My Response to the Open Letter by the Alabama Baptist Conference of Directors of Missions

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.

Are We There Yet? Part #2

“Getting there”. In yesterday’s post, I began looking at the question that is being asked of all Southern Baptists during this Christmas season as we study about, pray for, and give to our missionaries through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The question is “Are We There Yet?” The “there” is the lost world. The “there” is the culmination of our witness so that everyone has heard the name and gospel of Jesus Christ. Along the way, questions must be answered. The status quo has to be challenged. Priorities must be re-shuffled. Today, I want to offer two questions that surely will have to be dealt with before we can get “there”.

Question #1: Are we there yet in our willingness to place the funding of our missionaries as a top priority?

Our Southern Baptist missionaries are on the front-line in the battle over spiritual darkness and are funded solely by monies contributed through the Cooperative Program. This enables our missionaries to remain on the field engaged in training leaders, planting churches, building relationships with local people groups, and other gospel-proclaiming endeavors. The flip side of the issue is this. If churches decrease their giving, then less money will reach the mission field overall. If state conventions decide to keep for themselves larger and larger percentages of the CP dollar, then less money will reach the mission field.

It is a reality that ministry requires money. It is just the simple truth. Reaching the lost, and the nations for that matter, requires the individual believer, the individual church, the individual association, and the individual state conventions to give selflessly, in whatever manner is available to them in order for Christ to be proclaimed. Budgets reflect priority. It does not take an economist to tell that financially our county has been hurting for a few years, and continues today. I am also a firm believer that financial challenges further reveal priority.  When faced with financial challenges, churches can decide to either make missions and ministry a priority or play it safe and look within. At Port Royal Baptist Church, we have recently made decisions to further invest in what is fruitful and decrease what is not seen as fruitful. Associations, when faced with financial challenges, can either choose to cut ministries and play it safe or aggressively speak for the nations on behalf of the fellowship of churches. State conventions, when faced with financial challenges, can either decide that missions work beyond the state lines is as equally important and worthy of equal funding, or can allow the lobbying of the state agencies and entities to drown out the call for needed funding from overseas.

What makes me question whether or not the willingness is there or not comes from what I have seen over the past several months across the SBC. This willingness can be seen in several state conventions have voted to move their CP division to a 50/50 split, meaning the state retains 50% of funds sent to them from the churches and forwards the other 50% to the SBC. This is encouraging and exciting thing to see happen. It is at the very least a recognition that more funding is needed beyond the state in order keep already appointed missionaries where they are and fund the ones who are standing by. As I had mentioned in a earlier post, our state convention is South Carolina during it’s annual meeting voted to keep any excess funds beyond what is required to meet the operating budget within the state and divide the excess between the seven state entities, agencies, and schools. Do difficult financial times in our country give us a free pass on reaching the nations with the gospel? Absolutely not. Until we as Southern Baptists possess a willingness to make missionary funding a priority, “there” will remain just beyond our reach.

Question #2: Are we there yet in our realization that “business as usual” is no longer acceptable in our efforts to reach the lost?

 I believe this was the genesis for the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. Going back to the original motion in 2009, there has been a realization across the SBC that on present course we are, at best, treading water in our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. This passion and desire to get our practice right as it relates to the Great Commission is real. It is just as real as the passion and desire was to get our theology right during the Conservative Resurgence of the mid-late 1980’s. From time to time it takes something to rattle us and wake us up from our slumber. I believe GCRTF has put before us as Southern Baptists the picture of lostness and legitimate recommendations that would enable us to fulfill the Great Commission. These recommendations, if implemented by the various agencies, will change the face of our denominational structure and how we do “business”. I was encouraged to read what Dr. Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board, said recently at a missionary appointment service. Dr. Ezell said “As we go through changes, absolutely every change we make and every reduction we make is to put more missionaries in the field.

 It is very easy to get settled into routines, schedules, ministries, programs, and structures; and as a result, place our trust in them. Any changes to the present structure will be questioned and difficult. Territorial spats are already occurring and changes have only been proposed. Recently, a group of directors of missions from Alabama wrote an open letter to the SBC encouraging a slow down on the Great Commission Resurgence. I’ll be writing a response to that letter in the near future. How do you hope to slow down a renewed desire and passion to fulfill the Great Commission? Better yet, how dare you ask such a thing? I sat in the convention hall of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Orlando this past June, it was clear that Southern Baptists were saying “business as usual” is no longer acceptable. It is a willingness to let go of “business as usual” and set aside turf wars and territorialism that will determine our ability to get “there”.

