Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
I love him and gave my heart to Him many years ago. He is our Lord and I call on Southern Baptists today to be a Jesus people, to be a Jesus Convention, to be a Jesus denomination. It is my true desire that you would forget who I am, but that you would remember our Lord Jesus. To be quite honest with you I do not have much confidence in me, nor do I honestly have much confidence in you as human beings. I am well aware of the daunting challenges before us and it makes me negative, pessimistic, and doubtful regarding our future. However, please listen carefully. I have great confidence in our Lord! Because of that, I can tell you I believe our future can be bright and productive. As Jesus people, we already have the agenda set out for us. I believe that agenda will be accomplished not by the success of the Convention or even churches. I believe it will occur when I and you begin to witness as we should, to give as we ought, and to love as Jesus did. Personal revival will lead to corporate revival, and we will see the accomplishment of our Lord’s agenda.
I could begin this message by giving you promises like politicians do during election season. “If I am elected,” is usually followed by a brash set of promises and unrealistic statements. “Waste will be eliminated, cooperation will occur, and government will be fixed.” Yet, it never seems to happen. I can make similar brash promises to you as well. However, I am aware of my limitations and know that I would fail.
To establish a vision for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, which would span at least the next decade, is humanly speaking a daunting task. I am already aware of the enormity of the task, and having spent a number of months now in the lead administrative role, I’m even more aware of the fact that this role, this job, is far greater than any one person’s ability, especially this person’s ability. That being said, I take solace in the fact that I am surrounded by a committed group of men and women on staff and on this Committee who truly want to see the work of the Lord accomplished in this generation, in this decade. I take solace in the fact that our marching orders are already laid out for us. Therefore, today I share with you a simple outline for how I am going to lead out in the task that God has already given to us. I propose to you a Christ-centered, Bible-based way of doing God’s work. That which I am going to share with you is nothing revolutionary or even innovative; it is simply my heart sharing how I want to see us move together to see God’s work accomplished. This ten-year vision is one in which I so hope that we will see the work of the Lord not only match previous levels of accomplishment, but far transcend anything we have ever been able to do before. In days of economic downturn, there is the tendency to believe that we need to retrench and be satisfied with a less-than-stellar performance. I do not believe that, nor do I believe our Lord wants us to settle for second or third best. As we all know, our Convention has for decades taken a stand on the inerrancy of the Word of God. I believe that now-unified understanding and a call for an affirmation of the inerrant, infallible Word of God should lead us to an obedience that is first-rate and first-class. I believe that obedience and adherence to the Word should lead to a commitment that is ever greater and ever higher to the Great Commandment and to the Great Commission.
Today, I ask you to join me in our Lord’s vision, His Commission, and His heart’s desire. It may be called Vision 2020, which is a simple way of looking at a decade-long careful attention to our Lord’s agenda. What do I want to see accomplished as we dedicate ourselves to the Lord’s agenda? 20/20 connotes clarity and focus. I hope I can do the same.
Therefore, I ask that you join me in an all out effort to make sure that the International Mission Board is able to dramatically increase its missionary force and with God’s help, to reach every unreached people group at least in some small way by the year 2020.
I ask you to join with me in a recommitment to reaching this continent for Christ and support the work of our North American Mission Board in church planting and evangelistic efforts to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with every man, woman, boy and girl on this continent by the year 2020.
I ask that you join me in a recommitment to quality, Bible-based, Christ-centered theological education in which our seminaries experience their greatest days of educating ministers for the work of the Gospel.
I ask that you join in support of our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as we see the increasing need to be salt and light in an ever-decaying society.
I ask you to join in support of our Woman’s Missionary Union as they continue to take on the daunting task of mission support and education.
In order to see this kind of God-sized task accomplished, we’re going to need a new level of trust and partnership. I have made it my goal to build personal relationships with each of our state executives. By the end of this first year, it is my goal to have visited with each as well as having had prayer and conversation with all of our entity heads. We must build stronger relationships with our partners in ministry. What needs to be accomplished cannot be accomplished without the unified work of our entities, our state partners, and our associational partners.
