It's easy to be confused about the recommendations of the Southern Baptist Convention's Great Commission Task Force (GCR). Through state papers, blogs, and websites, the conversation about the future of the SBC has been moving at a furious pace.
Hype can eventually obscure reality, leading to misunderstandings and miscommunication on the part of both camps. GCR supporters have sometimes spoken as if this resolution will be the spark of a worldwide revival that will send renewal through the SBC. GCR detractors have sometimes spoken as if these resolutions would end the SBC as we know it and destroy all our cooperative efforts.
Today, the Convention will consider the Task Force's recommendations. If the pastor's conference has been any indication, it appears that there is widespread support for these recommendations. Final attendance numbers are not in yet, but to anyone who has been to the Convention's annual meetings in recent years, it is clear that the crowd is much bigger, much younger, and much more diverse. Most of the speakers at the pastor's conference on Sunday and Monday called pastors and messengers to center their churches upon the gospel and the Great Commission. Several young pastors, such as Matt Chandler (pastor of The Village in Dallas, Texas) and David Platt (pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama), addressed Convention attendees.
Today, Southern Baptists will vote on the recommendations of the Great Commission Task Force. Here is a summary of the report and the subsequent debate:
1. Getting the Mission Right
Summary: In the first recommendation, the Task Force encourages the Convention to adopt the following mission statement: 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.
Debate: There has been no debate about this recommendation.
2. Making Our Values Transparent
Summary: The Task Force recommends that Southern Baptists seek a healthy culture within the Convention by committing to the following core values: Christ-likeness, Truth, Unity, Relationships, Trust, Future, Local Church, Kingdom.
Debate: There has been very little debate concerning these values.
3. Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving
Summary: The Task Force affirms the Cooperative Program (the churches' undesignated gifts for supporting the various ministries and entities of the state and national conventions) as the central means of mobilizing our churches and extending our reach. The Task Force also encourages Southern Baptists to celebrate the total dollar amount given to Southern Baptist causes (such as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missionaries and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missionaries). Churches will report "Great Commission Giving" by recording their gifts through the Cooperative Program as well as their gifts to other Southern Baptist causes.
• Those who oppose this recommendation believe that the sum total of "Great Commission Giving" will dilute the value of the Cooperative Program by elevating designated gifts for specific ministries. The result will be a return to societal giving, in which various entities will be forced to go from church to church, asking for funds. By celebrating designated giving, churches will have less reason to support the program, leading to the dismantling of the current structure and the rise of special interests.
• Those who support this recommendation believe that the program is already weakened and needs to be strengthened, not by chastising churches for giving designated gifts, but by celebrating all Great Commission giving. Once churches become convinced that the ministries funded by the program are worth their Great Commission dollars, they will rise to the occasion and increase giving in all areas.
4. Reaching North America
Summary: The Task Force recommends that the North American Mission Board (NAMB) prioritize church planting in metropolitan areas and among under-served people groups. Currently, two-thirds of Cooperative Program dollars are directed to one-third of the population. In order to penetrate the areas with the least evangelical witness in North America, the Cooperative Agreements between NAMB and the state conventions should be phased out within seven years to free up the board for a new pattern of strategic partnership and effectiveness in church planting.
• Those who oppose this recommendation believe that national Southern Baptist entities will be pitted against state conventions and local associations, causing them to compete for funds. By withdrawing NAMB's financial support from newer state conventions, many good ministries will be significantly weakened, if not forced to shut down—including work in the pioneer states where lostness is the greatest. The remaining state conventions fear their evangelistic efforts will also be weakened by the lack of resources.
• Those who support this recommendation believe that everyone—whether at state or national entities—must be prepared to sacrifice in order to get more resources to underserved areas and the gospel to the nations. Though good ministries may be cut or altered, supporters believe it is a question of good versus best. By shifting resources to the places with least access to the gospel, frontier ministries will receive more attention. The Task Force recommends new strategic partnerships, not severing of relationship between the states and the board.
