GCRTF chair: CP 'central, preferred conduit;' Survey response: 77 % would vote 'no'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The Southern Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program will remain "the central and preferred conduit of Great Commission funding" if the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report is adopted by messengers to the SBC annual meeting in June, the chairman of that committee said April 13.

Establishing a "Great Commission Giving" category of missions funding only celebrates what else is being done outside the Cooperative Program to fund Southern Baptist missions causes, without detracting from Cooperative Program giving, said Ronnie Floyd during a one-hour conference call hosted by the Network of Baptist Associations, which represents 370 of 1,100 Southern Baptist local church associations.

"The bottom line is that we believe the greatest stewardship of the Great Commission investment and deployment is given through the Cooperative Program," Floyd said. "We're going to ask Southern Baptists to recommit themselves, that it be the central and preferred conduit of Great Commission funding. We're going to ask people to step it up. We're going to be bold about it and unashamed about it and not apologetic about it."

Floyd went on to point out that the task force's Feb. 22 "progress report" suggests creating a new category of "Great Commission Giving" to celebrate designated gifts being made to Southern Baptist causes, not para-church organizations. The Cooperative Program channels undesignated contributions from churches to Southern Baptist national and international endeavors according to a pre-determined formula. The form currently used to report church giving already asks for missions spending outside the Cooperative Program, Floyd noted.

Celebrating designated gifts to Southern Baptist missions causes will not diminish the importance of the Cooperative Program, added Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

"Recognizing gifts to associational ministries as Great Commission Giving does not detract from the Cooperative Program as the unique funding mechanism of Southern Baptist missions and ministry," Richards said. "The Cooperative Program will remain as the singularly highlighted method of support for the SBC's cooperative endeavors."

Task force members responded to questions submitted in advance during the panel discussion, which was hosted by Bobby Gilstrap, director of missions for the Huron and Southeastern Baptist associations in Michigan. Call participants also had opportunities to ask questions during the discussion.

James C. Smith, director of missions for the Monongahela Baptist Association in Clarksburg, W.V., spoke up during the open Q&A time to say his constituents were concerned adding a new giving category to celebrate designated giving could mark "the death of the Cooperative Program" and herald a return to a "society" approach to missions, in which organizations compete with each other to raise money directly from individual congregations. Southern Baptists established the Cooperative Program in 1925, in part, to free congregations from the constant appeals for money.

Task force members are firm believers in cooperative missions giving, Floyd said.

"No one in our whole task force believes in societal giving or else we wouldn't be giving to the Cooperative Program," Floyd said. "... No one, in our wildest imaginations, has any dream that there is a better way [than] for the Cooperative Program. The only reason the Great Commission Giving aspect was brought up is this whole element that churches really need to be celebrated for what they are already doing through the Southern Baptist Convention."

David Franklin, associational missionary for Bartow Baptist Association in Cartersville, Ga., asked how structural changes suggested by the task force could lead to a resurgence of passion for the Great Commission.

Floyd replied that structural changes can reflect better obedience to the Great Commission, which in turn can set in motion a new movement of God's Spirit among Southern Baptists.

"The No. 1 need [in the Southern Baptist Convention] is for spiritual revival.... The issue is where we go from here," Floyd said. "We believe that when we really see a mighty move of God and we're willing to risk it all to present the Gospel of Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations, that nothing will ignite this spiritual revival any more and serve as a catalyst to it than obedience to the Great Commission.... It's time for us to risk it all for Jesus and for the propagation of the Gospel in America and the world and part of that has got to be that there has to be life reawakened, life revived, life renewed in the lives of our churches."

People are mistaken if they think they can simply pray for revival and not deal with structural issues, Floyd added.

"In relationship, when God's Holy Spirit moves, there is always an adjustment. You have seen churches that have been so choked by their structure that they can't move forward, but yet when that structure is dealt with, there seems to be a release of life," Floyd said. "... You cannot separate the spiritual side of that and the practical side of that. We've got to get going in the Great Commission. We can't wait on the church to wake up. We've got to do both at the same time."

In response to a question from Eddie Miller, director of missions for Sierra Baptist Association in Reno, Nev., Floyd said decisions about the future of North American Mission Board missionaries would be in the hands of that organization's next president. The task force is evaluating the four-year timeline spelled out by its preliminary report for phasing out the "cooperative agreements" that provide NAMB funding for state convention missionaries, he said.

"We're not talking about something immediate, just as we said in our report," Floyd said. "... I can assure you that panic doesn't need to happen. Panic may be happening. I know it's happening. But why it's happening is beyond me. Perhaps people have exaggerated certain matters. Perhaps we've looked at the worst, rather than what the purpose is."

David Banks, minister of music for First Baptist Church in Eagle River, Alaska, asked how the task force's proposed concentration on missions in major metropolitan areas would affect resources in less populated areas like Alaska that depend on Cooperative Program funding for their missions efforts.

Harry Lewis, vice president of the North American Mission Board’s partnership missions and mobilization group, said a strategic focus on major cities does not mean smaller cities and rural areas will be neglected.

"'Metropolitan area' is defined as the core city has 50,000 or more people, so every state has that. But we're not doing that to the exclusion of the 'micropolitan' -- the small cities -- or the rurals. We have that assignment in one team but the North American Mission Board understands the need to reach the rural as well as the 'micropolitan' areas," Lewis said. "All we would say is that if you're going to reach our nation, you've got to reach the 83 percent that are in the metropolitan areas, but you don't do that to the exclusion of the others. It's going to be more of a prioritization than leaving someone out."

Floyd reiterated his call for Southern Baptists to pray for the task force as they approach their final meeting on April 26 and the presentation of their final report on May 3.

"Please pray because, I'm telling you, this is just all-consuming. It's just such a mound of material and we've been given a short runway," Floyd said. "We think a year is a long time -- and it is a long time -- but at the same time, when you're dealing with all of our stuff, time sort of runs out."

At the close of the conference call, Gilstrap announced results from an informal poll the Network of Baptist Associations had conducted on their website, nobasbc.org. The poll asked respondents three questions on the task force's Feb. 22 report:

-- "Overall, how satisfied are you with what you presently understand about the content of the GCRTF's report?" A total of 20.9 percent replied that they were from moderately to very satisfied, while 79 percent said they were less than satisfied to very unsatisfied.

-- "As you presently understand it, if the GCRTF report is approved in its present form, how much negative impact will it have on your present ministry?" A total of 18.7 percent replied they felt adoption would have no significant or no impact at all, while 81.3 percent said it would have minimal to significant negative impact.

-- "If you were to vote on the GCRTF report (as a whole) today, how would you vote?" A total of 23.2 percent said they would vote for it, with or without reservation, while 76.8 percent said they would vote against it.


Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. The Network of Baptist Associations will host a third conference call on May 20. For information on how to participate, visit nobasbc.org.

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