Great Commission Task Force podcast with David S. Dockery, Part II
On March 15, David Dockery, President of Union University, was interviewed following a presentation on the interim report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force originally presented to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention on Feb. 22. The complete recording of the podcast is available at https://www.baptistmessenger.com/gcrtf-podcast-with-david-s-dockery/. The following is an edited transcript of part two of the interview.
Baker: Ronnie Floyd stated “in the printed report, while our state conventions keep an average of 63.45 percent of the dollars within their respective states, the North American Mission Board then sends back to the state conventions an annual sum of $50.6 million due to these cooperative agreements and budgets. This process complicates the work at times, resulting in a lack of productivity and accountability.” What are cooperative agreements?
Dockery: Cooperative agreements were established in the 1950s between state conventions and what was then the Home Mission Board. These were the great idea at the time. First Baptist Church of Tupelo, Miss. would send money to Jackson Miss., to the state offices. They, in turn, would send it to Nashville. Nashville would parse it out according to the convention percentages, with approximately 25 percent going to the Home Mission Board. Then the Home Mission Board would say we’re working together with the Mississippi Baptist Convention, the Tupelo Association, and Tupelo, First to get that started. It made sense, and it was a way of keeping all four of them from going in and starting the same church.
It was a great idea at the time. It still works. We still want that money going back from the North American Mission Board, particularly to new state works in the Northwest, New England, far west, and other areas. The goal is not to weaken those younger state conventions that are still in need of much partnership to do their work. And particularly if we say that two thirds of the nation is where we need to be focusing in the future, because so much of our work has been done in one third, in the Deep South, then it is those states that are the future for our work. I think we have many important conversations that need to take place.
But, I hope everyone will understand the heartbeat of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force is to get the Gospel extended, to plant churches, to extend the work in this country and around the world. And to do so in partnership with others, even as we think of new and strategic ways to do so.
Baker: As you know, these past couple of weeks since the task force released its report, there has been quite a bit of push back. Mohler stated in a written communiqué, “In the year 2009 about $50 million was routed through these cooperative agreements. Many of these dollars were spent on the salaries (of) workers in these state conventions and associations. The monies are allocated and channeled in ways that are difficult to trace, much less to prioritize.”
In response to Mohler, Glen Land, state missions director from the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention from 2000-2009, wrote these words on March 12, “anyone who has sweated through the tedious process of annually renegotiating cooperative agreement funding between the North American Mission Board and a state convention partner will readily agree that it is a complex and tedious business.” He goes on to state, “Many of us would applaud any effort to simplify and streamline that process. But if accountability contributes to the clumsiness of the current system, then one can persuasively argue that we suffer from too much, not too little.”
Dockery: Well I think both are right in their intentions. Mohler never intended to suggest that state conventions had not rightly prioritized those things. He was only acknowledging how challenging it is for this to be done. And sometimes, the money goes back to the state conventions in lump sums. The larger group of Southern Baptists may not know or understand. I think those at the state level know how the money is spent. Probably a vice president at the North American Mission Board knows how the money is spent. They can trace the monies; they can prioritize how the money is spent. So, one of the recommendations is, as we rethink the Cooperative Program, is to ask the states to budget accordingly. There are many conversations to be had. Again, the work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force is to present an overarching vision. The details are going to need to be worked out, and it’s going to take time. We’re going to need people at the executive leadership, leadership at the North American Mission Board, leadership at the International Mission Board, and leadership at the state conventions to come together regularly in conversation, willing to work together in partnership. I believe it can be done, I hope I’m not naïve. I want to be biblically hopeful in the confidence and faithfulness of God, who birthed the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, to help us reprioritize and strategize to carry out the Great Commission in the most effective and faithful way possible in the future.
Baker: Floyd stated in the report, “This is why our Task Force believes we must return to the primacy, and centrality of the local church in our denomination.”
From whence shall we return? In other words, has the denomination moved away from the primacy and centrality of the local church?
