Hankins: Cooperation 'key' to resurgence; offers strategy to strengthen CP
Posted on Oct 28, 2009 | by Mark Kelly
DALLAS (BP)--"This is the best climate in 30 years for all of us to work together," Louisiana Baptist leader David Hankins said in representing state convention leaders in comments to the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Oct. 27 in Dallas.
In an interview with Baptist Press, Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, listed four "affirmations" state Baptist convention executives shared with the GCR task force, created by a vote of messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., in June.
Hankins told Baptist Press the four affirmations centered around cooperation between the SBC and state conventions:
-- "Affirmation One: The structure that has served Southern Baptists in the past is well suited for the future."
"We disagree with those asserting that we are using outmoded structures that will not work in the 21st century," Hankins said. "An unstudied assertion does not become true simply by being repeated and posted on the Internet."
To individuals who may foresee a confederation of churches "that have a common heritage and a common theology but no common methodology," Hankins said: "With all due respect, that is the independent Baptist model that Southern Baptists have specifically and decidedly rejected....
"While Southern Baptists prize local church autonomy, we are not hyper-local church practitioners who believe in no extra-congregational ecclesiastical structures. We find no contradiction in believing in both. We believe the current structure of Southern Baptists is appropriate for Southern Baptist ecclesiology, life and work.... It fits who we are and what we want to do. And I believe Southern Baptists, by and large, want it to continue."
Hankins described Southern Baptists' structure as "unifying," providing "a stack pole around which we can motivate and mobilize our churches at every level"; "comprehensive," with the capacity to handle "a variety of things the churches want it to do"; "consistent," with "a staying power" beyond personnel changes or squabbles over various issues; and "cooperative," reflecting Southern Baptists' desire for "every voice to be heard. They do not desire a structure that is under factional control or guided by personal agendas. They want to set the agenda as a group."
-- "Affirmation Two: State conventions are necessary, crucial partners for a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists."
"We do not have the time, if we took all day, to describe the many and varied Great Commission ministries performed through the state conventions," Hankins said, citing such examples as disaster relief operations; the planting of 800 churches in Haiti by the Florida Baptist Convention, where there are no IMB personnel at present; and Baptist Collegiate Ministries, which reach "around 100,000 collegians per year in their core groups," including thousands of international students.
"We are already wading chest deep in gospel enterprises," Hankins said. "We believe as strongly in the Kingdom value of our work as each of you do in yours, and we'll defend it as readily as you would yours from unwarranted attacks, not out of self-interest, but out of Kingdom interest.... The boots on the ground-motivating-mobilizing function [of state conventions] makes us indispensable partners for a 'Great Commission Resurgence.' We are not detrimental to the process. We are instrumental to the process."
-- "Affirmation Three: The NAMB serves a vital role in a coordinated, comprehensive evangelism and church planting movement for Southern Baptists."
"The performance of the North American Mission Board since its inception only 12 years ago is the subject of much debate and criticism.... The upheaval in executive leadership the last four years, by itself, is enough to raise many questions about the work of this most complex SBC entity," Hankins acknowledged.
But, he noted, "Unlike any other SBC entity, every Southern Baptist state convention has documented relationships with NAMB that involve strategies, personnel, assignments and finances."
Hankins said Southern Baptists should remember "before we pile on ... what NAMB gets right" in national disaster relief coordination, chaplaincy initiatives and a stragety that "allows us to be a national force" by undergirding outreach and ministry in regions such as New England, West Virginia, Utah and Idaho. Without Southern Baptist funding, channeled through NAMB, many smaller state conventions "would be decimated."
State convention executives "are not interested in disruptions in our NAMB partnerships, certainly not without a thorough and thoughtful investigation that incorporates the appropriate information and the appropriate participants," Hankins said.
-- "Affirmation Four: The Cooperative Program should be the vehicle of choice for funding Southern Baptist initiatives related to a Great Commission Resurgence."
Hankins suggested a three-part strategy to reverse a decline in Cooperative Program giving by churches, falling from over 10 percent of their undesignated receipts about 25 years ago to about 6 percent currently.
