Published September 10, 2009
ROGERS, Ark. — A gathering of about 400 pastors and laypersons Aug. 26 at the Church at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers focused on the Great Commission Resurgence and future of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The luncheon event, held just prior to the GCR task force’s second meeting Aug. 26-27, was sponsored by the host church. The discussion was led by a four-member task force tag team, including chairman and host pastor Ronnie Floyd; SBC President Johnny Hunt; Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church of Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary.
Sixteen additional members of the 22-member task force attended the luncheon. Audio from the GCR luncheon can be found at www.pray4gcr.com.
During the meeting, participants heard brief addresses by the four, who then fielded questions and inquiries for about two hours. Participants expressed strong opinions and asked tough questions, ranging from the role smaller churches and associations will play in the Great Commission Resurgence and the need to develop young leaders to concerns about task force members and their church’s commitment to the Cooperative Program and rumors of the task force’s role in the call for denominational reorganization.
During the “open mike” time, which at one point drew contentious debate, the panel welcomed and responded to each concern and question.
Following several questions about the role local churches and associations will play in the Great Commission resurgence and rumors of reorganization of national entities, Floyd reminded the group of the autonomy of each level of SBC life.
‘Poor journalism’ and CP giving
“While all of us practice our autonomy, we are supposed to cooperate together,” said Floyd. “Therein lies the complexity.”
In response to a question by Jeff Thompson, Concord (Ark.) Association missionary, about how denominational reorganization fits into the task force goal, Floyd responded, “Our goal is to present to the SBC in Orlando a plan that we believe that God has led us to formulate after we have done due diligence in needed areas of our understanding and assignment. Our ultimate goal … is to figure out how we can more effectively together through the Great Commission reach the lost around the world. We are only making a recommendation, but we cannot mandate actions to states, associations, or local churches. We can perhaps ask them to consider a few things.”
In response to a question about rumors or news articles regarding doing away with or combining SBC mission boards, Hunt called such reports “poor journalism.”
“This issue has never been addressed with this task force,” said Hunt. “That issue came up at the SBC and is totally unrelated to this task force.
“An even greater question,” said Hunt, “is who is addressing the poor journalism that would allow reporting that we may be attempting to disassemble the North American Mission Board when there is absolutely no quote whatsoever to go with that. It’s ludicrous.”
At least two participants questioned some task force members whose churches give small percentages to the CP.
Citing mixed messages from the task force, Scott Gordon, pastor of Claycomo Baptist Church of Kansas City, Mo., said he was concerned that some regarded the Cooperative Program as “passé and on the way out.”
Responding, Hunt said he was most concerned with getting the most “dollars to pockets of darkness” instead of the majority staying in the States.
“I ask everyone in this room, if I lead my church from $30,000 to $525,000, is that not growth in the Cooperative Program, or must it be 10 percent to meet a standard? And if it is, is it a biblical standard or have we like the Pharisees come up with laws outside the book that I preach?
“I lead a church that increased CP giving 11 percent last year,” added Hunt. “When we judge a person’s commitment to the Great Commission on the CP, if we are not careful, it has the potential to elevate the CP above the Great Commission.”
Hunt challenged all churches to increase giving, but asked if “a church is continuing to give more and more, can that be celebrated or can it only be celebrated if they give 10 percent but is also declining or plateaued.”
Hunt said such debate on CP giving “really speaks of deep issues” facing Southern Baptists. He said there are problems “when we are judged on our commitment based on a percentage, instead of on dollars and based on where we are going and where we are leading our people and based on the fact we are really penetrating the darkness.”
Gilbert said those who judge churches by their CP giving are involved in a “game” that the next generation wants no part of. “They have no desire to be a part of that kind of loyalty,” said Gilbert to applause and hallelujahs. “We better wake up and listen to that.”
Jim Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Seneca, Mo., agreed change is needed but said he was getting “mixed signals” from some on the panel who claim to be passionate to increase CP giving, but only after the task force was formed.
“I hear you saying today not to worry about percentages, but God’s Word says … that on the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him,” he said, and then asked Hunt what percentage his church gave. “If you go up, I’ll ask my church to go up.”
Clearly rattled by Wilson’s comments, Hunt responded that his church had demonstrated passion to Baptist mission causes and again emphasized his church’s 11 percent increase last year.
Coming to Hunt’s defense, Floyd thanked Wilson for his concern, adding that his own church’s increased giving took place months before the task force was formed. “Your accusations are … totally erroneous and totally uncalled for in this situation,” said Floyd.
Wilson pressed the panel on reports of “combining” the two mission boards.
“We have not discussed the combining or doing away,” said Hunt, adding that such reports were printed in different newspapers and were “speculation.”
“Even Baptist Press?” asked Wilson.
“Even Baptist Press,” said Hunt.
Noting that if one day the SBC votes that leaders must give 10 percent to the Cooperative Program, Hunt said, “One day you won’t have to deal with my type, because ... the Bible doesn’t teach that we are to tithe to the CP. ... I think we need to take a look at where we are going and ask ourselves, are we satisfied in leading our churches to embrace greater dollars to the Cooperative Program.”
