DALLAS — In what could be the most significant meeting of three for the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, 22 executive directors of Southern Baptist state conventions met with them Oct. 27, to offer some competing, some complementing views and vision about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and what is needed for a Great Commission resurgence.
Speaking on behalf of the state executives, David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, told the joint meeting — held in the Grand Hyatt Hotel at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport — that pronouncements about the demise of the Southern Baptist Convention are not only premature but ignore research that indicates just the opposite.
North Carolina Baptist Executive Director-treasurer Milton A. Hollifield Jr., had a previous commitment to the Blue Ridge Baptist Association and did not attend the Dallas meeting. He remains vitally concerned in the purposes of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and is in conversation with task force members individually.
According to a copy of his address provided to Baptist Press, Hankins told task force members, “While none of us are satisfied with the declines in membership, baptisms and missions support, we have had remarkable results and staying power.”
“For example, our total membership in 1979 was 13,379,073,” Hankins noted. “In 2008, it was 16,266,920 or plus 20 percent.
“Compare that to the track record of mainline denominations,” he offered. “We may not be at the top of our game but we are very much in the game.”
He also underscored that resurgent cooperation could be the key to a Great Commission Resurgence.
“We ought to consider it a primary strategy to marshal all the sectors of Southern Baptist leadership (church, association, state, SBC) to work on the Great Commission Resurgence, Hankins said.
“We are grateful that Dr. Hunt’s appointments to this body made room for all stakeholders,” he said, adding, “All of us want success for the Kingdom and the favor of the Lord on Southern Baptist missions.”
Task force chairman Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., said the dialogue with state convention executives was crucial for the committee’s work.
“In a spirit of deep respect, we wanted to hear from the state executive directors and let them speak to us about their own vision for a resurgence of Great Commission passion among Southern Baptists,” Floyd said in a statement released after the meeting adjourned. “The meeting with the state executives was really important, both for them and for us. We were looking for an honest conversation and a meeting of hearts and minds. The state conventions are vital to our total Southern Baptist work, and this dialogue was vital to the work of the task force.”
While much of the public discussion of the task force’s work has focused on ways the SBC might be reorganized, renewed passion for and involvement in the Great Commission mandate to make disciples of all nations won’t come through restructuring, Hankins told Baptist Press in an interview after his presentation.
“Talking about structure isn’t the right pathway to a Great Commission resurgence, and the Great Commission Resurgence paper says it’s not,” Hankins said. “It starts with lordship. We just hope we won’t forget those declarations and spend 90 percent of our time on structure when there’s a lot more important issues to the Great Commission that need to be addressed, such as holiness, prayer, sacrifice, generosity, personal growth — those kinds of things.”
When the discussion turns to structure, however, Hankins said the state convention executives wanted to “lay out some parameters … we think are important.”
Hankins said those parameters consisted of four affirmations:
- The four-part structure of Southern Baptist life — churches, associations, state conventions and national convention — is still a useful structure for accomplishing the Great Commission.
- State conventions are necessary partners if Southern Baptists are serious about a Great Commission resurgence — “instrumental to the process, not detrimental.”
- While “a lot of study needs to be done” regarding the role of the North American Mission Board, state executives believe substantial changes should only be made after a thorough study in which stakeholders like the state conventions have an opportunity to weigh in.
- The Cooperative Program is the vehicle of choice to undergird a Great Commission resurgence among Southern Baptists.
The state executives felt they were welcomed as genuine partners in the dialogue about Great Commission resurgence, Hankins said.
“We are very grateful to Dr. Floyd for the invitation. We were well received and well treated, a good sense of partnership. We were able to have a frank talk and a good, helpful question-and-answer time,” Hankins said. “The state convention executives as a group want to be very enthusiastic about a Great Commission resurgence. We are very desirous of being part of that team, and we would hope we wouldn’t be devalued or dismissed from that team. The task force … affirmed they want us to be part of the team. As I said to them, we have the best opportunity in 30 years to all work together, if we will. That’s what we want to do. Work together and move Southern Baptists forward.
“We want to value partnership — in reality, in planning, in joint strategies and in attitude. That has to be worked at,” Hankins added. “It doesn’t mean there can be no serious questions asked, no disagreements, no hours of negotiations. All that is certainly permissible, with the spirit that we are valued partners and all have a stake in this.”
Hankins said at least four other issues are as important as whether Southern Baptists are effectively structured for accomplishing the Great Commission: increasing hostility toward Christian values, the need for Southern Baptists to make greater inroads among non-Anglo ethnic groups, an inadequate level of discipleship among church members and whether congregations are willing to sacrifice comforts for the sake of the Great Commission.
While the Southern Baptist Convention’s structure may not be perfect, it is well-suited to the challenge of motivating and mobilizing churches for mission, Hankins said.
“The thing I see the denominational structure being able to do best on behalf of the churches is motivating and mobilizing,” Hankins said. “We really do have the power and opportunity to speak to our constituency, to catalyze them, to motivate them and then to mobilize them. That’s why I argued — and my colleagues agree — that our structure is apt.
“If we can use those functions to get the churches revved up about this, it would show itself in evangelism — like we’re doing with God’s Plan for Sharing across America,” Hankins said of SBC’s unfolding evangelism initiative. “It would show itself in church planting, where churches begin to plant churches, near them and far away from them in the U.S. And it would show itself in generous mission going and giving. That, to me, is what we’re looking for.
“For my part, I’m not ready to give up on the SBC,” Hankins concluded. “I think we have great promise. I’m not ready to give up on our structures. I think they have great promise and great value. I’m not ready to give up on the Cooperative Program. I think it is still the best vehicle. So we hope all these things can be improved, shined up, but employed to move our churches forward in their task.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.)