Southern Baptists in the future will mark their annual meeting June 15 in Orlando as the beginning of a Great Commission Resurgence in the same way they refer to 1979 as the start of the conservative resurgence that changed the face of the Convention, according to panelists at a Great Commission Resurgence discussion at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary April 28.
And it may take as long to show similar results, they said, cautioning patience on the part of the seminarians in attendance and reminding them it took 20 years for the Convention to fully reflect the results of the actions that started in 1979.
Just five days before the release of the much anticipated update of their recommendations, Great Commission Resurgence Task Force members Danny Akin, J.D. Greear and Al Gilbert were present to answer questions presented by John Akin, representing Baptist21 which put the panel together. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and SBC President Johnny Hunt presented videotaped answers to questions they received earlier. Ronnie Floyd, GCR Task Force chairman, answered questions live via teleconference.
Panelists encouraged pastors to bring their maximum number of messengers to Orlando to vote approval of the task force recommendations, which will be presented after lunch June 15.
“We need you to join in on this force so we can make a difference,” said Hunt. “You can become a catalyst to lead change.”
John Akin, Danny Akin’s son and pastor of the Valley Station campus of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., moderated the panel and presented questions that had come from around the country.
After a brief description of the declining statistics in the SBC where the “evidence is overwhelming that we’re losing ground,” Danny Akin, president of host Southeastern Seminary, said Baptists must become “more aggressive, more efficient and more effective in reaching lostness in North America and around the world.”
That will require change, the panelists said. First, it will require “spiritual renewal through repentance” according to Floyd, who said the spiritual emphasis of the task force’s recommendations has been overlooked as people studied the structural aspects.
Ultimately the task force cannot instruct individuals, churches, Baptist state conventions or national entities, they said. They can only lay out a compelling vision, trust that Southern Baptists will stake their claim to it and believe that repentant, committed believers will give sacrificially to support it. At the same time, task force members expect the boards of agencies and institutions to respond structurally to the vision Southern Baptists adopt to free more resources to reach highly populated areas of North America and unreached people groups overseas.
Asked if task force recommendations simply rearrange SBC bureaucracies, Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Durham, said, “The cry of the conservative resurgence was ‘We don’t want to give money to liberal institutions.’ Now the cry is, ‘We don’t want to give money to bloated bureaucracy.”
He said Rome was neither built, nor unbuilt in a day, and the task force recommendations are a “first step that will need to be followed by many more steps.”
Several questions related to the potential effect of task force recommendations on Cooperative Program (CP) support. The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ voluntary giving method that provides the primary support for all missions, education and benevolence ministries.
Greear said younger churches are not as excited about giving through the Cooperative Program because they no longer look to Convention leadership as pastors did 20 years ago. “We live in a flat world with lots of other ways to communicate” and find resources than by going to a denominational knowledge broker, he said.
The task force report is sending a “clear message to institutions that there is a real heart in Southern Baptists to spend more money in missions,” Greear said. “The days of a bloated kind of centralized bureaucracy that leads the mission … those days are a’changin.”
Exactly what they are changing to “will take some time to figure out,” said Mohler. But the task force is sure Southern Baptists don’t want to use mission money simply to replicate a denominational structure in small state conventions, “but to create thriving congregations.”
“They want money deployed to planting gospel churches,” Mohler said.
Greear said CP needs to be more efficient in providing resources to the deep needs outside of Southern Baptists’ current strengths in the southeast. Even if churches are “very Southern Baptist” they are not going to give to CP at the same level as the previous generation, Greear said, and there needs to be acceptable ways to cooperate in missions beyond CP.
Mohler said “localism” or churches spending more on local ministries is one reason CP giving has been dropping.
“We do need a great example from the leaders of our Convention in terms of support for the CP,” Mohler said. He said churches that are “committed” are going to have to send more than six percent of their gifts to missions through the CP and individuals are going to have to give more if churches are to send more.
Keeping true to their pledges of confidentiality, panelists did not reveal any changes in their original recommendations that may have resulted from their final work session April 26 in Nashville.
Local church focus
Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and a former executive staff member of the International Mission Board, says wording in the recommendations coming May 3 “will talk about the local church being the global mission strategy center and the purpose of every board and agency is to facilitate the effectiveness of the local church.”
Denominational structure changes “need to be addressed over time,” Gilbert said. Danny Akin said “we will” ask boards of trustees to “rethink and reprioritize what they’re doing.”
Akin said individuals must be challenged as well, because increased giving is “vital, or none of this will happen.”
All panelists expressed strong support of the Cooperative Program. Danny Akin said he would be “an absolute idiot” not to support CP because more than half of Southeastern’s budget comes from CP.
Of the CP funds “that get to Nashville” (SBC headquarters) Danny Akin said 50 percent goes to international missions, 21 percent to the six seminaries and 23 percent to the North American Mission Board. “Guys, that’s good,” he said.
He believes, however, that state conventions should forward more CP money to the SBC. “The cry of this generation is they want to see more money going out of their state” to international missions and underserved areas of North America and Canada, he said.
NAMB as strategist
For a half century the North American Mission Board has worked with Baptist state conventions through cooperative agreements to help fund mission efforts in various states. Task force recommendations would end those agreements in favor of something else not yet defined, that would give more money and strategic leadership to the national agency, as well as “direct supervision of their employees,” Mohler said.
Reaction to the task force’s initial report was fear that smaller state conventions would be devastated by losing NAMB funds that often comprise the majority of their budgets. Mohler said those fears are unfounded because the task force wants more work in those areas, not less. “But we want NAMB to bear the responsibility on behalf of all Southern Baptists to see their energies and investments are rightly employed and strategically placed for greatest impact.”
The criticism that NAMB cannot be a good national strategist from staff offices in Alpharetta, Ga., is invalid the panel said, because they are recommending that NAMB staff be decentralized and work closely with state convention partners in local strategies.
Such strategy will use money more strategically, Danny Akin said, and he advised those who fear they might lose their jobs in a strategy shift that “If you are doing a good job at penetrating lostness, why do you think we wouldn’t fund you? On the other hand if you are out there not penetrating lostness, why should we fund you?”
He said it is a new day at all levels of Baptist life, where each entity must demonstrate “why they are worthy of your support.”
We need to get resources out of the South and into other areas where there is “massive lostness and a paucity of resources,” he said. “If you’re doing a good job you’ll get more money, not less.”
Gilbert said change is necessary because the SBC structure was built in an industrial age. “We have an industrial model that is producing industrial age effectiveness,” he said. “This is the information age. We don’t need experts along the way who are the kingpins of knowledge. We need people who can facilitate movement.”
Acknowledging that change is painful and pain makes people reluctant to change, Danny Akin said Southern Baptists can take steps now, “or wait 10 years and you will face significant declines in CP giving and be forced to make those decisions in a more painful way.”
Floyd reiterated his conviction that the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force work will provide a “compelling vision” for Southern Baptists, the lack of which has contributed to the inertia of past decades.
“What happens in Orlando is critical to create a climate for future change,” Floyd said. He said change will not be up to the denomination, but to individuals and churches who “will stand and not tolerate certain things they are tolerating right now, regarding the lack of Great Commission activity in the SBC.”
“We’re voting on the future of the SBC,” he said. “We’re voting on whether the Great Commission matters, whether the SBC is willing to have a climate for change. It is imperative for the future not only of the SBC, but of the Great Commission.”
“This is step one,” Floyd said. “But it’s the most important step we’ll ever take.”
Floyd said the second version of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report will be released online at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time on May 3.