A strategy to strengthen CP would entail: 1) stewardship, addressing the "allocation problem ... between the church members' pocket book and the offering plate" in which Southern Baptists only give an average of 2 percent of their income for missions, including CP. 2) leadership, with Hankins noting, "Tepid endorsements of the CP are not the solution; they are the problem. We need what we had in 1925 [when the Cooperative Program was founded]: the best and brightest among us leading the way in word and deed for the Cooperative Program." 3) partnership -- "a relationship between the SBC and the state conventions that provides promotion, collection, allocation, accountability, and unity."
The opportunity for cooperation "can be lost" if, for example, the GCR Task Force were to be "hijacked by those who merely want to vent frustrations, or engage in blame-storming, or pursue personal agendas, or sow dissension among brethren, or justify their unwillingness to cooperate....
"There is a better way," Hankins said. "We would recommend elevating partnership and moderating non-cooperation. Let's invite all who are willing to come to the table. Let's honor and bless the calling and contribution of all who make up the vast network of Southern Baptists. Let's respect one another and believe the best about each other, even those we don't know or whose ministries don't involve us directly. Let's improve and stretch and applaud and encourage one another. Let's value what we have and build on it for the glory of God. Think about it! A resurgence in cooperation could be the key to a resurgence for the Great Commission."
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.
Following is the full text of comments by David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, addressed in behalf of state convention executive directors to the 23-member Great Commission Resurgence Task Force:
A revival of cooperation is needed for a Great Commission resurgence
By David E. Hankins
As a whole the state executive directors applaud the concept of a "Great Commission Resurgence," a subject the SBC has authorized the GCR to study. In preparation for the meeting, I carefully read the documents related to the formation of the GCR Task Force as well as statements made by the task force related to its work to date. Also, I have seen some things from the blogosphere and other avenues of communication about the subject. I know you are hearing voices besides ours. Some of my remarks will address those voices and sometimes will offer a contrary opinion.
It is possible, since your work is not complete, that I could address some things that are not even on your radar screen. I hope to address matters of importance to the minds of my colleagues that could have a bearing on your work. I will make assertions that we hold to be valid but, because of time constraints, the arguments supporting those assertions will be limited. We can elaborate, as you desire later.
I am familiar with the process you are using. I have spent considerable time the last 25 years on different task forces and committees for the SBC. I chaired the 1991 SBC Resolutions Committee where I first met a young man named Al Mohler; I served on 3 different committees on the Seminary funding formula; I chaired the Executive Committee and served with Ronnie [Floyd] and Simon [Tsoi] on the presidential search committee; I joined the Executive Committee staff to assist with the implementation of the Covenant for a New Century.
One particular set of meetings came to my mind as I thought of our current situation. As Executive Committee Chairman in 1991-92, I conducted six regional meetings with the SBC and state convention leaders of that day. The purpose of the meetings was to discuss the future of the SBC, and whether we would have a Cooperative Program and whether we even wanted to remain together. The meetings were tense, pessimistic and sometimes angry. We weren't sure we would stay together or wanted to. Some threatened to leave the room; some eventually left Southern Baptists.
Thinking of those regional meetings convinces me that, by the grace of God, three miracles have occurred regarding the SBC since that time:
1) that we experienced a solid recommitment to theological fidelity;
2) that our convention operations, especially in light of the controversy, remained intact and continued to garner the support of most of the churches (Note: while none of us are satisfied with the declines in membership, baptisms, and missions support, we have had remarkable results and staying power. For example, our total membership in 1979 was 13,379,073. In 2008, it was 16,266,920 or plus 20%. Compare that to the track record of mainline denominations. We may not be at the top of our game but we are very much in the game. Pronouncements that the SBC is dead are not only premature; they ignore a vast array of data to the contrary. I'm not suggesting we put our heads in the sand, but let's not "awfulize" just to make a point. I hope we can find in our rhetoric the appropriate balance between bold prophecy and Chicken Little).
3) that we have seen a renewed sense of fraternity. Those who have been around remember the antipathy and sometimes downright hostility among various levels of the denomination, particularly between some state convention leaders and some SBC leaders. That has changed. The group here today that gives leadership to the several state conventions is enthusiastically committed to the SBC. Not every issue has been resolved in every state convention, but even in state conventions where there has been the most tension with the SBC, there is a warming up and openness to partnership.
