Below is my response to the recent open letter issued by the Alabama Baptist Conference of Directors of Missions dated November 15, 2010 to the Southern Baptist Convention calling for a slowdown of the Great Commission Resurgence. Their letter can be read in its entirety here.
I would like to begin by saying that in the grand scheme of all things Southern Baptist, I am merely one pastor. I am merely one pastor among thousands across the SBC who day in and day out engage our people in the reality that we have been given a mission and that mission involves people. My love for Christ and a burden for the lost motivate me as a pastor to stand before God’s people and proclaim the only certain cure for darkness is light. I am certain that is your motivation as well. I would be amiss if I did not thank you for your service to the kingdom of God. I want you to know that I appreciate all that you do in a position that I can only assume is challenging at best. Your leadership and guidance on behalf of Alabama Baptists has no doubt been selfless and beneficial.
Your open letter dated November 15, 2010 was a letter to pastors. It was a letter to the local church leader. It was a letter to the local congregation. It was a letter to a denomination of churches that had spent a considerable amount of time (nearly a year) considering a request to evaluate themselves. It was a letter to me as a 38 year old Southern Baptist pastor. Therefore, I would like to respond.
I was in the convention hall in Orlando this past June when the GCRTF recommendations were presented, debated, amended, and accepted by a great majority of the messengers. I, for one, studied both the preliminary and final reports. When asked by Dr. Floyd to do so, I committed to be a prayer partner throughout the entire process. After the year-long build up, after all the articles had been written, after all the interviews had been given, after the almost hour of discussion, and after the final vote, it was clear to me that the messengers present that day sensed a need for change in order for Southern Baptists to have any hope of putting a dent in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I left Orlando hopeful, optimistic, and more excited than ever about the future of the SBC.
To the best of my ability, I would like to reply to a few of your statements that I feel are especially troubling. As I read the reasoning behind your letter and the letter itself, there were certain words and phrases that I found not only surprising, but discouraging. The phrases, “pull the plug”, “backed into a corner”, “when the GCR comes to pass”, “causes division”, “knows the devastation GCR will have”, “superseded”, and “dismantled” collectively send a message of fear.
First, Tom Stacey, Salem Baptist Association Director of Missions said he “knows the devastation the GCR will have”. I don’t know how this is possible. I believe that any “perceived knowledge” as to how these recommendations will affect any agency in the future is speculation at best. The recommendations that passed in Orlando are just that, recommendations. The adoption of the report of the GCRTF did not change anything, realign anything, create anything, dismantle anything, or decrease any funding on the spot. These recommendations were referred to the respective entities (Executive Committee, NAMB, etc) for study. These were non-binding and no one fully knows what will happen or what the respective agencies and entities will do. It will not be until June of 2011 in Phoenix that we know how the entities respond to the recommendations.
Second, Steve Loggins, president of the Alabama Baptist Conference of Director of Associational Missions said “we all want to see the Gospel go to the ends of the earth, but we can’t abandon what we have here. It doesn’t have to be an either/or, but a both/and.” In all fairness, your letter does not come to the defense of the nations. Two of the recommendations of the GCRTF deal with NAMB having a greater emphasis on church planting in under-served areas of North America. They also ask the IMB to help NAMB with identified people groups located within in North America. I believe the thrust of the recommendations address your concerns: pioneer areas where there are people, but a lack of churches to serve them. You speak of a “both/and”, but one recommendation dealt with the IMB receiving an additional one percent and this was absent from your letter. Instead, you addressed the areas that would affect you and only defended the funding of those areas.
Thirdly, you stated in your letter, “in our understanding, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and documents proceeding from the task force essentially have: superseded the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists main funding for working together.” There were no new funding mechanisms put forward by the GCRTF. The GCRTF did not offer one channel of funding in exchange for another. You mentioned the “documents proceeding from the task force”. On page number nine of the pamphlet entitled Penetrating the Lostness; Embracing a Vision for a Great Commission Resurgence Among Southern Baptists, under Component number three, the following is written, “We reaffirm the definition of the Cooperative Program adopted by action of the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. We honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective and efficient means of channeling the sacrificial support of our churches through undesignated giving which funds both the state conventions and the work of the Southern Baptist Convention. We call upon the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to increase the percentage of their Cooperative Program giving.” Although the GCRTF put forth a category of giving entitled Great Commission Giving in order to recognize all categories of missions giving, the Cooperative Program appears to have remained center stage for cooperative funding. In Orlando, the GCRTF embraced an amendment to their own report that added language of further support and recognition of the Cooperative Program as the main avenue of cooperative missions giving. The wording of the amendment and the willingness of the task force to listen to the messengers should put to rest your fears of the “dismantling” of the Cooperative Program. If nothing else, their spirit of cooperation should at least give you an inclination that their motives as pure.
Lastly, Stacey said again, “We’re praying [NAMB President] Kevin Ezell will start understanding more and more that these entities and agencies will do some studies before they pull the plug on whatever they are going to pull the plug on. We’re backed into a corner and we are trying to be as gentlemanly as we can.” Who backed you into a corner? Why is there a need to be so defensive? As leaders, we should always evaluate how our ministries are being carried out in order to determine if there if there is a better way to utilize personnel, resources, time, and the Cooperative Program monies that sacrificially flow from the pews of the local congregation. As leaders, evaluation and introspection should not frighten us. At its base level, the GCRTF has asked us all to do that very thing. In all fairness to Dr. Ezell, he has just begun his duties at NAMB. He has stepped into a difficult position. He has been given recommendations from the messengers of the SBC that call for a serious look at how NAMB does business. Please give him some time to understand his office and duties before any assumptions are made. You mention that you hope some studies are done before the plug is pulled on “whatever they are going to pull the plug on.” I would like to remind you that you are a part of “they”. What I mean by that is this. Any final action will be made by messengers who come from the local Baptist church. The recommendations that were passed in June are the studies you hope that will be done. The GCRTF gave some detail to each entity as to what to “study” to better carry out the Great Commission.
I would like to ask two things of you as an association of directors of missions and as influencers of Baptists nationwide.
First, please let the process work before you make any drastic decisions. I believe that asking for a slow-down on a renewed passion and desire for the fulfillment of the Great Commission is counter-productive and not our place. How dare we ask such a thing?
Second, please keep in mind the nearly six billion lost people throughout the nations when drawing territorial lines. Turf wars are not God-honoring and never advance the gospel. We must never become fixated on our areas so as to miss what God is doing elsewhere.
Many challenges lay ahead of us as Southern Baptists. We are challenged to put the welfare and future of the nations first. We are challenged to seek the kingdom of God first. We are challenged to seek unity first. There are going to be issues and positions that we don’t agree on. It is impossible to believe that everyone will always agree on everything. Although we don’t agree, we have to remember that we serve the same Lord and it will be our ability and willingness to bridge our differences that will determine how long we travel in separate directions hoping to reach the same destination.