Friday, March 12, 2010

My take on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report

Providence and a desire to be as thoughtful as I can have kept me from posting my thoughts on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) report presented by Chairman Ronnie Floyd to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on February 22, 2010. The report has received much attention, as you would expect and as it rightly should. Some of the assessments are very helpful and some are absurd, again, as expected. A helpful compilation of nearly everything on the web about the report can be found here.

From the outset I have been hopeful about and supportive of the GCRTF and their work. I encouraged our local association to express support for this effort. I was interviewed by the Missouri Baptist Pathway two weeks ago and answered some questions about the GCRTF report. The story accurate reflects my thoughts. Rather than repeating what I said then, I simply refer you to the link.

Overall, I am encouraged with the work of the GCRTF. I believe that the team that Johnny Hunt assembled has done a great job of assessing our current SBC structures in light of what ought to be our fundamental purpose for existing (as the report puts it, "to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations"). The report consists of 6 "components" including 8 "core values." It is worth reading, or watching the video presentation of it, on the GCRTF website.

The task force has also been very open with Southern Baptists about their work and have sincerely solicited input. The job they undertook (and are still undertaking--this is an "interim" report; the final one will be released May 3, 2010) is monumental. Their recommendations, if approved and implemented by the SBC, will have implications for years to come. If nothing else, the GCRTF report should serve as a call for every Southern Baptist church to pay careful attention to the next 3 months and to send informed messengers to Orlando to vote on the recommendations with discernment.

Following are some of my thoughts on the report.

1. The call for repentance is refreshing to hear, coming as it does from respected pastors and denominational servants. It is a call that every Southern Baptist needs to heed. Joined to it is a call to stop the divisive "rhetoric" that has marred our fellowship and witness. Who can not be grateful for the following words from Ronnie Floyd?
I believe with all my heart that God is calling us to return to Him now in deep repentance of our sin, in brokenness over our sin, denying our pride and selfishness and returning to God with complete humility. The boasting, ego, and pride that goes on in our lives, our churches, and our denomination is unacceptable to God. The disunity in our churches and in our denomination is so wrong and sinful. We need to repent and return to God.

2. I am grateful for the demographic realities that are highlighted in the report. Our too-Western, too-American, too-Southern perspectives on the gospel, church and lostness need huge doses of reality that such demographics can provide. We ought to be embarrassed that we keep so many of our resources--personal and financial--so close to home when, 2000 years after our Lord's commission to make disciples of the nations, there are (in the words of the report) "5,845 people groups who have no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

3. I appreciate the emphasis on the local church. This needs to be asserted and reasserted all across the SBC. The report states,
We must return to the primacy and centrality of the local church in our denomination. Jesus loved His church and gave His blood for us. The headquarters of our denomination is not in Nashville, Louisville, Dallas-Fort Worth, Richmond, or any other location of one of our national Baptist entities. The headquarters of our denomination is in each one of the 50,000 local churches and congregations in our convention.
I wish that this emphasis had been spelled out more clearly and directly connected to the call to repentance. How Southern Baptists typically practice church life needs to be reexamined in the light of Scripture. Such an exercise will provide enough reason for repentance to keep us on our knees for a long time.

4. I wish the 8 core values that the report spells out were more gospel-centered. Christ-likeness, truth, unity, relationships, trust, future, local church and kingdom. Under truth the "faith once for all delivered to the saints" is celebrated and under unity it is stated that our working together in love is "for the sake of the Gospel." The gospel is also mentioned under the local church and kingdom values. My concern is that we are living in a day when the gospel has largely been lost because it is too often assumed by evangelicals, including Southern Baptists. Greater emphasis on the person and work of Christ as a core value would be helpful.

5. I wish more radical recommendations were made about the North American Mission Board (NAMB). In fact, my recommendation was that it be shut down and the Disaster Relief Department be fully funded to continue doing what they do better than any other relief organization that I know. The restructuring that has been proposed is significant and perhaps even visionary. I appreciate the move toward decentralization of the work of church planting and of calling on less bureaucratic money-shifting between NAMB and the state conventions. Ronnie Floyd described the current system this way:
While our state conventions keep an average of 63.45% of the dollars within their respective states, the North American Mission Board then sends back to the state conventions an additional $50.6 million due to these cooperative agreements and budgets. This process complicates the work at times, resulting in a lack of productivity and accountability.
The task force's proposal addresses this inefficient system.

6. I am most encouraged by recommendations related to the International Mission Board (IMB). The recommendation that Cooperative Program (CP) allocations going to the International Mission Board be increased by 1% is a start, but in my mind, it is too small of a start. I wish a more radical increase had been proposed.

What is more significant to my mind is the addressing of the irrational policy that has too long existed that restricts our IMB workers, while on stateside assignments, from directly ministering to immigrants from their target people groups who reside in America. When I first learned a few years ago that our IMB workers were "not allowed" to engage immigrants from their people group while in the USA (what used to be called "furlough" but now is "stateside assignment") because such was regarded as encroaching on the domain of NAMB, I found it hard to believe. I knew that if Southern Baptists were made aware of such a policy, whether formal or informal, they would blow a gasket. So I rejoice at component #3 of the report that encourages Southern Baptists to "entrust to the International Mission Board the ministry to reach the unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographic limitations."