This is the best climate in 30 years for all of us to work together. We ought to consider it a primary strategy to marshal all the sectors of Southern Baptist leadership (church, association, state, SBC) to work on the Great Commission Resurgence. We are grateful that Dr. Hunt's appointments to this body made room for all stakeholders. All of us want success for the Kingdom and the favor of the Lord on Southern Baptist missions.
My understanding of what might occupy you most in your deliberations about Southern Baptists and the Great Commission is how we as a denomination might 1) more aggressively evangelize and congregationalize the USA and Canada and 2) provide the resources to effectively engage overseas missions as envisioned by our IMB. What is it state execs believe that is important for you to consider in your pursuit of these worthy aims? We offer four affirmations:
Affirmation One: The structure that has served Southern Baptists in the past is well suited for the future. I am referencing the basic historic structure of churches, associations, state conventions, and the national convention. We bring this affirmation first because, whether the task force intended it or not, a lot of Southern Baptists think your work is about structure.
Before I speak to the affirmation, let me offer a general observation on the role of structure in our current context. Structure is our servant, not our savior. Structure is not a bright pathway to Great Commission resurgence. The Covenant for a New Century taught us that.
It will be a shame if we spend 90% of our energy wrangling over organizational matters that have very little promise of bringing revival but a very large potential for bringing dissension. The vast preponderance of our opportunity and our need is in the local churches. Therefore, calling our churches to Lordship, prayer, sacrifice, holiness, humility, and mission, and arming them for spiritual and cultural conflict will do more for the Great Commission than scraping the barnacles off our hull.
Structure is not our savior. But it is our servant. Structure is not a bad word, even if you use one of its synonyms like organization, infrastructure, or bureaucracy. Some of the voices out there seem to be proposing an amorphous amphictyony of churches that have a common heritage and a common theology but no common methodology. With all due respect, that is the independent Baptist model that Southern Baptists have specifically and decidedly rejected.
The very existence of this task force approved by the SBC presupposes that Southern Baptists want a structure. Otherwise, when the problem of decline in baptisms and mission support was noted, the answer would have been, "Let the churches handle it!" While Southern Baptists prize local church autonomy, we are not hyper-local church practitioners who believe in no extra-congregational ecclesiastical structures. We find no contradiction in believing in both.
We believe the current structure of Southern Baptists is appropriate for Southern Baptist ecclesiology, life and work. I am not saying the structure is magical or was handed down from the mount or should never be modified. I am saying that it is "apt." It fits who we are and what we want to do. And I believe Southern Baptists, by and large, want it to continue.
I realize that at least in some quarters there seems to be a hue and cry about the effectiveness of the structure. We disagree with those asserting that we are using outmoded structures that will not work in the 21st century. I am certainly willing to have the debate but am unwilling to accept the premise without debate. An unstudied assertion does not become true simply by being repeated and posted on the Internet.
Whatever failings can be credited to our structure are due less to flaws in the structure and more to neglect of the structure. Furthermore, generalized, non-specific, non-substantiated criticisms of our structure only serve to feed negativism and are likely to lead to more unnecessary neglect.
What do we find useful in the current structure?
1) It is cohesive, or unifying. Our structure has the capacity for all our churches to participate. The convention structure concretizes and strengthens our identity as Southern Baptists and gives us a stack pole around which we can motivate and mobilize our churches at every level.
2) It is comprehensive rather than "single issue" or societal. It has boots on the ground everywhere and the capacity to execute a variety of things the churches want it to do. This does not mean the churches want the structures to do everything, or that the churches will not engage in extra-congregational ministries through other non-convention structures. They always have. They always will. It does mean they value those tasks they can do together through the Southern Baptist structure, and they believe it is appropriate to challenge all the Southern Baptist churches at each level to join in.
3) It is consistent. It has staying power. It doesn't disappear with the vagaries of personnel changes or a squabble in a congregation or disinterest by a few.
