Members of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force appointed by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Johnny Hunt in June are not releasing any information about their deliberations, but recent comments by two North Carolina members offer some insights into at least what they are thinking.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke candidly Oct. 12 to his trustees and board of visitors about SBC issues. Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, led a listening session at Hardin Baptist Church in Dallas.
In both sessions, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) took a beating, with Akin saying it “is broke, and has been broke for a long time.” He said Southern Baptists have no “comprehensive strategy” to impact America, and we cannot “continue business as usual.”
Although some denominational defenders of status quo have said that the past couple years of declining baptisms, dollars and churches are an aberration based on birth demographics, Akin brushed them off and said, “We’re not doing well,” and “have been losing ground” for 50 years.
Continued declines will relegate the SBC to the “way of the mainline” denominations, he said. If we fall into irrelevance, it will be “not over theology, but over bureaucracy.”
At Hardin where Gilbert went to hear what area Baptists wanted him to take back to task force deliberations, he heard similar harsh words for NAMB.
Unfortunately, the church planter funding process through NAMB is cumbersome, even “stupid” as Jeff Long from Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia labeled it.
Host pastor Austin Rammell said there is “massive replication” in the process of identifying, training, placing and funding church plants and planters. “Either the state convention needs to go away or NAMB needs to go away,” said Rammell, who is on the Baptist State Convention board of directors. “I think the obvious answer is NAMB.”
Gilbert pointed out that the opinion of NAMB’s effectiveness and necessity is different in the Deep South states that basically fund NAMB, and the north and western state Baptist conventions whose work is heavily funded through NAMB. The task force is charged with studying the way Southern Baptists do business and to try to find efficiencies to recommend at the June 2010 annual meeting in Orlando.
Gilbert said, “We are constantly reminded we are only dealing with the national entity called the Southern Baptist Convention.” He said the task force can “talk to” and “give challenge to other partners” but cannot instruct.
Akin said with the pending vacancies from resignation and announced retirements in the top spots at the International Mission Board, NAMB and SBC Executive Committee, “there is a lot of swirling about in Southern Baptist life that is going to — one way or another — chart our future for the next several decades.” Knowing that missions is the engine that pulls the SBC train, Akin said, “The person who leads the International Mission Board in many ways sets the agenda for the SBC.”
Akin feels that agenda should be to eliminate redundant bureaucracies, to trust Southern Baptists’ 45,000 churches to win America, and to reallocate funds to carry the gospel to the nations.
He said only Southern Baptists have the resources to reach all people groups with an international missions force. That won’t happen if individuals, churches and conventions do not release more money for international fields, he said.
“I don’t want to stand before the Lord some day and say we squandered our resources and missed our opportunity,” Akin said.
On the other hand, Ronnie Bowers, pastor of Flint Groves Baptist Church in Gastonia, told Gilbert the most important message for local, state and national Baptist entities is to help local pastors reach people.
David Clippard, pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Lowell, affirmed missions, but asked Gilbert and the task force to consider, “How can you help me as a pastor do what I need to do to equip my church?”
Gilbert affirmed the centrality of the local church in fulfilling the Great Commission. He echoed a sentiment that Baptists through the decades have been assigning and funding others to “win America and win the world,” when in fact “the local church has to own this.”
He said Southern Baptists are non-connectional in theory, but historically once people start exercising their autonomy at the state or associational level, their loyalty to the Southern Baptist Convention is questioned. It is dangerous to establish any test of loyalty, he said, because Baptists need to relate to each other and their entities “by conscience.”
Other participants at Hardin lamented a sense there is “no compelling vision” coming from the Southern Baptist Convention that will attract and hold commitment from churches. “Be a good Baptist and give 10 percent to Cooperative Program” is not compelling, one said.
The International Mission Board was not untouched. Several participants expressed frustration by the complexity of trying to get their churches involved with international projects. One said he took a team overseas to work but the missionary had nothing for them to do.
Gilbert, who spent five years as special assistant to the president of IMB, said he dreams that churches and their international missions agency could “grow in this together” like a marriage, in which churches would be more teachable about the local situations and missionaries would see the need to accommodate and facilitate churches’ desire to be involved.
He called the work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force “a shot” to reengineer the corporation, rather than starting from scratch.