7. I think the suggestion that "Great Commission Giving" by a church be recognized while reaffirming our commitment to the CP is healthy (component #5). The CP is ingenuous but when it is used as a stick with which to beat churches who sacrificially give to the work of missions in other ways as well, its effectiveness is greatly hindered by the very people who think they are promoting it.

All-in-all, I believe this is a good report and I could recommend that we adopt it as is. My hope is that it will be strengthened before it is released in its final form. Did everything that I suggested to the committee get addressed? No. Some things did not even get addressed. I am sure that is true for hundreds if not thousands of Southern Baptists who, like me, took the committee up on their invitation to offer input. This is how Baptists work together. I am greatly encouraged by the direction to which this report points us as a convention and I intend to continue to pray for Ronnie Floyd and his task force until their work is complete. I encourage you to do so, also.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why I am hopeful about the GCR movement

Over the last several months I have repeatedly been asked why I support the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) and the broader impetus that led to its formation. A full explanation would include some necessary nuances and caveats that transcend the limits of a blog post, but the main reasons can at least be summarized here. These are, quite obviously, my opinions.

I believe:
  1. The SBC is unhealthy to the point that if it does not significantly change, it will become irrelevant beyond recovery within a few years.
  2. There are many who share my concerns--some of whom have already checked out of convention life while others are headed that way if things don't change for the better.
  3. The SBC represents loads of potential for being an instrument of great good in the kingdom of God. It has been such in the past, and still is in some degree at present, but the potential is greater than anything we have seen thus far.
  4. There are some in the SBC whose vision for what the convention should be is theologically naive and missiologically counterproductive.
  5. There are others in the SBC who don't think about theology and missiology at all.
  6. There are still over 6000 unreached people groups in the world--2000 years after our Lord commissioned His church to make disciples of all peoples.
  7. The leaders who are at the helm of the call for a GCR are trustworthy men. I disagree with them on some doctrinal issues. But I do agree with them on the most important points of doctrine and I believe them to be men of integrity who will not kowtow to political pressure, even if it causes them to stand against men they esteem and love.
  8. The GCRTF could--and should--come back with radical, convention-shocking recommendations that are rooted in a vision to marshal our resources to reach the nations.
  9. The call for a GCR could be the greatest hope of this generation to unite churches around the gospel, under the sovereignty of God, to give our utmost energies to making disciples of the nations.
I am 52 years old. I have zero interest in investing one more dime or one more minute in any religious organization that does not serve churches in the mission to reach the nations. Our church is ramping up our efforts and sharpening our focus in this area and we want to partner with other churches that have a similar vision. We want to be challenged, encouraged, strengthened and linked with like-minded churches with whom we share core commitments.

I believe that at least many on the GCRTF share these concerns and believe that the SBC can become a far more effective vehicle than it currently is to assist churches in their efforts to enlarge the kingdom of God. If these concerns are courageously addressed in the GCRTF recommendations, then the SBC will be challenged to pursue a path that could lead to our most useful days.

I have been around long enough to have been adequately disabused of any denominational naivety. Programs come and programs go. Bravado and superlatives seem almost endemic to SBC life. Some may be tempted to speak of the GCR and the GCRTF in such ways. I am not in that number. I am hopeful, but I am not naive. I pray for Ronnie Floyd and his committee every day and I encourage you to do so, as well.

We desperately need what the best declarations coming from those involved in the GCR movement are calling for. So I have been and remain supportive of the effort and praying that the Lord will use this to awaken, empower and unite Southern Baptists for the renewed purpose of "eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the denomination for the propagation of the gospel."

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Southern Baptist Convention Must Change or Die

Yesterday Dr. Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave an address to students on the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Mohler's analysis is very instructive. He compares the SBC to General Motors, which had its heyday in the mid-20th century and, because of a failure to adapt to a changing world, saw its fortunes decline to the point of bankruptcy.

I encourage every Southern Baptist to listen to (or watch) this address. For some, his words will resonate as a welcome addition to what has been voiced from various sectors of the SBC for years. For others, what he has to say may be eye-opening or even alarming. Though I could wish it were otherwise, there will no doubt be a few who try to dismiss his warnings as extremist and somehow disloyal to all things conservative in the SBC.

The winds of change are blowing across the SBC. Those who recognize the need for change must stand with and encourage those denominational leaders who are trying to point the way forward with a renewed commitment to the centrality of the gospel. In his address to SBTS students, Dr. Mohler is doing just that.

I have tried to explain these issues for a broader audience of readers in a different forum. At the suggestion of Marty Duren (who has also written on this issue), I have recently agreed to write for examiner.com, a new online news outlet that features local writers for most of its news. My assigned area is "Christian Spirituality Examiner" for the Tampa Bay area. Most of my articles there will be broader than the SBC world and will seek to address issues from a gospel-centered, Christian perspective. If you are interested in knowing more about this new venture, email me.

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