already work together on the North American continent. Why is it necessary to “release” the IMB to have free rein in the United States when the NAMB is assigned to the task of reaching all people in the United States, including the varied people groups?
The International Mission Board should not have authority for any assignments in the United States and Canada any more than the North American Mission Board should have assignments in countries concentrated with a large population of Americans in the major cities of the world. It just doesn’t make sense!
RECOMMENDATION 1 “Missional” Vision
The Southern Baptist Convention has a clearly stated mission statement. The Task Force is promoting a new “missional” statement. The word “missional” has only recently appeared on the scene in Southern Baptist life. Other than being a modern “buzz” word, what does the idea of missional offer to us? Where has the word come from?
Acts 29 is a recently-formed network of churches who apparently believe it is their duty to complete what Acts 1 through 28 projected – the evangelization of the world. Of course, all Bible-believing Christians have sought to be on mission with God since Jesus breathed on His disciples and sent them forth. On the Acts 29 Web site, the question is posed, “What does (the) Acts 29 Network believe?” The question is followed with what is described as the “short” answer: “We are first Christians, second Evangelicals, third Missional, and fourth Reformed.”
The mission statement of Acts 29 states that “The mission of Acts 29 is to band together Christian, Evangelical, Missional, and Reformed churches, who, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, plant churches across the United States and the world.” The Covenant for churches that wish to join the Acts 29 Church Planting Network may be found at www.acts29network.org/plant-a-church/covenant/ .
While I have no major concern with the tenor of this “missional vision” statement, I do find it curious that the task force thinks it needs to make this particular wording change at this time. The practices of some Acts 29 churches reveals that they view the historical emphasis on separation from worldly pleasures and pursuits by many Southern Baptist congregations as outdated and outmoded in the modern context of planting new churches among younger generations of Americans. Surely there is a better way of reemphasizing our historical purpose as a Convention.
RECOMMENDATION 2 Core Values
I would hope that every Southern Baptist already embraces the core values listed by the task force and find it a little disconcerting that Southern Baptists are “asked” to embrace and adopt them as if we need to adopt these biblical principles. Hopefully, they are already being developed in our lives through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.
I do have a passing concern with the word “join.” In the core value entitled “Kingdom,” the task force says, “We join other Christ-followers for the Gospel.” This word needs further elaboration. What is meant by the use of the word “join” in this context? Is the word “join” an all-encompassing word? For example, are we to “attach” ourselves to other Christian groups to the degree that Southern Baptists could lose our doctrinal identity, whether at home or abroad? Do we “join” an organization such as the National Association of Evangelicals, allowing the organization’s leaders to speak for Southern Baptists? Within the latitude of this statement does the GCTF include the possibility that the Convention, its entities, and/or its churches could “join” other church planting networks such as Acts 29? I find the word ill-defined in the context.
THOUGHTFUL QUESTIONS FOR SOUTHERN BAPTISTS TO CONSIDER
Having given a brief analysis of my concerns of the seven recommendations being proposed by the GCTF, I want to leave the reader with a series of questions about the recommendations that will be presented at the annual meeting on June 15.
COMPONENT ONE: Getting the Mission Right
1. How does the GCTF define the word “missional”?
2. Please explain the difference between the word “missional” and the words “mission” or “missions” in the context of the Southern Baptist Convention.
3. Is the word “missional” critical to the mission statement and why?
4. The term “missional” has fairly recently been introduced into Southern Baptist conversations and so far is utilized only by a segment of Southern Baptists. Can you identify the segment of Southern Baptists most given to using the word? Would this not give us a glimpse of the categorical identity of those who are the most ardent supporters of the GCTF Final Report?
COMPONENT TWO: Making Our Values Transparent
1. Is the word “join” an all-encompassing word? Are we opening the door for the Convention to be drawn into any formal relationships with any organization, whether the National Evangelical Association, the Acts 29 Network, or some non-Baptist overseas church planting organization?
2. In the minds of the task force members, are “Christ-followers” inclusive of all Christians regardless of doctrinal beliefs?”