My Reflections on the 2010 South Carolina Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

I attended our South Carolina Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Columbia last week with a good pastor friend of mine. I enjoy annual meetings such as these. I have always made an attempt to attend these meetings and involve myself in the business of the state convention of which the church that I pastor is a contributing member. These annual meetings are times of fellowship, encouraging worship, challenging messages, reports from the agencies and entities owned by the state, and times for various business items to be handled.

As I look back on Columbia this year, I do so with mixed emotion. On one hand it was an enjoyable positive experience. I had the opportunity to represent my church as a messenger and participate in the voting process. Opportunities presented themselves for me to meet new people and form new relationships. Being new to the SCBC, this was important. I was personally encouraged by the messages I heard during the annual meeting and the pastor’s conference. Mike Stone, Ed Stetzer, James Merritt, and Ken Whitten and others personally touched my heart. I had been previously asked and was elected to serve on of the convention committees over the next three years. I am looking forward to this opportunity. I was also encouraged by a motion from the floor that called for the convention president to create a South Carolina Great Commission Resurgence Task Force whose purpose is to respond to the recommendations contained in the SBC GCR Task Force that were adopted back in June and bring their report to the messengers in Columbia next year. Anytime we can begin seriously focusing on how to better accomplish the Great Commission it is a positive step. Outgoing president Dr. Fred Stone has named this 35 person task force. You can read their names here.

On the other hand, it was a puzzling experience. To be honest, I don’t know any other way to say it than that. I was left scratching my head at times in disbelief. To put it plainly, there was a spirit of fear present during the meeting this year. As the budget was being discussed, this spirit of fear is something that could be felt. It is hard to explain, but can be characterized by statements like these, “let’s wait and see”, “what will happen if?” “we just don’t know”, “let’s make sure first”, and “how do we know what will happen?” To me, two motions demonstrate this.

First, under the 2010 SCBC operating budget, 40.44% of receipts are forwarded to the SBC. The proposed 2011 budget calls for 41% to be forwarded to the SBC. A motion was made to amend the proposed budget to freeze the SBC contribution at 40.44%. The argument was put forth that there was no way of knowing what kind of changes may be recommended or what revenue may look like. So, we should just wait before changing our percentage giving to the SBC. Unsaid was that while we wait, the nations wait. Thankfully this amendment failed.

Second, a motion was made that all receipts in excess of the 2011 budget be kept in state and divided among the seven state institutions, agencies, and schools. Again, the argument was put forth that the funding was desperately needed in the state due to the work that was going on here. I don’t doubt there is good work happening across the state of South Carolina. To ask that any extra, above and beyond what is necessary, be retained in the state and divided among the agencies who already, by percentage, receive budgeted funds is a mistake and a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity to send this surplus to the mission’s agencies whose sole source of funding comes from the gifts of the churches. Again, the nations will have to wait.

In my opinion, the upcoming year is going to be a crucial one for our state. As the task force meets to being their discussion over the recommendation the SBC has adopted and plan for the effects as the state level, a great deal is at stake. We could see a call for major changes or no changes at all. Will our state convention continue on the path of retaining large portions of the CP dollars from the member churches? Will there be a shift to move toward an even distribution of CP monies? I don’t know. I am praying for the latter. I don’t know how many more years we are Southern Baptists can absorb the number of missionaries having to leave the field due to lack of funding. I don’t know how long we can absorb the shrinking number of missionaries while the number of those without Jesus Christ continues to rise.  I do know one thing. I left Columbia convicted because I did not stand and voice my opinion and feelings on these crucial matters. That will be the last time that I walk away wishing I had said something.

 

Let’s Be Fair About This

The season of state convention annual meetings is upon us. Our annual meeting in South Carolina is scheduled for November 16th-17th in Columbia. All across the SBC, states are gathering for times of worship, encouragement, inspiration, and difficult decisions during business sessions. Many of the state conventions are in the beginning phases of making adjustments after the passing of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations this past June during the SBC annual meeting in Orlando. The task force asked for SBC churches to shine the light upon how we as Southern Baptists can do better in fulfilling the Great Commission. So, state conventions, wrestling with struggling economies and fulfilling the desire of its messengers, are beginning to adjust their budgets accordingly.

