Published February 11, 2010
Prior to his nomination as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Woodstock First Baptist Church Pastor Johnny Hunt stated, “Statistics indicate that 9 out of 10 Southern Baptist churches are declining. I have never been a part of anything on a death march, and I am willing with every fiber of my being to lead the charge for God’s great work in our denomination.”
After one year as president, Hunt announced that he would appoint a Blue Ribbon committee to help find the solution to the denomination’s flagging statistics. The panel he appointed at last year’s convention in Louisville became known as the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.
The GCRTF is composed of a diverse group of 23 godly, devoted individuals chaired by Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd. Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director J. Robert White was selected by Hunt to be a member of the group.
Floyd recently stated, “Your Great Commission Task Force has listened to Southern Baptists, gathered as much information as possible, asked the tough questions, gone through volumes of information, and has really sought to hear what Southern Baptists desire to do to advance the Great Commission in our generation. Equally, we have been before God to seek His will. Now we enter the season and the crucible of decision-making.”
Many have been hoping that the Task Force would present a plan to get Southern Baptists to coalesce into a mighty Great Commission army. Undoubtedly, their report has the potential of creating a pivotal, history-making, defining moment in the life of the denomination.
At first, Southern Baptists were told that the Task Force would bring their report to the SBC Executive Committee Feb. 22-23 and that Baptists would have four months to digest the recommendation[s] and ask questions.
After the meeting in San Antonio Jan. 26-27 Floyd announced that the group would only be prepared to make a “progress report” at the February meeting and that the complete document would not be made available to Southern Baptists until May 3, just six weeks before the SBC annual meeting. He further stated that the Task Force had much work to do and that it still needed to write the final document.
The delay in announcing the final report has received mixed reviews. Some have concluded that the Task Force will recommend sweeping changes that will significantly impact the denomination. Others, including this editor, are of the opinion that the report will not involve monumental changes except for providing some options for missions giving which may or may not affect the Cooperative Program.
In addition to the much-anticipated report of the Task Force, many are waiting for the announcement of an SBC presidential candidate. Several names have surfaced as speculation begins to mount. I still like the idea of multiple nominations and hopefully the candidate[s] will be from a pool of qualified pastors and laymen who are Cooperative Program champions.
Names that I hear mentioned are Georgia’s own Bryant Wright, as well as Ken Whitten, Hayes Wicker, and Al Mohler.
Southern Baptists are also anticipating the announcement of the search committees seeking leaders for the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, and SBC Executive Committee. I have heard reports that the IMB search committee is prepared to unveil their candidate and that he is a member of the Task Force, but they must first inform the trustees of their decision.
I have wondered if the two other search committees feel that they must wait for the Task Force report before they can get really serious about their search. Will the recommendations of the Task Force dictate the kind of leader these entities will need to consider?
The Task Force needs our constant prayers because I am sure they feel like they must come up with a report that will capture the imagination of younger Southern Baptists while solidifying the allegiance of older Southern Baptists upon whose shoulders we stand.
The speculation is running high that the Task Force may recommend a name change for Southern Baptists. I have addressed this issue in the past, as I believe this is an issue that may be more divisive than constructive. The name “Southern Baptist” identifies us not as a regional denomination, but as Bible-believing denomination that has defied evangelical history by doing something no other denomination has done by returning to its theologically conservative roots.
As mentioned earlier, there is some speculation that the Task Force will recommend some kind of missions giving system that will allow churches to by-pass the Cooperative Program.
One reason for that speculation is due to comments from Task Force members like Roger Spradlin, who posted a blog on the GCR website entitled “Just Do the Math.”
In Spradlin’s post he cites an SBC funding report given to the Executive Committee in 2003 which calculated that the average Southern Baptist gives about 2 percent of his or her income each year to their church. Spradlin writes, “The average SBC church gives roughly 6 percent through the Cooperative Program.”
The California pastor bases his reasoning on a state convention keeping 60 percent of CP gifts and forwarding 40 percent of a church’s gifts to the SBC through its formula. He states, “The International Mission Board then receives 50 percent of that formula for taking the gospel to the nations. That means for an average Southern Baptist who earns $50,000 per year, only $12 of their income makes it to the mission field through the Cooperative Program.”
Spradlin’s point is well taken and we should give generously and sacrificially to support the cause of International Missions, but the fields are white unto harvest all around us. Statistics tell us the United States is the third largest unreached nation in the world.
Jesus said, “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” More Christian missionaries have been sent around the world from the U.S.A. than any other country – but that was only when it was in far stronger spiritual shape. Such is not the case today. In order for us (and Southern Baptists in particular) to continue to do that we must remain strong on the home front.
Although the combined average CP giving for the Task Force members’ churches is only 4.5 percent, I personally believe the Task Force is too committed to the CP to make any major changes to the formula for the distribution of funds. The CP has sustained our missions and ministry objectives for 85 years.
In fact, I believe the Orlando convention could be a celebration of the Cooperative Program. SBC President Johnny Hunt has just announced that First Baptist Woodstock has raised their CP gifts by almost $400,000 this year (see story on page 3). If other churches would follow the example of FBC Woodstock and resolve to increase their CP giving by just one percent our total CP gifts would increase by over $75 million.
The truth is that if Southern Baptists got right on the matter of stewardship a genuine revival might sweep across our denomination, because Jesus said, “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” Some have suggested that the “true riches” could be the power of the Holy Spirit.
Continue to pray for the Task Force. Our apprehension is turning to joy as we anticipate their report.
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