GCR task force quizzed on range of topics
ROGERS, Ark. (BP)--Questions raised during the Great Commission Resurgence task force's Aug. 26 "listening session" ran the gamut from concerns about smaller-membership Southern Baptist churches and developing young leaders to touchier subjects like how calls for denominational reorganization fit in with the need for renewed missions passion.
More than 400 pastors and laypeople gathered at the Church at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers, Ark., for a barbecue lunch provided by the church and a question-and-answer session with four task force members: chairman Ronnie W. Floyd; SBC President Johnny Hunt; Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
SMALLER-MEMBERSHIP CHURCHES -- T.O. Spicer, pastor of Sang Avenue Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ark., noted that Southern Baptists are a denomination of smaller-membership churches and asked what role those churches would play in a Great Commission resurgence. Hunt and Floyd both responded by affirming that their roots lay in smaller-membership churches and that a Great Commission resurgence would entail all churches, regardless of size, seeing themselves, not denominational entities, as the "missions-sending stations" of the SBC. Mohler noted that, "The church we are looking for is the church with a big heart, not big numbers." If Southern Baptists don't shift their focus and start looking at the heart, rather than numbers, "we are going to die of number infection," Mohler said.
YOUNG LEADERS -- Steve Moore of Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Smith, Ark., raised the question about the need for Southern Baptists to figure out how to "reach deeply" into America's increasingly secular culture and develop young leaders. Mohler replied that he sees a generation coming into church leadership that wonders what the Southern Baptist Convention is about and is "way ahead of us" in commitment to the Great Commission. "The fuse on this thing is very short. Our credibility is on the line," Mohler said. "If all we talk about is going back to an old form of denominational loyalty while a lost world is waiting, then shame on us."
CULTURE CHANGE -- Steve Jordan, pastor of Hickory Creek Baptist Church in Lowell, Ark., asked how churches could be helped to overcome barriers created by the profound changes in American culture. Mohler responded that Southern Baptists in the United States have not yet learned to do what their overseas missionaries learned generations ago "and that is to recognize what it takes to reach people who don't look like us, speak like us, sound like us and believe like us."
REORGANIZATION VS. GCR PASSION -- Jeff Thompson, director of missions for Concord Baptist Association in Fort Smith, Ark., asked how the need for denominational reorganization expressed by the "Great Commission Resurgence Declaration," which preceded the formation of the task force, related to the task force's commission to inspire greater passion for the Great Commission. Floyd responded that the group's goal is to bring a plan to the 2010 SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., that would outline "how we can more faithfully and effectively fulfill the Great Commission around the world, in our churches, in our state conventions, in our national convention and all we do together." While the task force can "create actions" for the national body, it cannot do the same thing for other levels of Baptist work around the country, Floyd added.
NAMB & CP -- Buddy Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Tahlequah, Okla., asked whether the task force might bring a recommendation to dissolve the North American Mission Board or merge it with the International Mission Board. He followed it with a question about the message being sent to Southern Baptists by the fact that several task force members' churches do not give very large percentages to the SBC's Cooperative Program. Hunt replied it was "poor journalism" that suggested the task force would consider disassembling the North American Mission Board. "There is absolutely no quote whatsoever to go with that. It is ludicrous," Hunt said. The idea of combining the two mission boards was raised by others unrelated to the task force, he added. On the issue of Cooperative Program giving, Hunt noted that his congregation, First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., increased its CP giving last year by 11 percent. "When we judge a person's commitment to the Great Commission by Cooperative Program, if we're not careful, has the potential to elevate the Cooperative Program above the Great Commission," Hunt said. A church ought to be judged on the dollars it is giving -- rather than the percentage -- and whether a pastor is leading his congregation to deeper levels of commitment to the Great Commission, he said.
Scott Gordon, pastor of Claycomo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., returned later in the session to say he was perplexed by a "both/and" concern about the Cooperative Program: on the one hand that Cooperative Program giving should not be a measure of commitment to the Great Commission but at the same time that more CP giving was needed to send missionaries overseas. Hunt replied by asking, whether the "determining factor" of Cooperative Program commitment is a certain percentage or a commitment to increased giving. "If I lead our church from giving $30,000 to $525,000, is that growth in Cooperative Program giving or should 10 percent be the standard? And is that a biblical standard or have we, like the Pharisees, come up with laws outside the book that I preach?" Mohler said Southern Baptists are "way past" issues from 1845 or 1925 and need to ask themselves what faithfulness requires of them today. If Southern Baptists will "do the right thing" about getting more energy, money and people focused on unreached peoples, he said the Lord will take care of other priorities that need to be addressed.
'NO SACRED COWS' -- Patrick Payton, senior pastor of Stonegate Fellowship in Midland, Texas, closed the session with a statement, rather than a question. If the Southern Baptist Convention was a business, it would be dead, Payton said; all the employees would be fired and the enterprise would be started all over again. "I'm pleading with you to have no sacred cows," Payton said. "It was a crisis that caused the Conservative Resurgence but people do not see the crisis we are in now. They do not see the fact that we are dead and dying." He urged the task force to "bring the crisis to the table next year [in Orlando] and absolutely blow it up."
Following the luncheon, the task force convened in a private session at the nearby Embassy Suites Hotel, with plans to continue its meeting through the morning of Aug. 27.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Audio from the luncheon is available online at www.pray4gcr.com/2009/08/gcr-luncheon-audio/.