Last night, the GCRTF (Great Commission Resurgence Task Force) of the Southern Baptist Convention released their mid-term progress report on the work that they have been doing to help bring renewal to the SBC. They are going to release the whole report full of recommendations in early May in preparation for the SBC's Annual Meeting in June where it will be voted on. The GCR came about after a groundswell of people calling for massive change in the SBC over the past several years. Here is a link to the full report.
One of the best things that GCRTF leader, Ronnie Floyd said last night was this,
While tonight you will hear our vision that does ask Southern Baptists to considering changing some things, we realize our number one need is to return to God in deep repentance and experience a fresh wave of His Spirit upon our lives, ministries, and work of our denomination. We need a fresh and compelling vision that will only come when we are right with Him.
He is absolutely correct. The SBC is in decline. We have lost our vision and we are focused on many of the wrong things. But, it is not just a loss of vision at the top in our denominational agencies. Our fundamental problem is coming up from our churches. I think that Dr. Floyd and the GCRTF realizes this, and on this point, they are on target. We desperately need widespread renewal and it must begin at the local church level.
He goes on to say,
. . . We believe that every local church needs to begin to operate as a missional strategy center. After the church gathers for worship, the church must scatter and send the people to advance the Gospel. When ministers see themselves as missional strategists and churches begin to operate as missional strategy centers, releasing and sending our people to advance the gospel regionally, nationally, and globally, we will begin to penetrate the lostness in our world.
This is also correct in that the local church must carry out the Great Commission. The local church is to be on the front lines of what God is doing in the world. I have heard SBC leaders say over and over again that the denominational structures of the SBC exist to help the local church carry out its mission. Absolutely right. But, do we really see the local church in this way? That is the rhetoric. But, what is reality? Theologically, we do see things this way. In reality, we do not.
Much of what was said last night was excellent. It was really good rhetoric. But, when it came time to bring out concrete proposals, the rhetoric did not match up with the recommendations. Here were the 6 proposals according to the Baptist Press article:
- Calling Southern Baptists "to rally towards a clear and compelling missional vision and begin to conduct ourselves with core values that will create a new and healthy culture within the Southern Baptist Convention." The "missional vision" is "as a convention of churches, … to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations." The eight core values are Christ-likeness, Truth, Unity, Relationships, Trust, Future, Local Church and Kingdom. ME: This is really good. I like these ideas. They are in the Bible and are the character of Christ and I am glad that they are being highlighted by the GCRTF. But, how will they be carried out? How will they be implemented? When the other plans were rolled out, they were not connected with these values. I like words. I use them all the time. But, it is easy for words to just be words.
- Recommending the North American Mission Board "prioritize efforts to plant churches in North America and to reach our nation’s cities and clarify its role to lead and accomplish efforts to reach North America with the Gospel." The North American Mission Board needs to be "reinvented and released" by implementing a direct strategy for planting churches in North America "with a priority to reach metropolitan areas and under-served people groups," Floyd said. The plan also calls for NAMB to assist churches in evangelism, discipleship and developing current pastoral leadership. It calls for NAMB to decentralize operations into seven regions and recommends releasing the entity from "cooperative agreements" with state conventions over the course of four years to free up money for national strategy. ME: So, NAMB is given the huge mission of planting churches all over North America, especially in the cities apart from state convention agreements. The result of this will be a much larger NAMB working everywhere with churches all over the U.S. NAMB will come in and work in areas that were once reserved for state conventions, but for everything else, state conventions will be responsible. This creates yet another duplication of resources and work, unless the state conventions just go away altogether. I imagine that they will want more CP money for this, but how will this work, exactly? If you said that NAMB should work in pioneer regions where there are few churches and small state conventions, I can see it. But, everywhere? With no state agreements? It will be easier at first, but it will duplicate resources and strategy long-term. Plus, NAMB is the only SBC entity that was really targeted for complete reorganization here while most everything else stays in tact. It is also the one that has been through repeated failure and lacks political muscle right now.
- Requesting Southern Baptists "entrust to the International Mission Board the ministry to reach the unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographic limitations." "Globalization has flattened the world," Floyd said. "While years ago a people group was located within a specific geographical location, this is no longer reality. Reality today is that these people groups are located all over the world, including the United States…. Most of the 586 people groups that do not speak English in the United States have [IMB] strategy coordinators working overseas with the same groups. With geographical limitations removed, a new synergy can be created in international missions." Floyd added: "We believe that with this bold and needed change, we are positioning our convention of churches for a major evangelistic harvest, a discipleship revolution and an unprecedented, exponential explosion in church planting." ME: How will this be funded? The IMB will receive about $2 million more dollars a year when the percentage of CP giving that leaves the states and makes it to the national SBC goes from 50% to 51%. But, the IMB is struggling mightily with budget problems right now. So, you give them all of the foreign people groups in North America and add $2 million to the budget to do it? Plus, how much confusion will erupt at this point when you have a city that has local Baptist churches, a local association, a state convention, NAMB trying to plant churches, and the IMB working with ethnic groups? All in one area! And, none of them are working together necessarily and money from offering plates is going to all 5 groups. We keep saying that the local church is the front line of world mission, but we keep sending other groups to the frontlines. The reason that the IMB makes sense is because local churches cannot effectively go overseas. But, it makes little sense for the IMB to work in the U.S. apart from a consulting role when it comes to reaching ethnic and foreign language groups, in my opinion.