4) It is cooperative. Baptists want every voice to be heard. They do not desire a structure that is under factional control or guided by personal agendas. They want to set the agenda as a group. They value good leadership but not dictatorship. As they study, debate, and wrangle, they will not achieve absolute agreement, but they generally reach consensus; and then they encourage each to set aside personal desires to contribute to the consensus plan.
In summary, our current structure works. It allows for there to be attention to detail at the local level (everybody's business is nobody's business), an appropriate division of labor among the various levels, a system of communication and coordination (what one speaker recently called "convening power"), and clearly identified Southern Baptists units though which all churches may fellowship, learn, contribute, and work. This is not to say it is wrong or unnecessary to take a look at structure in the context of the Great Commission. However, it is a mistake to foment the precipitous dismantling of structures that are producing so much for any alternative that is ill defined, untested and unproven.
The stakes are too high. If we disable portions of our structure, we will find we have no mechanism to successfully get this new movement accomplished. We need to leave the delivery system in place. We believe our real need is to define and design a strategy that can be implemented by the structure to help ignite a "Great Commission" resurgence.
Affirmation Two: State conventions are necessary, crucial partners for a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists. The first reason is because of the comprehensive ministries they carry out to and for the churches they represent. Some of the voices out there have imagined a Baptist state convention whose only purpose is planting healthy, thriving congregations and whose stated intent is to dissolve itself once those churches exist in sufficient numbers and strength. No such convention exists or has existed in Southern Baptist life. To suggest so is a gross misrepresentation of the history and nature of state conventions.
The state conventions (and other general Southern Baptist bodies) purposefully have a broader intent. They do not exist in some self-perpetuating manner. They exist at the pleasure of the churches that form them and govern them. And they do not have a sunset clause. Even churches in a strong state convention have things they want to do together and the state convention is their structure for doing so.
Wm. B. Johnson, the first president of the SBC and leader in the formation of the first Southern Baptist state convention in South Carolina 24 years earlier understood the "convention" model to be a single organization which could manage as many endeavors as the churches' messengers authorized. Performing only narrow functions like "overseas missions" is a reductionism in the convention model not envisioned by our founders. State conventions are vehicles the churches utilize to do many kinds of work that they determine cannot be accomplished as well by the individual churches.
We do not have the time, if we took all day, to describe the many and varied Great Commission ministries performed through the state conventions. I will highlight a few as examples:
1) Florida Baptist Convention planted 880 churches in Haiti where there are no IMB personnel at present.
2) Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has mission personnel to Muslims and Asian–Indians in Texas.
3) The Baptist Collegiate Ministries reach around 100,000 collegians per year in their core groups (twice as many students with one third as many staffers than the next largest ministry, Campus Crusade) with over 27,000 involved in missions and including 1000s of International students, and provide the largest contingent of persons who enter IMB service.
4) One year ago, I created a new position on the Louisiana Baptist Convention staff at the suggestion of IMB. It is our mobilization strategist whose task is to motivate, coordinate, and train Louisiana Baptists for partnership missions. Many of our state conventions fund a similar position. For example, in Georgia, 140,000 volunteers were mobilized last year. These particular ministries directly impact international missions and are funded through state conventions.
And these are just a few of the ministries of state conventions which include church planting networks (cf. Kentucky's high impact church planting initiative), schools, disaster relief, evangelism and Sunday School training, pastoral care, information sharing, and on and on. My colleagues all have wonderful stories to share about mobilizing and motivating and serving Baptists in their respective regions. And many of the larger conventions are in partnerships with smaller conventions through the sharing of strategies, personnel, and finances. Are we perfect? Of course not. Are we willing to be better? We work on it all the time.
We are ready to launch out more aggressively than ever before for the Great Commission. But make no mistake about it. We are already wading chest deep in gospel enterprises. We believe as strongly in the Kingdom value of our work as each of you do in yours, and we'll defend it as readily as you would yours from unwarranted attacks, not out of self-interest, but out of Kingdom interest.
The second reason we are necessary partners is because of our relationships with the churches. Not every church values the state convention. That could be said for any of our work at every level. But most do. We fulfill that necessary structure of having a coordinated presence in every region. We are in the churches. We know the pastors. We promote the denomination and raise the money. We are perfectly positioned to motivate and mobilize Baptists.