Part of the budget decisions facing many state conventions is not just whether or not to increase or decrease their budget based on projected income from the member churches over last year. Another decision that states face is what to do with their percentages as it related to the Cooperative Program. The bare-bones question is this: “How much do we keep in state and how much do we forward to SBC causes?” Messengers from member churches make this decision. Historically, the percentage goal for allocation of CP dollars has been 50/50. At the beginning, Southern Baptists saw this as the ideal. In 1934, the SBC approved a distribution of receipts which called for “50% for Southwide (SBC) purposes and 50% for statewide purposes” 1

The 50/50 goal has not yet been embraced consistently across the SBC. Since that time, states have taken on their own buildings, agencies, schools, staff, and ministries. As a result, the distribution percentages have slowly but steadily shifted in favor of the state conventions. Since 1930, the division of CP funds between state conventions and the SBC has averaged 63.55% to the state and 36.45% to SBC causes.

Each state is autonomous. They can set their own budgets, choose which ministries to pursue, what and how much staff to employ, and decide what percentage of CP fund to retain. Currently, our South Carolina Baptist Convention retains 59.6% and forwards 40.4% to the SBC. Messengers to the SCBC annual meeting this year will see a proposal of (59% retain and 41% forward). I believe that our state convention is retaining too much of the CP dollar. Over the past years, and especially now with states being called upon to put more CP dollars to work on the mission field outside North America, the thought and necessity of a 50/50 split is being heard again. The state conventions of Kentucky, Florida, Nevada, and Tennessee will be at least considering  recommendations to move toward a 50/50 division of CP funds.

I am in favor of such an allocation. To my knowledge there has been no mention if South Carolina Baptists will hear a proposal to move toward a 50/50 split. I hope we do. I hope the messengers get a chance to speak to such a recommendation in the future. Here is why I feel this way. Even if our messengers approve a 59/41 split, proportionally it seems out of balance. Here in North America, the barriers to the advancement of the gospel are fewer. Think about it for a moment. Physically reaching the lost across North America is easier. Days of difficult travel to reach people groups do not exist in North America. Technology has made a variety of delivery methods available. It has also made communication between workers quicker and more efficient. Networks of church planters and those who provide resources and training to them are already in place. For the most part, the language barrier is not as great a battle here as it is in other parts of the world.

The barriers to the advancement of the gospel are greater overseas. Travel to and from remote cities and villages s difficult, time-consuming, and potentially hazardous. Limited technology in many parts of the world makes it more difficult for missionaries to communicate with each other and with those whom they serve. In turn, this limits the ways in which the gospel can be delivered. We have the luxury here in North America to be able to use social networking (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc), video, unnumbered styles and varieties of gospel tracts, different Bible versions, and advertising to get the gospel message out. At times, our missionaries are the only “professional” in a particular area. I worked on several work and witness teams with an IMB missionary who was responsible for the Miskito people group. His area of responsibility covered the coastal and inland sections of both Honduras and Nicaragua. Contrast this with North America where we seemingly have churches on every corner with pastors and planters having each other to give encouragement, support, and resources in order to better reach people.  The language barrier hinders any kind of work. Although our missionaries spend time in language school before arriving on their field, it still takes time to effectively communicate the gospel, especially when some of our words don’t even exist in native tongue.

 Despite the contrast, we are sending more money and resources to North America, and more especially our state, and less to the foreign mission field. If we have clearly been given a mandate to reach all the nations with the gospel, and I believe that we have, then our funding should reflect the priority. Lostness is lostness, here and abroad. Should we not be funding our missions efforts equally? I believe there are a number of our state convention agencies that have the ability to gain funding outside of the CP channel. I firmly believe that the missions agencies of the SBC whose sole support is CP monies should have what they need in order to active in pushing back darkness around the world.

Would our state convention in South Carolina have to make adjustments in order to get to a 50/50 split in Cooperative Program giving? Without a doubt. Would a 50/50 split challenge the state convention and its leadership to make hard decisions and sharpen their focus on the lost beyond state lines? Absolutely. Would this be the right thing to do? I believe so.

 

1 – SBC Annual 1934 (pp. 38-49)

The SBC in Orlando

Messengers from SBC churches will be headed south to Orlando for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 15th-16th. I have been able to attend several of these meetings and really enjoy them. However, I have missed the last three (San Antonio, Indianapolis, and Louisville). One highlight of the trip is the Pastors Conference on the front end of the meeting. This conference is a great opportunity to sit, relax, and decompress while listening to some of the nation’s greatest preaching and teaching. Pastors rarely have the opportunity to sit and be “preached to”. This conference allows for a recharging and re-energizing. The theme for this year’s conference is “Greater Things”. You can view the schedule of speakers here. In my opinion, this is the best line-up of speakers in recent memory.

