Penatrating the Lostness: Contemplating the Great Commission Resurgence

“I am a Southern Baptist who thinks the Southern Baptist Convention needs to change the way it approaches ministry” is like saying “Health Care in our country needs reform.” Everyone agrees in this respect; however, the issue of how we (Southern Baptists) are to seek change with the guidance our Lord Jesus the Savior of the world is where the real discussion begins. Enter the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.

For those who do not keep up with such things the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force is going to be a hot topic at this year’s convention which meets next week in Sunny Orlando, FL. This seems appropriate with Tom Ascol’s early years’ guidance into have a study done on the topic. As some are projecting, this may be the most important convention in a decade if not longer. If you would like to listen to (a bit long) or read it you can find the report here. The best article I have read that is concerned with the GCR proposals is by Earnest J. Kelley. The one that epitomizes the sentiment best on why we need a resurgence is by David Platt.

So, what are we to make of this report? Are we going to, like Al Mohler asks, flinch? I think we already have, but before I get there let me confirm the commonalities among all SBCers.

  1. Everyone is committed to the Great Commission in the conversation. To be for or against this recommendation is not a denial of the Great Commission, but is a denial of the remedy recommended. Simple enough.
  2. Everyone wants to utilize the giving of Southern Baptists the wisest way – especially as it concerns itself with the Mission endeavors globally.
  3. The Cooperative Program is the single best thing that Southern Baptists historically have accomplished (my opinion, but I think we would find majority consensus for this).

However, we have come to this point because we have egregiously lost track of how to do 1-3 effectively. Hence the report comes in to help us reevaluate. And reevaluate it has. As Dr. Mohler asked before “will we flinch?” My answer: we already have.

I have a lot of affection and admiration for this endeavor. I really think we need to do some serious searching as a convention. In that sense I am overwhelmingly for this report. While I think this report has some minor concerns, there is one major gaffe. For me, it is the primary issue to be addressed in fixing our spending problems in relation to the advancement of the Gospel. Spending is clearly a major concern in the report.  The report doesn’t address the obsolete nature of state conventions and local associations. And while I’m not sure if the task force believed they didn’t have the right to comment on those two types of entities, if these two entities as money pits didn’t come on their radar screen or if they didn’t want to bite the hand of the sacred cow that feeds the national convention (so to speak), but for some reason it seems like no one is asking if we even need these organizational sloths.

In fact, I would dare guess (and it is a guess since I was not part of the process) that the whole reason cooperational relationships with the states and NAMB are under review is because of the perception that the Cooperative Program (CP) has become a behemoth that no longer runs efficiently. I would submit that we flinched and diagnosed the wrong symptom. Truth is I didn’t even think about it until I read the report. Why do we feel we need a convention per state or an association per county as is generally the situation?

But before we get to how state and local associations are a reflection of a bygone era, a word on why the perception that the missional spending behind the CP is untrustworthy in its current state may be a misconception. While a local church may be able to account for every cent it gives if directs its giving solely to its missionaries on the ground and its missionary endeavors abroad then my concern is that likely we will spend a lot of money on a lot of things that we don’t need to spend it on because we simply don’t know any better. We will then have a perception that comforts us because “we had to spend this money” to get into the country, etc, when in reality we have experts and conventional representative authorities on the ground who can navigate these financial pitfalls for us. Simply, we need to trust our grunts to do the ground pounding in the missional field, which also includes their own financial decision-making as an entity. In the long run, I really think by local churches trying to govern finances autonomously in international missionary endeavors we are going to lose more money. The missionaries will have less accountability with how they spend money and when we join them on missionary endeavors, if we have missionaries join us when we go, our spending will border on the foolish.  This is not to say that IMB and NAMB can’t do a better job of spending their money, just that it is not the unaccountable problem that seems to be target behind the mindset of some as they relate to this report.

However, there are two organizational entities that in large part are unaccountable in the report.  I am talking about the local Baptist Association and the State Baptist Convention. I think their days have come and gone. It is interesting to me that Ronnie Floyd in his discussion acknowledges that it would be nice if the State Conventions could get 50% of their funding to the SBC.  I think we can get over 75% to the SBC with a little retooling. Lets look at a couple of the problems and then what I think is a good solution.

