A document declaring the Southern Baptist Convention at all levels needs a drastic overhaul naturally begs for specifics and the “Great Commission Resurgence” author is happy to provide some.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the primary author of a declaration calling for a “Great Commission resurgence” in Southern Baptist life. While signatories to the document are making a personal commitment in 10 areas such as gospel centeredness, biblical inerrancy and methodological diversity, it is the commitment to “a more effective Convention structure” that has some denominational executives steaming.
Yet Akin said during a May 21 interview in his office, that if Baptists would commit to the first article, “Christ’s Lordship” in their lives that would make all the difference necessary.
“If we get that one right, everything else will fall into place,” said Akin, who delivered the sermon from which he and SBC President Johnny Hunt crafted the Great Commission Resurgence document. “It is the key to everything. If we will recapture our passion for His lordship in all things, we will reorient the way we conduct our personal lives, which will reorient our churches which means we’ll reorient our Convention.”
Akin and Hunt believe the Convention, beginning with its churches and continuing with associations, state and national conventions and the entities of each layer, need to reorient themselves around Great Commission priorities of “pioneer missions, church planting, theological education and good, quality ministries of mercy.”
Akin said an earthquake already has erupted in Southern Baptist life and only a reorientation toward ministry and away from what he originally called “a bloated bureaucracy” will keep it from launching a tsunami, which washes away any support from the next generation of pastors.
“This is where state executives didn’t understand” his original comments, which have been toned down in subsequent editions of the document, Akin said. “I’m their friend, not their enemy. I don’t want to hurt them.”
Instead, Akin denominational executives to understand that the “under 40” wave of church leadership has no “blind loyalty” to anything and will fund “only what they believe in.”
“They don’t believe in the bureaucracies of the SBC,” Akin said. “They’re walking and now beginning to run away from the SBC.”
He said when churches run into bureaucratic roadblocks that hinder their desire to fund missions in a creative or unique way, they simply loop around the roadblock. When told funds spent outside the system will not receive credit as Cooperative Program gifts, which could limit their representation in decision making venues, their response is, “I don’t care.”
The seminary Akin leads is in North Carolina and he believes the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is “doing better than other states,” in large part because of its commitment to increase the percentage of Cooperative Program funds going from the state to the national convention. That has risen two percentage points in the past four years, to 34 percent.
Akin said state convention executives are going to have to make a “persuasive argument” to younger pastors as to why they should “buy into” the state convention. “If you make that argument they’re going to give,” he said. “If you don’t they’re going to bypass you.”
“You have to show it’s not a bureaucracy you’re feeding,” he said.
NAMB grabs momentum
The Great Commission Resurgence document, posted online, has garnered nearly 3,000 signatures. Akin, who said he would have been happy with 500, said the total already is enough to reach the tipping point for effectiveness.
Expect a motion to come forward at the SBC in June for Hunt to name a Great Commission Resurgence study committee.
On May 20, North American Mission Board President Geoff Hammond anticipated the work of such a committee by initiating a North American Great Commission Task Force. He has already named a facilitator from his staff and enlisted SBC stats and trends guru Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, to co-facilitate.
Hammond’s move has the appearance of a strategic coup. Although he has not signed the Great Commission Resurgence document as of May 22, by grabbing the guidon he suddenly has positioned the North American Mission Board at the front of the pack.
The Great Commission Resurgence is simply a declaration by two men seeking agreement from others. It lays out no specifics, and Akins said, “I don’t have an agenda.”
While some have asked him for specifics, such as if he wants to abolish the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, he said, “not at all.” Is it to merge the mission boards? “I have no opinion on that,” he said.
“But business as usual in terms of North American church planting and evangelism cannot continue as it is being addressed at the associational, state and national levels,” he said. “That I do know.”
Church planting is rising to the top of nearly every agenda and Akin sees the redundancies at structural levels as a hindrance to effective use of funds. For instance, many associations, all state conventions and the national convention have systems to find, assess and train church planters.
One of the ill effects of this redundancy Akin would say is that it reduces money available to fund church planters on the field.
A church planter sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is eligible to receive a maximum $14,400 annually for two years. The BSC strategy requires the church planter to cast his vision to secure other support, thus broadening his base and network.
Akin referred to Hunt’s church, First Baptist of Woodstock, Ga., which funded a church plant in Las Vegas with a half million dollars and that church now runs 1,500. Those dollars are not counted as Cooperative Program gifts because they bypassed the system.
Akin referred to a recent Southeastern graduate who is planting a church in Washington, D.C. He had to “jump through the hoops” of all three levels of Convention structure and finally put together a package of support that totals $36,000 the first year and drops by $12,000 each year. And because the North American Mission Board provides some of those funds, the hours he can work in a tent-making role to support himself are limited.
This in a city where his apartment rent will be $30,000.
“Who should really be in the business of planting churches?” Akin asked. “Other churches. Various Baptist agencies should be helping in that; they shouldn’t really be driving it.”
Akin will meet June 8 with Hunt and state convention executives to try to alleviate their fears and assure them they have no agenda, other than to find a way to relieve the “stagnation” they feel in the Convention.
Since the “conservative resurgence” that traces its beginnings to 1979 positioned Southern Baptists as a convention of churches that ascribe to biblical inerrancy, leadership anticipated a “move to pursue the Great Commission at home and abroad” and a “great revival in expository preaching across the Convention,” Akin said. “We haven’t seen that either. The two go hand in hand…for whatever reason it hasn’t happened.”
“The promise of the Conservative Resurgence was that eventually we would find enough common biblical and theological ground that we could focus on the Great Commission,” the declaration states in Article 5.
The same article urges an “attempt to discern the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary issues” which lie “at the heart of many of our present tensions.” That could look like an attempt to restrict bedrock Baptist principals of soul competency and priesthood of the believer.
Akin affirmed those principals and said the proposed attempt to define first tier issues — those issues that define “Christian” — from other tiers that define issues necessary for cooperation and from others that are simply matters of interpretation will lower tensions and increase cooperation.
“We’re simply recognizing your right to believe what you want to believe, but it does affect our ability to cooperate,” Akin said. He used as example that anyone can believe women have the right to be pastors, but “it will be problematic” for churches that do not believe the same way to work together.
Because there is some reference in the document to the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) as a “sound confession for building theological consensus for Great Commission cooperation,” Akin was asked about the International Mission Board’s adoption of two policies — on baptism and private prayer language — that go beyond the BFM to restrict eligibility of certain missionary candidates. Adoption of the policies caused considerable disruption in IMB trustee meetings and consternation among North Carolina IMB and missionary supporters in 2008.
“I think the IMB policy on private prayer languages is wrong,” Akin said. “I’m with Jerry Rankin on that.” Rankin is president of the IMB. The IMB board’s adoption of a policy prohibiting election of a missionary candidate who confesses to a private prayer language would make Rankin ineligible to serve as a missionary in the organization of which he is president.
At the same time, Akin supports the clear IMB policy that would recall a missionary who promotes charismatic practices on the field.