Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of columns by Dr. Tolliver examining the Great Commission Resurgence.
Change: to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of [something] different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone. That is the dictionary definition of change. And, we have been hearing a lot lately about change. Change, of course, is more difficult for some than for others. In fact, the only person who always enjoys change is a wet baby.
You may have to let that one sink it—you’ll get it.
Nevertheless, we are living in a time of significant change. The Organizational Study Group (OSG) is currently looking at a number of potential changes in the structure of your Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). We desire to organize for effectiveness in the MBC and in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In the SBC, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) has the assignment of recommending appropriate changes to the structure of our convention.
We all agree that changes are coming and are needed to encourage and enable a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC. I have a strong desire to be a part of healthy changes in our national and state conventions. In every Missouri Baptist church I pastored, I was a change agent. Since the day I became interim Executive Director, we have been making significant changes in the ministries of the MBC. I lean toward change. However change—even courageous change—should always be made carefully. I would rather walk cautiously toward the change than to run headfirst into a wall of confusion brought about by careless changes. The changes that have been recommended by the GCRTF give me cause for great concern.
At this point, let me make a few general statements about the GCRTF Progress Report and the process that has been and will be utilized to implement the recommendations of the GCRTF. These are: my statements; my questions; my concerns; and my opinions.
The GCRTF Progress Report is just that—a progress report. The work of the GCRTF is ongoing. The final report will likely look different than the report we have presently. I pray that will be the case.
At the Executive Committee meeting (last month in Nashville) we were led to believe that the report would come as a set of separate recommendations. If that is the case, messengers to the SBC annual meeting will have the opportunity to adopt parts of the report while choosing not to adopt other parts of the report. That is speculation at this point, but is something that should be considered.
If adopted as currently presented, the GCRTF report will dramatically change the way we do Kingdom business and who we are as Southern Baptists. Yes, I am listening. And I can hear some cheering at that last statement. But, do you not think that life-altering decisions ought to be made with full information and ample time for consideration and prayer? Anybody remember New Directions in the MBC? Too quickly, and without full information, our MBC voted to drastically change the way we function as a convention. We spent thousands of dollars and countless hours establishing a whole new way of doing business. Supposedly it was going to make us more efficient and more effective in planting and growing churches and in fulfilling the Great Commission. But in less than three years we were spending even more time and money undoing all of it. I am pleading with Southern Baptists—and with our SBC leadership. Please, do not pass the far-reaching measures presented in the GCRTF Progress Report in just one year. Table the motion. Better still, gracious wisdom would be shown by GCRTF leadership if they were to present a motion to “receive as information” the report of the GCRTF, subsequently spending another year looking seriously and honestly at the ramifications of the report. Southern Baptists ought to know, without any doubt, what will occur in their state conventions, and what will happen to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) if this report is adopted and implemented. We do not have those answers at this point.
The GCRTF Progress Report, as currently presented, will devastate the missions and ministries of the MBC. Again, I hear the faint applause. But, you should remind yourself that, in the MBC, we are currently working with a diverse group of Missouri Baptists, called the OSG for the purpose of considering the future work and structure of the MBC. We will change the way we do business as a convention. We will become more efficient and effective. I look forward to their report. At the appropriate time, we will make a presentation to the Executive Board and, as appropriate, to the convention as a whole. But, I want to make those changes as led by the Spirit of God, working with people who love your MBC. I pray that the GCRTF will give us the opportunity to follow God rather than the dictates of a few men with limited knowledge of state convention and associational work.
Now, in the remainder of this column—in fact, in my next two or three Pathway columns – I will address each of the specific changes proposed by the GCRTF. You can find the GCRTF Progress Report on the internet at www.pray4gcr.com. I encourage you to read the entire report. The GCRTF Progress Report refers to each of their recommendations as components. Let’s consider each component individually.
Component #1: We believe in order for us to work together more faithfully and effectively towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we will ask Southern Baptists to rally towards a clear and compelling missional vision and begin to conduct ourselves with core values that will create a new and healthy culture within the Southern Baptist Convention.
Surely, every Missouri-Southern Baptist will enthusiastically support this component. But was the expenditure of time and money really necessary to come up with that statement? The GCRTF also offers the following intended vision statement: As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all nations. Sounds very much like something Jesus said, Matthew recorded and we call the Great Commission. The vision also sounds very much like the current North American Mission Board-initiated theme of God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS), “Every believer sharing, every person hearing.” Gary Taylor, a missionary jointly funded through a cooperative agreement with NAMB, is already leading Missouri Baptists to fulfill component #1 through GPS, the current NAMB evangelism strategy.
The GCRTF Progress Reports asks “… what would happen if the Southern Baptist Convention and its entities would begin to be compelled by this missional vision?” But, does anyone really believe that Southern Baptists who, so far have not been compelled by the Spirit of God or the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20, will actually be compelled by the words of the GCRTF Progress Report? A structural response to a spiritual problem is not adequate.
In addition to the vision statement, component #1 offers eight core values that every Missouri-Southern Baptist ought to immediately embrace. The GCRTF has appropriately reminded us of our need for Christ-likeness, truthfulness, unity, Godly relationships, trustworthiness, commitment to future generations, the local church and the Kingdom of God.
But it is also appropriate to look deeply into those core values. The core values call for unity. And we desperately need unity. But, not unity at any price. Tie two cats together—throw them over a clothes line and you will have unity, but no peace. In Missouri, we will continue to focus on genuine spiritual health in the lives of individual Missouri Baptists, in our local churches, associations and in our state convention. We seek peace and unity—but not peace and unity that abdicates lifestyle and moral values that have characterized Southern Baptists for 165 years.
As well, the core values found in the GCRTF Progress Report challenge us to embrace the next generation. Amen! We have not done a good job of that and we must do better. But we also have to remind the next generation that there are some characteristics of Southern Baptist life that we are not willing to give up. We encourage the next generation to continually remind us all that we must be relevant, as we remind them that we are to be in the world but not of the world.
There is so much more to say, but we have to stop somewhere.