That was the reaction of longtime SBC chief parliamentarian
Barry McCarty June 23 when the sea of ballots were raised by Southern Baptist
Convention messengers overwhelmingly in support of a motion creating a task
force to study how Southern Baptists can “work more faithfully and effectively
together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”
McCarty’s exclamation as he surveyed the vote could be heard
because he was standing close to the podium where SBC President Johnny Hunt was
presiding over the historic session of the Southern Baptist Convention last
week in Louisville.
Desiring to confirm that I had heard McCarty correctly, I
sent him a message via Twitter—the social networking Web site many
Southern Baptists used for quick, 140-character thoughts about developments
during the annual meeting. McCarty (@BarryMcCarty) aggressively “tweeted”
throughout the SBC.
(Twitter has become so popular in SBC circles that by the
end of the annual meeting Hunt (@johnnymhunt) joined the “Twitterverse”! This
came only one day after Hunt told me at a news conference he was not on
Twitter, relying instead upon his daughter for Twitter updates.)
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“All of us on the platform were amazed at the GCR vote. I
can’t remember a contested motion ever passing by a 90-95 percent affirmative
vote,” McCarty told me. That’s saying something considering the fact that
McCarty has served as chief parliamentarian for the SBC for several decades and
has witnessed some highly contested matters of business.
The overwhelming endorsement of the task force motion, offered
by R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,
unquestionably demonstrated there is a strong concern among Southern Baptists
that we’re off-track and something serious needs to be done to repair this
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The motion was the culmination of months of discussion
across SBC life triggered first by a chapel address at Southeastern Baptist
Theological Seminary by President Danny Akin, and later through a 10-point
“Great Commission Resurgence” declaration drafted by Akin and released by Hunt
on April 27. As the SBC met in Louisville, more than 4,000 Southern Baptists
had endorsed the declaration. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m among
those who have signed the statement.)
The agitation and unrest in Southern Baptist life found its
expression in the GCR declaration, and seems to be reflective of widespread
concern that the SBC has lost its way, demonstrated most tangibly in flat and
slightly declining baptism and membership statistics.
New data by Ed Stetzer and his team at LifeWay Research
released June 22 during a meeting of the Association of State Baptist Papers in
Louisville underscores the urgency of the moment. Stetzer predicts Southern
Baptist membership will fall nearly 50 percent by 2050 if the trend of the last
50 years is maintained. Two factors that are contributing to this possible
decline is the aging of the SBC and its relative ineffectiveness in reaching
Stetzer told Baptist state paper editors the dire projections
can be reversed with stronger emphasis on evangelism that includes “engaging
ethnicities,” which will be an increasingly larger component of the US
population in coming decades.
No doubt, this data will dominate the work of the SBC’s
Great Commission Task Force.
Hunt named the task force—19 persons, including
himself, on June 24. Incredibly, nearly one-fourth of the membership comes from
Florida, illustrating the importance of Florida Baptists to the SBC. Further,
since the task force will report at next year’s annual meeting in Orlando,
Florida Baptists will have a unique opportunity to participate in what could be
a truly historic SBC.
Clearly, it’s impossible to predict recommendations that may
be forthcoming from the task force. That hasn’t prevented much speculation in
the months leading up to the Louisville SBC.
Although Hunt said in a news conference only hours before
the motion was adopted that there is “no desire whatsoever to touch the
structure of the SBC” and Mohler said during the debate on his motion the task
force is “not an effort to reinvent the Southern Baptist Convention,” many
ideas prompted by the GCR declaration could easily be regarded as a
restructuring and reinvention of the SBC.
Indeed, even after several revisions to tone down its
stronger language, the GCR declaration, in “A Commitment to a More Effective
Convention Structure,” still asserts, “We must take steps toward simplifying
our convention structures in an effort to streamline our structure, clarify our
institutional identity, and maximize our resources for Great Commission
priorities. We should ask hard questions about every aspect of our Convention
structure and priorities and pray for God’s wisdom and blessing as we pursue
wise answers to those questions.”
Although messengers did not technically endorse the GCR
declaration since it was not part of the motion, it’s clear that messengers had
the declaration in view when the Mohler motion was adopted.
Still, I can’t help but think that many messengers may have shared
the thoughts of Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in
Washington, D.C. At a meeting of his Nine Marks ministry held several hours
after the Mohler motion was adopted, Dever said he supported GCR and voted for
the motion but admitted he really wasn’t certain he knew for what he had just
In light of the possibly significant recommendations that
could be forthcoming from the task force, I urge Dr. Hunt and task force
Chairman Ronnie Floyd to do everything possible to make the deliberations of
the task force as transparent as possible. Rather than an announcement of possibly
dramatic changes shortly before Orlando, Southern Baptists need to be informed
along the way in order to achieve strong unity in whatever recommendations that
may come from the task force.
The work of the task force will be daunting and difficult, to
say the least. Floyd appealed through his Twitter account (@ronniefloyd) on
June 24, for “at least 5,000 Southern Baptists to pray daily for the Great
Commission Resurgence Task Force members. We need God’s vision.”
Florida Baptists on our own should be able to fulfill that
request. I challenge you to join me in this commitment.
Indeed, we should pray for the task force. But, as many have
noted, Southern Baptists don’t have to wait on the report of the task force
next year in Orlando to begin a Great Commission Resurgence in our own hearts
and churches. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, eloquently
notes this in his column on this page.
Turning the GCR “Wow” of Louisville into the GCR “How” of
Orlando will be no small task and its success ultimately will require the
commitment of all Southern Baptists— and, more importantly, the blessing
of God without which all of our strivings are for nothing (1 Cor. 3:7-9).