The current evangelism plan, GPS, which was prompted by Dr. Frank Page, and will now be molded by him, was created and launched in partnership with the Directors of Evangelisms in the states. They are calling, training and motivating the pastors. The boots on the ground-motivating-mobilizing function makes us indispensable partners for a "great commission resurgence". We are not detrimental to the process. We are instrumental to the process.
Affirmation Three: The NAMB serves a vital role in a coordinated, comprehensive evangelism and church planting movement for Southern Baptists. The performance of the North American Mission Board since its inception only 12 years ago is the subject of much debate and criticism. It is a target rich environment. The upheaval in executive leadership the last four years, by itself, is enough to raise many questions about the work of this most complex SBC entity. The state conventions are very invested in decisions about NAMB. Unlike any other SBC entity, every Southern Baptist state convention has documented relationships with NAMB that involve strategies, personnel, assignments and finances.
We have a lot of the same questions we hear from others. Did the restructuring of NAMB from HMB, Brotherhood, and RTV advance our cause and produce the envisioned synergy around church planting and evangelism? Will some merging in the future be more effective or more efficient? Did a cohesive media strategy emerge that helped Southern Baptists' image and impact in the nation? What is the status of missions education and why? Each of us has some opinions on the shortcomings of NAMB, the degree of their severity, the root causes and a way forward.
But before we pile on, it is important to talk about what NAMB gets right. We could mention Disaster Relief, and Chaplaincy, and the ERC. But the most important thing is NAMB's partnership with the state conventions, especially those in the north and west. NAMB (and the former HMB) strategies and support have allowed Southern Baptists to advance into every state in the country with a vital presence so that we have, by count, the most congregations of any religious body in America with the most success in church planting among the diverse peoples who now live here.
NAMB strategy allows us to be a national force, not in pronouncements to the press, but in Baptists-on-the-ground all over this continent. NAMB strategy, consultation, personnel and funding are the lifeline of those structures that have catalyzed and sustained this massive advance.
Because of NAMB's assistance, Southern Baptists in New England, in one-third the time, have planted over 3 times as many congregations as an indigenous Baptist denomination in that region that has no such national support. If it were not for NAMB's assistance, the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, which serves 416 churches and church plants, would not have been able to help 16 new church plants this year, and continue support for other recent church plants. They would have to give up virtually all their 10 campus ministries, community evangelism, DOM positions and strategist positions, and reduce their ability to assist the churches with resources, services and training. In other words, the structure would be decimated.
The same is true for West Virginia where 80% of funding for their 20 missionaries comes from NAMB. Utah-Idaho, without the NAMB, would lose all 8 Associational Directors of Missions, all Church Planters, and lose 5 of the 6 full time state staff positions. The same is true for all new work areas.
We are very interested in studying strategies for more effective Southern Baptist church planting, especially in the large population centers (and are already doing so). We are very interested in national strategies on evangelism. We are very interested in strategies for maximizing mission dollars. We believe the NAMB is a critical player in developing those strategies and we are not interested in disruptions in our NAMB partnerships, certainly not without a thorough and thoughtful investigation that incorporates the appropriate information and the appropriate participants.
Expressions of exasperation may be sufficient reason to begin a study. They are not sufficient reason to conclude one. If the role of NAMB is on your [GCR Task Force] agenda, limitation of time and magnitude of the subject, may lead this task force to spawn a more narrowly focused, more widely participatory, and more intense evaluation of this critical area of our work.
Affirmation Four: The Cooperative Program should be the vehicle of choice for funding Southern Baptist initiatives related to a Great Commission Resurgence. The Cooperative Program was formed in 1925 in a time of crisis and opportunity by a joint effort of all SBC leaders like those in this room (pastors, SBC entity heads and state convention execs). The challenge was issued for everyone to set aside individualistic approaches to extra-church enterprises and to give themselves wholly to the Cooperative Program process. The Convention decided a convention-based allocation process rather than a church-based allocation process was superior. Though it understood it could not and should not force any church to opt for the Cooperative Program as its mission funding strategy, the Convention unapologetically and enthusiastically called for every Southern Baptist church to do so. This experiment has been startling in its success.
