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Great Commission Task Force Is the Storycomment (0)

July 2, 2009

By Bob Terry

The story of the 164th annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the Great Commission Task Force (see story, page 1). From start to finish, the meeting was orchestrated to keep attention focused on the proposal championed by SBC President Johnny Hunt.

That fact was confirmed when Resolutions Committee chairman Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, told reporters during a press conference that Hunt asked the committee to limit the number of resolutions presented to the convention in order to keep attention focused on the Great Commission proposal.

But the orchestration was obvious from the moment Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler walked directly from the stage where he welcomed messengers to Louisville, Ky., to a convention floor microphone and was the first person recognized to introduce a motion for convention consideration. His motion, of course, was to authorize Hunt to appoint a Great Commission Task Force.

The task force was the focus of Hunt’s presidential address. And Akin, delivering a convention theme interpretation prior to consideration of the motion, gave a campaign speech in behalf of the proposal. After its adoption, International Mission Board (IMB) President Jerry Rankin repeated his support for the proposal during the IMB report and told messengers international missions needs more money.

Privately, several recognized SBC and state convention leaders expressed concerns about the task force, but only Morris Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, dared to raise questions from the platform. His comments earned him an immediate rebuke from Akin, who publicly called Chapman’s words “disingenuous” and “shameful.”

At a press conference following his re-election, Hunt said Chapman’s comments caused him to feel uncomfortable.

There was a major difference in the rhetoric around the Great Commission Task Force proposal between what was said before the annual meeting and what was said at the annual meeting. Prior to the annual meeting, most of the discussion was about changes to the structure of the SBC. At the annual meeting, the discussion was about raising more resources.

Hunt declared he has no intention of “touching the SBC structure” and told reporters he had talked with several state convention executives and state paper editors prior to the convention. He said his integrity is important to him and even told them to write down what he said to make sure what happened at the convention this year was consistent with his promise.

As we have written earlier, who can be against the Great Commission? Baptists do need to pray more, give more, witness more and go more. As a people, we do need to recover that sense of urgency to share the gospel with neighbors and to the end of the earth. We do need to be intentional in “loving loud” through word and deed as this year’s theme, “LoveLoud,” challenged.

There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. There are hungry and hurting people who need the ministry of God’s people to show them His love made known in Jesus Christ.

Presentations by both the IMB and the North American Mission Board struck responsive cords with messengers as Baptist representatives told of working in closed cultures where being known as a Christian can be physically dangerous, where chaplains help military personnel deal with the urgency of knowing God, where indifferent people turn a deaf ear to God in this country.

As was pointed out by various speakers, the Great Commission is about making disciples of people throughout the world. Evangelism is the beginning point. Discipleship is the destination. If helping Southern Baptists live out this conviction is what the Great Commission Task Force is about, then we are all for it.

Hunt also said he anticipates finding “overlap” in Southern Baptist life that is keeping money away from missions and evangelism. He further indicated that he anticipates the task force will find “models” that need to be challenged. While we do not know what all these statements imply, both observations sound close to “touching … structure.”

When the high-powered personalities appointed to the task force gather to begin their work, it may be difficult for them to picture themselves as the SBC’s stewardship committee and focus only on increasing resources. Time will tell.

Near the end of the debate about the Great Commission proposal, a messenger who identified himself as a young pastor from Texas shared that he and other young pastors were present to see what Southern Baptists did with the task force motion. He said they want to be a part of something bigger than a local church and bigger than the SBC. His comments drew applause from the other messengers, and we add our own “amen.”

It should be remembered that most Baptists share that conviction. Legion are the number of dedicated Baptists — both ministers and laypeople — who have practiced sacrificial giving and living in order to contribute to the kingdom of God. And not just money. They contribute in prayer support, ministries of mercy, witness and evangelism.

Frequently these contributions are channeled through local churches or the denomination, but the goal is to contribute to the kingdom of God, not some personal kingdom.

Southern Baptists today stand on the shoulders of earlier saints — both men and women — who loved God with heart and soul and mind and strength and worked for His Kingdom. It would be a dreadful mistake if enthusiasm for a Great Commission resurgence caused anyone to imply that those who have gone before us and even those standing beside us now do not love God as much as we do or are not as committed to working in God’s Kingdom as much as we are.

Recognizing that others share our goals and passions might make us more humble in our opinions and open us to what God might be saying through others.

The Great Commission Task Force was the story of the recent annual meeting. It will be the story for the coming year. Please pray for the task force collectively, for its members individually and for the will of God to be accomplished in this process.

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