Great Commission Declaration requires restraint
EXTRA!! EXTRA!! READ ALL ABOUT IT!! There has been a call for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and primary author of the document along with Johnny Hunt, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., and current president of the SBC, have released a document called “Toward a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention: A Declaration.” And it seems that everybody is lining up to sign it. Well, not everybody. Let me explain to you why I have not signed the GCR Declaration.
First, I have not signed the GCR Declaration because I am careful about putting my name on anything that I have not written. That is simply a safer practice than to sign something that others have written—and in fact, are still writing. Already, I have seen two versions of the document. Also, I recently listened to a Podcast of an interview with the president of the SBC. In that podcast, Hunt promised that the declaration will be revised again before the 2009 SBC annual meeting. Do you really want to put your name on and tether your reputation to a document that is still being developed and eventually may or may not state your personal conviction?
Does anyone else remember, over one year ago, when several SBC leaders too quickly signed a declaration and then scrambled to get their names removed from a document concerning global warming after they realized that the content of that document did not genuinely reflect their views? Rather than put myself in that position, I think I will wait to see the final draft of the GCR Declaration and then determine whether or not the document ought to have my signature.
Secondly, I have not signed the GCR Declaration because I have not been asked to sign the document. I don’t mean to sound petty, but I wonder why the state convention executive directors were not asked to review and sign the declaration? Had it not been for an alarm sent out by one of the other state convention executives, I would have been unaware that the document existed.
It is significant—and I think intentional—that no state convention executive director was given the opportunity for input into the writing of the GCR Declaration. Why not? Among the state convention executive directors of the SBC are some brilliant academicians, talented writers, zealous practitioners of evangelism and genuine supporters of worldwide missions and ministry through the SBC Cooperative Program (CP). Those men could have and should have been contributors to the writing of the GCR declaration. Why were they not consulted? Several state convention executives have complained about some of the content in the declaration. In fact, their complaints have been the basis for the revisions to the documents. But since there is wisdom in many counselors, why not bring all parties to the table early on to compose a document that would have received widespread support and could provide genuine impact on the missions and ministry of our beloved SBC?
Additionally, I have not signed the GCR Declaration because I have serious questions about a couple of the articles contained in it. Article VIII calls for A Commitment to a Methodological Diversity that is Biblically Informed. Sounds noble—until you remember that there are so-called evangelical, conservative leaders, ministries and churches that, under the guise of methodological diversity, utilize sinful practices to draw people to church outreach events. I am not willing to sign off on using alcohol or R-rated movies or gambling events to draw people to our churches. I am not willing to sign off on using vulgarity or any kind of profane language to make a point in preaching or teaching. I am not willing to sign off on and/or give my blessing to preachers/teachers who discuss private, intimate sexual issues in a public way. To be clear—I am not asserting that either of the authors of the GCR Declaration is guilty of such practices. I am stating, however, that there are some, in SBC leadership, who seem to have embraced those who do practice and teach others to practice such bizarre methodologies under the facade of relevant ministry—which makes me want to know much more before I sign a document that might give credence to such practices.
Article VIII encourages us all to ask “What is the best way to reach the people I live amongst with the Gospel?” I have a better question. “What is the most effective way to make genuine disciples of the people I live among?” For many years, Southern Baptists have been good at reaching people. That’s why there are more than 16 million of us. But we can’t find more than half of those 16 million because we have not been effective at actually making disciples, which is the commandment of the Great Commission. The Great Commission does not tell us simply to reach people. The Great Commission requires that we “… make disciples … teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Ask yourself if some of the methodological diversity you know of teaches holy living?
I also want a more clear explanation of what is meant by Article IX—A Commitment to a more Effective Convention Structure. I stated earlier that the GCR Declaration is a work in progress and that, already, there have been revisions. Those early revisions came because of complaints from some of the most evangelistic leaders in the SBC. To be sure, we need a Great Commission resurgence in the SBC. But we do not need a declaration that pits state and associational leadership against national leaders. The GCR Declaration calls on “… denominational structures at all levels to be streamlined.” I fully concur with that statement. However, the intent of that statement must be fully understood. The earlier draft specifically blamed state conventions for poor stewardship in the SBC. Really? I want to know, to what extent our national entities are willing to streamline—to do away with overlap and duplication? I am eager to enter into those conversations concerning the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC)—we have, in fact, already begun that work in the MBC.
Which brings me, finally, to say that, I have not signed the GCR Declaration because I would rather participate in a GCR than talk about it. Through the GCR Declaration, national denominational leadership is asking for more dollars to do the work of the SBC. I strongly believe in the work of the SBC and desperately desire to give them more dollars. In fact, in Missouri for the last two years, we have been doing just that. Along with several other state conventions, the MBC is committed to keeping less at home and giving away more to do national and global missions and ministry.
We have already begun the work of streamlining the MBC. In their recent meeting, the MBC Executive Board approved my proposal for restructuring the MBC staff. The number of available full-time MBC staff positions has been reduced by 17. The dollars needed to fund and equip the current MBC staff structure has been reduced by more than $350,000 annually. Prior to restructuring, there were 91 full-time positions in the MBC staff structure. Now, there are 74. That number will not increase. My commitment to Missouri Baptists is that any new staff vacancies will be carefully evaluated to ensure that we are making the very best use of resources—including human resources. In Missouri, we are not talking about reducing the bureaucracy. We are doing it.
The MBC Executive Board also adopted, and will recommend to the messengers at the 2009 MBC annual meeting, a budget that increases the percentage amount of CP funds that go on to national and international missions through the SBC. Missouri Baptists have included increases for national and international ministries for the last two years. Some of you will recall in the 2007 summer meeting of the Executive Board, the board accepted my proposal to decrease the percentage of CP dollars that remain in Missouri by ¼ percent per year until we reach a 60/40 percentage split between SBC and MBC ministries. The Executive Board also heard me say, in that July 2007 meeting, that once we reach the 60/40 percentage goal, we will revisit the issue. I envision the day when 50 percent of the Missouri CP dollar goes to fund national and international missions and ministries. The MBC is committed to keeping less and giving away more to make disciples all over the world. We haven’t said much about it—but we have been quietly practicing it for some time.
When I see evidence of that kind of commitment from those who authored and are promoting the GCR Declaration—then, I will sign it.