COMPONENT THREE: Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving
As mentioned previously, the task force calls “upon Southern Baptists to give as never before, to support the Cooperative Program as never before, and to celebrate every church’s eager and sacrificial support of Great Commission Giving at every level.” The call to support “Great Commission Giving at every level” leads to the following questions:
1. What does the task force mean by the phrase, “at every level”? Levels of percentage giving? Levels of denominational life? Levels of designated offerings? If the latter, what are the names of the “levels” of giving?
2. Are all offerings, including the Cooperative Program, under the umbrella term “Great Commission Giving”? Stated another way, is the category entitled “Great Commission Giving” the sum total of all offerings, undesignated and designated, to Southern Baptist causes?
3. Is there an implication that while Great Commission Giving is to be celebrated, Southern Baptists should not celebrate the Cooperative Program as the primary metric of a church’s support of the Convention?
4. Does the GCTF believe that the Cooperative Program is the greatest funding mechanism of any denomination in the history of Christendom?
COMPONENT FOUR: Reaching North America
The Final Report proposes an end to cooperative agreements between NAMB and the state conventions. If Cooperative Agreements with the state conventions die an imposed death in seven years, NAMB gains $50 to $60 million annually. The money will be pulled in from the field.
1. In light of last year’s criticisms by several current leaders of the GCTF that the “denomination” is a “bloated bureaucracy,” is not the GCTF proposing the creation of a new national-level bureaucracy by assigning all strategic planning for church planting back to the North American Mission Board, thus centralizing these initiatives?
2. Is there any organization in the SBC wherein the hearts of personnel and/or trustees do not resonate passionately for missions and evangelism?
3. Why terminate the cooperative agreements when we know that every state convention will be hurt financially? Has a strategic analysis been conducted on how many states will likely be driven to increase the percentage of CP funds withheld in a given state convention in order to pay for the lost funding for partnership missions?
4. When cooperative agreements are terminated and NAMB retains an additional $50 to $60 million dollars, the other SBC entities that receive CP support will be penalized. Is it fair that other SBC entities will be penalized when some, if not all, of the state conventions will be forced to reduce their percentage of CP funds to the SBC CP Allocation Budget to cover costs of state missions expenditures no longer covered by NAMB and the cooperative agreements? Did the task force give any consideration to this potential reduction in CP support for most of our SBC entities once cooperative agreements are terminated?
5. It is also true that the smaller state conventions will be in danger of becoming insolvent without cooperative agreements. Did the task force thoroughly study ways to help these newer work state conventions stay solvent for strategic ministries in the under-reached, underserved parts of North America?
COMPONENT FIVE: Reaching Unreached and Underserved People Groups within North America
1. Why has the GCTF proposed to give the International Mission Board territorial authority to target ministry to people groups in the United States when this territory is already assigned to the North American Mission Board?
2. Could not the NAMB be just as effective in reaching people groups by enlisting assistance for training purposes from the International Mission Board, especially in light of the fact that the IMB has indicated it does not plan to place missionaries throughout the United States?
3. Did any discussion take place within the GCTF or its executive committee meetings about merging the NAMB and the IMB but with each board retaining its previous ministry assignments? If so, why did such a proposal fail to materialize?
4. Did any discussion take place in GCTF or its executive committee meetings about dissolving both the IMB and the NAMB and incorporating an entirely new world or global mission board? If so, why did such a proposal fail to materialize?
5. Did any discussion take place in GCTF or its executive committee meetings about the possibility that this proposal would set the stage to integrate all missions assignments under one World or Global Mission Board?
COMPONENT SIX: Promoting the Cooperative Program and Elevating Stewardship
The proposal in this section reads as follows: “We strongly encourage the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to work with the state conventions, charged with the responsibility of Cooperative Program and stewardship education, in developing a strategy for encouraging our churches to great participation and investment in the Cooperative Program. This is an immediate need, made more urgent by the rise of a new generation of Southern Baptists, ready for leadership and deployment in service to the Great Commission. Our hope is that a unified strategy with clearly established goals will be in place by the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2013.”
