Oh, where to begin?
The Southern Baptist Convention's "Great Commission Resurgence Task Force" delivered a "progress report" to the denomination's Executive Committee on Monday evening. Chairman Ronnie Floyd, who is pastor of a mega-church in Arkansas, spoke for the task force, which was commissioned last summer with finding ways for the denomination's churches to be more effective in accomplishing the "Great Commission," which is Jesus' command to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 29:19-20).
The GCR committee was created, ostensibly, to rescue the denomination from what some predict will be a slow, painful death. Membership growth is not what it ought to be and baptisms are not happening in the kind of numbers you would like to see in a healthy church family. Committee member Danny Akin, president of a SBC seminary in North Carolina, said a new generation of pastors would not support the SBC unless it decided to no longer be a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy.
Delegates to the denomination's meetings this past summer voted overwhelmingly to create the committee (Southern Baptists love to create committees!) and a young pastor at an early GCR listening session urged task force members to "bring the crisis to the table next year [in Orlando] and absolutely blow it up."
I am pretty sure this "progress report" does not constitute "blowing it up." One wonders what that young pastor, Patrick Payton, senior pastor of Stonegate Fellowship in Midland, Texas, thinks about the report and whether it even constitutes progress.
There are so many questions swirling in my head, I hardly know where to start.
I will not rehearse the content of the report. Baptist Press posted a perfectly adequate article about the report and the press conference that followed. There is also a good article about comments made before the presentation by Executive Committee head Morris Chapman.
But like I said, I can think of so many questions this report raises, and I know practically nothing about how the Southern Baptist Convention works. I have got to believe the very intelligent members of the committee asked lots of very good questions during their deliberations. Yet they still bring forward a report like this?
First, let me say a couple of things positive.
One, Ronnie Floyd opened his presentation by talking about the lostness of the world and the selfishness of local churches and their members. There is no need to argue about the world being massively lost, but Floyd quoted research that indicates the average church member gives only 2.56% of her income to the church. Churches are famous for keeping 94% of their receipts for themselves. And only a tiny fraction of church members engage in any kind of ministry, much less evangelism. Complacency and selfishness stifle passion for the Great Commission, both at the individual and church levels.
Two, the vision and values proposed by the task force are wonderful. The Baptist Press article reports: 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. What a great list! Who could take issue with any of them?
But it also raises the first of my many questions. How many Southern Baptists would say those values already guide their mission? How many would think task force leaders did not do such a great job of modeling values like Unity, Relationships, and Trust when they harshly criticized denominational leaders? Floyd declared, "The disunity in our churches and in our denomination is so wrong and sinful. ... With rhetoric we bemoan our dismal baptism numbers, our declining and plateaued churches, and our economic selfishness. The casting of criticism has resulted in a caustic cynicism that just adds to our rhetoric and writings. ... The rhetoric needs to cease and the repentance personally and corporately must begin. We need to repent of our sins and return to God." Do the Reverends Floyd, Hunt, and Akin plan to set an example by confessing the disunity they have caused with their rhetoric and criticism? How great it would be for the pot to practice what it is preaching to the kettle! (Yes, I love mixing metaphors.)
A few of the other questions that occur to me:
How does carving the North American Mission Board into seven regional operations constitute a move toward streamlining and efficiency? How would that not result in multiplying professional and support staff? Why does a national agency need to be "closer to the churches"? Is that not why Southern Baptists have local associations and state conventions? Do state conventions not have staff that focus on the same issues the NAMB focuses on?
The task force proposes a 1% increase in funding for the SBC's International Mission Board, calling it a "symbolic and substantial" step toward penetrating the massive lostness of people groups that have yet to hear the Gospel. That amounts to about $2 million, which is a drop in the bucket for an organization with an annual budget in excess of $200 million. "Symbolic," no doubt, but "substantial"? Hardly.
The report also proposes moving responsibility for promoting the Cooperative Program and educating people about biblical stewardship away from the national Executive Committee to the individual state conventions. The money that has gone for those ministries would go toward the extra money for international missions. That means the state conventions, whose budgets are already seriously strained, would not be getting any funding to help create those offices. Where will those state offices get the money? Perhaps by sending even less money on to the national convention? Would that not mean the IMB is getting 1% more of a pie that could be 10% smaller?
The task force also is suggesting that, over the course of four years, the NAMB be "released" from "cooperative agreements" with the state conventions to give the agency more money to focus on a truly national evangelism and church planting strategy. I am pretty clueless about those agreements. Apparently it involves a state sending church donations to the NAMB and then getting part of it back to help with evangelism and church planting strategies in the state. By reducing the amount sent back by 25% each year, the NAMB has more money to use for its own national strategies. But what keeps the state convention from simply keeping that portion of money in the first place? Do they not decide how much money will be sent on and how much will be kept in the state for their own mission needs? This move, plus giving them the responsibility for "CP" and stewardship, almost guarantees they will see a need to keep a larger percentage in the state. Why does the IMB's slice of the pie not get smaller still?
Denominations are living organisms, not machines. Like humans, denominations start out young and simple and get more complex as they grow older. Sometimes they get frail and have a hard time remembering why they are here. But fixing a denomination is not as simple as disassembling a machine and putting it back together.
What the GCR Task Force is attempting is not rearranging the parts of denominational machinery. It is more like strapping a mega-church pastor to a gurney with the intention of rearranging his parts. Perhaps he suffers from Cranial-Rectal Inversion Disorder and the intention is to put his head back in the proper alignment. Or perhaps the noble desire is to accomplish greater efficiency and effectiveness in an organism that is not functioning as well as it used to.
The danger, of course, is that mucking around with the internal organs of a living organism might result in a successful surgery ... and a dead patient.