Mohler told Wilson he was glad his seminary students were not in the meeting. “Overhearing that kind of thing and making CP giving the issue when what they are desperately listening to hear is the concern for the nation would distance them beyond what you could imagine.”
Steve Moore, minister to college students at First Church of Fayetteville, Ark., asked the group what they were going to do in reaching the next generation for Christ.
“If we don’t capture this generation and involve them in development of young leaders, we will have made a mistake and there will not be a Great Commission resurgence in our churches,” said Moore.
Responding, Mohler said the SBC’s “credibility is on the line” with the next generation, noting many have been appointed by the IMB but funding has kept them home.
“If all we talk about is going back to an old form of denominational loyalty while a lost world is waiting and while those wanting to go are waiting, then shame on us.”
Sam Moore, an evangelist with Eagle Heights Church of Bentonville, Ark, questioned the task force’s makeup, noting the lack of small church representation.
Hunt reminded the group that the task force included a pastor of an 85-member church, another of a 300-member church, two women, and a director of missions.
“I was looking for the best leadership, not who can I get from certain size church,” said Hunt, adding, “Does it matter what size church we are from, or where we have come from? I have served those kinds of churches.”
Mohler said, “There are no little places … to God …. What we are looking for is a church with a big heart …. We are going to die of number infection if we don’t start looking at the heart rather than numbers.”
Patrick Payton, pastor of Stonegate Fellowship Baptist Church of Midland, Texas, said the SBC is the GM of religious organizations.
“Your GM cars just got traded in as clunkers for foreign-made cars,” he said, adding that when foreign-made cars arrived in the 1970’s, GM ignored their threat. “GM said this is the way we do it. This is the way we will keep doing things. They would not reengineer and dismantle everything and move on to the next generation.
“I am pleading with you to not have sacred cows,” he said. “People do not see the crisis we are in now. They do not see we are dead and dying. I ask you to bring this crisis to the table next year at the SBC, to absolutely blow it up so the next generation may have to … die on the bridge from what we used to be.”
Early on, Floyd said the task force was committed to revealing the “honest or true status” of the SBC, returning the denomination to the primacy of the local church, developing young leaders, and ultimately seeing “a resurgence of the Great Commission of the nations, resulting in the exalting of Jesus Christ.”
Southern Baptists, Floyd said, need to stop believing all “we read about ourselves. Every church needs to take a look at where we really are.
“We want to know where we are,” he said, but, “We can’t go where we need to go if we don’t really understand where we are.”
Floyd reminded the group that the denomination’s headquarters are not in Nashville or in any state convention office, but “are in one place – in every pulpit.”
“It doesn’t matter if that pulpit has 20 people or 40,000 on a Sunday, that is the headquarters of the denomination. We want to return this denomination back to what we believe is the primacy of the local church … to reestablish the centrality of the local church.”
Floyd said the SBC must “release the future generation to do greater things than any have done or could ever do through our denomination in the future.” However, he said, if “we are honest, we are not even sure that the generation behind my generation ... wants what we have to offer.”
Speaking to the crowd, Hunt said Southern Baptists need to “embrace to the greatest degree ever the lostness of the world.” This begins by “examining our own personal commitment to the Great Commitment.
“It has to start with me and what He is doing in my own life. ... When was the last time I personally attempted to lead someone to Jesus Christ?”
Hunt said the number of SBC baptisms would only rise when “We see a significant change in the pulpits in America, when our SBC preachers get a priority to win people to Christ.
“Our people have embraced what we embraced. When winning people to Christ is important to us, it becomes important to our people.”
In an SBC history lesson of sorts, Mohler told of a group of Baptists in 1845 who questioned the need for convention reorganization. In a public declaration, he said the group believed the convention should be “eliciting, combining, and directing the energy of our churches to the accomplishment of the Great Commission.”
He told of the beginnings of the SBC Executive Committee, foreign and domestic mission boards and Sunday School Board, and the adoption of the first Baptist Faith & Message and the Cooperative Program in 1925. By 1950, Mohler called the SBC a “full service denomination,” complete with large churches, hospitals, Baptist colleges, and seminaries.
Comparing SBC growth to that of General Motors, which started small and went on to outsell every American auto company for 77 years, Mohler reminded the group of the recent downfall of the company that underwent the second largest bankruptcy in world history.
“You can’t take big and complex for granted,” he said. “We as Southern Baptists have taken comfort in our position. We have taken comfort in our bigness. … We have taken comfort in the way we do things together because they are comfortable.
“We need to go back to ask the question, are we really eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the churches to accomplish the Great Commission?
“We have really good reason to re-ask that question before the embarrassment and failure of the SBC has eternal consequences more than the shareholders of GM ever experienced.”
If you were unable to attend the GCR Open Discussion you can still listen in on the two-way dialogue and discussion about missions funding, Cooperative Program, and a possible streamlining of the denomination. Audio from the luncheon can be found at www.pray4gcr.com and click on the “Luncheon Video and Audio” link.
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