Principles of Operation
Therefore, I make some promises to you today. One of my predecessors outlined several operating guidelines that he pledged to live by. I make the following promises regarding principles of operation in ministry.
One is the principle of trust. I’m asking that we return to a covenant of trust. Too long there has been suspicion, turf protection, and kingdom building. It is time for us to speak the truth and accept each other’s word as truth. It is time for our partners to be able to trust us as we trust them.
I propose the principle of honesty. While this may seem ridiculous to have to state something such as this, I believe is time for us, as brothers and sisters, to be honest with each other and not to hide that which we think may not be acceptable or agreeable. Let us together adopt the principle of honesty as an operating principle in our ministry and work.
I also commit to the principle of integrity. I want our world as well as our own people to be able to trust that which is said, written, and even intimated. I pledge to you integrity in the financial realm as well as in the operational realm. I pledge to you that I will say the same thing to you and to our state partners, to our associational partners, and to our churches. Let us commit to that same principle.
I also commit to that which I call the principle of intergenerational appreciation and understanding. I believe that we need to appreciate that which has worked for us in the past. We need to evaluate and see that which has stood the test of time. For me, I do believe that the Cooperative Program has done so. I believe we have done a very less-than-adequate job of portraying its value, and at times some may have even elevated it to a level of divinity that is inappropriate. That being said, I do believe that God gave it to us and it has been used mightily in the past and can be in the future. Not only the Cooperative Program, but I want to be able to appreciate the great work of God’s men and women who have gone before. With the appreciation of the past, I pledge to you a diligent seeking of understanding of present realities. Everyone has opinions about what ought to be. That is quite fine. However, to be a student of culture is imperative in this ever-changing day and time. Just because I may have opinions does not mean those opinions are shared by others. We must do a good job, and I pledge to try my best to understand current trends, influences, and opinions.
With that being said, I also pledge in this principle of intra-generational understanding that I will have sensitivity to the future. I truly do believe that our Convention is made up of a variety of strongly opinionated individuals. Some probably hold on to the past simply for the sake of the past. Others want change in the future simply for the sake of change. We must have sensitivity to all groups within our Convention. I pledge to you sensitivity to those groups, including those who do see a need for change, which is both needed and effective and communicable.
These principles that I share with you today resonate deeply within my heart as that which we must do if we are going to be able to see God’s work accomplished in this decade. I’m not naïve, nor do I believe that everyone will feel the same about each of these issues. However, I do care about the work of the Lord, and yes, also the work of our Convention, and pray that the two will never become mutually exclusive. I care deeply about our Cooperative Program. I know that it does need some change. However, I believe that its biggest enemy is a rugged individualism that has beset our culture as well as our churches. I believe the Cooperative Program is a distinctive of our denomination and our work that has been relegated to the ash heap of old, outmoded, and outdated programs of the past.
Let me quickly tell you that I do support churches doing their own mission work. I, as a thirty-plus-years pastor, powerfully encouraged the people of my congregations to be involved in local, state, national, and international work. We never saw supporting the Cooperative Program and doing our own mission work as an “either/or” proposition. We must get back to an understanding of balance and that God wishes for a “both/and,” not just an “either/or.”
Do I really believe God wishes this? Absolutely, unequivocally! I believe we are called to do the work of missions as local churches at the same time as supporting the Cooperative Program, if we’re going to call ourselves Southern Baptists; it is time that we support the work of a jointly-funded missions enterprise, theological education, and culturally impacting ministries such as the ERLC and WMU. In other words, I believe that independent Baptists can do a great work, doing their own mission work. However, we are Southern Baptists, and I believe this involves a commitment to and support of our joint work.
Too long, we have allowed people to skew the understanding of the Cooperative Program by pointing out small percentages that may go from certain states or small percentages that go from individual churches to various ministries such as the International Mission Board. It is time to point out the value of doing together what we do. It is time to point out that the percentages from each church joined together with thousands of others to do a mighty work of God. It’s time to point out that these percentages from state conventions join with other state conventions to do a mighty work.