1. Does not this sentence state very clearly, although subtly, that the state conventions are henceforth charged with the responsibility of promoting the Cooperative Program? If so, what is the role of the Executive Committee in helping guide or develop a unified CP promotional strategy?
2. It has often been said that what is everyone’s responsibility is no one’s responsibility. So, what state convention, if any, is charged to take the lead in promoting Cooperative Program and stewardship education? If not a single state leader, what group of state CP leaders will be assigned this task?
3. Who will fund the travel for the state CP directors to assemble with the Executive Committee to develop and monitor a unified strategy for promoting the Cooperative Program?
4. How will the state conventions be compensated by the Convention for assuming sole responsibility for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education?
5. Will the wealthier state conventions provide materials and resources to the mostly smaller newer work state conventions for CP promotion and stewardship education? Who will oversee that this process is workable?
COMPONENT SEVEN: The Call of the Nations and the SBC Allocation Budget
The GCTF proposal states, “We ask Southern Baptists to support this goal by affirming an intention to raise the Cooperative Program SBC Allocation Budget percentage received by the International Mission Board to 51 percent. Further, we ask that Southern Baptists affirm the intention to fund this increase through a reduction in the budget granted to Facilitating Ministries, thus making a statement about our commitment to reduce denominational infrastructure in order to set the pace for growth in commitment to reaching the nations.”
Some Questions about IMB
1. Did the GCTF review the IMB missions philosophy and practices in foreign countries prior to proposing the expansion of their reach without regard to any geographic limitations and proposing to transfer CP funding in the amount of $2 million from the SBC Operating Budget (SBC Executive Committee)?
2. Are the reported baptisms the direct result of SBC missionaries at work on a given field of service at the time of the baptisms?
3. Is there evidence that sending and supporting more missionaries on the field will result in more actual baptisms and church starts than sending money directly to national Baptist partners?
4. Are our alliances in church planting producing churches that reflect Southern Baptist beliefs or those of other faith traditions?
Some Questions about the EC
1. Has the GCTF reviewed the budgetary income and expenditures of the SBC Executive Committee to verify if the operations as assigned by the SBC are inadequate, inefficient, and/or unproductive, including the promotion of Cooperative Program and Stewardship?
2. Can GCTF specify why you think the Executive Committee should no longer have an assignment in the national Convention that equals the assignment of state conventions in promoting the Cooperative Program and Stewardship?
3. Since 1925, have not the SBC and the state conventions worked as mutual partners in the promotion of the Cooperative Program?
4. Contrary to the GCTF Report, since the inception of the Cooperative Program in 1925 has not the SBC had the continuous assignment of promoting the Cooperative Program for our SBC entities? Why remove the assignment after all these years?
5. Why would the SBC not wish to have a representative encouraging our churches to give through the Cooperative Program to the whole program of the Southern Baptist Convention?
6. Does the GCTF believe that the Executive Committee penalizes churches that do not strongly support the Cooperative Program by minimizing its coverage of SBC churches in news reports, journal feature stories, and official reports?
7. Given that the two motions about the Executive Committee seem out of character with the other recommendations, does the chairman of the GTCF know of one or more task force members, including ex officio members, who prior to the task force meetings, may have had an anti-Executive Committee disposition? It seems exceedingly odd that the task force proposes to eliminate a national presence in Cooperative Program promotion in the very instance it is challenging Southern Baptists to give more money for foreign missions.
8. Have GCTF members visited the Nashville offices of the Executive Committee to learn first-hand about the effectiveness and efficiency of the Committee in executing its assignments?
9. Have GCTF members visited the president of the Executive Committee in his office for the purpose of hearing his vision for the Executive Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention?
In its presentation to the Convention later this month, the GCTF will call attention to the supportive statements in its Final Report about the Cooperative Program. They are well-stated and, I am sure, sincere. But the Cooperative Program or cooperation within the Convention is not the all-consuming reason for the appointment of the task force, its conclusions, or for the future of the SBC. It cannot be when so much of the report, if adopted, will erode the Cooperative Program and the cooperative nature of our Convention.
