DALLAS — “This is the best climate in 30 years for all of us to work together,” Louisiana Baptist leader David Hankins said in representing state convention leaders in comments to the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force.
Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, listed four “affirmations” shared by state Baptist convention executives concerning the work of the task force created by a vote of messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., in June.
Addressing the GCR Task Force Oct. 27 in Dallas, Hankins listed affirmations that center around cooperation between the SBC and state conventions:
- “Affirmation One: The structure that has served Southern Baptists in the past is well suited for the future.”
“We disagree with those asserting that we are using outmoded structures that will not work in the 21st century,” Hankins said. “An unstudied assertion does not become true simply by being repeated and posted on the Internet.”
To individuals who may foresee a confederation of churches “that have a common heritage and a common theology but no common methodology,” Hankins said: “With all due respect, that is the independent Baptist model that Southern Baptists have specifically and decidedly rejected….
“While Southern Baptists prize local church autonomy, we are not hyper-local church practitioners who believe in no extra-congregational ecclesiastical structures. We find no contradiction in believing in both. We believe the current structure of Southern Baptists is appropriate for Southern Baptist ecclesiology, life and work…. It fits who we are and what we want to do. And I believe Southern Baptists, by and large, want it to continue.”
Hankins described Southern Baptists’ structure as “unifying,” providing “a stack pole around which we can motivate and mobilize our churches at every level”; “comprehensive,” with the capacity to handle “a variety of things the churches want it to do”; “consistent,” with “a staying power” beyond personnel changes or squabbles over various issues; and “cooperative,” reflecting Southern Baptists’ desire for “every voice to be heard. They do not desire a structure that is under factional control or guided by personal agendas. They want to set the agenda as a group.”
- “Affirmation Two: State conventions are necessary, crucial partners for a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists.”
“We do not have the time, if we took all day, to describe the many and varied Great Commission ministries performed through the state conventions,” Hankins said, citing such examples as disaster relief operations; the planting of 800 churches in Haiti by the Florida Baptist Convention, where there are no (International Mission Board) personnel at present; and Baptist Collegiate Ministries, which reach “around 100,000 collegians per year in their core groups,” including thousands of international students.
“We are already wading chest deep in gospel enterprises,” Hankins said. “We believe as strongly in the Kingdom value of our work as each of you do in yours, and we’ll defend it as readily as you would yours from unwarranted attacks, not out of self-interest, but out of Kingdom interest…. The boots on the ground-motivating-mobilizing function (of state conventions) makes us indispensable partners for a ‘Great Commission Resurgence.’ We are not detrimental to the process. We are instrumental to the process.”
- “Affirmation Three: The NAMB serves a vital role in a coordinated, comprehensive evangelism and church planting movement for Southern Baptists.”
“The performance of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) since its inception only 12 years ago is the subject of much debate and criticism…. The upheaval in executive leadership the last four years, by itself, is enough to raise many questions about the work of this most complex SBC entity,” Hankins acknowledged.
But, he noted, “Unlike any other SBC entity, every Southern Baptist state convention has documented relationships with NAMB that involve strategies, personnel, assignments and finances.”
Hankins said Southern Baptists should remember “before we pile on … what NAMB gets right” in national disaster relief coordination, chaplaincy initiatives and a stragety that “allows us to be a national force” by undergirding outreach and ministry in regions such as New England, West Virginia, Utah and Idaho. Without Southern Baptist funding, channeled through NAMB, many smaller state conventions “would be decimated.”
State convention executives “are not interested in disruptions in our NAMB partnerships, certainly not without a thorough and thoughtful investigation that incorporates the appropriate information and the appropriate participants,” Hankins said.
- “Affirmation Four: The Cooperative Program should be the vehicle of choice for funding Southern Baptist initiatives related to a Great Commission Resurgence.”
Hankins suggested a three-part strategy to reverse a decline in Cooperative Program (CP) giving by churches, falling from over 10 percent of their undesignated receipts about 25 years ago to about 6 percent currently.
A strategy to strengthen CP would entail: 1) stewardship, addressing the “allocation problem … between the church members’ pocket book and the offering plate” in which Southern Baptists only give an average of 2 percent of their income for missions, including CP. 2) leadership, with Hankins noting, “Tepid endorsements of the CP are not the solution; they are the problem. We need what we had in 1925 [when the Cooperative Program was founded]: the best and brightest among us leading the way in word and deed for the Cooperative Program.” 3) partnership — “a relationship between the SBC and the state conventions that provides promotion, collection, allocation, accountability, and unity.”
The opportunity for cooperation “can be lost” if, for example, the GCR Task Force were to be “hijacked by those who merely want to vent frustrations, or engage in blame-storming, or pursue personal agendas, or sow dissension among brethren, or justify their unwillingness to cooperate….
“There is a better way,” Hankins said. “We would recommend elevating partnership and moderating non-cooperation. Let’s invite all who are willing to come to the table. Let’s honor and bless the calling and contribution of all who make up the vast network of Southern Baptists. Let’s respect one another and believe the best about each other, even those we don’t know or whose ministries don’t involve us directly. Let’s improve and stretch and applaud and encourage one another. Let’s value what we have and build on it for the glory of God. Think about it! A resurgence in cooperation could be the key to a resurgence for the Great Commission.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)
Full text of Hankin’s speech: