Post-SBC Reflections

The SBC is over.

It really is. The “convention” is a meeting that meets once a year and that meeting has closed. Now, we will all go back to our locally autonomous churches and work to fulfill the mission of God. Hopefully what was accomplished at this year’s annual meeting will help that work press forward. But ultimately, the Great Commission is given to believers and the church, not denominational structures, entities, and employees.

But, because I am hopeful about our tribe and what denominations can accomplish together, here are some observations:

1. There was not the massive turnout that many predicted.

I heard talk of 18,000 messengers. We were not even close. It was larger than some of the meetings from the last few years because of the issues at hand, but it was not the meeting many expected. The same thing happened at the 2006 convention in Greensboro and the 2007 San Antonio convention, and neither materialized into massive attendances.

On the other hand, I do think it encouraging that in the midst of our ongoing sluggish economy there was an uptick in attendance rather than a drop-off. But, the fact that the masses did not show is worth noting.

2. This was not as big of a battle as many had predicted.

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report passed by a 3-1 margin. I think the amendments helped (and made the report better), but they did not change the substance of the report. Southern Baptists voted overwhelmingly for the report even though many key SBC leaders were vocally opposing the report.

But, that is the past. The convention has spoken, now the implementation discussion will begin.

3. Bryant Wright’s election is an interesting surprise and worth considering.

I am friends with Bryant Wright, Ted Traylor, and Leo Endel. (Full disclosure: I do not know Jimmy Jackson well, but he seems like a great man. I have spoken for Leo Endel multiple times in Minnesota / Wisconsin and consider him a friend. Ted is a close friend of many years and I have preached at his church. I preached for Bryant just recently at Johnson Ferry. I did not endorse any candidate for SBC president.)

At LifeWay, we are not permitted to endorse candidates or motions (something I would suggest for all agency employees), but I can tell you my perceptions. I do not think that the votes were a statement about the men running. They are all good men who share the theological values of our convention of churches. But, as I see it, they represented “degrees” of change.

Jimmy Jackson and Leo Endel both represented a position that might be called, “Little Structural Change / Focused on Spiritual Change.” Each wanted a resurgence of the Great Commission, but not the restructuring they saw evident in the GCRFT report. Jimmy was most widely supported by those who valued working with and making the current system better.

Ted Traylor was the candidate most closely tied to the GCRTF. His position might have been, “GCR-Sized Structural Change / Focused on Spiritual Change.” He valued the Cooperative Program and was a clear candidate to help exhort the SBC into the implementation of the GCRTF recommendations.

“Beyond GCR Structural Change / Focused on Spiritual Change” would have been the best way to describe Bryant Wright’s position. Had he been leading the GCRTF, the changes would have been more radical. He has called for a dramatic increase in funds going directly to the global field, has led his church to restructure its Cooperative Program funds to contribute directly to IMB projects, and he clearly communicated that the GCRTF report was a start, not the conclusion.

And, the convention chose Bryant– he received the most votes in the first round and the majority in the second. I have no interpretation of this apparent dualistic vote of the convention choosing to strengthen the CP language of the GCR, yet electing Bryant Wright as president whose church has redirected its cooperative giving to the IMB. Johnson Ferry was the picture of Great Commission Giving which was of so much concern that the convention went on record to amend the GCRTF report around such giving. Perhaps someone has an idea about it but, as of now, I do not.

I do not believe that Bryant Wright was elected by name recognition alone.. He has been president of the SBC pastors conference (and did a fine job). But, it appears to me that Ted Traylor is better known. Ted is loved by Southern Baptists, particularly in Florida, and just about everywhere else. (I can truly say I do not know anyone who does not like Ted Traylor.)

The fact that Southern Baptists would elect Bryant and overwhelmingly endorse the GCRTF report appears to demonstrate a desire for more change. And, I anticipate that Bryant will communicate that in the days to some.

I believe that Bryant will do an excellent job as SBC president. Most importantly, we can be assured of a round of quality trustees at our agencies. Also, I would expect Bryant to use the pulpit of the SBC to encourage a greater commitment to global missions and domestic church planting-and those are two emphases on which we all can agree.

More tomorrow…

GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (7): Challenges for all Southern Baptist Leaders

GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (7): Challenges for all Southern Baptist Leaders

By Danny Akin and Nathan Akin

Southern Baptists exist as a convention of free churches voluntarily cooperating together to combine efforts for the “propagation of the gospel.” The original goal of our founding Southern Baptists forefathers was really that simple. Over the years we have developed various structures and programs (some of these are good and still helpful, but others need to be examined and evaluated) to help us meet that goal. However, the goal has not and should not change. The mission statement proposed by the GCRTF for the SBC (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 the nations.) is a mission statement that fits this original hope of the SBC as they met in Augusta, GA in 1845.

