Guest Blog (Steve McKinion): Great Commission Churches and the GCR

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is provided by Southeastern prof Steven A. McKinion, blogging at www.stevemckinion.com.

As an observer of the discussions related to the SBC Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF), I hear regularly that the problem among Southern Baptists is “spiritual” rather than “structural;” that Southern Baptist churches and the SBs who comprise them need revival. The Task Force, some have contended, ought to concern itself more with “spiritual” rather than “structural” changes, therefore.

Those who support the proposals coming from the GCRTF have responded that the report, at least in its interim iteration, does indeed call Southern Baptists to seek the face of God, to give sacrificially to missions, and to pursue the Great Commission both at home and abroad. It is, in the words of Danny Akin, “a challenge to Southern Baptists, to pastors, to churches, to associations, to state conventions, and to the agencies of the national convention.”

Both the supporters of the GCRTF and its objectors may in fact be missing the one, most important difference between them.

That difference is not a commitment to the Great Commission, as each group understands it. No one would expect to find SBs who would reject missionary efforts, or even spending more money on those efforts. No SB is opposed to cooperation or even the Cooperative Program (CP) as a means to achieve the common objectives of Southern Baptists and their churches. No one that I have heard believes that our association of churches is spending too much on international or North American missions.

The difference appears to lie in their respective assessments of the current spiritual health of Southern Baptists. One group is praying for God to send revival to the churches of our Convention. Another group believes those prayers are already being realized. In other words, supporters of the GCRTF believe that God is already awakening the hearts of Southern Baptists to the Gospel and the Mission of God it entails.

Like the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence (CR), those leading the push for a GCR are populists, not prophets. Prophets proclaim a message that is counter-cultural (in this instance the culture of SB churches). Prophets call the people to change, to repent, to pursue a different path. Prophets are called by God to reprove and to correct the people. Populists, on the other hand, proclaim a message that the people have already embraced. Generally, we can think of populists as those who rage against the machine (in this case, the bureaucracy of the SBC). Leaders of the CR claimed that the churches of the convention were conservative, but the agencies of the convention were not; the agencies needed to change, not the churches. It was argued that the collective voice of the conservative churches, which represented the majority of SB churches, were being sidelined and ignored. These populist leaders were part of a grassroots movement to impress the will of the churches on their agencies.

GCR leaders should be seen in much the same way. They contend that God is already moving among Southern Baptists in a way that has motivated them to a deep and abiding concern for the Great Commission. This spiritual awakening has prompted SBs to reassess their own individual lives, their church ministries, and the priorities of the agencies they support through the CP. Their assessment led them to personal repentance and corporate repentance. They have reordered how they “do church,” to be more single-mindedly focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sin to the nations (Luke 24:46-49). Rather than massive, expensive building programs creating huge edifices, they have redirected their funds to missions both in their own cities and around the world.

But they have also looked and found, in their opinion, their association of churches to be lacking as well. After being awakened to the Gospel, they have changed their personal priorities and have led their churches to change their priorities as well, to focus more directly and solely on the Gospel. To continue to give funds through a mechanism that operates contrary to their Great Commission priorities would be hypocritical. The facts are obvious, an obnoxious percentage of a church’s CP dollars remain in the southeastern part of the United States, where 2/3s of SB already live on mission. “Why do we need to keep so much here?” they wonder.

GCR-type SBs see little need for yet another conference on how to grow your church through Sunday School (or Bible study formerly known as SS). Why are CP dollars, they wonder, supporting local staff who consult with churches when networking is a much more relational, natural, and, it is argued, effective way to brainstorm, inform, and transform. If these SBs are already building organic networks with other SB churches that help them do the work of the Gospel better, then why give sacrificially to programs and initiatives that have outgrown their usefulness. Becoming Gospel-driven in their churches has led them to be Gospel-driven in their cooperation.

A movement is afoot among the churches of the convention. Christians have become consumed by the Gospel and are therefore consumed with the Mission of the Gospel to the nations. They will no longer support denominational efforts that do not reflect that priority, just as conservative SBs refused to continue to support a denominational bureaucracy that was inconsistent with their view of the Bible.

The GCR is a response to the demands of Great Commission Southern Baptists whose hearts have been awakened to the Gospel, in precisely the same way that the CR was a response to the demands of conservative Southern Baptists whose hearts had been awakened to the inerrancy of Scripture. The GCR is the outcome that those in the CR prayed for. Return to the Bible, they claimed, and Great Commission ministry would follow. Their predictions have come to pass and their prayers have been answered. And now, just as the structure of the convention required transformation because the churches of the convention were already conservative, so too does the convention now require change because the churches have already become spiritually awakened. The spiritual transformation has already occurred, and the structural transformation must now follow.

