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SBC’s Hunt proposes ‘Great Commission Resurgence’ chargecomment (0)

May 21, 2009

Part of the reason Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Johnny Hunt was ready to “shock the system” with a strongly worded call to a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) is that he and other leading Southern Baptist pastors feel a large denominational structure that depends on gifts from churches is not flexible enough to appreciate churches that sometimes do missions outside of that structure.

Hunt shared that information during a podcast interview with a representative of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

The declaration Hunt released — “Toward a Great Commission Resurgence” — has drawn more than 2,000 signatures since it was posted April 27 at www.greatcommissionresurgence.com.

Hunt is expected to present the document to the June 23–24 SBC annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., and ask messengers to consider appointing a task force to study it.

He said he wants a committee to study the national system of associations, state conventions and national agencies and institutions so Baptists can “do the best we can with what God has entrusted to us.”

“I feel sometimes ... that bureaucracy is speaking down to [the] church and holding us accountable, such as, ‘Here’s what Johnny Hunt gives through the Cooperative Program (CP). Question mark. Would we want someone to lead who has no greater commitment to CP?’” Hunt said in the interview.

Hunt drew criticism from some quarters in 2008 during his run for SBC president because the church he serves as pastor, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., in metropolitan Atlanta, contributed 2.2 percent of undesignated receipts to missions causes through the CP.

“There we have speaking down to the pastor. Now this is an opportunity for us to speak back up to the state and ask, ‘What is fair?’” Hunt said. “Should it be the church holding the denomination accountable ... or should they be holding us accountable?

“If the church is king, anyone else that speaks to us is a prince speaking to the king.”

Hunt emphasized that the 10 commitments called for in the Great Commission Resurgence Declaration (see story, page 7) reflect “what we hear from grass-roots pastors and grass-roots leaders of local churches across America” and are not just his feelings and those of the document’s primary author, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin.

Hunt has expressed concern about declining baptism numbers and the future of the denomination since being elected SBC president.

“One thing that can steer us in the right direction is that we Southern Baptists agree almost always on far more than we disagree on,” Hunt said. “I hope we can get our arms around the gospel, the Great Commission, the building of churches, global missions (and) evangelism to the point we can agree to agree on so much that it will start pointing us in the same direction.”

Akin said Hunt’s push for GCR came after the two of them talked last June about what could be done to reverse stagnation within the SBC.

Then in March, Akin shared with Hunt an idea of a sermon he wanted to preach that would outline the themes and issues of concern being discussed among Southern Baptists and offer a way forward for the denomination.

Encouraged by Hunt, Akin said he worked on the sermon, “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence,” which was delivered at the seminary April 16. Reviewed prior to delivery by Hunt, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., Akin said the men “fully and completely” endorsed the 12-point sermon.

Akin said he received “overwhelming” support for the message, and Hunt “in essence commissioned me to put together a more refined kind of document that would take the form of a manifesto or declaration” the SBC president could review, revise and then release to seek endorsement from other like-minded Southern Baptists.

“I would basically give it to him and he would take ownership of it to put before the convention to kind of chart — here’s where many of us think we need to go from here if we’re going to once more capture the zeal and passion for the Great Commission that it seems somehow along the way we’ve lost,” Akin recounted in an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness.

So was born “Toward a Great Commission Resurgence,” principally written by Akin, based on his sermon and with some “wordsmith” assistance from seminary colleagues.

Akin said the week before the declaration was officially released, Hunt shared the document with a group of “pastors of strategic churches” who were meeting. The statement “received an overwhelming affirmation” from those pastors.

The declaration was unofficially released on its Web site April 27 and officially released April 28. At press time, it had 2,295 signatures of Southern Baptists around the nation who are in support of this move. Fifty
-eight of those are from Alabama.

While the declaration resembles Akin’s address — including such emphases as the lordship of Jesus Christ, “gospel-centeredness,” biblical inerrancy and the Baptist Faith and Message — the difference in the new wording from the original posting and Akin’s address includes a softening of some language.

Both Akin’s address and the version originally released on the Web site had called for Southern Baptists to “rethink our convention structure and identity so that we maximize our energy and resources for the fulfilling of the Great Commission,” saying Southern Baptist methods are aimed “at a culture that went out of existence years ago” and that structures at every level of denominational life are “bloated and bureaucratic.”

The online document as revised reads, “Some of our denominational structures at all levels need to be streamlined for more faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted to them.

“We must address with courage and action where there is overlap and duplication of ministries and where poor stewardship is present. We are grateful for God’s gift of Cooperative Program dollars to both state and national entities. Both state and national entities must be wise stewards of these funds and closely examine whether the allocation of Cooperative Program dollars genuinely contributes to Kingdom work or simply maintains the status quo. We are grateful for those churches and state conventions that are seeking to move more Cooperative Program dollars beyond their respective selves and encourage this movement to continue and increase in the days ahead.”

The language of the offending article was changed in response to a request from Hunt with the input of several other SBC leaders, including Rainer, Akin said.

“I think the declaration is trying to energize, educate and enlist Southern Baptists as a mighty army to move forward in the fulfilling of the Great Commission,” Akin said. “Will that require us to ask some hard questions and make some tough decisions? Yes. But then that’s what God’s people ought to be willing to do for getting the gospel to the nations.”

Other leaders supporting the GCR said it represents a heartfelt effort to deal with the challenges churches face with witness and ministry in today’s culture.

The declaration “looked like a good attempt to address the concerns we have,” said Jimmy Draper, retired president of LifeWay who also has served at varying levels of Southern Baptist life. “There are so many concerns: lack of baptisms, lack of real discipleship, still losing 80 percent of our kids when they graduate from high school before they get out of college and the same thing with kids coming into the teen years. We need to refocus on things.

“There are some churches that are doing very well and focusing on reaching people ... but by and large, we’re not really passionate about reaching the lost,” Draper said. “I preach in about 50 different churches every year. It is rare to find a church that has a real concern for the lost. It’s rare to find a church that’s not having some real disruptive things in the fellowship.”

To read the full text of the declaration, visit www.greatcommissionresurgence.com. (BP, ABP, TAB)

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