The members of the Implementation Task Force (ITF) are charged with developing plans which turn the vision of the Covenant for a New Century into a fully functioning reality. Provided messengers to the 1996 Southern Baptist Convention approve changes in Bylaw 15, which defines SBC entities, the Task Force is then responsible for ensuring implementation of the transition plan. The Task Force is diligently working on the plan, and, in a series of interviews, SBC LIFE asked ITF representatives to give readers a view of the planning process.
Bill Hogue is the retired executive director of the California state convention and made the original motion to explore structural changes in the SBC; Bob Reccord is ITF chairman and pastor of First Baptist Church, Norfolk, VA; Ted Warren is chief operating officer for the Baptist Sunday School Board; and David Hankins is staff liaison between the Executive Committee and the Task Force.
SBC LIFE The Implementation Task Force is mandated with developing a plan for what may be considered the most comprehensive structural change in SBC history. How important are these changes?
Hogue The original motion made to the Convention was for the purpose of enabling Southern Baptists to prepare for and move into the 21st century. We shouldn't be operating on purpose statements built in the 20's or 30's or 40's. We live in a different world. It is important for Southern Baptists to stay abreast of the times while maintaining spiritual and doctrinal integrity, moving forward to fulfill the Great Commission.
Reccord The overriding issue is: "How can Southern Baptists most effectively carry out their mission around the world?" Therefore, whatever needs to be adjusted to be effective in Christian mission, that's exactly what we need to do as we head into the 21st century.
Warren This gives us an opportunity to emphasize what happens on the front line and to minimize overhead that tends to absorb funds. It also gives Southern Baptists the opportunity to evaluate basic assumptions of how best to organize for ministry. If we are satisfied with the degree of success we've had, then we don't need to make any changes. But, if we want to do something dramatically different, for eternity, then changes are necessary.
You may find in dealing with change that some people take offense because they feel it reflects unfavorably on what was done in the past, implying, "I haven't been doing things as well as I could have." Yet, we can't retard change because we think it makes us look bad. We've got to figure out what we need to do in the future.
Hankins The Covenant addresses certain specific areas, and we will follow-up on those and implement those, and it may also spawn all kinds of good thinking in other areas that we haven't even thought of yet, that will help us to be better at the task of reaching the world for Christ.
SBC LIFE Is the denominational method still viable for Christian ministry?
Hankins Yes. A helpful picture of our denomination could be that of a reservoir which is filled by churches as they pray and give. The reservoir then becomes a resource with a stream running back to the churches. The Sunday School Board would be a good example of that. Churches are able to draw out of that reservoir resources for their own work and so you assist the churches very directly. But the reservoir also flows out another direction to needs where the churches cannot minister directly. That's the purpose of an agency like the Foreign Mission Board.
Warren We can do more cooperatively than we can each do individually. People who don't believe that have lost sight of how big the challenge is. There are just not many, if any churches, that can really reach the world just with individual enterprises. We can do so much more if we do it together more efficiently and more effectively.
SBC LIFE What will this streamlining do to emphasize and implement evangelism and missions?
Reccord We will see more mission dollars ultimately going where our people want them to be, which is to home and foreign missions. The Covenant requires strengthened communication between (what will be) the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board. For the first time, there will be a coordinated strategy for reaching the world.
Warren The streamlining also gives you the opportunity to look at every place you've been spending money and determine whether it's been effective or if it's been spent without really making an impact. A thorough, systematic evaluation gives you the opportunity to look at every ministry to determine where you're effective and where things have bogged down.
SBC LIFE How do the reorganizational changes effect Southern Baptist witness?
Reccord Southern Baptists hold in their hands a wonderful privilege and an awesome responsibility. The world is watching how we do this. And we can unite, prayerfully and biblically, to walk shoulder-to-shoulder through one of the most significant transitions of a religious body that the world has ever seen. We have an opportunity to make a statement about Christian character and commitment that will let the world know how we go about doing Kingdom business. That, as well as the changes themselves, are things we can all get excited about.
SBC LIFE What procedures are ITF following in its work?
Reccord Our focus now is on gathering information. In a transition as significant and broad-based as the Covenant for a New Century mandates, the volume of information required is massive. We're determining what steps are required to report to the Convention in June. We're gathering the information, and exercising care not to run ahead of the Convention, which is not an easy position to be in because we have to have everything ready to move forward if the Convention authorizes it.
Warren What the Program and Structure Study Committee did was to focus our vision and establish ministry statements for the new entities. Now, we need to ask, "What are key performance indicators reflecting the accomplishment of this mission? What measurable goals and objectives can be identified?" Then, "What is the strategy required to reach these goals."
When your strategy is in place, then you determine what processes you'll need to implement your strategy. So this procedure is about more than just the structure of the Convention. It's really an opportunity to look at our missions, our objectives, our strategy, and the processes that grow out of them.
Reccord We're in regular communication with the leaders of the Southern Baptist agencies impacted by the changes, gathering their perspective, questions, and input. We're consulting with legal counsel for help in charting exactly what must be done, in what order and at what pace.
SBC LIFE You've divided the Task Force into subgroups to personally visit affected agencies. What is the response to the visits?
Reccord Overwhelmingly positive. They are delighted about the amount of communication. We've had expressions of appreciation and assurances of cooperation from executive and trustee leadership. They have been very forthcoming with the information we've requested. At no point has there been any barrier to the cooperative spirit of carrying out what the Convention mandated through the Covenant.
