When the Southern Baptist Convention‘s “Great Commission Task Force” revealed a draft of its recommendations to the SBC Executive Committee in February, it sounded so preachy that my comments on it were entitled “Great Commission Sermonizing.”
After getting feedback from a variety of sources and corrected budget numbers from the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the task force has posted an updated version of the report on its website, and its sermonic character is even more evident. The report contains seven “components” that recommend sharp changes to the SBC’s current way of doing business, recommendations that the SBC adopt a Matthew 28:19-20based mission statement, and no less than 90 specific “challenges” directed to churches, individuals, pastors, seminaries, SBC agencies.
The many challenges include things like calling on individuals to repent and commit themselves to evangelism, and encouraging families to “Build gospel saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and our initial mission field.” Churches are charged not only to promote evangelism and missions more forcefully, but to “Enter, if possible, the world of private Christian schooling and Christian homeschooling to provide a Christian alternative for the education of children, especially in areas hostile to the Christian worldview.” Local associations and state conventions are encouraged to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as an official confessional statement, and seminaries are challenged to “Maintain fidelity to our Confession of Faith (The Baptist Faith & Message 2000).”
Several recommendations among the report’s “components” drew sharp criticism following its initial release, and those components remain essentially unchanged. A call for the International Mission Board to include outreach to immigrants in America in its assignment will ruffle some feathers, but the most controversial aspects are those that would remake NAMB into a focused national evangelism agency, phasing out cooperative agreements that help fund state convention employees in Bible belt states in order to shift resources to church planting in less evangelized areas of the country.
The recommendation makes sense in an idealistic sort of way, for those who see evangelism as the church’s overwhelming priority. If approved, however, the plan will likely run aground on the rocky shoals of reality: state conventions that currently get large kickbacks of their SBC contributions through cooperative agreements with NAMB are unlikely to give up the many staff members who are partially funded through the cooperative agreements. Contributions from the churches are sharply down in many of those states, so funds are few to make up the difference. Although the task force challenges state conventions to increase the SBC contribution from their receipts to at least 51 percent, you can be sure that the percentage is much more likely to drop because the states are likely to hold back the money that’s currently being funneled back to them.
Are messengers who gather in Orlando for this year’s annual meeting likely to adopt the report? Perhaps they will, and the agencies and conventions affected by it will have to deal with new directions. Most individuals and churches, however, are likely to treat the report like most long-winded and over-ambitious sermons: it will be endured, then ignored.