- Moving the primary responsibility for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education ministry assignments from the Executive Committee to the state conventions. ME: I don't see where this makes much difference other than taking some money from the EC and reapportioning it elsewhere. Of course, it now makes the primary fundraisers for the SBC the State Conventions, where an average of over 60% of CP money stays, instead of making it to the foreign mission field. Does this sound like a good idea?
- Reaffirming the Cooperative Program "as our central means of supporting Great Commission ministries" and establishing a broader category of "Great Commission Giving" to celebrate all the financial support – CP giving and designated giving — local congregations provide for Southern Baptist missions. "We are not recommending any changes to the Cooperative Program but are reaffirming it as our central means of supporting the Great Commission ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention," Floyd said, saying the task force calls upon every church "to work diligently at giving more through the Cooperative Program." ME: So, we're not changing the CP, but we are changing the way that money gets counted as CP giving. Ok. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1. So that megachurches like Dr. Floyd's can give to different things in the SBC and still have it count as CP gifts. 2. So that churches can bypass their state conventions and give directly to what they want to support and call it CP giving. The reason that all of the money that you give to SBC causes needs to be counted as CP giving is so that those churches get credit and so the pastors of said churches can gain appointments to certain committees and seats of power within the SBC. If that is not the case, then who cares if the money your church gives to whatever it wants is counted as CP or not?
- Raising the percentage of Cooperative Program funds received by the International Mission Board in the 2011-2012 budget year to 51 percent and funding the increase in part with monies previously allocated to the SBC Executive Committee for Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education. The proposal would reduce the SBC Operating Budget allocation of 3.40 percent by 1 percentage point, or roughly $2 million, and add it to the IMB's budget, currently at nearly $320 million. Calling the proposal "both symbolic and substantial," Floyd said, "This means that for the first time in our history, more than one-half of all monies that come from our churches through the SBC Cooperative Program will go to the reaching of the nations…. We believe this is a great move forward and we need to do all we can to reach the nations." ME: Ummm, really? Over one-half of all monies that come from our churches through the SBC Cooperative Program will go to the reaching of the nations? That makes it look like that over half of the money that my church gives to the CP goes to the IMB. But, what he means is that AFTER the states take their 60% of CP money, or so, THEN, 51% that goes to the national entity makes it to the IMB. Just wanted to clarify. That comes to about an extra $2 million per year making it to the IMB. Oh, and by the way, they were just given the responsibility of taking the lead on reaching the unreached people groups from other countries that live in North America . . . where we have over 40,000 local churches . . . and thousands of local associations . . . and over 30 state conventions . . . and NAMB . . . and where over 90% of all funds given by Christians stay. Wow.
Okay. So, I am not trying to be critical here. These are all good men, I am sure. But, after reading over these proposals and knowing what kind of trouble the SBC is in and knowing how much desire that exists among so many people in the SBC for change, this looks like, well, it looks like not much of anything. I mean, this is basically some adminstrative and bureaucratic manuevering to put some money and responsibility in different places. It seems far less ambitious than the SBC restructuring in the late 90's that did not solve anything. How are these recommendations going to address the massive problems that we have and be a catalyst for the change that we need? I have been supportive of the GCR, but I am confused as to what is really going to change in the life of people and local churches. Of course, they say that real change has to start on an individual level. With this, I agree. But, if that is the case, then how is that being fostered and encouraged?
All in all, I've come to the conclusion that the SBC is no longer capable on any level of leveraging movement among our churches. I don't think that either state or national leadership of the SBC is able to swing any type of top-down renewal or resurgence. People just are not paying attention. Even a day after this report has been given, there is very little reaction to it. How is this going to get out to the people who are not paying attention? And, even if it does, what difference will these recommendations make? My great fear is that people got their hopes up and thought that some big changes were on their way, and now, when this is what we are looking at, most will realize that nothing much is ever going to change in the SBC.
We'll see. But, that is how this all strikes me. Instead, the change that will come to the SBC will happen with individual churches, Baptists, and leaders begin to take ownership over the mission themselves. That is what the GCR leaders want. But, when that happens, it won't work the way that they want it to. It will look way different than anyone can possibly imagine and it will mean the end of the SBC as we know it as it loses its centralized nature and becomes more of an organic network of churches with the initiative happening at the local church level instead of in the offices of those who control CP money.
And, that might be exactly what needs to happen.