5. Reaching Unreached and Underserved People Groups within North America
Summary: The Task Force recommends that the International Mission Board (IMB) be free to focus on underserved people groups wherever they may be found. Since large numbers of many of these people groups now reside in U.S. cities, the IMB should be free to work alongside NAMB, utilizing its linguistic skills and cultural knowledge to penetrate the lostness among these people groups, regardless of geographical location.
• Those who oppose this recommendation believe that there could be significant overlap between the existing efforts of NAMB among underserved people groups and the IMB. Despite the claims that these two boards would work alongside one another, the possibility exists for one of the two boards to become irrelevant, which could eventually lead to one centralized board engaging in missions both at home and abroad.
• Those who support this recommendation believe that the IMB is better equipped to reach ethnic groups on American soil. Once the IMB's personnel, trained in the language, culture, and religions of these people groups, begin to collaborate with NAMB the board and local churches, there will be a church planting movement among foreign people in North America's urban centers. The SBC will then better reflect the truth that the gospel transcends socio-economic, national, and cultural barriers.
6. Promoting the Cooperative Program and Elevating Stewardship
Summary: The Task Force recommends that the responsibility of promoting the Cooperative Program among local churches be transferred from the executive committee to the state conventions. The Executive Committee would work with the state conventions in developing a strategy for encouraging churches to increase participation and giving to the program.
• Those who oppose this recommendation believe that state conventions will be expected to handle this additional responsibility, but with fewer resources. Additional responsibilities might cause the states to retain higher percentages of the program's missions money. In order to keep the cost of promotional resources down, the Executive Committee should maintain a continued, though modified, role in stewardship education and Cooperative Program promotion.
• Those who support this recommendation believe that state conventions have carried out stewardship education effectively because of their proximity to the churches. Encouraging the president of the Executive Committee to work alongside state convention leaders to execute a strategy for promoting the program will strengthen the partnership between state conventions and the national convention.
7. The Call of the Nations and the SBC Allocation Budget
Summary: Currently, 50 percent of all Cooperative Program funds received by the Southern Baptist Convention go to the IMB. The Task Force recommends that the Convention increase this number to 51 percent by decreasing by 1 percent the budget for Facilitating Ministries. The purpose of this reallocation is to make a statement about the need to reduce denominational infrastructure and strengthen our commitment to reach the nations.
• Those who oppose this recommendation believe that the current allocation of 50 percent is sufficient if churches are challenged to set giving goals to the Cooperative Program. The proposed reallocation increases the IMB's budget by 0.62 percent while decreasing the Executive Committee budget by almost 30 percent. Transferring $2 million from the Executive Committee to the IMB would be unnecessary if churches would reverse the trend of keeping more money under local control.
• Those who support this recommendation believe that the key to increasing enthusiastic support of the Cooperative Program is demonstrating that more funds are going to the mission field. The intention behind the proposed reallocation is to make a symbolic statement that the SBC is committed to reducing infrastructure and increasing missions giving, providing local churches a Great Commission motivation to increase their support of the Cooperative Program.
At the fundamental level, the GCR Task Force recommendations are about how we can best cooperate in taking the gospel to places where there is little to no evangelical witness. Some of the recommendations are missional; others are about SBC culture. Some are about ministry priorities; others are about stewardship and structure. The Convention will now decide on how best to implement a strategy for fulfilling its missional vision for the future.
Trevin Wax is associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Tennessee, and blogs at Kingdom People.
Copyright © 2010 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today also posted a news story on some of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force's recommendations.
Previous CT articles on the International Missions Board and missions include:
Out of Context | Debate over 'Camel method' probes limits of Muslim-focused evangelism. (March 23, 2010)
Tongues Tied | Southern Baptists bar new missions candidates from glossolalia. (February 1, 2006)
Southern Baptists: To Sign or Not to Sign? | Some Southern Baptist missionaries balk at revised statement. (February 22, 2002)
Southern Baptist pastor barred | IMB Trustee member had blogged his criticism of SBC for recent policy changes. (November 9, 2007)