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.

17 comments:

Kern Pegues said...

Tom, I agree with the report especially on repentance. But, I think we need to act and quit talking about it. I have been a southern baptist for a long time and they have been talking about repentance for about as long as I have been a baptist.

We need to quit quipping about the fatted calf (Matt Chandler sermon in Jacsonville0 and enjoy the gospel and love one another. This is how I know you are a disciple of mine, that you love one another. Do we?

kern

Tom said...

Thanks, Kern. I agree that the time to act has come. What encourages me is that, while I, too, have heard talk about repentance over the years, most of it has been directed to "those out there" who need to do the repenting. This is a call for us to repent within the family. If that happens, it will be a sign of God's work among us.

Tim Rogers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scotty Karber said...

I agree with you and wonder if you have considered why there was nothing addressed about the seminaries in all this.

Tom said...

Scotty:

I made a suggestion about the seminaries to the committee, and doubt I was the only one. I am not privy to any reasons about why they did or did not include anything. There were some who were speculating that the committee was going to try to sweeten the CP allocation for seminaries, since it has 2 SBC seminary presidents on it. Perhaps that inhibited the committee from addressing our systems of theological education. Or it could be that they simply had so much to consider that they just made judgment calls on what matters to bring before the SBC and what matters to let lie.

Blessings,
ta

Chris said...

Hey Tom, Love your blog man. If you are proposing the end of NAMB, what are you proposing for its replacement in planting churches in the unchurched areas of the country?

Tom said...

Chris:

Well, it is always easier to tear down than to build! ;-) I have no detailed plan, or even a definitive generic one. However, I think that what the IMB has done so well in many places around the world could also be done in North America with regard to facilitating church planting. If the IMB were tasked with that responsibility, and adequately funded to do so, I believe our church planting efforts would be much better than they have been.

Of course, the work of planting belongs to local churches. Perhaps the efforts to decentralize NAMB will better help churches to do just that.

Morris Brooks said...

Tom,

A hearty Amen to #4.

Morris

nofiresale said...

A good sign indeed. I think the only change will come as the leaders in the SBC begin to recognize the sin and confess it. Then they can repent. If the SBC doesnt recognize its own sins, it cannot repent. But it has to come from the leaders publicly.

Christopher said...

Tom: Thanks for your reply. I definitely agree that something else should be done with NAMB. I have known several missionaries who have worked or are working for them and they have the most difficult time raising funds. People wonder why they aren't supported by the CP. I wonder why too.

B Nettles said...

Tom,
Have you read the Baptist Press article about the groaning from the Alabama state convention? There are many individual items that would feed a month's worth of posts, but overall it seems that the executives there believe that the CP (especially NAMB) is to function as a financial redistribution instrument for the churches. The last paragraph is especially telling when they whine about having to do an audit of their (convention) ministries. To use the youth vernacular, "DUH!"

Do you think the "redistribution" attitude conclusion is a fair assessment?

Jim said...

Tom,

I appreciate your comments on the GCR Task Force Report, but you missed something in your assessment of NAMB. NAMB is directed in this report to develop a national church planting strategy, to which their missionaries will be directly accountable. This, as opposed to their facilitating field based strategies, where cooperative agreememts bring the three streams of denominational life (assoc, state conv, and SBC) together along shared goals and plans.

Even decentralized, NAMB missionaries will be called upon to funnel a top down plan to the field. In the most unreached areas of our country, including where I serve as a missionary, this would hinder our efforts.

BTW - Where IMB is most effective, their missionaries get someting started and get out of the way. They embrace locally derrived strategies and release indigenous leadership long before we might in the states. My reading of the report as regards to NAMB would prohibit such an approach.

While the system needs a radical reconstruction, the recommendations in this report are likely to set us back rather than move us forward.

Tom said...

Bill:

I read the article after you pointed it out. Let me simply say that I am not very sympathetic with the appeals found it. There cannot be a reordering of priorities without significant changes. And, certainly an audit of ministries should not be seen as a negative thing!

Tom said...

Jim:

Point well-taken. As I said, I would be in favor of NAMB being brought to an end. Thanks for your comment

drchickenman said...

To put it succinctly - we are a rural denomination in an urban nation. I am a pastor in a suburb of Phoenix and 800 people every month move into my city. Planting a church where the pastor has a vision to get the congregation to 200, buy 5 acres and build is a completely antiquated approach that is built on the concept of neighborhood churches - a rural and small-town methodology. We need not only repentance of sin, but repentance of our small-minded way of doing home missions. We need to think BIG and BOLD to take the gospel to the 10,000 people who will move into Chandler, AZ this year alone and the 1000s that are migrating every year to the major cities of our country.

Hoyle said...

While I support many of the thoughts presented in this report, it has one great flaw. The CP funds are setup now so that the local church directs how much goes to the state convention. The state conventions then direct how much is sent on to the national agencies. As churches see the lack of trust that the national agencies see in them and the state conventions, they will keep more of the money instate which means less money to CP. This will then mean less support to the state conventions who will in turn keep more of their funds at home to support the mission work they see as important. I am afraid you will see more churches abandon CP and only give toward LM and AA offerrings and what would that mean for CP which our leaders say they want to make better. I see that as it stands now this could be the death of CP instead of its resurgence.

Elijah Elkins said...

Great comments everyone... Hoyle, I see what you're saying, but I hope and pray this doesn't happen. We have got to focus on spreading the Gospel by planting Gospel-centered churches. It's been proven that this is the most effective and biblical way to spread the Gospel. We need to be careful to plant the Gospel and not our traditions and/or sometimes sinful legalisms also... I pray the LORD continues to guide the SBC into His will, but ultimately the SBC must either get on board or out of the way of what God's going to do. We also must seek to disciple and give leadership to the younger generation. The SBC will die if we don't.