Observations on the GCR Task Force report

Communications Staff — March 9, 2010

The following article is by Chuck Lawless, Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary

In my current roles, I have had the privilege of educating young SBC ministers, assisting state conventions in conferences, working alongside the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in training leaders and consulting with the International Mission Board (IMB) in theological education.  Our denomination has much room for improvement, but I am more excited today about Southern Baptists than I have ever been – and the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force progress report is one reason for my excitement.  Southern Baptists must still address a final report when meeting in Orlando in June 2010, but this progress report is filled with possibility and hope.

First, the report begins with a call to repentance over our disunity, arrogance, selfishness and caustic rhetoric.  Southern Baptists have unfortunately assumed that our size is evidence of God’s blessings on us, and seldom have we been accused of humility.  The GCRTF report is a jolting call to repent of our belief that the evangelical world somehow revolves around us. We have no right to think such about ourselves, especially when our denomination is in decline.

Second, the report calls for a return to the primacy of the local church.  A Great Commission Resurgence will occur only when local churches led by God-called pastors grieve over lostness and share the Gospel message with people outside of the church.  That is, a GC Resurgence begins and ends with my personal willingness to be obedient to the GC task.  Waiting for the denomination to “vote in” a resurgence is not only an abdication of personal responsibility; it is a guarantee that no resurgence will take place.

Third, the report calls for funneling more Cooperative Program funds to the task of international missions.  A one percent increase may seem insignificant, but the increased dollars are both symbolic and real.  For the first time in our denominational history, we will have affirmed that more than one-half of our cooperative giving goes to international missions.  Moreover, a one-percent increase will surely result in more real dollars given to missions — a positive move that we must celebrate.

Fourth, the task force recognizes that North America is changing and has challenged NAMB and the IMB to cooperate in reaching our continent.  God is bringing the world to our continent — most often to our cities — where the Great Commission task is so large that both mission agencies will have much to do in assisting our churches to reach our contexts.  God alone knows how much more we could do if our agencies and entities worked together under a common vision rather than duplicating efforts and competing against each other.

Fifth, the report emphasizes the necessity of training missional leaders to reach our world.  While the task force has proposed that NAMB and LifeWay share the duty to help “heighten our commitment to equip current pastors to missional leadership,” all of us must accept this responsibility.  As a seminary professor and dean, I can affirm that we are producing men and women who believe the Word.  I fear, though, that we are not as intentional about producing strong missional leaders.  Our graduates seldom struggle because their theology is bad, but they do not always know how to relate to their context as a mission field.  Leaders with a healthy understanding of contextualization are a must if Southern Baptists are going to reverse our decline.

Sixth, the task force affirms the Cooperative Program while also celebrating “Great Commission Giving” beyond the CP.  I am convinced that cooperative giving is still the best way to support the global cause of Christ, and I am grateful every day for the benefits I have reaped because of the Cooperative Program.  At the same time, though, I rejoice as more local churches prayerfully and seriously seek the best way to support missions causes.  A “both-and” approach to giving toward Great Commission causes (rather than “either-or”  between the CP and Great Commission Giving) may well result in even more dollars supporting the work of missions at all levels of Southern Baptist life.

Seventh, the report calls for continued honest evaluation of our current work.  Four billion people around the world have little or no access to the Gospel. More than 250 million people in North America are not believers. Meanwhile, Southern Baptists baptized no more in 2008 than we did in 1950.  Honest, gut-wrenching, God-honoring evaluation of our structures, processes and programs is thus in order.  This process is difficult and never-ending — but only through accountability can we improve our Great Commission efforts.

What, then, should we do in response to this progress report?  Because Southern Baptists will be changed only through the power of God, prayer is a non-negotiable response.  I invite you to join me in praying these prayers:

I pray that I will be ever aware of my own arrogance.As an older Southern Baptist, I must not get frustrated with younger Southern Baptists who are calling for change; instead, I must hear them even while helping them to stay properly focused.  Younger Southern Baptists who continue to call for correction must do so with gratitude to God for the rich heritage of this convention.  All of us must humbly pray for the Great Commission Task Force as they continue their work on this report.

I pray that I can genuinely say, “Not my will, but God’s be done.”For some Southern Baptists, the suggestions of this report may go too far.  For others, they may not go far enough.  In either case, though, this report is not about what I want.  Any unwillingness to change for the sake of the Gospel will result only in a retaining of the status quo — and the status quo will not work anymore for this denomination.

I pray that I will be patient with this process. The SBC will consider this report in Orlando in June, but any proposed changes will take time.  Ours is a large denominational ship that is not turned quickly.  Patience is imperative, as impatience can result in poor implementation of otherwise good plans.  Now is not the time to jump ship because changes are not occurring quickly enough; instead, it is time to jump in, help us steer the ship and rejoice over every move in the right direction.

I pray that the discussions at the SBC meeting in June will be God-honoring. Change is seldom easy, especially when structures and processes to which we have become accustomed are challenged. This report calls for an intense Great Commission focus that will require hard choices.  I am praying now that the world will see us discuss the issues with fervor while still rallying around the Great Commission.  Anything less will harm our witness.

I pray that the Great Commission Resurgence begins with me now.To be sure, this final prayer sounds “preachy.”  The point, though, is this: no report from any committee will in itself produce a Great Commission Resurgence.  A genuine GCR will begin when I pray for a lost world, give sacrificially to God’s work and personally tell others about Jesus.  A resurgence will grow as I disciple others to do the same.  To begin these tasks, I need not wait until the SBC gathers in June.

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