Over 11,000 messengers attended the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando June 15-16, 2010.
We heard inspiring sermons and music, and challenging reports from our mission boards. The concert by Casting Crowns at the end, with a sermon by the dynamic young preacher Tony Nolan, was awesome.
But what was on everyone's mind was the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force Report. This task force was elected last year with the job assignment of finding out how Southern Baptists could use missions dollars "more effectively." Prior to the convention, many feared that this meant dismantling the Cooperative Program (CP), our unified missions budget, in favor of allowing more designated missions giving.
A few weeks before the convention met, the report was released by the task force, called "Penetrating the Lostness: Embracing a Vision for a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists." The GCR report is an eloquent call for sacrificial giving to missions and getting those dollars to the places where the most lost people are living. It encouraged support for the Cooperative Program, and also encouraged support for any "Great Commission Giving," which was defined as missions dollars given directly to any Southern Baptist ministry. It called for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to end its cooperative agreements with state conventions, so as to stop sending so many missions dollars back to the Southern states, and redirect more missions dollars to areas of North America that are less evangelized. It called for the International Mission Board (IMB) to be allowed to work with internationals living in the USA. It called for state conventions to promote stewardship and Cooperative Program giving, instead of the SBC Executive Committee. It called for taking a percentage of the SBC budget away from the Executive Committee and giving it to the International Mission Board.
Many young pastors and pastors of mega-churches embraced this report, while many older pastors, denominational employees and strong supporters of the CP were opposed to this report. The young pastors who are less loyal to denominationalism and are tired of doing Christianity the same old way were attracted to its radical move to get more missionaries to the lost. For example, 31-year-old David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, preached a passionate sermon on sending missionaries, and quoted Carl F. H. Henry, saying, "The gospel is only good news if it gets there on time." Many mega-church pastors liked the report because their churches often use large percentages of their missions dollars for their own projects or for direct missions giving, rather than giving as much to the CP. Johnny Hunt, pastor of FBC Woodstock, Georgia, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is pastor of a church that gave a very small percentage to the Cooperative Program, although this spring he announced a dramatic increase in giving to CP.
Older pastors, denominational employees and other strong supporters of the Cooperative Program were afraid that these changes were too much too fast. They feared there were too many unanswered questions about what would happen to the cooperative agreements between NAMB and the states, and who might be hurt by those changes. They feared that the new category of Great Commission Giving would be given equal respect with CP giving, and our denominational unity would fall apart.
Four men were nominated to be the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention: two who said they were opposed to the GCR task force report (Jimmy Jackson and Leo Endel), and two who said they favored it (Bryant Wright and Ted Traylor). Bryant Wright and Ted Traylor got in a runoff, and then Wright was elected president. Wright is pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta. His church gives 4.4% to the Cooperative Program, and it gives an additional 4.4% directly to the International Mission Board.
The debate on the GCR was hot and heavy, and confusing at times. The biggest debate was over the wording about Great Commission Giving and CP giving. Dr. John Waters, pastor of FBC Statesboro, Georgia, offered an amendment that was eventually adopted, saying we "continue to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach." Originally Waters' amendment was offered to replace the statement about Great Commission Giving, but when the vote was too close to call by a show of ballots, after several parliamentary debates and confusion, it was finally added to the original statement, so that both kinds of giving were affirmed. After all the debate, the overall report was adopted by a show of ballots, which I would estimate to be about 65% in favor and 35% opposed.
I came to the SBC undecided. After hearing the debate, I voted in favor of Waters' amendment and I voted in favor of the GCR report.
What does all this mean?
I agree with Dr. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, that the category of Great Commission Giving will be helpful, not hurtful. Currently, when a church reports its missions giving to the denomination, it reports two categories: Cooperative Program and other designated missions. The "other" category could be anything the church called missions, including non-Southern Baptist ministries that it supported. That will no longer be the case. To be called Great Commission Giving, designated missions offerings have to go to Southern Baptist causes. For example, giving directly to the international mission board would be credited as Great Commission Giving, but giving to the Salvation Army would not.
I am cautiously optimistic about ending the cooperative agreements between NAMB and the state conventions. I realize that it may mean there will no longer be NAMB funds to support the Hispanic mission pastor at my own church here in Georgia, because that money may be taken from Georgia and sent to somewhere like New Mexico. But my church is in better financial shape to support a Hispanic mission than churches in New Mexico are, so I'm okay with that.
Moving the promotion of stewardship and Cooperative Program to the state conventions makes sense to me, since the monthly checks are mailed to the state conventions and then distributed from there. It also means a decentralization of our denomination, as it takes a lot of power away from the SBC Executive Committee.
The increase in percentage to the International Mission Board is good, too. I hope we can increase it another percentage next year, and the next, and so on.
Jerry Rankin, who is retiring as president of the IMB this year, reminded us of how urgent it is to make sure our missions dollars are getting where the lost are located. He said, "How much do you have to hate someone to know the way of eternal life and not tell them?"