While I’m in the preaching mode, let me say this. I believe a church ought to do as much ministry and mission work locally and through the local church as they give to the Cooperative Program. I believe it’s time to call churches to an 80-20 mindset where at least 20% of money goes to support mission work. Let us call for 10% to local work and 10% to the Cooperative Program!
Again and again, I have stated an appreciation for our partnership. As for state ministries and works and associational ministries and works, I am very supportive. I do not believe that their work is in any way inferior or superior to the national work. The differences between these two emphases can be described as having more to do with coverage and coordination than quality or productivity. I cannot imagine any kind of ministry without our state convention and associational allies. The independence as well as interdependence of our SBC family is truly an example of Gospel partnership.
Just last week I spent several days with the state executive directors of the various conventions across our land. It was a time of great encouragement and building a partnership. Let me mention a couple of things that have come from this partnership already.
For the first time in history, our executive directors have voted unanimously to move their conventions to a 50-50 split with national ministries after shared ministry items or preferred items. This is a quantum shift in methodology. Following the call of many and yes challenges from within the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations, our executive directors are stepping up to the challenge. Let me say clearly that I do affirm, as history has affirmed, the need to understand shared ministry items or preferred items and realize those are expenses that support both national as well as state ministries. By the way, that is clearly spelled out in the challenges of the GCR Task Force Report. We’re excited to see our state conventions join with every person in this room and want to see more done to reach the vast lostness of this world. The Great Commission Council has voted to affirm this new direction.
Let me also state another outcome from the partnership with our state partners. For the first time in history, we are also able to announce the unanimous declaration of partnership between the Executive Committee and our state partners in a joint promotion of a single Cooperative Program vision. You will be hearing more about this in the days to come, but please know that for the very first time we’ve been able to agree that there will not be forty-two voices, but one promoting the Cooperative Program. As was also encouraged by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, the partnership between the Executive Committee and the partners across our land has taken a new level of cooperation and collegiality. For this we praise the Lord! This has also been confirmed by our Great Commission Council.
I believe the only way for our Convention to succeed and excel in the future is for there to be an attitude of Christ-like selflessness. Our Convention is fracturing into various groups and segments. Sometimes there is an honest difference of opinion. However, often there is a self-centeredness that mirrors our culture. Christ-like selflessness is our only hope. Paul talked about this in Philippians 2:21 when he said that everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Earlier in that same chapter he spoke what has become my heart when he said, If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than you. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5 NIV).
Therefore, this Vision 2020 will be accomplished only as the various groups and segments within our family recognize the need for Christ-like selflessness.
With that in mind, I believe you will see that I’m committed to making sure this vision, which is mainly about helping God’s work through our Convention succeed, and that we set an example at the Executive Committee of Christ-like selflessness.
One of the ways I believe you will see this is in the recommendations which, by the way have been unanimously accepted by our officers, that the Executive Committee began a seven-year process of lowering its dependence upon Cooperative Program money to a historically appropriate level of 2.4% rather than the current 3.4%. As you are already aware, we have reduced our budget dramatically. Unfortunately, we have also had to reduce staff by 19%. We have lowered what some would call bureaucracy so that we might set forth an example to this Convention that we do care about sending more money to help reach the vast lostness of our world. We are trying to set the example of Christ-like selflessness. Even in a time of massive reorganization and reduction of budget and staff, we are recommending the beginning of a process whereby we have agreed, by the way wholeheartedly, to heed the Convention’s call to reduce bureaucracy, overhead, and denominational structure so that we might see more support to reach our world. Therefore, for the first time in decades, our International Mission Board will have more than 50% of every dollar that is sent to the national level. I pray that you are as excited about this as I am.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says: Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”(KJV).
I believe we have a race and we are to run it together. The Scripture says “let us.” Because I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, I believe every word is there as it should be. The word “us” is there because it is a race we are to run together. Vision 2020 is not a Frank Page vision, it is simply a way for all of us to follow our Lord’s agenda.