Since the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, I have frequently been asked, “So where do we go from here?” and “What does this mean for Oklahoma?” Both are good and timely questions. Undoubtedly, the messengers’ strong affirmation of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) report and recommendations and the election of the new president will create numerous opportunities and challenges. I will do my best to address them in hopes that my perspective will shine some light into the darkness.
The thrust of the GCR report cannot be ignored. Messengers affirmed their desire to see our churches and our cooperative convention ministries focus on impacting lostness. The specifics of how this will be done will fall to the various boards of our national convention entities and to the individual state conventions. In our system of governance, boards do the hard work of determining details and development of ministry. So in the days ahead, the Executive Committee of the SBC, North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the International Mission Board (IMB) will place flesh on the bones of the affirmed recommendations.
The decisions by NAMB will have the greatest impact on Oklahoma. Leaders and trustees will soon begin the process of renegotiating the way NAMB does its ministry in partnership with state conventions. The old cooperative agreements that have served as the conduit of shared ministry between the national and state conventions will be phased out over seven years. What will replace them is not known. I suspect that movement will be slow until NAMB has a new president. Many believe the election will take place this fall. I am convinced the future of cooperation between the states and NAMB will greatly depend upon the new leader’s desire to work with state conventions. If he is open and seeks to partner with states in cooperative ministry, I have no doubt states will rise to the occasion and work to develop new delivery systems. However, if he does not value state conventions, I think conventions that have primary responsibility for their part of the United States will become much more independent in church planting, evangelism and discipleship. My prayer is that the former transpires.
Old line states such as Oklahoma will be on the giving side of the equation. With the elimination of the cooperative agreements, old line states in the South will be expected to carry their own weight. Employees who are now jointly employed by a state convention and NAMB will either become employed entirely by NAMB and moved to new work areas, or state conventions will be expected to pick up the full salary and benefits. Most of the 16 jointly employed missionaries in Oklahoma serve in church planting, chaplaincy and evangelism. To keep them here would require incremental permanent increases to our budget over a period of seven years, until the total $1.4 million per year for ministry costs, salaries and benefits (most of which is currently provided through the cooperative agreements with NAMB) is absorbed. This is no small matter. These missionaries are vital to our efforts to penetrate darkness in our state.
If today’s economic conditions persist, the $1.4 million per year would be insurmountable when taken at face value. Significant cuts would be required. Hard decisions regarding staff, church planting, Falls Creek and our affiliate organizations would be demanded. Some believe that should happen anyway. I would suggest that we continue to evaluate our work regularly. BGCO has already made considerable cuts in staff and ministry. Additional significant reductions would jeopardize vital mission ministry in our state.
Several options beyond the gutting of our state ministries are available to expand national ministry. First, the economy may accelerate, and we could return to seeing a million or more in CP overage (our experience for four straight years, 2005–2008). This would allow us to absorb the increases to our budget without adjusting the percentage BGCO sends to the SBC. This is my favorite option! Second, we, along with other states, would follow the approach outlined in the GCR challenge section and move to a Cooperative Program division that would have “shared ministry” items taken off the top before the split is made between state and national. This would be a return to the method used during the early years of the Cooperative Program. In those days, costs such as promotion of CP and stewardship, state papers, ministerial retirement and protection, and even WMU were taken off the top before dividing the CP. The idea is that these costs benefit the SBC and states equally. The challenge would be for states to then seek to move toward a 50-50 split in the years ahead. There is already some discussion regarding the development of a list of these items that would be acceptable to both the state conventions and the SBC. Third, we would reset BGCO’s percentage split from 60-40 to perhaps 65-35 and then begin the process of growing back to 60-40 as the CP pie grows.
While there are other options and both pros and cons to the above mentioned approaches, I cannot predict the final recommendation that will come to our convention. We will have several months to decide. Preparation of the 2012 BGCO budget will begin in February 2011, and it will be incumbent upon us to have a strategic plan established for future cooperative work between our state and national conventions. Today the situation is fluid. We are already intensely considering the various options. Clarity will come. God will show us the way through what today seems like a wilderness.
In spite of the uncertainty created by the actions at the SBC, we do know some things. First, Oklahoma Baptists are a Great Commission people who have given and will continue to give generously beyond our borders, so that people in big cities and unreached areas of the U.S. and around the world may hear the Gospel. We will carefully weigh every alternative and do our best to sacrifice so those who are not as blessed may be touched by God’s love. Second, the Great Commission runs through Oklahoma. Falls Creek, OBU, training of leaders, church development, jail and prison ministry and countless mission efforts deserve our support. We will not abandon an aggressive plan to plant new churches. Population growth, affinity and ethnic composition of our state require us to continue planting congregations to reach Oklahoma with the Gospel. We must and will find ways to fund these efforts. Third, we are committed to the God-given tool of the Cooperative Program as the most effective and efficient way to conduct the expansive work of the Great Commission. Designated giving has its place, but the Cooperative Program will remain at the center of the collaborative and cooperative work of reaching from our front door to the ends of the Earth.
We can take a “woe is me approach,” or we can see the days ahead as opportunity for God to grow us and stretch us. We may not like everything that has been thrust upon us, but we are going to be proactive rather than reactive. The SBC has set its course. Oklahoma Baptists have and will adjust direction in partnership with our larger SBC family. I am confident we will seek to move in unity at every point possible. Where we must diverge and follow our own way, we will seek to do so with the least harm possible to the whole. We are Oklahoma Baptists who honorably choose to work in partnership with other Southern Baptists—our brothers and sisters of like spirit, mind and heart. We do so believing we and they are better because we cooperate. We do so because we believe the Kingdom is advanced and a lost world penetrated through cooperation.
The days ahead will require concentrated prayer and wisdom from our Lord. We will not retreat from proven approaches to ministry and missions in Oklahoma. At the same time, we will not fear new challenges that will propel us into the heart of reaching our nation and world with the good news of our Savior.