Dockery: I do think that when people think of the Southern Baptist Convention, we tend to think of its structures, its boards, its schools, its commissions, its agencies. Sometimes we think of the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention being in Nashville in the same way the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church is in Rome. But that’s a misunderstanding of our polity. Our polity is a bottom-up polity, not a top-down polity. As I’ve said before, the work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force would be much easier in an Episcopal form of government. If we were bishops, we could make a decision, and then everyone else could decide how to work it out. But, we’re not bishops, we’re Baptists. We like being Baptists, and we want to work faithfully as Baptists with our historical polity, which we think reflects the New Testament as best we can understand it. So, in that sense, I think we have lost sight of the priority of the local church. So, we want to reestablish the local church as central to the work of carrying out the Great Commission, getting each local church to think missionally. If, indeed, the reports are right coming out of LifeWay and the North American Mission Board, that 70 percent of our churches are in decline, or plateaued at best, then we have some work to do at the local church level. If, indeed, the reports are right, that every church member is giving only 2.3 percent of his income rather than a basic tithe of 10 percent to the churches. If indeed, local churches are giving approximately 6 percent of their annual budgets to the Cooperative Program, we have a lot of work to do in the area of stewardship education, before we even think about doing Cooperative Program promotion; before we think about implementation and structural change.
Baker: Recommendation number two of the task force speaks directly to the issue of the North American Mission Board. It states this, “The North American Mission Board needs to be reinvented and released.”
Well, from whom should the board be released, and to whom should the board be released?
Dockery: I think we desire for the North American Mission Board to be released from its long list of ministry assignments and multiple priorities. We want it to be streamlined to where it can emphasize North American church planting, to realize the lostness that exists in the great cities of the country and to find ways for Southern Baptists to partner with the state conventions where those big cities are located, to do new work in that place. So, church planting focused on evangelism and discipleship, recognizing those two things must go hand in hand and it’s very hard to divorce them as we have done sometimes in the past in the program and ministry assignments. To emphasize ongoing pastoral leadership development, it is necessary for pastors to retool. Even someone who graduated from seminary 20 years ago, and has been in ministry for 20 years, now lives in a different world. Demographers are now saying the world has changed more in the past 12 years than it did in the previous century. If that’s the case, someone who was prepared to minister in the early 90’s is ministering in a very different world. And so, we want to have ongoing pastoral leadership, and think that can be done best at the North American Mission Board.
And then, one of the things that the North American Mission Board has done so extremely well over the last several years is disaster relief. Right there with the Red Cross and Salvation Army is the North American Mission Board at all these huge disasters. And no one in Southern Baptist life understands the importance of having people come to help you, like Union University, when we were hit by a devastating tornado in February 2008. So that is a very important work. We’re not saying those other things were unimportant, but they were cumbersome. We’re trying to prioritize the work, so in some ways to release the North American Mission Board from itself, and to release it from the ambiguity of its focus.
Baker: Following the Task Force’s initial report, some information was released by the North American Mission Board through Baptist Press and it is on the Web site, correcting what they called an “error.”
“Page 19 of the progress report depicts how Southern Baptist resources are distributed throughout the United States. That data indicates that at the end of 2008 there were 3,515 missionaries serving in the 14 states most often considered to be the area where Southern Baptists are the strongest, and only 1,735 missionaries are serving in the remaining states across the U.S. In the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report, the 14 states are depicted in blue, and the others in red. In actuality, within the U.S., there were 2,573 missionaries serving in the 14 blue states in 2008, and 2,733 serving in the remaining red states.”
After this was released, chairman Floyd responded, “This did not change at all the emphasis of the task force report.” How can that be? It seems there is an inversion of numbers here.
Dockery: I think it’s unfortunate that (there) was confusion in the numbers. We’re thankful that clarification has come, and appreciate those at the North American Mission Board who worked to get the information corrected. We certainly want to work off of good information. As you know, good leadership requires qualitative information and quantitative information. We realize the reality of lostness. I think it has gripped those of us serving on the Task Force in ways it never has before. I think if nothing else comes out of the work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, God has done a work in the lives of 23 people, to help them see his world afresh. To help them get a glimpse of the works of Jesus, the Exalted Christ, speaking His Great Commission to His Church afresh and to enliven our own service.
So I think what Floyd meant was the vision doesn’t change. We are still focused on trying to address lostness. We are still focused on trying to carry out the Great Commission. God has done a work in his life, in my life and in the life of all of us serving around that table. And I think that’s what doesn’t change. So the numbers change, may change strategy some, it may change the priorities some, but again, it’s the overarching vision that’s driving the work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, and in that sense, it doesn’t change.