So our mission has not changed, but there are things that must be examined so that we can fulfill this mission in the 21st century context as we tried to do in the 19th century context. Certainly, in over 150 years, there are things that come and go as far as making us effective. The GCR is a call that hopes to make us more effective and efficient. However, many of the things that need to be changed in our convention life are not necessarily things that the TF can mandate. That is why we believe that the challenges section may be the most important section of this report. That is because if things are truly to change they must change at every level! Churches, associations, conventions, and entities that exist as autonomous entities, seeking to work together in one sacred effort, must make the changes. So, we write this to say, if we are truly going to have a GCR, then changes will need to be made in and amongst us that cannot be legislated or mandated from a committee. That is why these challenges should be examined and carried out at every level of convention life. If these things take place, a resurgence of propagating the gospel may become a God honoring reality.

Let’s look at the final three…

1. Take advantage of every opportunity to support the Cooperative Program among Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist churches.

One of the programs we have put into place to help us combine our efforts for the propagation of the gospel is the Cooperative Program. This program is the envy of many other denominations and groups. This program allows us to do so many wonderful things together we could never do alone. Now, this does not mean that the program is perfect, demands blind loyalty, or is incapable of revision, especially when it comes to allocations. And it certainly does not mean that giving to the CP is equivalent to doing the work of the Great Commission. It helps us in carrying out that mission, but it does not equal doing that mission. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful program that allows us to do so much together and hopefully it will be even more appealing to churches in the future as its allocations are adjusted to reflect the priority of getting the gospel to underserved areas in America and around the world. It is always a good thing to re-examine the division of the CP to ask if it lines up with the priority of the churches. We should not fear doing this. In that vein, it is our hope that all would support, as their conscience allows, this wonderful program that has made so much possible for planters, missionaries, and seminary students. This program allows our missionaries to focus on missions and not fundraising. This program allows our seminaries to focus on training gospel ministers to go to the ends of the earth without having to direct financial resources to fundraising. And this allows many ministers to get a world-class theological education without falling into crippling debt. This is a good and wonderful thing, and should be a great part of a future focused on getting the gospel to the nations. Let’s challenge one another at all levels to do more through this mechanism, even as we continue to talk about how it (CP) can be most effective.

2. Enhance confidence in all Southern Baptist work by honoring the Business and Financial Plan of the Southern Baptist Convention.

This is not a familiar area to most, so suffice it to say we encourage all our national entities to work faithfully within the guidelines established by our Convention when it comes to raising funds and meeting the needs of their particular budgets. This is especially important in avoiding any return to a societal method of funding our SBC agencies and entities.

3. Commit to a continuous process of denominational review in order to ensure maximum implementation of the Great Commission.

Part of being a growing Christian is examining your life and having other brothers and sisters examine your life so that you will grow in godliness. That is why the Christian life is meant to be lived in community and not in isolation. We need brothers and sisters who will point out those “blind spots” in our lives that hinder our growth in Christ. In a similar manner, part of being a healthy convention is to continually examine and review our effectiveness in reaching our goals. That is simply being a responsible Christian and it is a matter of being a good steward of the gifts that God is entrusting to us and to our entities. Therefore, consistent and constant review of ourselves at all levels is a must. We should never be so arrogant or prideful to think that we have arrived, and that we have perfect entities and structures. As a Seminary president, (Danny) I readily acknowledge this and know we need constructive criticism, study and feedback, especially from the churches we serve and the trustees who oversee the work we do. Let’s challenge each other, as leaders at every level, to be responsible Christian stewards and to consistently try to improve in reaching our goals.

In 1845 Baptists came together in the south for one sacred effort. Being most effective in that effort means constant review of our structures, and that means autonomous entities challenging themselves to undertake this effort. That means leaders at every level in SBC life are responsible for the direction the entities they lead will go in fulfilling this sacred effort. But that effort has not changed… from Augusta in 1845 to Orlando in 2010… we still hope to be about the propagation of the gospel.

Johnny Hunt and Ronnie Floyd on the CP

Editor Jim Smith of the Florida Baptist Witness recently interviewed pastors Johnny Hunt and Ronnie Floyd about their increased commitment to the Cooperative Program. You should read it, especially if you are worried that the GCR is a Trojan Horse meant to undermine the CP.