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GCR task force members field questions at Arkansas luncheon


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ROGERS, Ark. (SBTC)-No question was turned down by the tag team of four Great Commission Resurgence task force members as they fielded inquiries for two hours at the Church at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers, Ark., prior to their two-day meeting. The chairman and host pastor, Ronnie Floyd, kept the dialogue on task, telling a luncheon crowd of more than 400 people that the ultimate goal was “to do just what they were asked to do–figure out together how to more faithfully and effectively fulfill the Great Commission around the world in our churches, in our state conventions, in our national convention and all we do together.”

Joining Floyd on the platform were SBC President Johnny Hunt of Woodstock, Ga., Al Gilbert of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler of Louisville. Over 400 guests listened as the four men related their visions for a Great Commission Resurgence.

After several questioners asked how the mandate of the task force might impact their local associations, Floyd recounted their commitment to the autonomy of each level of Southern Baptist life. He urged associational leaders to direct Southern Baptists to www.pray4gcr.com to “get aggressive in enlisting churches to pray for a Great Commission Resurgence.”

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“While all of us practice our autonomy, we’re supposed to cooperate together,” he reminded. “Therein lies the complexity of our assignment.”

Floyd offered no pretense of changing associations or state conventions. “We are bringing recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention national body,” he said when asked by Jeff Thompson, director of missions for Concord Baptist Association in Fort Smith, Ark., to outline their goal. “We can perhaps ask them to consider a few things we may do.”

Photo by Joni B. Hannigan

Robert White (yellow shirt), executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, greets Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, and Harry Lewis (at the table), vice president of the North American Mission Board, while, Simon Tsoi, a retired pastor from Arizona, looks on. All four men are members of the GCR Task Force.

The one thing SBC President Johnny Hunt wants to see done is “get the dollars to the pockets of lostness, instead of the majority staying in the States or in the country we’re in,” he said in answer to a question from Scott Gordon, pastor of Claycomo Baptist Church near Kansas City, Mo. Gordon sought assurance that the Cooperative Program was not regarded as passé.

Gilbert agreed that the task force “can’t tell state conventions what to do, but we can deal with it on a national level.” He appealed for local churches to exercise their autonomy in deciding how best to deliver mission dollars to the field.

“Quite frankly, our church could care less about how folks outside count our loyalty,” he said, discounting attempts to quantify a church’s commitment to missions by citing its gifts to the traditional Cooperative Program funding mechanism. “It’s a game the next generation is sick of and they have no desire to have that kind of loyalty pin. We’d better wake up and listen to that,” he insisted.

“Our state conventions are not the same across the SBC. They don’t all give the same percentages,” Gilbert said, referring to the disparity in the portion state conventions retain for ministry within their borders–ranging from 88 percent to 45 percent–before sending the rest to national and international Southern Baptist causes.

“The issue is not how we do less. It’s how we do more,” Mohler added, expressing gratitude for the investment Southern Baptists made in seminary education through CP giving. “We wouldn’t be here if not for your generosity. This isn’t about getting more money for anything other than the nations.”

Photo by Joni B. Hannigan

Jerry Rankin (left), president of the International Mission Board, Steve Lemke (center), provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, visit before the GCR Task Force luncheon in Rogers, Ark.

Mohler asked Southern Baptists to judge the task force on “one single laser-like focus–getting more Southern Baptist energy, money, and people on fields of missions around the world.” Regardless of the pain involved, Mohler said the task force must “rethink everything top to bottom.”

The composition of the task force came under fire from several questioners, two of them longing for greater representation from smaller churches and several others alluding to the “mixed signal” given by members whose churches do not contribute at an average level of CP giving.

Hunt urged listeners to focus on the faithfulness to giving by individual members, not their churches, repeating his preference for evaluating a church’s commitment to Great Commission causes instead of CP quotas.

“If a church is continuing to give more and more to the Cooperative Program, can that be celebrated or can it only be celebrated if it’s ten percent?” he asked.

Jim Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Seneca, Mo., agreed with the need for change, but questioned whether some members had become passionate about increasing CP giving after the task force was formed. “If you’ll go up, I’ll ask my church to go up,” he countered.

In an exchange of words that grew contentious, Hunt countered that his church had demonstrated its passion for funding mission causes, while Wilson asked the percentage of mission gifts.