Baker: Component number three of the recommendation brought forth by Chairman Floyd speaks to the International Mission Board, “We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will ask Southern Baptists to entrust the International Mission Board with the ministry to reach the unreached and underserved people groups without regard to any geographic limitation.”
Does this mean that the International Mission Board will appoint missionaries stateside?
Dockery: Yes, it could well mean that, but not to work with citizens of the United States or citizens of North America. But, to focus on those who represent people groups from another country. So, if missionaries are working with a people group from a country in Africa, and that same people group is found in France, and that same people group can be found in large numbers on a college campus, or working visas on assignment with some big company, then it makes sense to try and reach the leaders, or next generation of leaders of that people group who may leave this country and go back and serve elsewhere. So, if we can already work with that people group in Africa and in France, then why can’t we work with them also in the United States? It is not an attempt to duplicate or to take over the work of the North American Mission Board. Quite the opposite, it is very focused on the kind of people groups who are here on short-term assignment, mostly for education or business.
Baker: In follow up, is this an incremental step in the vision of the GRCTF designed by the task force to move toward one unified mission board?
Dockery: I can’t speak for every member of the board individually, but for the task force as a group, we have clearly decided that it is important to keep two mission boards. We looked carefully, thoroughly at the idea of merging them. We went back and read the history. This is not the first time these ideas have been discussed. After we started with two mission boards in 1845, before the end of the 19th Century, people were already asking the question, “Should we have one, rather than two?”
But, understanding the different missiological approaches of the two boards, it is not just that they work in different areas, but that there are two missiological strategies at work. And the way this is carried out in terms of priorities, country to country, language to language, people group to people group, we decided that merging them is not the best idea. We are trying to give each new energy, new focus, giving them the resources and the freedom that they need to reach the world as it has changed in 2010. The world of 1845 of W.B. Johnson is not the world in which you and I live in 2010. Nobody loves W.B. Johnson and the founders more than I. I love our Baptist history, and I understand how it has changed from the Johnson years, to the Carol years, to the Mullins years, to the Hobbs and Criswell years, but we live in a different world than all of those, our forbearers. We learn from them, we admire them, we appreciate them, but we can’t duplicate them.
We have an assignment for our world at this particular time and we must rethink that, and re-strategize for that world. But, I think it is best done with two mission boards, and I think the task force is totally on board for moving in that direction.
Baker: Component number five deals with the giving plan or the funding formula for the Cooperative Program, and a move that is titled Great Commission Giving; an effort to count all funds that move towards Great Commission causes of the Southern Baptist Convention. Many have said this will be the undoing of the Cooperative Program if all funds can be counted as Cooperative Program giving moving around the structure as it stands today.
Dockery: I think it is important to recognize that the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force did not recommend a change in the definition of the Cooperative Program. Nor do we recommend changing the priority of the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is the greatest mechanism in the history of the Christian world for funding missions and funding Christian ministry opportunities. It is absolutely ingenious in how it all came together in the 1920s. God did an amazing thing in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention. It has served us extremely well for 85 years, and we want to continue recognizing the Cooperative Program as the primary means for supporting the work of Southern Baptist causes and state convention causes.
But we also recognize that people do give to other things, and give in other ways. We even applaud that already with Lottie Moon offerings, Annie Armstrong offerings and state convention offerings. Every group of Baptist churches that is close to some entity, whether it is a children’s home in Alabama, or a seminary in California, or a college in Texas or Oklahoma usually likes to give to that cause that’s close by. And so, there are hundreds of those across our work in state and national convention life. All we’re suggesting is that we recognize that, applaud it and encourage broader participation.It is not our intention that Great Commission giving replace Cooperative Program giving. In fact, we are giving greater emphasis on stewardship education, Cooperative Program promotion, even before mentioning this. It is not an after-thought, but it is a way, once we encourage partnership through the Cooperative Program, to encourage participation through Great Commission giving in ways that we already recognize, and to applaud churches that are doing it well, and to encourage everyone to work together. This in some ways is not new, though. Again, going back to our history, 1925, 26, 27, 28, those early years, Cooperative Program reporting included undesignated and designated giving. That’s something we don’t talk about very much today. But, if you go back and read the financial plan for the Cooperative Program in 1928 and 1929, “that in preparing the proposed total budget, and determining the total receipts, which may recently be anticipated from the Cooperative Program, designated and undesignated, the Executive Committee shall take into consideration the following facts. (1) Total amounts of the submitted budgets of the agencies. (2) Total receipts of all agencies for the past year from the Cooperative Program designated and undesignated, and (3) Goals set by the states for South-wide causes for the next calendar year. The terms designated and undesignated sound foreign to our ears, but certainly there is historical precedent for what we have done.
