Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (5): Reaching North America (IMB & NAMB Collaboration)

By: Danny Akin & Nathan Akin

Imagine this scenario. An IMB family is stateside for an extended period due to some family matters. In the city where they live they find a community of people from the very people group the IMB has trained them to reach. So they continue to do the work of the Great Commission (seeking to disciple) among this group. They eat meals with them, live life alongside of them, meet their family and friends, and share the gospel with them. And because of the efforts of this IMB family, a new work begins among this particular people group where previously there was none. Why is this an easily-imagined scenario? Because the IMB family knows the language, the customs, the religious backgrounds of this people group; therefore, they are more equipped than others to engage and disciple these peoples. In fact, the IMB is well-prepared to equip church planters and evangelists for cross-linguistic and cross-cultural ministries, and its workers are well-equipped to do cross-cultural and cross-linguistic ministry.

The cry of the Great Commission Resurgence has been that “the ends of the earth” are void of gospel-witness and Christ is not glorified among the nations, as He ought to be. And so the need for a GCR among Southern Baptists, who claim to be a missions people, is evident. And yet we live in interesting times. The potential for reaching the world’s unreached peoples has never been more within our grasp than it is now. One of the exciting things taking place that demonstrates this change is that God in His grace and providence is bringing “the ends of the earth” into many of our own neighborhoods. It is estimated that over 500 of the Unreached People Groups have significant populations on U.S. soil. Tragically, most of our congregations remain mostly southern, mostly white, and mostly middle class. So not only are we not reaching the “ends of the earth” geographically, we are not reaching the peoples from the ends of the earth that have moved into our neighborhoods. Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. Although our cities increasingly house countless people from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation,” our Southern Baptist churches remain, for the most part, culturally monolithic. The GCRTF has proposed a bold initiative that might help us address this problem.

Component five of the Task Force’s Report asks “That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2010, request that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention consider a revised ministry assignment for the International Mission Board that would remove any geographical limitation on its mission to reach unreached and underserved people groups wherever they are found.”

This recommendation shows much forward thinking. IMB personnel are better equipped and trained for this type of work. The IMB does international missions well. The IMB’s primary focus is reaching people of differing tongues and cultures. In many ways, this takes some very intentional and specific training, which the IMB already provides. In short, the IMB is better poised to equip others for this work. This is not to say that NAMB and State conventions cannot help in this work, but NAMB and State conventions are not as prepared to reach groups that are radically different culturally, especially groups that speak another language. Given the recognition of the changes in many of our U.S. cities, with such an influx of Unreached People Groups, this component should make us more effective in targeting and reaching these UPG’s.

Another added consequence of this component might be stronger international missions as well. As we engage, and hopefully disciple these target people groups, it should enhance our work among their peoples globally. This is potentially a major benefit for the IMB, especially in countries that are difficult to get into or in countries where there is great suspicion of westerners. As we empower their own people to reach them, it is more likely that a church planting movement in that country will take place.

Some fear that this component will create unnecessary overlap and duplication, which is one of the things the Task Force was tasked to amend. This is a legitimate concern. However, we do not believe this Component is about duplication at all. Instead, it is about cooperation and utilizing the special training and attention IMB personnel have to reach people groups they are more specifically trained to reach. The other entities that might overlap with the work of the IMB among these peoples are not necessarily trained or training people for this work. That does not mean that they do not have strategies and ideas for this work, but that the IMB is better equipped to reach those of radically different culture (i.e. language).

IMB and NAMB have the opportunity for a creative collaboration. This excites us. The IMB specially trains people culturally and linguistically to engage particular people groups and in so doing helps state conventions in their desire to reach these people groups as well. In addition, hopefully, this work will go hand in hand with local churches. This could strengthen relationships between the IMB and local churches, which is always a good thing. So there is much potential in this component as we imagine the possibilities it brings.

The scenario mentioned at the beginning is not imaginary. This is happening already in places without any specific mandate from the IMB. Imagine what would happen if we released IMB personnel trained in the language, culture, and religions of these people groups, in tandem with our local churches and church plants in Urban centers. We might cease to be so mostly white, mostly southern, mostly middle-class. Our congregations and our convention might begin to better reflect the scenario in Revelation 5 in which believers from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation gather together to worship the risen Lord. Our convention might find itself being a witness to the fact that the gospel transcends socio-economic, national, cultural, and linguistic barriers. Imagine!

Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (4a): Reaching North America

By: Danny Akin & Jonathan Akin

“There is no formal conclusion to the book of Acts. It is open-ended. God means for the story of Pentecostal power and revival to be prolonged after the same manner…Since Pentecost, there is no age, no century, no era, no time without the marvelous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The soul-saving experience continues. Darkness and death and decay may reign in one place, but always light, life, and salvation will reign and vigorously abound in another…When the Unitarian defection destroyed the evangelizing spirit of the congregations of New England, the pioneer preachers were advancing beyond the Alleghenies to build churches and Christian institutions in the heartland of America. And while elitism, and liberalism, and spiritual indifference are decimating the churches in the West, great revival is being experienced in Korea, and South America, and in central Africa. Why not America, and why not now?!”

