Aspect 7(b): A Mission Based on Local Church Initiative and Supplemented by Entities and Associations (NAMB, state conventions, ERLC, local associations)
(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)
What are some challenges ahead for the North American Mission Board and the State Conventions? It is the charge of both the NAMB and the state conventions to reach the United States of America with the gospel. How might they partner together in order to serve the church and further the church’s mission in a 21st century context? A detailed answer to this eludes our grasp, but some things are certain. The state conventions must have a renewed focus on church planting and renewal, and NAMB must be a handmaiden who provides resources for that task. Unless there are major changes in the state conventions and at the NAMB, it is doubtful that younger pastors will give their money to the CP or seek the resources of the NAMB. They will bypass the CP and give straight to Lottie Moon, if they give at all, and they will seek church planting advice and training from sources other than the NAMB and the state conventions. This type of bypassing has already begun to take place, and at a rapid rate.
Our state conventions must streamline and focus themselves. They must get rid of whatever unnecessary bureaucracy exists and focus their energies on church planting and church renewal. If they refuse, they will be forced to reduce their budgets drastically because a younger generation of churches will not give to the state conventions merely out of a sense of loyalty. Likewise, the NAMB has its work cut out as it adjusts to the 21st century context. Many of our younger church planters are bypassing the NAMB for other church planting networks and resource centers. In terms of resource-access, these networks have become functional substitutes for the state conventions and for the NAMB. Perhaps a revisioning of the NAMB-state convention relationship would look something like this: The state conventions reorganize, streamlining their operations so that at least 50% of it goes to the national convention, while at least 30% of the in-state remainder goes to in-state church planting and renewal. At the same time the NAMB reorganizes, ceasing to become a mission-funding organization and instead becoming a small, sleek, and efficient group of church planting and renewal consultants who provide resources for the state conventions (as the state conventions focus primarily church planting and renewal themselves). This is a radical suggestion, for sure, but radical ideas are needed for our future effectiveness. All options need to be put on the table for careful and deliberate consideration.
What will be the role of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in a 21st century context? Southern Baptist churches have long been involved in public square issues, and the ERLC was formed to serve our local churches in that facet. Three challenges in particular lie ahead for the ERLC as it serves our churches in the 21st century. First, the ERLC, alongside of our churches, must stand strong in the midst of an increasingly relativistic culture. Nowhere is such relativism more evident than the controversies surrounding life, death, and sexuality. Second, it must seek to bear witness to the gospel, and to the implications of the gospel for our society and culture, in a way that is gracious, prophetic, and compelling. It must be prophetic in its willingness to point out evil and its consequences. It must be gracious, or else it will contradict the very message of grace. And it must be compelling, seeking to win and persuade our society to what is true and good. Finally, we must not tie ourselves to any one political party, because to do so would distort and domesticate the gospel: “Inappropriate is the only adequate term,” writes Paige Patterson, “to describe purely partisan politics or the use of the pulpit to endorse personalities running for political office.” Likewise, I (Danny Akin) have argued: “Our hope is not in Republicans or Democrats, Congress or Capitol Hill. Our hope, the world’s hope, is in Calvary’s hill and a crucified and risen Savior….” The gospel cannot be domesticated to fit the agenda of any one worldly political party.
What are some of the challenges facing local associations in upcoming years? In the years of horse-drawn buggies, local associations provided resources for pastors who could not travel to the state convention offices for assistance. In the ensuing years, local associations have also become facilitators of fellowship for pastors in the local associations. For some churches, their closest ties are to their local association. In the 21st century, however, many pastors and churches are able easily to find resources outside of the local association and look for fellowship based on affinity as much as geography. In light of the present situation, perhaps we will see local churches choosing their associations rather than having their associations chosen for them. In addition to county seat-based associations, will we see the creation of voluntary, affinity-based associations, formed for the sake of mission? This would give local churches the freedom to align with an association that best fits their needs, or to align with multiple associations. One could easily see a larger church that is part of a national megachurch network (that ministered to the unique needs of larger churches) as well as a local association with churches of all sizes (that is focusing on planting churches in a tri-county area, for example). The upshot of this discussion is that local associations, like state conventions and national entities, exist to serve the local church and further her mission.
 Patterson, “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC,” 48.
 Daniel Akin, “Axioms,” 7.