State and local associations: The problems

  1. State and local associations do a poor job, if they accomplish their purpose at all if their purpose is one of aiding and equipping the local church in strengthening local ministry and equipping churches to have broader perspectives on ministry, discipleship, missions and evangelism. In sum, most state and local associations act like they exist for themselves. Much of their resources are invested in property and employees that are for the most part never seen by the local pastor nor does the local church experience any benefit from these organizations in any other manner other than being part of what generally has become a politico-religious group. Obsolete. Owning property so your local association can have softball tournaments is not a good expenditure of money, for example. My personal experience has been that DOMs attribute nothing to the local ministry. My suspicion is that this experience is normative.
  2. These entities were created when travel, technology and communication were all entirely different than they are now. Travel is now easier, technology makes communication more accessible.  We can operate with a different setup that is slimmer: less employees, less money invested in land and more money made available for missions.
  3. The call to penetrate lostness when considering the statistic that 2/3 of local missional funds stay within our 1/3 regional pocket shows the dysfunction of state & local associations. The report calls for a “decentralized” approach that looks to decentralize starting at the national level. It doesn’t make any sense to me when we have countless local associations and 50 state conventions still vying for their piece of your Great Commission dollar.  Considering who is doing a better job of evangelism & missions. NAMB is doing better than the state associations. NAMB is the expert. NAMB has the invested people. The call to undo cooperative relationships, I do not see, as giving NAMB new leadership opportunities, but less (much less).  It amazes me that we can argue for combining NAMB and IMB because of the global situation, but not recognize how antiquated state and local associations are. Reducing denomination infrastructure extends to states and local associations. This is really my point isn’t it.  If you disagree with me all you have to do to prove me wrong is show how the local church needs these two entities to accomplish the great commission in relationship with the SBC where regional associations, if they were in existence, could not do a better job. That is all you have to do.

Solutions: While the SBC does not have the authority to disband state and local associations the call certainly should have gone out in this reported that it behooves churches to reconsider the need and way we should band together in associations and conventions in regional fashions.

  1. Instead of having state conventions and local associations have a regional office. Break the country down to four or five different regions. Have that region be the point of collection for funds to forward to the SBC. Have all state schools owned by the region with trustees appointed in accordance to the state the school is in. Sell of all the excess land, etc…
  2. Use the overabundance of new found resources to hire “marketing representatives.” It is a bad term, so someone else can come up with something better. I hate to turn to corporate America for the answers, but it boggles my mind that they can figure these things out but we can’t. Companies nationally for the last 10-15 years have been reorganizing into regions instead of state offices since technology now allows for the money saving move. Marketing representatives from the regional offices go and meet with each local vendor and personalize business goals and how to achieve those goals even going so far as to help in a niche they see lacking in competitors in the local area. Now we are not in competition with other local churches, but we sure act like it. Imagine have evangelistic mentors who go out and build intentional relationships with pastors and churches and come up with discipleship programs to compliment the other programs by other churches in the area so we are working together instead of apart. Then all the local pastors become missionary strategist and contextual evangelist as the report suggests. But they become it because we are actually investing in their lives, not talking at them from a national podium.
  3. The sleekness of the regions make them more accountable. If they aren’t aiding in the equipping of the local churches, cooperating in their relationship to one another or to their cooperational relationship with the SBC it becomes abundantly clear. Five regions nationally (six counting Canada?) makes the expectation that those we place in positions of responsibility to accomplish their task in a more visible way.
  4. The regions join in cooperational relationships with IMB/NAMB in the dispersment of funds and missionaries, knowing their regions intimately. Then the regional directors can actually meet annually also and communicate better with one another. More people would be on the same missional page. Seriously, I’m totally dumfounded we aren’t talking about this.
  5. The value of the Cooperative Program is it is the bind the Holy Spirit uses between local churches, their region association, NAMB/IMB and seminaries. Accountability on spending will become easier to track, with oversight and transparency easier and more readily available.
  6. SBC in conjunction with the five regions create a sabbatical ministry that focuses on four things: educational growth of the pastor, spiritual renewal of the pastor, marital strengthening of the pastor’s family and vitality of the local church while the pastor is gone. This means having available ministers who come in to shepherd the flock while the pastor is on sabbatical as well as having relationships with institutes of higher learning for special programs oriented toward times of renewal, a getaway site with counseling provided for marital strengthening, etc… We can afford this type of ministry now. Think of the small churches. This is where this ministry is most needed, and where it it is most likely never to be available.

In summary, a grassroots effort seems to be the biggest need, which translates for me in a better representation of the type of pastor and laity found in churches.  Grassroots efforts means an abandonment of mass produced materials and replacing it with representatives that can build visions within local churches and work alongside the pastor/ministry teams to accomplish these missions. The biggest push from this report is to untie all that money being used in denominational bureaucracy and free it up for the making and discipleship of believers. Well, more money is tied up in state and local organizations. It is time to let them go.

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