Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The GCR Report: ONE Pastor's Thoughts

The Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force released their preliminary report last night to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This Task Force was commissioned by the SBC at its annual meeting last June to answer the question: What needs to be done in order for us, as Southern Baptists, to work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission?

This preliminary report endeavors to answer that question. Over 400 people packed the room where the report was given. I was told this was the largest attendance at an Executive Committee meeting in most people’s memory. There is obviously GREAT interest in whether or not the SBC is going to be relevant as a denomination moving forward. I followed the report, as did thousands of others, via Twitter updates from Baptist Press and from those sitting inside the meeting. At around 9:30 pm last night, a pre-recorded video version of the report along with the manuscript of the report were posted to www.pray4gcr.com. There were at least 10,749 hits to the site following the report causing the site to temporarily crash.

The manuscript of the report is 32 pages in length and the video report takes about 74 minutes to watch. Beginning today there will be MANY voices evaluating the report and talking about its implications for the SBC and for the accomplishment of the Great Commission around the world. I can tell you that there is a high level of “politics” involved in the whole GCR movement. In my efforts to get my own mind around what all this is going to mean, I have had correspondence with the people in leadership at the International Mission Board, I had an extensive conversation with Dr. Emil Turner who is the executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, and I have had several conversations with Dr. Ronnie Floyd who is leading the GCR Task Force and who presented last night’s report. I have attended, as well, two of the several listening sessions the GCR Task Force held nationally. I can tell you that there will be people who will love this report and people who will loathe it.

But I want to give you my insights as ONE pastor of ONE church in Arkansas. I have no other agenda other than seeing the church I pastor be as effective as possible in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people locally, nationally, and around the world. Period.

I thought my friend, Dr. Floyd, did a superb job delivering this report. I have said all along that he is the most qualified person in the SBC to lead this Task Force and last night he showed why. Keep in mind this is only a preliminary report and is still open to change before the final report is issued on May 3, 2010. This preliminary report presented 6 Components as it relates to the question of: What do we (SBC) need to do?

Component #1: 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 rally towards a clear and compelling missional vision and begin to conduct ourselves with core values that will create a new and healthy culture within the Southern Baptist Convention.

My thoughts: YES! Much has been said about the “younger” generation being turned off to denominational issues and politics. THIS cut all of that away. I can’t stand denominational politics. I have no desire to boycott Disney. BUT I can get behind the Great Commission and I can get behind my denomination IF it has a “compelling missional vision.” And I think younger pastors and churches can too.

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.

My thoughts: NAMB has needed a clear focus, direction and leadership for a LONG time. America is LOST. Out of 340 million people, 258 million don’t know Jesus. We MUST get serious about reaching our own nation. We’ve MUST view our own country with foreign mission eyes. How do we do we do missions around the world? WE PLANT CHURCHES. Why would this NOT be our FOCUS in America. We need MORE churches and NAMB should lead the way.

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.

My thoughts: Finally. The world has come to the United States. Fort Smith has large populations of Laotian, Vietnamese, and Hispanic people. In addition, I see Arabs, Indians, Europeans and many, many other people groups in my own city. Once again, we MUST start treating America the same way we treat missions around the world. For this to happen the International Mission Board needs to be released beyond its artificial borders in the same way that world has broken away.

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.

My Thoughts: I think it will be VERY interesting to see how this is received by the Executive Committee and by State Conventions. As the pastor of a local church, I believe that ANYTHING that brings the structure and strategy of how we get things done CLOSER to the local church is a good thing. Honestly, my church does not benefit that much from our State Convention. State Conventions have great resources for smaller churches but the bigger a church becomes the more self-sufficient it is and the less it needs what a State Convention provides. But bringing stewardship education and CP promotion to the State Convention level is good for me as a local church pastor. It gives me a reason to interact with my State Convention leaders who I actually know and who know me. I don’t know anybody on the Executive Committee and they don’t know and perhaps don’t have time to mess with me. I am but one in 44,000+ churches in the SBC.

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.

My Thoughts: Okay, now it gets interesting. This is the component that I expect will cause a LOT of buzz. To many, many people in the SBC the Cooperative Program is a sacred cow. It is untouchable and it is used as a measuring stick to “judge” how committed a church is to the denomination. To “allow” designated giving to SBC causes to be considered “worthy” alongside CP giving is going to be a deal breaker for some people. Watch this one, folks. BUT from my chair as a local pastor, this is NO BIG DEAL for me. We give 8.75% to CP out of our church budget. That’s about $180,000 in real dollars given to CP last year. BUT we also gave an additional $182,461 to mission efforts through the SBC. So for me and my church, nothing changes except that the additional $182,461 we give over and above CP giving is going to be validated in the eyes of the SBC. Frankly, I don’t care if it is validated or not. We are going to do what we are going to do and feel that God wants us to do. What this component does is reaffirm CP giving AND the autonomy of the local church (something historically important to Southern Baptists). Both good things.

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.

My Thoughts: This component draws the line between MISSION and MINISTRY. Southern Baptists have become bloated with MINISTRY to the detriment of MISSION. It WAS our commitment to the Great Commission that made this denomination great and relevant. It is why God blessed who we were. BUT we have lost that focus. The Great Commission Resurgence is about getting us back to where we were. Focused. Strategic. Desperate…to see lost people come to Jesus. When the SBC was formed in 1845, W.B. Johnson stated that we were coming together “for the purpose of organizing an efficient and practical plan on which the energies of the whole Baptist denomination throughout America may be elicited, combined and directed in one sacred effort for sending the word of life to idolatrous lands.” THIS is what we have lost and THIS is what the GCR is trying to help us recapture. May it be so.

Final Thoughts:

There is much more that can and will be said about this report. What will happen to it between now and May 3rd when it is finalized is anybody’s guess. And what, if anything, will happen to the final report when it is presented in June at the annual meeting of the SBC is an even bigger guess. But let me say this: RELEVANCE is at stake for the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is not relevant in the eyes of many, many people anymore. The SBC is not relevant to a whole younger generation of leaders who are focused on the Great Commission but don’t have the time for denominational “baggage.” And the SBC is not relevant in the lives of many people even in MY church. Most folks don’t know or care about what happens within the SBC. But they love Jesus, they love their church, and they love the Great Commission.

The events of last night were a lesson in relevance. WHY was the report not livestreamed on the internet? Why did I have to use Twitter to get updates on what was going on? It is unthinkable in our world today that our own convention cannot open itself up so that we ALL can be a part. Obviously there were THOUSANDS of people who were interested, and probably frustrated. We do livestream the annual meeting each year, but WHY can I not vote online on matters that affect my convention? Why do I have to be there in person? It costs thousands of dollars to travel to an SBC annual meeting. Most churches, the vast majority in fact, just can’t afford to be there in person. I can renew my car tags online. I can pay my taxes online. I can by a movie ticket online. I can shop online. I can download a book to my Kindle in one minute online. I can pay my bills online. I can GIVE to my church online. WHY can’t I PARTICIPATE in the life of my Convention online? If there is one thing the report failed to address it is what needs to be done to engage this younger generation in the life of the convention for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission. Granted, this may have been outside the purview of the Task Force BUT it was talked about in the listening sessions.

So there is MUCH still to do. But overall, I think this preliminary report is a very good step in the right direction. It may be the last great step we consider if we want to have a future.



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