“But it’s not Cooperative Program missions,” Wilson responded to Hunt’s accounting of $3.6 million to “Southern Baptist causes” which included an 11 percent increase in CP gifts.

Thanking Wilson for sharing his concern, Floyd submitted his own church’s decision to increase CP giving by 44 percent. “Let me clarify something,” Floyd interjected. “We have an October to September budget, my friend, and we’d already done that last July or August. So don’t be accusing us of doing this because we’re now on the committee,” he said. “That’s totally erroneous and personally uncalled for in this situation.”

Wilson’s strung together series of questions touched another nerve in SBC life through his reference to Acts 29 founder Mark Driscoll, prompting Mohler to say he was thankful his students didn’t hear the exchange. “Brothers, we have got to elevate this discussion or we’re never going to go anywhere,” he said, urging Wilson to speak with him personally afterward.

In keeping with his style of asking a question in response to a question, Hunt wondered, “Does it matter the size church you serve or does it still matter where you’ve been?” All of the task force members had experience serving in small churches, he explained, sharing his priority of finding “the best leaders” for the job. “I don’t see anything wrong in that their churches grew large.”

Mohler reminded, “Every place is great in the eyes of God,” placing an emphasis on “a church with a big heart, not big numbers.”

The perceived threat of GCR recommending a merger of Southern Baptist mission boards arose twice though Hunt insisted such discussions had never originated with the task force.

Buddy Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Tahlequah, Okla., warned the rumored plan would “deemphasize church planting and evangelism in America.”

“An even greater question is who’s addressing the poor journalism that would allow reporting that we may be attempting to disassemble NAMB,” Hunt responded, referring to the North American Mission Board. “[There is] absolutely no quote to go with that. It is ludicrous.”

Wilson also pressed for answers to “misperceptions” that a merger could be discussed.

“That’s not been statements from this committee,” Hunt responded. “We have not discussed the combining or the doing away. That’s documents that have been printed by different papers.” When reading speculative articles, Hunt encouraged listeners to “take it as that–speculation.”

“Even from Baptist Press?” Wilson asked, “You’re the president. You can do something about that.”

“Even from Baptist Press,” Hunt said. Adding that he was uncertain of the source of misperceptions, making an apparent reference to an article about the CP giving of task force member churches, Hunt drew the discussion to a point of resolution. “We are where you are in our desire to increase in our giving.”

Steve Jordan of Lowell, Ark., sought the group’s assistance in helping Southern Baptists overcome the difficulty of sharing the gospel in a changing culture.

Mohler praised Jordan’s willingness to see that the world has changed, pressing the need for Southern Baptists to render an honest assessment of themselves. “We never were as good as we thought we were,” he said. “We were tremendously good at two things–reaching our own children and reaching people like us.”

As Southern Baptists tend to have fewer children, Mohler said baptisms naturally decline with the reduced “mission pool.” Furthermore, “We have never really learned how to do here what the IMB had, generations ago, learned to do in mission fields beyond us–what it takes to reach people who don’t look like us, speak like us, sound like us and believe like us.”

Mohler said the challenge of a changing culture demands “a deeper sense of biblical commitment and a more comprehensive set of biblical skills or our own people are going to end up secular and unfaithful.”

Reaching the culture requires capturing the attention of the next generation and developing young leaders, added Steve Moore of Fort Smith, Ark., as he appealed to task force members to prepare for the future.

“They’re way ahead of us in commitment to the Great Commission,” Mohler said in assessing a younger generation of Southern Baptists. “They’re ready to go. They’re trying to figure out if we’re the people they’re going to go with.”

Reminding the room full of Southern Baptists that mission volunteers have been delayed by a lack of funding for international missions, Mohler said, “The fuse on this thing is very short, brothers and sisters. Our credibility is on the line. If all we talk about is going back to an old form of denominational loyalty while the lost world is waiting, shame on us.

Anticipating the urgency of the task of GCR panel in light of that lostness, Mohler added, “The deadline of 2010 should be the least of our concerns.”

Patrick Payton, pastor of Stonegate Fellowship Baptist Church in Midland, Texas, encouraged the task force, saying that drastic steps may be required to effect all the changes they might propose.

“I’m pleading with you to have no sacred cows,” he said.

[With additional reporting by Joni Hannigan, Florida Baptist Witness, and Carol Brunner.]