Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Southern Baptists and their GCRD

It has been almost a year since I posted but there just hasn’t been anything that piqued my interest. Until now, anyway.

I have been reading about the Southern Baptists’ Great Commission Resurgence Declaration (GCRD) in Baptist Press and on the blogs. While I agree wholeheartedly about the need for Southern Baptists to rediscover a passion for Christ’s mission in the world, there were some things about the GCRD conversation that struck me as being a little off.

So some friends and I have been talking and we have come up with a few questions that we would like to have answers to, if we were going to be delegates to the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Louisville, Kentucky (which we are not).

The GCRD asserts the SBC has a problem with growing bureaucracy. Just saying so, however, does not make it so. What is the evidence for the assertion? Can anyone provide numbers that demonstrate inappropriate growth in Southern Baptist agency staffing?

And if it turns out there has been significant growth in staffing, how does a person tell the difference between bureaucratic enlargement and growth necessitated by ministry advancement? Is all growth in staffing by definition an enlargement of bureaucracy?

As long as we are at it, let’s also talk about church staffs. When would the growth of a church's staff count as bureaucratic enlargement? Are the issues of misplaced mission priorities illustrated at least as well by how churches spend money on themselves? What does a church that keeps 98% of its dollars at home have to say to a state denominational office that keeps 55%?

Which is the bigger problem for the enlargement of Christ’s Kingdom: the percentage of dollars kept by the local church and not sent on to mission causes, or the percentage kept by a state denominational office for state missions?

Among the leaders at the local church level who are calling for the denomination to make better use of the people's offerings, do we have examples of pastors with misplaced priorities? Are large building and salary budgets a good mission use of money given by the congregation?

GCRD leaders have complained that critics have zeroed in on their Point #9 (which criticizes the growth of denominational bureaucracy and calls for reorganization at all levels to “streamline”), but other than #9, which elements of the GCRD would anyone actually disagree with? Is it irrelevant that the GCRD's most practical call for specific change is focused on denominational structures, not the local church?

If the GCRD really is directed at the churches, not the denomination, what exactly is the challenge it poses to the churches? In what way do they need to change?

Is there any point in the GCRD that a church member would say does not already characterize their church?

If we believe these points already describe our church, how does affirming them ignite a “Great Commission Resurgence” (GCR)? Did the “Conservative Resurgence” happen because everyone in the SBC affirmed a high view of Scripture? Did the Protestant Reformation happen because Martin Luther posted 95 Points of Agreement on the church door?

When a church readily affirms the elements of the GCRD but does not live them out in practice, what do you do next to spark a GCR?

We also were put off by the original tone of the GCRD as put out first by Dr. Danny Akin and then by Rev. Johnny Hunt. The language was sharply critical of denominational agencies without offering any documentation for the assertion about bureaucracy. We have addressed that above.

We were even more concerned, however, by the tone Rev. Hunt struck in his subsequent media interviews. It seemed to us that it was arrogant for him to lecture denominational leaders about speaking down to pastors and churches. He declared that “the church is king” and said that when churches speak to the denomination, they speak as kings to princes. The point is that denominational leaders should listen and cooperate, not presume to give directions.

That is all well and good. In Southern Baptist polity, churches are indeed king. But someone may need to point out to Rev. Hunt that the SBC therefore has more than 40,000 kings, not one, two, or twenty. It also ought to be noted that it is therefore the churches that are king, not the pastors. A pastor may not appreciate a denominational leader speaking down to him, and that's understandable. But does the fact that the church is king justify a pastor speaking down to a denominational leader?

Some of the SBC’s leaders have asserted that if a GCR is going to happen, it will require the partnership of all people at all levels of the denomination. How can a spirit of partnership prevail if a pastor speaks to convention leaders the way a king would speak to princes?

We also are curious about another polity issue. Southern Baptists say they are not connectional. That means no level of denominational organization has authority over any church or over other levels of organization. The churches directly control each of the levels of organization with which they choose to relate.

That being said, on what basis would a national SBC task force presume even to discuss -- much less make recommendations about -- Southern Baptist reorganization at state and local levels? If the churches are king, would not they take up those discussions themselves in the appropriate venues? Is it not a little ironic that a local church leader who diminishes the role of national agencies would then call for a national task force to tell state and local leaders how to reorganize their affairs?

I doubt any of the big shots who run the big churches and big agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention have any interest in what nobodies have to say. But it seems to us nobodies that a group of people who claim they want to spark renewed passion for the Great Commission are going about it more like a bunch of religious bureaucrats than a band of passionate followers of Jesus Christ.