The annual meeting itself is a mixture of business, music, and preaching. The business sessions include the election of officers, offering of resolutions, agency and entity reports, and miscellaneous business items. There is really no way to know what the messengers will be voting on. Motions can be offered on most anything, and usually are. This year, there is one item of business the messengers know they will be voting on. The recommendations from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force will be presented for approval.

This year is an election year. Messengers will electing a new president. As of today, there are four candidates in the race. Recently all four candidates were asked a series of questions about their candidacy covering subjects such as SBC vision, future challenges, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, and the Cooperative Program. Here is a brief description of the four.

1. Dr. Bryant Wright:  Dr. Wright is the Senior Pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in  Marietta, GA. You can read his interview here.

2. Dr. Jimmy Jackson: Dr. Jackson is the Senior Pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, AL and the president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. You can read his interview here.

3. Dr. Ted Traylor: Traylor is the Senior Pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL and is a former president of the Florida Baptist Convention. You can read his interview here.

4. Dr. Leo Endel:  Endel is the Executive Director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and a former president of the Baptist Convention of Iowa. You can read his interview here.  

As of today, I am planning to vote for Ted Traylor. I was a Florida Baptist for eleven years. Dr. Traylor gave solid leadership to the state convention and I believe he will lead well at the SBC level.  This year’s meeting  will be eventful and meaningful. It is also a meeting that will set the course of our convention for years to come.

My Thoughts on the Final Report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force

One week ago, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force released their final report, including recommendations to be made to the messengers in June at the SBC Annual Meeting. I had written previously on the initial report that was released back in February. This final report was greatly anticipated across SBC life. There was a belief that that final report would contain recommendations that were not listed in the initial report. That did not happen. There was however a new wording of the previous recommendations with some additional explanation of the task force’s thoughts on their work. Also, one of the original components was divided into two separate recommendations. New to this report is a series of challenges set forth by the task force. There are challenges issued to the individual Christian, individual families, local churches and pastors, local associations, state conventions, Lifeway, our seminaries, the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, Guidestone, and all Southern Baptist leaders. These challenges reflect how each group can do their part in carrying out the Great Commission.

The final report includes seven recommendations written out in the form that each will be presented to messengers in June. As parliamentary rule goes, this report, including all seven recommendations will be voted on as a whole, unless a motion is made to divide and vote on each one individually, which is 99.9999% likely. I hope this is the case. I believe that an up/down vote on the entire report would not be in the best interest of the convention. However, I am just one pastor. Listed below are the recommendations exactly how the messengers will receive them. If presented as a whole, I would still have to vote no.

Recommendation #1:

“That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, 2010, adopt the following as the mission statement of the Southern Baptist Convention:”

As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. I feel this is a good solid vision for the convention as a whole while allowing the church to keep their individual visions.

Recommendation #2:

“That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida,  June 15-16, 2010, adopt the following as Core Values for our work together:”

CHRIST-LIKENESS

We depend on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and prayer to make us more like Jesus Christ.

TRUTH

We stand together in the truth of God’s inerrant Word, celebrating the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

UNITY

We work together in love for the sake of the Gospel.

RELATIONSHIPS

We consider others more important than ourselves.

TRUST

We tell each other the truth in love and do what we say we will do.

FUTURE

We value Southern Baptists of all generations and embrace our responsibility to pass this charge to a rising generation in every age, faithful until Jesus comes.

LOCAL CHURCH

We believe the local church is given the authority, power, and responsibility to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world.

KINGDOM

We join other Christ-followers for the Gospel, the Kingdom of Christ, and the glory of God.

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. These are solid value to pursue.

Recommendation #3:

 “That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida, June  15-16, 2010, request the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to consider recommending to the Southern Baptist Convention the adoption of the language  and structure of Great Commission Giving as described in this report in order to enhance and  celebrate the Cooperative Program and the generous support of Southern Baptists channeled through their churches. We further request that the boards of trustees of the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board consider the adoption of the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offering goals as outlined in this report.”

I plan on voting no on this recommendation. I personally believe that creating another description of giving in order to recognize and celebrate churches that choose designated giving over CP giving will only lessen the emphasis on Cooperative Program giving.