Warren We did find some really hurt feelings among some of the agency staff, who seemed to feel that their life work appeared to be unrecognized or unappreciated. However, I think they are now getting excited about what we're doing. They are beginning to see this as a real opportunity to be more effective at the ministries we've been given.
Hogue An extremely important consideration in the assignment of committee members to different agencies was for us to build partnerships with them. They are sharing in this transition. Their personnel and programming are affected. Each agency has its own culture and history. Changing all that is traumatic, so building these relationships is essential. Although the Task Force has been assigned responsibility for bearing the burden of implementing these changes, we need their support and prayers and encouragement.
SBC LIFE What is the spiritual component in this decision process and what are your spiritual goals?
Hogue We felt we could not enter this mammoth task without the guidance of the Lord through the Holy Spirit. Bob Reccord made it very clear from the beginning that there was to be a biblical base for everything we did; that the spiritual aspect was to filter every decision. We pray together in groups; even if we have a very demanding agenda, we set it aside to go to God. We believe that God led the original committee (PSSC) and Southern Baptists to make this decision for change, and we cannot do this unless God gives ongoing guidance. Our minds are not good enough to make those plans without His direction.
Hankins It is easy for us in business-type meetings to have pro forma praying — start with a prayer and end with a prayer. That is not what is going on in Implementation Task Force meetings. We're spending a good portion of our time in prayer for specific things and specific people: the agencies, agency personnel, their spouses and families. I think Baptists need to know we are not just doing a business venture here, we're really trying to do a spiritual venture.
Reccord We made contact with every state executive director, every head of every agency, the entire Executive Committee and asked them to set aside Feb. 21 as a day of prayer and fasting. I'm not sure any of us has the human wisdom to do what is needed in the SBC and, so, during a time of prayer and fasting, the Lord laid on my heart that, if we're going to go through this massive change together, we sure need to be praying together. Not everybody will see everything the same way. It's critical that we not only communicate together, work together, plan together and evaluate together; we must also undergird the entire process by praying together.
Hogue Members of the Task Force believe this is God's work. My impression is that there isn't a committee member who is thinking in terms of a political agenda. They believe that God, in His timing for Southern Baptists, has moved in our midst to accomplish the task of impacting the whole world. That is an awesome task, and as a result of that realization, this committee has to be on its knees in prayer.
SBC LIFE Do you think that the Convention's openness to self-evaluation will influence churches to do something similar?
Warren My opinion is that local churches have done more of that than the Convention has. A growing number of churches, particularly those in changing communities with changing demographics, have looked closely at their methods. The message never changes, but they're doing things in innovative ways, relating to the people around them as their mission field changes.
Because this has been going on in the business world for the last ten years, church members have had to deal with massive changes in the workplace. They are used to dealing with self-appraisal. I think large institutions — governmental, educational, and religious, including denominations — may be more resistant to change than either business or local churches. Frequently, institutional people have been in place a long time doing things in the way they've been done for many years, and all of that makes it very difficult to be open-minded about change.
SBC LIFE What is the time table for these changes?
Hankins The Covenant called for us to have legal documents necessary for implementing the changes ready by this coming Convention, and that task has been largely accomplished. The year between the 1996 and 1997 Conventions will see many of the changes take place as implementation begins. When the Convention closes in June 1997, legal entities will be replaced by new ones which begin immediately to operate. We are working very hard to avoid lapses in ministries that are important to Southern Baptists.
Warren The Convention will first consider Bylaw 15, and then the ancillary motions needed to further the transition. Then begins the full scale implementation of the transition plans. We'll be interacting with commissions and agencies between now and the June meeting, but we'll stop short of having complete plans for every agency. If the changes to Bylaw 15 are approved, we will then move quickly to finalize all implementation plans.
SBC LIFE What depth can Southern Baptists expect in the report at the June 1996 Convention?
Hankins The Convention will be acting on well thought out, detailed motions that allow the Covenant for a New Century to take shape legally. It will be an orderly process that covers all the bases and does not leave any holes in the legal process.
Warren We won't have all the small details, but for the details we don't have, we'll be able to report how they will be derived and when they can be expected. We'll also be able to present a first-pass cost benefit analysis that will give us an indication of current costs and future savings the changes make possible.
SBC LIFE Is there anything else you would like to say to Southern Baptists?
Reccord Our Task Force understands that any time you have significant change, people's lives are affected, and one of our key focuses in prayer is trying to be sensitive to the impact of change. Everywhere we possibly can, we want to assure that the people affected will be cared for. We are not working in a vacuum of mindless mechanics where people aren't important. There are nights when I wake up thinking about some of the folks who are wondering, "What's going to happen to me? What's going to happen to my family?" and that's a huge load to carry. We don't intend to leave anybody unduly hanging and uncared for.
Hogue We ask Southern Baptists to pray for the Convention, pray for this committee, pray for those people who are going to be facing new challenges — both as opportunities and in finding new places to serve — so that when we have finished, Southern Baptists, in the uniting of themselves in prayer and support and encouragement, will feel confident that we're ready to march into the 21st century with God's help and that we're going to impact this world for the Kingdom of our Lord.
Hankins It is time for Southern Baptists to "lengthen their cords and strengthen their stakes," as Isaiah says. I believe we are going to deliver, with God's help, a sharpened sword, a great tool for proclaiming the gospel. The churches need to be ready to handle the growth and advance that is going to come out of this. I think they ought to be excited. Our best days are ahead!