Every messenger must pray, listen to the still small voice of God, and vote your convictions. This vote is not an instant life or death situation; but it could be the beginning of the end of the cooperative basis that has undergirded our work and witness as a Southern Baptist Convention.
Again, do not overlook that everything “cooperative” takes a hit in this report in spite of the declarations on the same pages. The same GCTF report extols the Cooperative Program on one hand and on the other hand, demotes the Cooperative Program by proposing a process that will lead to competition, not cooperation. The decision of this year’s messengers will affect the Convention for years to come. We cannot succeed in fulfilling the Great Commission “together” until we determine that we must work together with a cooperative spirit that is one church for all churches and all for one.
The GCTF leaders will try to convince the messengers of the Convention that if you will just adopt the vision the task force is proposing, it will still be studied throughout the following year by the Executive Committee. Due to SBC Bylaws and the governing parliamentary rules of the Convention, this statement is absolutely true. But from experience, I need to tell you the rest of the story.
Some of the individuals on the task force and other leaders within the Convention who support the final report will begin a lobbying effort that will place enormous pressure on the new president, executive staff, and members of the SBC Executive Committee. These individuals will not rest until they have done everything possible personally and publicly to demand the passage of the components of the GCTF Final Report. You may ask, “How do you know?” Because for 18 years I have experienced it.
If you are concerned about the dangers of the recommendations as I am, the best way to stop these ill-advised initiatives is to vote against the GCTF Final Report or defeat the recommendations (at least three through seven). Then adopt the sections entitled “Urgency: The World of Lostness” and “Challenges” as foundational statements for praying and working toward a genuine Spirit-led resurgence; a resurgence marked by a passionate and compelling desire to fulfill the Great Commission, teaching the unsaved that Christ died on the cross for the salvation of all who receive Him as their Savior.
I pray that all pastors of SBC churches will lead their people to know more about the Cooperative Program and encourage each church member to practice biblical stewardship by tithing 10 percent and giving above the tithe of their income through the church. I hope and pray that SBC pastors will lead their churches to begin increasing the portion of the church’s undesignated receipts to be given through the Cooperative Program.
Only by increasing gifts through the Cooperative Program will the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention receive “new” money that has never been available to SBC entities. The state conventions will benefit as well. Reallocation of CP dollars already being given does nothing more than rob Peter to pay Paul. As we all have learned from the CP pie chart, 100 percent of the total annual SBC CP Allocation Budget is all that will ever be available to be distributed to SBC entities. The “more” will result from increased giving by church members and an increased percentage of giving from the church through the Cooperative Program.
In addressing the components of the Final Report, I offer my opinions with the full understanding that when all is said and done you are responsible to ponder these issues for yourself before the Lord. You, the messengers, will make the decision by asking the question, “Does the GCTF Final Report contain the elements that give us hope for revival in our churches, spiritual awakening in the United States, and a stirring in our hearts to fulfill the Great Commission by giving and going to expand our witness around the world?” The Orlando Convention will be looked upon as a “watershed” moment in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. The decision you make will affect the entire denomination, our cooperative spirit, and our witness to a lost world. We all agree on how important it is to follow Christ and His Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20. The overarching question is, “Does this report inadvertently eliminate elements of our Convention, by declaration or in practice, intentional or unintentional, that are long-held beliefs, principles, and practices for which God has blessed us so greatly?”
In speaking to each “component” of the Final Report, my attempt is to make all components more easily understood by all Southern Baptists, especially those who have had little or no time to think through and pray over the document until now. I have not attempted to address every concern I may have, rather those concerns that I consider to be major, including the components that propose changes in structural and operational processes. I trust we all love Christ and have a deep desire to faithfully witness to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I close my analysis with a final question: Will adoption of the seven components of the GCTF change the members of our churches into more effective soul-winners? This is the only way we will ever experience a genuine Great Commission resurgence.
Morris H. Chapman is president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.