Recommendation #4:

” That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010, request  the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to consider any revision to the  ministry assignment of the North American Mission Board that may be necessary in order to  accomplish the redirection of NAMB as outlined in this report; and that the Board of  Trustees of the North American Mission Board be asked to consider the encouragements  found within this report in all matters under their purview.”

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. I share the concern for a re-emphasis of the North American Mission Board.

 Recommendation #5:

“That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010, request  that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention consider a revised ministry assignment  for the International Mission Board that would remove any geographical limitation on its mission to reach unreached and underserved people groups wherever they are found.”

I plan on voting no on this recommendation. On the surface this recommendation makes sense. With the recent funding issues of IMB missionaries, it seems appropriate to me to keep their focus, time, and resources committed to people groups around the world.

Recommendation #6:

 “That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010, request the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to consider working with the leadership of the state conventions in developing a comprehensive program of        Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education in alignment with this report.”

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. I feel that the state conventions are in the best position to promote and educate the local churches regarding the Cooperative Program.

Recommendation #7:

” That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010 in  Orlando, Florida, request the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to consider recommending an SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget that will increase the percentage allocated to the International Mission Board to 51 percent by decreasing the  Executive Committee’s percentage of the SBC Allocation Budget by 1 percent.”

I plan on voting yes on this recommendation. More funding to the IMB is vital to the effectiveness of missionaries around the world in pushing back lostness. With the task of CP promotion and education taken from the Executive Committee and placed in the hands of the state conventions, it is a good idea to reallocate what the EC used for CP promotion and education and forward that to the IMB.

As a pastor I feel this is an important time in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. The passing of and rejection of these recommendations can and will have far-reaching effects upon Southern Baptist life as we know, effecting conventions, associations, and local churches. None of these recommendations will be implemented immediately. These proposed changes to the structure of the SBC may be years in the making. What we must do as a local is make an individual commitment to carrying out the Great Commission where we have been planted by God. I believe in the Southern Baptist Convention, but I believe in the local church more.

Reflections on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Initial Report : Part #5

This is the final post in a series on my personal reflections of the initial report from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.

Component #6: We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, that a greater percentage of total Cooperative Program funds should be directed to the work of the International Mission Board. Therefore, we will ask Southern Baptists to support this goal by affirming an intention to raise the International Mission Board allocation for the 2011-2012 budget year to 51%, a move that is both symbolic and substantial. At the same time, we will ask Southern Baptists to reduce the percentage allocated to Facilitating Ministries by 1% as part of our initial effort to send a greater percentage of total Southern Baptist Convention mission funds to the nations.

This component is closely linked to Component #4. The fourth component of the report recommended moving the responsibility of Cooperative Program education and promotion from the SBC Executive Committee and placing it in the hands of the state convention. The task force believes the International Mission Board deserves a bigger piece of the CP pie. Currently, the IMB receives 50% of all CP dollars forwarded by the state conventions. The task force recommend increasing the amount given to the IMB from 50% to 51%. The additional 1% would come from the Facilitating Ministries budget.

In simple terms, the task force is asking for a budget adjustment, a reallocation of funds. The 1% will likely come from the Executive Committee’s budget once CP promotion is no longer an SBC responsibility and is taken on by the state convention. I am in favor this component. I believe the IMB needs more of our CP dollars. They have a huge task before, taking the gospel to all the nations. I applaud the task force for recommending an increase in the IMB budget. This recommendation speaks volumes to the importance of, and the need for, more dollars to the mission field.

Overall, this is a good solid report with the capacity to bring about a needed change across the SBC as it relates the carrying out the Great Commission. I am not sure how these recommendations will be out to a vote in Orlando, if they even get to a vote. There are two options: vote on all six recommendations as one, or vote on each component individually. What would I do? If the report is offered as a whole for consideration, I would have to vote no. If these recommendations are offered individually, right now, I would vote this way:

Component #1: Yes

Component #2: No

Component #3: No

Component #4: Yes

Component #5: No

Component #6: Yes

If you like, you can read the entire initial report here.  

Reflections on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Initial Report : Part #4

Component #4: “We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will ask Southern Baptists to move the ministry assignments of Cooperative Program promotion and stewardship education from the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and return them to being the work of each state convention since they are located closer to our churches. Our call is for the state conventions to reassume their primary role in the promotion of the Cooperative Program and stewardship education, while asking the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to support these efforts with enthusiasm and a convention-wide perspective.”