Now, however, for about 25 years, there has been a dramatic de-emphasis on Cooperative Program revealed most notably in an aggregate percentage giving drop from over 10% to about 6%. This has caused some voices to opine that the CP, while a wonderful tool of the past, is not sufficient for the future funding needs of Southern Baptists. Other voices are suggesting we can improve things by downplaying the primacy of the Convention-based allocation process and simply leave it up to the churches, without prejudice, to decide on the particulars of their Convention support. We couldn't disagree more with these opinions. Whatever failings can be attributed to CP are not due to flaws in the process, but to neglect of the process.
There are many suggested reasons for this decline, which I do not have time to recite now. I do need to refute one theory: that the decline is due to inequitable allocation between the state conventions and the SBC. There is no evidence to support this theory and plenty of evidence to refute it. First of all, Southern Baptists know how CP is spent in their respective state conventions. Our budgets are prepared, voted on, scrutinized and managed by our leaders (predominantly pastors). They are pleased with the process and the product. Secondly, as indicated in two surveys which I commissioned while vice president of CP and a massive one commissioned by the Executive Committee and conducted by LifeWay Research last year, the rank and file of Southern Baptists are basically happy with allocation decisions. This is further affirmed, again contrary to some voices you are hearing, in that there is not a significant trend of churches by-passing state conventions to send directly to the SBC: only 1% of the churches (444) sent directly to the SBC last year, down from 455 in 2003, and the total dollars given directly to SBC has dropped about 30% in the last seven years while standard CP giving rose over 10% in the same period.
Whatever the reasons for the decline, we believe it can be reversed, and must be reversed if we are going to have a realistic chance to undergird a GCR. We could simply leave it up to our churches to find their own way in advancing the gospel. That is not unbiblical. But it is not as effective as rallying all our churches around a common strategy. And a common strategy necessitates common funding.
Here's an idea. I believe a plan can be implemented which can, in a five to ten year period, 1) provide the support for IMB's near term strategy for deploying a total of 8,000 missionaries, 2) provide millions of new dollars for strategic church planting in US population centers that NAMB is envisioning, 3) provide significant growth in NAMB funding for new work states, and which 4) will not require defunding of other valuable CP ministries at the state and national levels. It is not blue sky, but it is CP-centric and it will require three things (in order of importance and impact on results):
1. The first is Stewardship. I agree with the rationale that because there are millions more un-evangelized peoples overseas and because the USA has tremendous gospel resources with which to reach the homeland, we have an obligation to send more support overseas.
I disagree that the problem is too large a percentage of the Southern Baptist mission dollar being spent at home. I believe the problem is too small of a percentage of the church members' income dollar being given to the Lord's work. Said another way, the allocation problem we have is not between the state conventions and the SBC but between the church members' pocket book and the offering plate.
Our most serious problem is a financial stewardship problem that is indicative of a Lordship problem. The fact is, since about 1984, both the percent of personal income Baptists give to their churches and the percent of church receipts contributed to any kind of missions (including CP) has been steadily declining. Individual per capita contributions have declined from about 2.5% to 2%. Total mission expenditures declined from about 17% to about 11%. Southern Baptists, by conservative estimates, fail to contribute $10 billion a year of tithe money. The last thirty years, Southern Baptists are giving a smaller percent of their incomes than the great depression generation. This failure forces valuable and desirable local church, state convention and international convention ministries into unnecessary competition for the available dollars.
2. The second requirement is Leadership. The main reason churches are giving lower percentages through the Cooperative Program, regardless of mitigating circumstances, is because they can. A change in attitudes is needed. I am grateful for the positive statements about CP that come from time to time but I fear some of these endorsements are less than enthusiastic. You may recall Andy and Barney's response to Gomer Pyle when he asked if the blind date they had arranged for him was pretty. They said, "Oh, she's nice; she's real nice." Tepid endorsements of the CP are not the solution; they are the problem. We need what we had in 1925: the best and brightest among us leading the way in word and deed for the Cooperative Program.
