Published April 8, 2010
Sammy Gilbreath didn’t mince words. “It would devastate us,” he declared. Gilbreath, director of the office of evangelism for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), was referring to the proposal for the North American Mission Board to withdraw all of its funding for work with Alabama’s convention and other state conventions. ...
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Reaching the people of North America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been a primary purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention since its beginning in 1845. Over the last 150 years and more, Southern Baptists have been working together to evangelize and plant churches throughout this continent.
Of course, reaching North America is a far larger task in terms of both geography and population than it was in 1845 – and far more complex as well. Looking to the future, Southern Baptists must make the adjustments that will focus our work in order to make maximum impact on this land.
The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has this very much in mind as we hope to assist Southern Baptists to be even more faithful in this task. With that in mind, we are recommending changes in the assignment of the North American Mission Board and changes in the way the board works with the state conventions.
History of the agreements
Beginning in the 1950s, Southern Baptists began working with the state conventions through what were known as “Cooperative Agreements.” These agreements were undoubtedly a good idea, and they served well for many decades. The idea of the Cooperative Agreements is simple – the North American Mission Board (and originally, the Home Mission Board) established agreements with each state convention in order to avoid overlap, confusion, and duplication of work.
So, why is a change needed now? The answer is really very simple –– the Cooperative Agreements are now outdated and confusing to Southern Baptists. When the Great Commission Task Force recommends the phased elimination of these agreements, we are calling for the North American Mission Board to rethink how it should relate to the state conventions so that the mission board retains a more focused ministry of assisting Southern Baptist churches to reach North America.
In the year 2009, about $50-million dollars was routed through these Cooperative Agreements. Many of these dollars were spent on the salaries of workers in the state conventions and associations. The monies are allocated and channeled in ways that are difficult to trace, much less to prioritize.
We are calling on the North American Mission Board to focus its energies on reaching North America, with a strategic concentration on unreached and underserved people groups, the cities, and the planting of healthy, reproducing churches. There is simply no way that Southern Baptists can be more effective and faithful in this task if we retain the funding mechanisms of the Cooperative Agreements.
Much of the impetus for this came from leaders of the North American Mission Board and others who have been hard at work in this task. The purpose is not to weaken relationships with the state conventions, nor to cut funding to effective programs and partnerships.
Focusing its energies
The purpose is simple, and well recognized by anyone who leads an enterprise – NAMB must have the ability to focus its energies and strategic mission funds on efforts that truly match the priorities of the board, as it serves Southern Baptists.
We are calling for the North American Mission Board to concentrate on its task assigned by the Southern Baptist Convention – and to do so through the direct appointment of missionaries and church planters who are accountable to NAMB and deployed according to its national priorities. This echoes the call made by the Convention when it adopted the Covenant for a New Century in 1995. This is the necessary next step.
This does not mean that Southern Baptists will abandon pioneer areas and underserved regions. To the contrary, we are calling for even greater efforts in these areas of our mission and work. But we do not believe that Southern Baptists expect NAMB to be primarily engaged in replicating state convention structures and personnel.
The North American Mission Board will continue to work with state conventions, and to do so in partnership. But now is the time for a new partnership structure – a structure that liberates NAMB to do its work, while respecting the important work of the state conventions.
Will this mean change? Of course it will. But this is the kind of change necessary for Southern Baptists to step boldly into the future, and to reach North American with the Gospel. This is not the 1950s, and the challenges of reaching North America in the 21st century will require far more of us than the current structures will allow.
The North American Mission Board and the state conventions both have essential roles to play in this, and we need a new spirit and structure for the partnerships that will take us into the future. With this step, the North American Mission Board will be ready to make the most of these partnerships, and to move into the future with greater flexibility, strategic focus, and stewardship of mission resources.
In other words, we need something better than the Cooperative Agreements if we are to cooperate to the fullest. We are not living in the 1950s, and North America is waiting to see if Southern Baptists are serious about reaching this continent. I believe we are, and I can’t wait to see how the North American Mission Board will lead us in this great task.
R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of Southern Seminary and a member of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.
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