 The task force believes the primary responsibility of education and promotion of the Cooperative Program among  local churches should be given to the individual state conventions. Since 1997, Cooperative Program education and promotion has been the responsibility of the SBC Executive Committee. Dr. Floyd, task force chairman states, We envision that a consortium can be created by these state convention leaders that involves the President and CEO of the Executive Committee and together they can plan and execute an annual strategy that will promote the Cooperative Program to our churches as well as challenge our churches in biblical stewardship.” In its infancy, Cooperative Program education and promotion was the responsibility of the Executive Committee.

 I don’t really have a problem with this component. I personally feel that the each local SBC church needs ongoing education as to how Cooperative Program funds are distributed. Churches also need new and varied ways to promote the Cooperative Program. I believe the state conventions are in the best position to fill this important assignment.

 

 Component #5: “We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will ask Southern Baptists to reaffirm the Cooperative Program as our central means of supporting Great Commission ministries; but in addition, we will ask Southern Baptists to celebrate with our churches in their Great Commission Giving that goes directly through the Cooperative Program, as well as any designated gifts given to the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention, a state convention or a local association.”

 I am 100% opposed to this component of the report. The task force desires to create a new category of giving entitled “Great Commission Giving”. The goal of this designation is to celebrate what every church is doing to fulfill the Great Commission by recognizing their CP gifts and their designated giving to other SBC, state, and associational causes. In a supplemental article, Dr. Floyd writes, “there was a need to ask Southern Baptists to celebrate with our churches the Great Commission Giving that is given through the Cooperative Program which is our priority, but also to celebrate with our churches those gifts they felt led to designate to the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention, a state convention, or a local association. When our churches give to offerings like Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and state-related missions offerings, the Gospel is being advanced. Therefore, our convention should celebrate with our churches what God is leading them to do.”  

Dr. Floyd states that this new category of giving is not designed with traditional CP giving. He states, We are reaffirming the definition of the Cooperative Program that was adopted by the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. We believe the Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ unified plan of giving through which cooperating Southern Baptist churches give a percentile of their undesignated receipts in support of their respective state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries.” I believe this too. One area of possible confusion, at least to me, is the inclusion of Cooperative Program gifts in this new Great Commission Giving. I am fearful that a competition will naturally arise between these two giving designations.

 The Cooperative Program is a unified effort. This means that a portion of church’s offerings through the CP reach all the various ministries and missions across the state and SBC. This collective work enables all agencies, commissions, and boards to be funded and carry out the work they have been called to do. My question is this: How does including designated monetary gifts to the local association, state convention, and SBC causes, not given through the Cooperative Program channel, reaffirm the Cooperative Program as the primary plan of giving for the SBC? Hopefully this example will explain further.

 First Church gives 5% to the CP totaling $15,000, $2,000,000 to a church plant in New York City, $10,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and $8,000 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. Under the new designation, their Great Commission Giving would total $2,033,000.

 Second Church gives 11% to the CP totaling $29,500, $3,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and $2,800 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. Under the new designation, their Great Commission Giving would be $35,300. Who do you think will be celebrated? I am not opposed to church planting, nor am I opposed to individual churches supporting specific missions and ministries. Although First Church gave over two million dollars, only $15,000 went to the collective efforts of the state and SBC.  I am concerned that an atmosphere of “look at how much we gave” will overtake the foundational principle that “we can do more together than we can do alone”. The Cooperative Program  fuels us doing more together.

Personally, I believe that if this component comes to pass, there will be an abandonment and erosion of the CP as we know it years down the road. Although not intentional, when two classifications of giving are offered, one will fall by the wayside. The CP is the SBC at its best. Any effort, intentional or unintentional, to shift the focus off of collective funding of missions and ministries will would unravel the very fabric that holds our unified missions efforts together.

 

Reflections on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Initial Report : Part #3

I am continuing my thoughts on the initial report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. What I thought would be three posts, will more likely be four or five.

 Component #3: We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will ask 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.

 The task force envisions the International Mission Board taking on the responsibility of assisting the North American Mission Board with reaching the lost across the North America. A large number of the world’s identified people groups that do not speak English are represented in major cities across the North America. Many of these groups have strategy coordinators working overseas with the same group. The task force seems to believe that a more effective reaching of these people groups would be accomplished by allowing the overseas coordinators to work in North America.

