by Tammi Reed Ledbetter
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) Chairman Ronnie Floyd took questions in stride as reporters wondered how GCRTF recommendations would impact and possibly upset state conventions and their working relationship with the North American Mission Board.
After delivering a passionate half-hour appeal before the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee on Feb. 22 for Southern Baptists “to return to God in deep repentance and experience a fresh wave of his spirit upon our lives, ministries and work of our denomination,” Floyd and a tag team of task force members gave an hour to outlining their vision of returning “to the primacy and centrality of the local church.”
Questions in the subsequent news conference primarily focused on how the “restart” of the North American Mission Board would eliminate cooperative agreements with state conventions that provide shared responsibility for most of the current SBC mission force.
“It will give an opportunity for state conventions to re-look and reassess their priorities just like we have done,” Floyd said, adding his hope that the interim report recommendations will “unleash and release NAMB to fulfill what Southern Baptists really think that they’re there to do.”
As every church assumes its responsibility as “an effective missional organization” by directly planting new churches, Floyd said NAMB will become a catalyst in reaching the United States and Canada.
“We want them to be successful,” Floyd said, referring to state conventions and local Baptist associations. “Most of all we want the Gospel to win and for every church to be an effective missional organization that makes a difference. We believe the freeing of that will really help everyone do gospel work more effectively.”
The report also calls for adding one percentage point of Cooperative Program allocation to the International Mission Board using funds gained from shifting stewardship and CP promotion back to state conventions.
Alabama Baptist editor Bob Terry asked Floyd if those new dollars would be spent stateside to accomplish the recommendation that the International Mission Board reach unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographic limitations.
By using IMB missionaries with “extremely rare language and cultural skills,” NAMB and local churches can engage unreached people groups that settle in large metropolitan areas, explained GCRTF member R. Albert Mohler of Louisville.
“Given the way their ministry assignment is written, the IMB said they did not feel free to be directly engaged even though it may be the very same people that they’re seeing in the home location who also show up in Washington, Portland and New York City.”
By closing this gap in outreach efforts by Southern Baptists, Mohler said, “It is not a revolution, but a clarification we hope will lead to more smooth, systematic and strategic mission work to unreached people groups.”
Floyd said he did not have time in his presentation to communicate “our personal excitement about that as a group.” By expecting NAMB to give 50 percent of its efforts to church planting and freeing IMB to assist in reaching unreached people groups without regard to geographic limitations, Floyd said, “That has incredible potential for gospel work and the planting of gospel churches in North America in an unprecedented manner. We’re pretty fired up about that.”
GCRTF member Bob White of Georgia spoke of metropolitan areas like Atlanta where pastors would welcome IMB support in working with different ethnic groups.
“In Southern Baptist life, it’s time for all hands to be on deck. If we can’t work together, we need to learn how to work together,” White said. “I think a lot can be solved if the presidents of the IMB and NAMB would just sit down and meet. I hate to say that hasn’t happened, but it ought to happen and can happen on a regular basis.”
The four-year transition away from cooperative agreements between NAMB and state conventions will suspend “the financial merry-go-round,” Mohler said, dealing with the failure to “speak strategically of how mission funds can be deployed.”
He explained, “Cooperative agreements do not leave NAMB with many missionaries that are really accountable to NAMB for specific NAMB strategies. The Southern Baptist Convention in an unhelpful way found itself in a position where the North American Mission Board was doing more in terms of facilitating the work of others than conducting the work itself.”
Mohler said each state convention needs to consider its own needs and mission within that state, making decisions accordingly. He expects reporting will be “far more honest and far less connectional and less bureaucratic” as a result of the newly conceived relationships.
Asked by Tennessee Baptist & Reflector editor Lonnie Wilkey whether the proposal discourages “old-line state conventions” from partnering with newer conventions such as Tennessee Baptists’ work in Iowa and Montana, Mohler said, “What we proposed, if anything, is the opposite. We want healthy state conventions in the old-line Southern Baptist states to be far more involved in helping younger, developing state conventions.”
Regarding previously shared responsibility for the promotion of stewardship and the Cooperative Program, task force members were asked if they are moving away from the current designation of joint denominational causes between the state convention and the SBC Executive Committee.
“We trust the states will report how the money is spent and how money is collected,” Mohler said. “Frankly, we think the state conventions are in a better position to do this.” While there will still be “a national contribution” to this, Mohler said the task force is continuing to consider how the stewardship and CP promotion will be handled.
Only Southern Baptist causes will be counted in a newly proposed “Great Commission Giving” category that task force members want to see added to the Annual Church Profile report of local churches.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is News Editor
of the Southern Baptist Texan.