Dr. W. A. Criswell thundered these famous words in 1985 at the crossroads of the Conservative Resurgence (CR) debate in that important Dallas meeting where over 45,000 messengers assembled. The call of the CR was no doubt theological. The SBC demanded that its institutions return to the conviction that the Bible is inerrant. But, the heart of the CR was also missiological. The lostness of North America and the world was staggering to the CR proponents. Criswell asked passionately why we were not reaching North America. The promise of the CR was that after we settled our theology we would see a resurgence of Great Commission activity starting in our homeland and reaching to the ends of the earth in order to penetrate the vast lostness of the world.

That is what the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) is about, building on the CR to penetrate lostness. The GCR is about mobilizing strategically to take the Gospel to the places of greatest need. Some oppose GCR recommendations by saying, “Lost is lost, and no one is more lost than someone else.” But the GCR has never defined the need as a greater degree of lostness. Need is defined rather by access to the Gospel! The GCR is about penetrating areas with the least access to the Gospel. It is about penetrating the underserved and unreached people groups of our nation and the world. That some are even questioning this agenda is mind boggling. It is frankly disappointing and unconscionable for a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

One of those places is right where we live, in North America. There are 258 million lost people in North America. The U.S.A. is one of the top 4 largest “unchurched” nations in the world. Four out of five churches in America (among the 350,000) are plateaued or declining (Piper article).

Ed Stetzer has shown that we are a Convention of churches in a 50 year decline here in North America. Recently released ACP numbers for 2009 show that despite adding 162 churches our total membership declined 68,350 members. This decline happened even in a year where we saw a modest increase of 7,539 baptisms. This is an issue not only for our ecclesiology, but also for our evangelism and church planting.

The GCRTF has heard from the SBC that penetrating the lostness in North America is on their hearts. So, in component 4 of the GCRTF final report they make recommendations to free NAMB to direct a church planting strategy to reach North America with the Gospel. This recommendation is where the rubber meets the road. It is the component that involves the most restructuring of the current system. It is, we believe, the component most likely to allow us to effectively and directly penetrate lostness, and that is the goal of this recommendation.

Here are some of the main features of the recommendation:

  1. It “frees” NAMB to direct a church planting strategy in North America. This may come as a surprise to some. Most of our Southern Baptist life we assumed that NAMB’s focus was church planting, but that is only a piece of what NAMB does, and not necessarily the primary piece, until now. NAMB told the GCRTF that the cooperative agreements have kept NAMB from doing what most Southern Baptists expect and assume that they do, which is church planting. The cooperative agreements keep millions of dollars tied up in various state agreements and keep NAMB from employing a direct church planting strategy. Phasing out the cooperative agreements will free up 50 million dollars or more for church planting in the areas in most need of a gospel witness.
  2. The priority of NAMB will be church planting in metropolitan cities and the underserved regions of North America. This is an important strategy. The world is moving into the cities at a rapid rate. We dare not delay in rolling up our sleeves and flooding these massive population centers with church planters. The longer we wait, the more people we condemn to an eternal hell without even the opportunity to hear the gospel and trust Jesus.
  3. The GCRTF calls on every Southern Baptist church, regardless of size, to be a church planting church. NAMB will assist the local church in carrying out Christ’s commission to plant churches. This strategy recognizes the primacy of the local church as the body ordained by God in carrying out his mission, and it gives churches ownership of this mission.
  4. 50% of all NAMB ministries are to be focused on church planting. This is significant. This has the potential to give the SBC a highly focused church planting network to take North America for Christ in the coming decades with waves and waves of church planters being unleashed with significant funding to plant churches with success in the underserved regions of North America.
  5. NAMB will decentralize in order to carry out a regional strategy. Boots on the ground closer to the actual work is the goal here!
  6. NAMB will have new strategic partnerships with state conventions, especially those conventions in the most undeserved and unreached areas in order to penetrate lostness.

Why We Believe the GCRTF Report is Good for the Future of the SBC (3c): Celebrating and Empowering Great Commission Giving

By Danny Akin and Nathan Finn

Dr. Chapman’s seventh concern with Great Commission Giving is what he calls “the law of unintended consequences.” His concern is that CP budget shortfalls will result if GCG is embraced. SBC ministries would then be forced to raise their own funds like they did in the days before the CP. We have to confess that this is indeed a possibility. But Dr. Chapman makes two key assumptions that we would contest. The first assumption is that Southern Baptists ought to continue doing everything we are currently doing. The GCRTF has suggested that every ministry needs to be examined and some ministries may need to be altered or perhaps even dropped. It is not a question of whether or not all our ministries are good; undoubtedly they are. It is rather a question of whether or not we are investing our resources in the most important things: ministries which aid churches in penetrating lostness.

The second assumption we would challenge is the assumption that CP giving will either remain stable or decrease if Great Commission Giving is adopted. As we have argued, we believe the Cooperative Program will substantially increase if local churches are convinced the CP is the most effective means for them to fund our denominational ministries. We believe this is true regardless of what happens to the GCG proposal. We are firmly convinced that no denominational ministry that is effectively assisting our churches in fulfilling the Great Commission will face any financial shortfalls. Frankly, if a ministry is not doing its part to help us be a Great Commission people, it does not deserve our money. Southern Baptists will rally around the Cooperative Program and every ministry it funds if they are convinced we are more effectively rescuing the perishing among all the peoples of the earth. It is this very concern that leads so many churches at the present time to designate giving directly to individual denominational ministries instead of giving more through the CP.

