This week I was privileged to attend at least two significant events.
More than that, really. I also participated in a great event for young leaders called One21 and two associational annual meetings—that’s five significant events last week.
It is always a blessing to see and hear about the work of Missouri Baptist associations. Associational annual meetings always are a celebration of local missions and ministry. Some of the most committed saints in Missouri Baptist life are serving outside the limelight in our Missouri Baptist associations.
One21 was a unique event—rather, it is an ongoing movement designed to bring century one passion and effectiveness to the century 21 church. I found it interesting that, lately, I have been preaching in several associational annual meetings about the need of the 21st century church to have the characteristics of the first century church. To be sure, we must have modern, relevant methodologies in the 21st century church—but those methodologies must be coupled with the same passion and principles that enabled the first century church to be effective.
But the two events I referenced in my opening sentence were the final celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and the luncheon in Rogers, Ark., held in conjunction with the second meeting of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force.
Those events also held some things in common.
The 175-year history of our MBC reveals that the convention began for the purpose of strengthening the Baptist churches of Missouri and to promote the preaching of the Gospel. Similarly, Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theology Seminary, reminded the participants at the GCR luncheon that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was formed for the purpose of “… eliciting, combining and directing the energies of our churches for the accomplishment of the Great Commission.” I pray that will always be our purpose and focus in the SBC. I promise you, passion for the Great Commission will always shape the direction of your MBC.
I appreciate the focus of current SBC leadership so far as that emphasis directs our attention to the Great Commission. Johnny Hunt stated clearly that he is personally committed to the Great Commission. I believe him. Hunt’s sincerity came across well in the GCR Task Force meeting. I am convinced that he is a personal soul winner. I believe him when he says that he and his wife are very generous in their personal giving to see that the Gospel is preached to all nations. His passion for the Great Commission is clear and admirable. However, I am concerned about his lack of enthusiasm for the cooperative method of doing worldwide missions and missions through the Cooperative Program (CP) that has been the hallmark of Southern Baptists for almost 85 years.
At one point in the discussion, Hunt admonished participants not to elevate the Cooperative Program above the Great Commission. AMEN! But, Missouri Southern Baptists are capable of a GCR that includes a resurgence of enthusiasm for the CP. At one point in the discussion, Hunt told the heart-wrenching story of a missionary couple who had been involved in praying for and preparing to go to Central Asia with the International Mission Board (IMB). They finished their education and were appointed by the IMB. They sold their home and quit their jobs. They were ready to go—only to be informed, along with 86 other families, that they cannot go because we don’t have the money. That’s tragic. I agree with our SBC president who declared that condition to be “unacceptable.” I also have a solution. The solution is more dollars going through the CP to the IMB.
The GCR Task Force must be very careful not to undo more than 84 years of cooperative missions and ministry through the CP. Most of us have heard the stories—“horror stories” about the days of “societal missions” that led up to the initiation of the CP. Through the CP, Southern Baptists support more than 5,300 international missionaries, engaging more than 1,100 nations and people groups throughout the world. But that’s not all they do. Through the CP, Southern Baptists also support more than 5,200 North American missionaries, last year starting almost 1,500 new churches in the United States. Following is a partial list of the missions and ministry provided through the CP:
• Six world-class SBC seminaries, providing theological education to more than 16,000 future ministers of the Gospel.
• The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), providing resources to Southern Baptist churches concerning social, ethical and moral issues that face us and our churches.
Besides the extensive work of the SBC, the missions and ministry of your MBC also is supported through the CP. The ministries of the MBC include:
Hannibal La-Grange College and Southwest Baptist University, The Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, Family Ministries, Men’s Missions and Ministry, Disaster Relief, WMU/Women’s Ministry, Church Planting, Evangelism resources/training, Student/Collegiate Ministries, Church Health/Sunday School/Discipleship Ministries, Worship leadership/resources, Partnership Missions, Information/Technology resources, Stewardship Education, Ministerial Services, and Support services.
I am confident that I have omitted something. But the most important thing I can tell you concerning the missions and ministry of the MBC is that we have already begun the work of a GCR in Missouri. You already know that we are committed to sending more to the missions and ministries of the national convention—keeping less in the Show-Me state. In the July 2007 meeting of the Executive Board, the board voted to increase the percentage of your CP dollar that leaves Missouri by ¼ percent per year until we reach a 60/40 percentage split between MBC/SBC ministries. I have also clearly stated that when we arrive at that 60/40 percentage split—I will be asking the Executive Board to reconsider the matter and that my personal goal is to reach a 50/50 percentage split between the MBC/SBC.
Additionally, I am currently seeking to name another task force in Missouri. The new task force will be charged with the assignment of recommending a complete restructuring of the MBC. I anticipate a leaner, more missional MBC. Some of us who currently serve you on the MBC staff will likely be required to find other places to serve. We are willing to do that for the good of Missouri Baptist churches and for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
In conjunction with the GCR, the president of the SBC has made statements that disparage the work of the state conventions (see related story on page 15). His charges are unfounded. I desire to participate in a genuine GCR. Let’s talk about how to be more efficient and effective – across the spectrum in SBC life. However, those discussions have to emerge from a position of mutual trust and respect for all involved. I welcome a close look at the missions and ministry of the MBC. I vow to you—we will streamline your MBC. By the way, that commitment predates the GCR Task Force.