3. The third requirement is Partnership. The CP partnership is driven by a relationship between the SBC and the state conventions that provides promotion, collection, allocation, accountability, and unity. This has served us well. But the CP process cannot thrive unless it is "cooperative." We must resist dissembling. Instead, we must endorse, improve and utilize the state convention/Southern Baptist Convention partnership.
The scope of this task Force is to study how Southern Baptists can work "more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission." We have in our grasp, by God's grace, the opportunity to accomplish the particular vision God has given Southern Baptists, to wit, to aggressively evangelize and congregationalize in every city of the USA and Canada and to meet the strategic initiatives for overseas missions outlined by the IMB.
This opportunity can be lost. The GCR can be hijacked by those who merely want to vent frustrations, or engage in blame-storming, or pursue personal agendas, or sow dissension among brethren, or justify their unwillingness to cooperate.
We can give in to this by elevating non-cooperation and moderating partnership. We can prefer our own efforts and ideas to the exclusion of our brothers. We can "sit in the scorner's seat and hurl the cynic's ban." We can minimize the other's points of strength and maximize their weaknesses. We can throw rocks, gainsay ministries and impugn motives. We can denigrate, demean, devalue and mock. We can pit one against the other: the large church against the small church, young against old, contemporary against traditional, the SBC against the state conventions, Calvinists against the not- so- Calvinistic, mission boards and seminaries against one another and each other.
Each can organize their supporters against the others: young pastors who like my way will speak against young pastors who like yours. One church will designate around certain ministries. Another will designate the opposite way. We can compete instead of cooperate. We can become adversaries instead of allies. We can declare, "What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse's son? To your tents, O Israel. Look after your own house, O David!" And we can all lose.
I don't like this way. In our shop, our rule is that all pastors, ADOMs, other state convention and SBC personnel are our valued partners and are not to be treated as adversaries. This does not mean that we always agree or do not sometimes raise our eyebrows at someone else's decisions. But, we are not going to publicly denigrate and criticize. If we have failed at that, we ask your forbearance. This is not a commitment I made just since going to Louisiana. I will tell you that during my time at the SBC there was too much minimizing and mocking the work of state conventions by SBC folk; and state convention leaders had failings on this point toward the SBC.
While thoughtful critique is certainly legitimate, it is disconcerting to observe SBC employees engage in derision about the work of state conventions and encourage the defunding of our work. This must stop. All of us here, by employment, election, or appointment, are denominational leaders for the SBC or a state convention. We can't control everything that is said at some forum or in some op-ed piece or blog. But we can control ourselves, and probably our staffs. For my part, I affirm the people and the work of the SBC structure to our entire constituency, and I appeal for there to be reciprocity.
Let me speak plainly. We are very interested in supporting this process but not at the price of having our constituents told they ought to devalue our work. We are honor-bound to oppose this maligning of state conventions and, if we must, we will use the means at our disposal to do so. If we do not achieve real partnership, it doesn't matter how magnificent or inventive our recommendations may be, we will all fail.
There is a better way. We would recommend elevating partnership and moderating non-cooperation. Let's invite all who are willing to come to the table. Let's honor and bless the calling and contribution of all who make up the vast network of Southern Baptists. Let's respect one another and believe the best about each other, even those we don't know or whose ministries don't involve us directly. Let's improve and stretch and applaud and encourage one another. Let's value what we have and build on it for the glory of God. Think about it! A resurgence in cooperation could be the key to a resurgence for the great commission.
Where do we go from here? We would simply encourage you to go to the SBC with a consensus report, one which is enthusiastically endorsed by all the stake holders including state convention leaders; and a report, where it impinges on our common work and constituents, we have helped frame. I do not mean that we would presume to encroach on your prerogatives. But the SBC, in its historic and repeated decisions, has unequivocally affirmed the several state conventions as its strategic partners, and our request is merely to serve you in that role. Bob White and Jim Richards have our full confidence to offer input that is representative of our interests.
We believe it is the intent of this task force, by virtue of your varied make up and by the statements of your chairman, to come to the SBC with just such a report. And we wish you Godspeed in your significant assignment.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.