At 5 p.m. June 15 the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) embraced a future uncertain but focused on the Great Commission when a solid majority of messengers adopted the report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.
“We are a Great Commission people,” Task Force Chairman Ronnie Floyd thundered when the final hand vote showed a 75 to 80 percent majority favoring the seven recommendations of the report, which messengers considered as a whole.
A year after SBC President Johnny Hunt appointed the task force to bring recommendations about how Southern Baptists could work together more efficiently, nearly 11,000 messengers ended months of debate with two and a quarter hours of discussion that remained cordial throughout.
Just as in the months of debate earlier, deliberation focused mostly over the recommendation that would change giving terminology to make the Cooperative Program the primary element of a new category of “Great Commission Giving,” rather than be the sole recognized avenue of general mission support.
In the only amendment of several to pass muster, messengers affirmed a motion by Jim Waters of First Baptist Church in Statesboro, Ga., to add language that says Southern Baptists will “continue to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach. We affirm that designated giving to special causes is to be given as a supplement to the Cooperative Program and not as a substitute for Cooperative Program giving.”
Later task force member Al Mohler said the amended language was a welcome addition that expressed the task force’s heart.
Reaction to a preliminary report the task force released in February was so vociferous members made themselves available across the nation to speak to groups, answer questions and listen.
Input from various groups of Baptist state convention employees, missionaries, associational leaders and pastors found its way into the final report.
Task force Chairman Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., and of The Church at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers, said he was surprised by the diversity of task force members in their first meeting and wondered how it would be possible to unify the group.
“We needed to understand lostness,” he eventually concluded. “If lostness cannot bring us together, my soul, we are dead, dead, dead.”
Consequently, the overriding theme of the report became “Penetrating the Lostness,” and its final six recommendations sprang from the first — establish a missional vision “to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all nations.”
The other recommendations approved by messengers include:
- Core values of Christ-likeness, truth, unity, relationships, trust, future, local church and kingdom;
- Great Commission Giving, which includes gifts to SBC-related entities to “count” along with Cooperative Program giving as support for Southern Baptist causes;
- “Reinvent” and “unleash” the North American Mission Board to implement a missional strategy to reach high population centers in the United States and Canada. This will involve ending the cooperative agreements that have governed NAMB’s work with states over the next seven years, and possibly decentralizing NAMB’s strategic personnel;
- Remove geographic limitations from International Mission Board personnel to enable missionaries to serve in the United States pockets of the people group they serve overseas;
- Give primary responsibility for Cooperative Program and stewardship promotion to the state conventions, and;
- Move 1 percent of the national Cooperative Program allocation from the SBC Executive Committee to the International Mission Board. This one percent represents about $2 million, one-third of the Executive Committee’s budget.
The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report was approved despite significant opposition by SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman, who said only moments before debate began over the report began that, “Under God, I do not want to go in the wrong direction, on the wrong road in the wrong time in our history.”
The task force countered, without reference to Chapman, with a detailed presentation focused on “penetrating lostness” and “pushing back darkness.”
Task force member Ken Whitten of Lutz, Fla., pointed out that 10 years earlier, also in Orlando, messengers adopted the doctrinal statement of a revised Baptist Faith & Message. This vote was about “not what we believe, but how we behave,” he said.
Task force members continually emphasized only a change of heart will bring about the changes envisioned by their recommendations.
Before debate began on the recommendations Floyd reminded messengers the task force responsibility was to establish a vision, but, “It is the responsibility of various boards and trustees to implement these recommendations.”
Ultimately, the five substantive recommendations all are directed to the Executive Committee to consider. If considered positively, the recommendations will be passed to the boards of the affected entities to consider implementation.
In a press conference following the vote, Mohler said “It is the incumbent duty of the various boards” to respond to the Convention’s expressed will.
Messengers rejected a move by Bill Sutton of First Baptist Church in McAllen, Texas, to postpone the report indefinitely because it has been “divisive.”
They similarly turned back a motion by David Tolliver, executive director for the Missouri Baptist Convention, that messengers simply receive the report as information to give affected entities a chance to evaluate its potential impact.
“It’s not a bad report, just premature,” Tolliver said. “Jesus urged us to count the cost” before undertaking a journey, said Tolliver, who said Baptists don’t know the costs of implementing the GCR report.
After a show of hands vote, Floyd urged messengers to remember that every person in the room supports the Great Commission.
He urged that the differences between those who support the task force report and those who do not “should not be exaggerated.”
“We are still brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said, who “differ on no article of faith,” and are guided by commitment to the gospel.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is a convention of churches that is committed to a missional vision of presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world.
“We are a Great Commission people.”