North Carolina Baptist Executive Director-Treasurer Milton A. Hollifield Jr., will be voting “yes” for the recommendations of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force when messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., consider them June 15.
In his first public comments on the work of the task force commissioned last year by SBC President Johnny Hunt to find ways, “Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission,” Hollifield told members of the BSC board of directors May 25 that while some structural changes might help Southern Baptists only “a super unusual movement of God’s Spirit in our lives” will make them effective in accomplishing God’s plan.
While the administrative leader of North Carolina Baptists’ 4,300 churches has been publicly silent on the report that has dominated conversation and communications since its preliminary release in February, Hollifield said he has been sharing with task force members his input and concerns.
He expressed appreciation for the spiritual aspects of the report, because too often Southern Baptists are guilty of not practicing what they preach, he said. They have been ineffective in reaching the nations, especially “our own,” he said.
While the task force recommendations and conversation focus on pushing back lostness in the nations, Hollifield said if we lose North America there will be no resources to send missionaries to other parts of the world.
Great Commission Giving
Hollifield spoke longest in his one hour address about the task force recommendation to adopt a new giving parameter called Great Commission Giving that would “celebrate” all mission gifts from a local church. It would make the Cooperative Program simply the “primary” element of the category, instead of an exclusively recognized missions giving channel that supports all the work.
He said that recommendation created “angst” originally but said “If the Cooperative Program remains the priority and supreme way our SBC leaders recognize church support for SBC missions, then I have no disagreement with celebrating the additional gifts that churches make to support Southern Baptist missions.”
Hollifield’s voice broke as he advocated emotionally for the Cooperative Program. North Carolina Baptist churches give below the six percent national average to missions through the Cooperative Program, he said, and he challenged them “to become a leading state convention in demonstrating that the Cooperative Program is not simply one of many good ways to support missions, it remains the single most effective way to support the multiplicity of missions and ministries that have empowered our churches to accomplish great and mighty deeds in building the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hollifield recounted his youth in a Free Will Baptist home in which his family entertained missionaries who had to return from the field to raise their ongoing support.
“Let us really practice what we preach and take the lead in demonstrating to our Southern Baptist missionaries around the world and across North America, to the orphan and the widow in our own state, to the hungry and needy and to the lost sinner everywhere that North Carolina Baptists are individuals who pray, go and also give to support missions and I think the Cooperative Program is the greatest way to do that,” Hollifield said.
Helping next generation leaders gain the same appreciation for the positive Kingdom ministry effects of the Cooperative Program will not be accomplished by pressuring or by criticizing them for what they are not doing, Hollifield said.
Neither are next generation leaders interested in what the Cooperative Program has accomplished in the past, he said. Instead, Hollifield encouraged board members to befriend and mentor younger pastors who are “both passionate and zealous for the building of Christ’s Kingdom,” to help them understand that the Cooperative Program is the best financial vehicle for missions and ministry into the future.
“They will only begin to support the Cooperative Program when they become convinced that CP is the best method the SBC has found to support thousands of missionaries, build seminaries, plant churches, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and reach lost souls with the gospel,” he said.
“I am not a supporter of Cooperative Program because what it does for me or my preferred state convention,” he said. “I am a supporter of Cooperative Program because of what it does for God’s Kingdom.”
The North American Mission Board operates through cooperative agreements with Baptist state conventions and the task force recommends those agreements be phased out over seven years to “liberate” NAMB to create and deploy a national evangelism strategy.
North Carolina Baptists share the expense of nine ministry positions with NAMB, basically on a 50-50 basis. Some smaller state conventions can only provide 10 or 20 percent of a ministry position cost. Most of these positions are in church planting and missions.
To remove funding from cooperative agreements and potentially lose the ministries they support, NAMB would need to establish a “new national strategy for which it does not possess the staff to accomplish,” Hollifield said.
Yet Hollifield would support the Baptist State Convention losing shared funding from NAMB if the money would go instead “to fund effective and strategic efforts in the underserved areas of North America.”
Hollifield said he informed one of the task force members that they have “no idea how much money” the more established conventions already put back into the underserved areas in strategic partnerships such as the one between North Carolina and the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association.
Hollifield agreed with the task force that one of the greatest harvest fields is “reaching our own young people.”
Hollifield believes the next spiritual awakening “will begin with the younger generation of believers,” and he asked, “Are we entertaining our students or equipping them to recognize God’s call upon their lives?”
The first two recommendations are “spiritual” and “clarify the motivations of the task force” he said. They include a mission statement that reflects the Great Commission, and offer a set of core values.
The task force recommendation to remove geographic restrictions so that international missionaries can work among their people group in the U.S. is fine with Hollifield, but he cautions that it not lead to the very duplications that the task force “has worked so diligently to remove.”
He is less enthusiastic for the additional one percent of Cooperative Program funds recommended for allocation to the International Mission Board to come exclusively from the budget of the SBC Executive Committee. He would like part of the additional $2 million to the IMB to come from another area of the budget.
Hollifield believes the task force report ignores a significant area of denominational service, that of church health. He “bristles” he said when he reads that “thousands of unhealthy churches simply need to die.”
If that was the Lord’s view, he said, we would not have the pastoral letters of the New Testament, written by the Apostle Paul to help unhealthy churches.
“These epistles were written not to help those congregations die, but to help them find newness of life through obedience and faithfulness to Christ Jesus our Lord,” Hollifield said.
Ultimately, Hollifield said he will vote yes for the task force report because it met its assigned task and because once approved, the recommendations will go to the SBC Executive Committee and to the boards of the SBC entities where they will receive the study and input from Southern Baptists they deserve and require.
”I believe their work has begun a critical discussion among Southern Baptists related to numerous issues that impact our effectiveness, or lack thereof, in fulfilling the Great Commission,” Hollifield said.