GCR Task Force Report Misses the Markcomment (0)
June 3, 2010
By Bob Terry
It was with a growing sense of excitement that I listened to the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force’s progress report Feb. 22. Earlier I had editorialized about pollster George Barna’s observation that evangelicals had to stop “competing, complaining and condemning” if they want to reach America for Christ.
Barna called for Bible believers to start practicing “cooperation (and) communication and contributing.” The progress report lifted up core values such as Christlikeness, truth, unity, relationships and trust to replace the “slash-and-burn” politics practiced in some Southern Baptist quarters for the past 30 years where it was common practice to label and demonize everyone who dared differ about some position.
Southern Baptists certainly need a new ethic that will help us regain a hearing for the gospel. Too many people have dismissed us as irrelevant because of our public image of “competing, complaining and condemning.”
Thankfully the final GCR Task Force report continues to lift up those qualities. Unfortunately most of the other recommendations miss the mark of helping Southern Baptists “work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”
The most serious shortcoming is seen in the way the GCR Task Force jumped from one priority to another during the past year. What started as a way to energize support for international missions resulted in a new way of doing missions in North America. What was supposed to be a study of all Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) life omitted a serious examination of the convention’s seminaries because, as the chairman stated, there was not the political will to do so. What started as a drive to get a 50–50 split of Cooperative Program (CP) funds between state conventions and the SBC resulted in a call for state conventions to give more to SBC causes through the CP.
Some of the changes came as task force members learned more about the way Southern Baptists work together. Some of the changes came as the enormity of the task became clear and members rushed to have a report for the upcoming SBC annual meeting. Some changes came when a handful of task force members threatened to make a minority report unless changes were made.
The result of this Southern Baptist “sausage-making” exercise is the 17-page report containing seven recommendations to be voted on June 15 and 10 pages of challenges addressed to all Southern Baptists. Unfortunately none of the recommendations addresses how to increase the financial support for what Southern Baptists do in Great Commission ministries. The report laments the fact that the average Southern Baptist family gives only 2.5 percent of its annual income through its local church and urges families to tithe. The report points out that SBC churches give only 6 percent to missions through the CP on average and urges increased giving. But no goal for church CP giving is recommended.
When asked about this in a telephone interview, task force members said they did not want to interfere with a local church’s autonomy. Yet the task force felt able to urge 31 other specific actions such as starting parochial schools and establishing church discipline.
Instead the report recommends a new method of giving called Great Commission Giving, which is widely viewed as a salve for churches wanting to give to special projects (designated giving) rather than support the full Southern Baptist program in both their state and national conventions.
Some fear establishing a Great Commission Giving category will be another step toward societal giving in which various ministries compete with each other for funds rather than cooperative giving in which all ministries promote one plan that supports them all.
One thing is true. Until Southern Baptist individuals and churches are willing to commit to a greater percentage of giving to Great Commission ministries through the CP, all the commotion over how to divide the declining income is like arguing for a higher class ticket on the Titanic. It ignores the ultimate failure of the journey.
The task force recommendations for reaching North America are novel. The report calls for phasing out cooperative work with mature state conventions such as Alabama’s. At the same time, the report calls for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to establish a national strategy for reaching the unsaved. How NAMB can do this when it is practically prohibited from working in an area of the nation that contains about 40 percent of the population is still speculative.
In new work states, new agreements will be worked out between NAMB and the state conventions. But there is no indication of what the new agreements will be, how they will operate or what they will cover. Many ask why commit to abandon an effective way of working together for something unknown and untried. At least the new approach should be tested before being adopted.
One must also ask where are the core values of unity, relationship and trust when one partner (the SBC) arbitrarily determines the way it will work with other partners (state conventions) without consultation or conversation.
At the same time, NAMB is commissioned to work directly in new church starts in areas where Southern Baptists are not well established. Some observers ask why local Southern Baptists — those who know the area, people and challenges — would not be a partner in these new church plants. What type of missiology is it that ignores the role of other churches, the local association and the state convention in order for a national entity to have direct control of a new church start?
Since when is an SBC entity to do the work rather than helping churches do the work?
Despite missing the mark in helping Southern Baptists work “more faithfully and effectively together,” the report should not be rejected out of hand. Much work has gone into it, and each of the recommendations deserves careful and informed consideration. Neither should the report be adopted as it is. While most of the recommendations refer matters to various entities, there are many instances in which doing this has been interpreted as approval of the idea and thus it should be implemented.
A middle way is better. We suggest the report be received as information by the messengers and that each of the recommendations be referred to the appropriate entity for consideration and reaction. This approach honors the service of task force members. It places each recommendation before those charged by Southern Baptists to give close supervision to that area of work. It provides opportunity for evaluation and testing. It keeps the discussion going. It prevents being hurried into action before the body is ready to make a decision.
This is not a question of who can win the vote on June 15. It is a question of how can Southern Baptists “work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.” Surely that means more time can be taken and more voices involved before drastic changes are made.
To read the full GCR Task Force report, visit www.pray4gcr.com.