We have now seen a progress report from the GCR Task Force, with details promised to follow in the coming months. Unless the details include covert funding for an Alaskan bridge to Gravina Island, a renewed attempt to rename Discipleship Training as "Quest", or a proposed merger into the Alliance of Baptists, I firmly plan to do two things with regard to this Task Force Proposal:
- Cast an enthusiastic ballot in favor of the associated motions in Orlando; and,
- Work hard personally to see this initiative succeed.
The remainder of my post will consist of my endeavoring to elicit the same response from you.
Why You Should Vote in the Affirmative
Well, before you determine how to vote, you probably should become familiar with the contents of the progress report. You might consider watching the video report, which has the approximate running time of the average Lord of the Rings movie, or you could peruse the PDF file linked above. The content of each is identical, so suit yourself. Setting aside prolegomena for later analysis, I direct your attention to the six major planks of this platform:
- The adoption of a new mission statement for the SBC.
- The thoroughgoing reorganization of the NAMB.
- The handing-over of international people groups living within the USA to the IMB.
- The reassignment of CP promotion and education to the state conventions.
- The addition of "Great Commission Giving" as a statistical category alongside "Cooperative Program Giving"
- The reallocation of 1% of the CP budget away from the Executive Committee to the IMB
Let's consider these one-by-one.
The New Mission Statement
The task force proposes a new mission statement as follows:
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.
Ecclesiology leads off the mission statement. We are a convention of churches. The Great Commission was given to churches, and all that we do as the SBC we do not as atomic individuals but as a convention of churches. The report urges upon us a return to the primacy and efficacy of the local church as the central headquarters of the Great Commission.
In order for this Great Commission Resurgence to occur, each church has to own the responsibility of fulfilling the Great Commission. Each church has to own Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8. Each church has to own the responsibility of reaching their village or community or town or city with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each church has to own the responsibility of reaching their region, America, and the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The evangelistic emphasis of this vision statement is upon the presentation of the gospel to individuals, and not to "people groups." Our vision is not accomplished until we have presented to gospel to each and every individual on the planet.
Note: I acknowledge that people groups can be a convenient construct for the training and deployment of missionaries. I am not arguing that the concept of a people group must be ignored in Southern Baptist life. I am merely agreeing with the proposed mission statement that it is our task to present the gospel to people (and to all of them), and not just to people groups.
If the Great Commission mission statement is going to follow the actual text of the Great Commission, it should say something about the immersion of disciples. Jesus didn't flinch from saying that, nor should we. I would support anybody's motion to amend the mission statement by adding something about baptism in order to bring the statement into line with what Jesus said.
But the mission statement does mention the discipleship of believers, and no believer who has not been immersed as a believer is properly pursuing discipleship. If there are other things that you would prefer to see in the mission statement, I'm betting that it is probably something that you can shoehorn into "discipleship" somewhere.
Discipleship means teaching disciples to obey all that Christ has commanded. That includes adherence to the principles taught in appropriate portions of the Old Testament law (which Christ exegeted quite a bit and which was the subject matter of many of His commandments). It includes proper ecclesiology, which arises out of the commandments of Christ. It includes believers' immersion (although I believe that immersion deserves separate mention simply because Christ mentioned it separately). It includes Christian citizenship. It includes the training of pastors to pursue their callings.
Along with the mission statement are a number of core values. Let's save those for consideration in the third post. I support this mission statement and plan to vote for it.
The Reorganization of the NAMB
The North American Mission Board needs to rise above its most recent history. Surely all Southern Baptists can agree upon that statement. Furthermore, the United States of America is being lost to the gospel; therefore, Southern Baptists have never needed the North American Mission Board to be vital and successful more than we need it today.
From the very beginning of this discussion I stated my opinion that it would be a bad idea to dissolve the NAMB into the IMB. We now see—me thankfully so—that the GCR Task Force has not only preserved the NAMB but has also articulated for it a strong, focused vision. The vision expressed for NAMB in this report is one that I support enthusiastically.
I support a renewed emphasis upon church planting in urban North America outside the present strength areas of the SBC. FBC Farmersville is already on the move in this direction, recognizing its strategic importance to all that our convention is doing. In many ways, even INTERNATIONAL missions become easier and more effective the more that we reach New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco with the gospel.
The more I consider the idea, I think that the NAMB ought to coordinate a synchronized splash in major cities like New York City. What would happen if we set a date in early 2012 upon which we were simultaneously going to launch 100 new church plants in the city? The church planters could be secured in advance and trained together. They would have a ready-made association (not that they couldn't participate in existing associations) for mutual support, brainstorming, and encouragement. The NAMB could fund a coordinated advertising campaign leading up to the launch date. We've done simultaneous revivals; why not have a simultaneous church planting day?
But I digress. This post is about the GCR Task Force's ideas, not about my ideas.
I support a strong emphasis upon evangelism at the NAMB. I'm enthusiastic about the imminent GPS emphasis, and I'm thankful that more NAMB resources will be devoted to the cultivation of evangelism among Southern Baptists.
I support the direct appointment of missionaries by the NAMB. I believe that this simpler model can lead to greater effectiveness.