 I believe this is a terrible idea. One statement from the report seems especially ambitious. Dr. Ronnie Floyd, GCRTF chairman wrote, We are confident that the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board can communicate with one another effectively about their respective work and communicate with our state conventions and local associations about what God is doing in their gospel work. I don’t understand how improved communication at denominational, state, and associational levels can be accomplished through this “unleashing” of the IMB on North American soil. I tend to believe the opposite will occur. Here are a few of the concerns I have about this particular component.

 1. The IMB has more than enough one their plate. With the number of unreached people groups around the world growing almost daily, their concern, efforts, and energy should be spent pursuing these groups. I believe with all of my heart that moving the IMB to North America will lead to a less-effective IMB. I would hate to see the IMB get so spread out that they would suffer the same ineffectiveness that the North American Mission Board is seeing now.

 2. North America should be the responsibility of NAMB. I believe the responsible thing to do would be to restructure NAMB in order to reach these same goals. Of course, I’m just one pastor.

 3. I believe this movement of the IMB to North America will blur the lines of responsibility  between these two mission boards. I can also see a funding nightmare as it relates to the Cooperative Program.

4. Does this mean that NAMB will be “hands-off” in the areas of North America in which the IMB is working? Who will have the ultimate responsibility of reaching North America?

 I would rather see the North American Mission Board strengthened through new structure and vision than to see the International Mission Board weakened by taking up the slack of the North American Mission Board.

Reflection on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Initial Report : Part #2

Component #2: “We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, that our North American Mission Board needs to be reinvented and released. Therefore, in order to do this, we will ask Southern Baptists that the North American Mission Board prioritize efforts to plant churches in North America and to reach our nation’s cities and clarify its role to lead and accomplish efforts to reach North America with the Gospel.”

 The GCRTF envisions a restructure of the North American Mission Board. NAMB has had its share of problems over the past few years that have led to a decreased effectiveness. Constant turnover of leadership at the top, duplicated ministries (down the associational level), and a broad focus have contributed to this ineffectiveness. Many would say that NAMB is broken. I would not go that far as to agree. This envisioned restructure is centered around the belief that the planting of healthy new congregations is the most effective way to reach North America. Dr. Ronnie Floyd, Senior Pastor of FBC Springdale, AR and Chairman of the GCRTF said, “This reinvention of the North American Mission Board that we envision will implement a direct strategy for planting churches in North America with a priority to reach metropolitan areas and under-served people groups. We desire for the North American Mission Board to encourage Southern Baptist churches to become church planting congregations. Regardless of the size or location of our churches, we want each to have a vision for and get involved in planting churches some way, somewhere in North America. It is our desire that at least 50% of the ministry efforts of our North American Mission Board be given to assist churches in planting healthy, multiplying, and faithful Baptist congregations in the United States and Canada.”

 The task force is calling for the following specific actions to be considered, including church planting, pastoral leadership development, local church assistance in evangelism and discipleship, and putting more Cooperative Program money where it will be most effective. The task force is also recommending the dissolving of “cooperative agreements” between NAMB and state conventions, where NAMB forwards portions of their CP budget dollars back to the state. Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and task force member states, “The idea of Cooperative Agreements is simple – the North American Mission Board (and originally, the Home Mission Board) established agreements with each state convention in order to avoid overlap, confusion, and duplication of work. When the Great Commission Task Force recommends the phased elimination of these agreements, we are calling for the North American Mission Board to rethink how it should relate to the state conventions so that the mission board retains a more focused ministry of assisting Southern Baptist churches to reach North America. In the year 2009, about $50-million dollars was routed through these Cooperative Agreements. Many of these dollars were spent on the salaries of workers in the state conventions and associations. The monies are allocated and channeled in way that are difficult to trace, much less prioritize.”

 The goal of dissolving these agreements is to streamline the work of NAMB, increase productivity, and improve accountability of CP dollars. There are parts of this component that I like and some I don’t like. I agree with the focus on church planting and leadership development. Aspects of these cooperative agreements trouble me greatly. Also in the initial report the task force envisions giving priority to the top 100 metropolitan areas of North America. While I understand that these large urban centers require more effort and resources (due to population), what about the other areas of North America? What about the pioneer regions of North America where lostness is just as real? What about the rural areas of North America? Will funding to reach these types of areas be sacrificed for the sake of reaching the top 100 metropolitan areas? There are still many questions left to ask, and answer.