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  8Comments

  1. Bruce D. Walker   •  

    An outstanding post, Steve, on what is happening in our convention. Missouri Southern Baptists I know are tired of 65+% of their Cooperative Program giving remaining in Missouri with much of that going to support “specialists” in areas such as worship, evangelism, etc.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the GCR.

  2. Jeff   •  

    If this is a populist movement why all the discussion about how the church is in decline? Shouldn’t a populist movement show a church growing at the local level but funds to the national organization in decline?

  3. Steven A. McKinion   •  

    Jeff: a fair question. As I mentioned, the leaders of this movement are not, in my observation, trying to direct the churches to do something different, but are instead trying to have the Convention structure fall in line with the priorities of these churches. Do all SB churches have the same priorities regarding the Mission of God to the nations? Certainly not. But, then again, neither were all SB churches in the 80’s calling for or desirous of the Conservative Resurgence. We are not a monolith, but many of those churches whose priorities revolve around the Great Commission do not think that Convention spending reflects those priorities, just as many conservative churches did not think the Convention of the 70’s and 80’s reflected our conservatism. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Michael   •  

    Dr. McKinion,

    I appreciate your post and agree with you to a certain degree. I think the problem is that the GCR is extremely popular among the leaders of SBC entities and those up to speed with denominational activities, but I would be willing to say the average Southern Baptist (they are the overwhelming majority) has no idea about the GCR. Most of them only consider the Cooperative Program when budget time comes at their local church or when Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings are taken.

    Concerning the churches, you wrote, “Rather than massive, expensive building programs creating huge edifices, they have redirected their funds to missions both in their own cities and around the world.” I’m not sure this is true across the board and many SB’s could point to the same abuses (building edifices, cushy “do-nothing” positions, extravagant expense accounts, etc.) on the state and national level within the SBC. I think its easy to call for more giving to the CP and then attempt to justify the above mentioned abuses as also part of “fulfilling the Great Commission.” The average SB, however, wants to know that they money they are giving actually goes to fulfill the Great Commission and not to fund these abuses. There is no system of accountability in place to ensure this – its the same as the federal government saying they are going to be transparent and accountable.

    Whereas the CR was a ground up resurgence for the most part (hence the largest showing of SBC messengers in history), the GCR is a top down push. This is especially evident in the make-up of the task force. It is not representative of the majority of SBC churches – if fact, there are no members of this task force that come from the smaller SBC churches. Again, the majority of SBC churches are not mega-churches (most have less than 100 members) and yet the GCR task force members all come from churches that would most likely fit into this category.

    Drastic change must take place in structure and accountability for the average SB church to take notice!

  5. Roger Simpson   •  

    I think it would be more accurate to say the GCR was a “populist” movement with the proviso that the “population” in view was a subset of everyone in SBC life. Specifically, not all stakeholders were part of the “population” — including some churches, associations, and state conventions that had differing views on some of the planks in the GCR’s initial vision.

    I believe one way to understand the difference between the May 3rd final report and the Feb 22rd draft version is that the task force tweaked language to specifically “enlarge the tent” so that outlier groups — such as those wanting a stronger affirmation of the CP and those wanting the language regarding the phasing out of the cooperative agreements toned down — would more readily buy in to the report. Regardless of any other observation one might have regarding the final report, I think it must be acknowledged that the delta between Feb 22 and now was driven by input from stakeholders who, in the absence of some wordsmithing, would likely vote against the TF report.

    In my opinion, the task force listened. They reached a compromise which I believe greases the skids twords adoption.

    The whole reason that the SBC exists is because of the ability to set up a network to do stuff cooperatively such as run seminaries, have mission boards, etc. That being the case, it would be going backwards if the SBC adopted something that split the convention in half. Whatever that TF comes out with, and whatever the convention adopts, has to have Solomonic wisdom to address our problems and and shake up the bureaucracy while still not sending people off the reservation.

  6. Jeff   •  

    Steve – As an SBC pastor transitioning a church into an organic/missional structure I’m honestly excited by your take. Thanks for the post.

  7. Pingback: Awakening to the Gospel in the Southern Baptist Convention | Steven A. McKinion

  8. Brent Hobbs   •  

    Excellent post. I think several of the observations are right on the mark. Especially about the GCR movement being the true heirs of the Conservative Resurgence.

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