I support the elimination of cooperative agreements and cooperative budgets by which the NAMB passes funds back to the state conventions. Like many people, I have always thought that this boomerang missions funding arrangement was queer. I grieve not at all to think about it going away.
I confess, however, that I am unsure as to what the unintended consequences of this measure may be. Pioneer area state conventions will doubtless fear this change, and may lobby against it. State conventions in historic SBC territories may take this action as an excuse to decrease further the percentage of Cooperative Program money that they forward to national and international causes, which (along with other portions of the report) may push us even further away from the 50/50 goal that I so long to see us achieve at the state convention level.
I do recognize that some of these actions could be viewed as preliminary steps toward the outcome that I have opposed: A merger of the NAMB into the IMB. The gutting of the Alpharetta, GA, headquarters and the assignment of a smaller task to the NAMB may indeed work out to make the NAMB "easier" for the IMB just to swallow some day in the future. Nevertheless, I choose to be thankful that the NAMB is definitely being resuscitated now rather than to worry that the NAMB might be euthanized later. Furthermore, any potential future NAMB-IMB merger cannot take place unless Southern Baptists approve it by ballot. We can deal with it then, if it comes up at all. Also, if it should be that Southern Baptists would EVER approve an IMB-NAMB merger, then I would rather that it take place incrementally than hastily.
I also confess that I am wondering whatever will become of the elements of the NAMB that do not fit within the vision articulated by the Task Force. For example, what of Disaster Relief? Southern Baptists need national coordination for Disaster Relief. Will the NAMB consider this something that belongs under Evangelism?
It seems to me that the plan for the NAMB is, in some ways, a return to what we had before the Covenant for a New Century—a board tasked with home missions assignments as its primary focus. Having folded other things into the NAMB in the 1990s, will we spin them back out in the 2010s, or will the cumulative effect be the destruction of these other worthy ministry efforts? I don't know, and the progress report doesn't say.
There are many details yet unstated, and yes, I worry about some of those. But we ought not to let imagined problems prevent us from celebrating realized achievements. I also don't want to be the guy who gets 95% of what he wanted, but acknowledges none of that while he carps over the 5% that didn't succeed in negotiations. I support the NAMB proposal.
The IMB Invasion :-)
Before considering the new task added for IMB, which I support, I will take a moment to mention one thing about the IMB. The GCR Task Force report is refreshingly honest about the challenges faced and weaknesses evidenced at the NAMB and among our local SBC churches. That can be a good thing. Playing Pollyanna is unlikely to lead us forward, and it is a sizable portion of what I expect and desire from this task force that they both take for themselves and offer to us Southern Baptists a hard, realistic look at where we stand as a denomination.
I note, however, that the task force has not shown the same healthy, searching, probing honesty toward the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. How is it that such imperfect and struggling churches who (unsurprisingly) cooperate in an imperfect and struggling effort to pursue the Great Commission on our own collective doorstep have somehow birthed and nurtured utter perfection in an international missions agency?
Come on, guys. The IMB needs to face up to some things, too, if we will be more effective in pursuing the Great Commission together. If we can't talk about those things now, then when? Or do we suffer from a blinding IMB mystique that permeates our convention even all the way up to the task force?
Now don't misunderstand me. I think that the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is the greatest missionary organization in the history of post-biblical Christianity. I'm not trying to allege that the IMB is bad; I'm just trying to assert the difference between "great" and "perfect." We need to be mature enough to discuss the IMB's flaws as well as the NAMB's.
Oh, well. Enough of that. Leaving behind what isn't in the report, let's consider what is in the report.
The GCR Task Force recommends that the International Mission Board be allowed to work among internationals living within the United States of America. Presently, the relationship between the NAMB and the IMB is in at least one way like the relationship between the FBI and the CIA in our national government. Just as the CIA cannot legally conduct espionage within the border of the USA, the IMB cannot conduct missions activities within the USA and Canada. The proposal would lift that restriction.
I think that this could lead to some great ideas. Perhaps domestic work with an international group could become a training step that missionaries take before going overseas. It costs a serious bundle of money to get a missionary onto a foreign field, sometimes only to have the missionaries serve one term and then drop out. I wonder whether domestic international groups might become a cheaper training ground in which truly successful missionaries might be identified for placement overseas?
That's probably a horrible idea—missiology isn't my field. Suffice it to say that I see positive possibilities in allowing the IMB to perform this sort of work within the USA. It ought to be limited, however, to first-generation, non-English-speaking groups. I plan to vote for this measure.
I'm now halfway through the outline that I drew up earlier today, and entirely through my stamina for writing. I'm also feeling a bit like the pot-calling-the-kettle-black for my "Lord of the Rings" comment in the beginning of this post.
What say we end this post here to make it a manageable chunk? The next post will consider the last three planks of the platform. The final post will entail the things that I believe that we will all have to do as Southern Baptists to make all of this succeed.
The very fact that I am making a third post is indicative of and necessarily entails an important point—I don't believe that these proposals, in and of themselves, will solve anything substantial for Southern Baptists. Take it as comforting or take it as challenging: The success of the SBC does not rise or fall on the thoughts or actions of twenty or so leaders in the SBC; it rises or falls on you, the individual Southern Baptist church member reading these words right now. If this initiative will succeed, I believe that there are several essential things that we all must do together. The third post will elaborate upon them.