Baker: In many ways, the entire Great Commission Resurgence can trace its roots back to the Union University campus with discussions actually being forthright in the Baptist Identity Conference on this campus, largely under your leadership. One year ago, I sat down with SBC President Johnny Hunt and did a podcast talking about the Great Commission Resurgence, and he referenced your book Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal, as well as the newest volume, Southern Baptist Identity, which was a compilation of the essays and talks given at these conferences as the impetus for his vision of the Great Commission Resurgence. On May 5, 2009, you released a statement in conjunction with Timothy George about Great Commission Partners as part of the Great Commission Resurgence. Why should they remain committed to the Southern Baptist Convention and the Great Commission Resurgence?
Dockery: The work here at the Baptist Identity Conference in 2004 started a very important conversation, which was continued at the Baptist Identity Conference of 2007. We were blessed with distributing a little booklet called Building Bridges at the Southern Baptist Convention 2007. The consensus and renewal volume was released in 2008. At that time, Tom Rainer and Danny Akin were already talking about a Great Commission Resurgence in significant ways around the convention. I had the privilege of speaking at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008, and my closing words were to call for a Great Commission Resurgence. So there were a variety of things, which led up to the appointment of a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force in 2009.
I’m grateful that Union University had a role in that, if I had any part of it, we can only thank God. But, there are a variety of people who have come together. I think what we recognized is that the Southern Baptist Convention needed a fresh vision, a fresh idea, a new vision that would create consensus and bring about renewal. That idea goes back to our founding in 1845. We were started with the idea of cooperating together to do domestic and foreign missions as it was called then. We would now say global or international missions. So I think that vision is very important. We’ve come to be gripped by the reality of the lostness of the world, the urgency of the moment. We need to respond, asking in prayer for God’s help, His blessings, His enablement over our work. Over the last 30 years, Southern Baptists have become a fragmented group. I’ve even used the term vulcanized. We need to find ways to unify around the commitment to the truthfulness of the Bible, the Gospel (of) our Lord Jesus Christ, to work together hand in hand for the Kingdom, to extend the Gospel, for the work of God’s Kingdom on this Earth.
It’s going to take partners for that to happen. We can’t do it in isolation; we can’t do it totally independently. We’re going to need to work together afresh. So I believe that, for the Great Commission Resurgence to be embedded in the life of Southern Baptists for the next several years, for the next generation, we need Great Commission Partners in local churches, in associations, in state conventions and state convention entities, in the national convention and national convention entities and agencies and commissions. With individuals coming together, local church pastors working together, we’re thankful for the call to place Jesus Christ and His Great Commission in the center of our service across the Southern Baptist Convention. I’m so thankful for the 6,000 or so who have prayed daily for the work of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. The heartbeat of Southern Baptists throughout our history has been the Great Commission. We recognize Southern Baptists have been able to carry out the Great Commission mandate by God’s providential blessing and provision through the cooperative and collaborative efforts of Great Commission Partners. Therefore, I think it’s important that we applaud and support the spirit of what has been called for by President Hunt. That we ask people across the convention to not focus so much on ourselves, but on something bigger than ourselves, on the Gospel and the need to take the Gospel to the nations. To emphasize a call for partnerships I think represents the spirit of M.E. Dodd at the 1925 convention. We need to help one another facilitate each others’ work, to strengthen each others’ work, not to weaken anyone, but to partner together for the good of all. That is what the Cooperative Program is about. We can do more together than we can do by ourselves.
So, we need to recognize all the Great Commission partners, those who are good stewards of Cooperative Program dollars. Celebrate them often, offer them genuine praise and bountiful support, so that they can carry out their work. The Cooperative Program has been so important in that work. It has been the glue that continues to hold together 44,000 Southern Baptist congregations for the purpose of advancing the Gospel around the world. We need a fresh vision to enhance these cooperative and collaborative efforts. I pray that God will bless this work. I pray that we will see a genuine Great Commission Resurgence, a genuine consensus of Southern Baptists and genuine renewal in the lives of his people in this country, in the churches and around the world for the sake of the Gospel.