Dr. Chapman also rehashes the tired argument that our problems are spiritual rather than structural. We strongly disagree with this false dichotomy which has so often been introduced into the debate over the Great Commission Resurgence. The spiritual and the structural are intimately related. Our structural problems reflect our spiritual problems, and our spiritual woes are only exacerbated by our structural shortcomings. Both need to be addressed and both need to be corrected. The GCRTF addresses both in “Penetrating the Lostness.”

Dr. Chapman’s eighth concern is that adequate budget planning will be hindered if the SBC adopts Great Commission Giving. He reasons that since the budgets of the denomination’s ministry are based in large part upon CP allocation, GCG introduces greater uncertainty into the equation. He recounts how the CP allowed Southern Baptists to give generously to New Orleans Seminary, NAMB, and three state conventions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He argues this could not have been done without the budgetary stability provided by the Cooperative Program.

We have already expressed our disagreement with Dr. Chapman’s contention that Great Commission Giving undermines the CP. We believe the CP will become even stronger if the SBC embraces a Great Commission Resurgence. We believe that, for whatever reasons, Dr. Chapman has embraced a doomsday scenario for the CP which colors a number of his concerns, including this one. We prefer to trust our people and the churches to do what they believe is best with their missions money. The fact is the CP will continue to play a central role in budget planning, and some churches will continue to give directly to individual SBC ministries. In other words, what is happening right now will continue to happen. But if the GCRTF recommendations are adopted (and this is a crucial point many seem to be missing), we will recognize only gifts to Southern Baptist ministries, call it Great Commission Giving, and stop criticizing churches who exercise their freedom to determine how their missions money is used.

Dr. Chapman’s final concern is that GCG will lead to a fractured spirit in the SBC because the Cooperative Program will die and Southern Baptists will no longer know how to cooperate. Some entities will go bankrupt and agency heads of financially viable ministries will be tempted to pander to churches that designate high dollars to those ministries. Again, we disagree. Dr. Chapman continues to assume that Great Commission Giving will kill the CP, even though the practice is basically going on right now, albeit by a different name (e.g. “Total Mission Giving”). We continue to believe that the key to a healthy future for the CP is not to bemoan designated giving, but for the CP to make a compelling case that it is the best means of funding our Great Commission priorities. Agency heads already receive contributions from some churches, some of which are substantial. Would Dr. Chapman argue that present agency heads are sycophants who lead their agencies in such a way as to please these churches? We trust he would not.

Dr. Chapman also argues that there will be tensions between pastors who support the CP, state conventions, and associations, and those pastors who do not. We have several questions about this claim. Does Dr. Chapman believe that there are many SBC churches that do not support any of the ministries he mentions, or does he mean they do not support them at the level he thinks is necessary to qualify for authentic cooperation? At what level of CP giving is a church considered unsupportive of the denomination? Does Dr. Chapman believe that every association and state convention is deserving of equal and unquestioned support? For example, does Dr. Chapman believe that churches who cooperate with the Baptist General Convention of Texas should give at the same level to the CP as churches that cooperate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, even though the former only forwards about 22% to the SBC while the latter passes on over 57%? Does Dr. Chapman believe that churches should give generously to a local association that is unwilling to disfellowship affiliated churches that embrace the homosexual lifestyle or ordain women to pastoral ministry?

This gets to the heart of our disagreement with Dr. Chapman. He seems to imply that the way forward for the SBC is to simply give more money to the Cooperative Program. We want the CP to flourish, but we argue that this will not happen without asking some hard questions about Great Commission stewardship of CP dollars. His position amounts to a tacit endorsement of the status quo. We believe the status quo is unacceptable and will neither sustain the SBC long term nor effectively plant Baptist churches among all the peoples of the earth. He implies the CP is the sine qua non of the SBC. We believe the CP is a fantastic strategy that is almost on life support because of stewardship concerns that many denominational servants are unwilling to address. He suggests more is better. We believe that better is better, and that will lead to more.

As we conclude our posts on this topic, we wish to make crystal clear our wholehearted support of the Cooperative Program. We were both converted and nurtured through the ministries of CP-supporting local churches. We were educated in various CP-funded institutions. We presently serve at a CP-funded theological seminary and have served at other CP-funded ministries in the past. We believe that the Cooperative Program remains the best strategy for Southern Baptists to fund Great Commission ministries. So does the GCRTF. But we also believe the Cooperative Program is not the only strategy for pursuing these ends. We further believe the CP faces an uncertain future, and that the movement known as the Great Commission Resurgence could bring needed renewal to the Cooperative Program and extend its effectiveness for at least another generation. We hope Southern Baptists will not be misled by the bombardment of biased reporting and the misinformation campaign being perpetuated by some denominational servants. It is unfortunate this is happening. It is unfortunate we needed to respond.