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.”[1] 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….”[2] 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.

[1] Patterson, “My Vision of the Twenty-First Century SBC,” 48.

[2] Daniel Akin, “Axioms,” 7.

Myth #6: Many members of the GCRTF are fundamentally opposed to the work of local associations and state conventions.

The GCR has always been about energizing and mobilizing Southern Baptists to get the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world and the underserved regions of North America, and to do so as effectively and efficiently as possible. Nothing more and nothing less is the goal and agenda of this movement. If something stands in the way or hinders this then it needs to change or be set aside as unhelpful and unnecessary to our obedience in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Our world is changing and it is changing rapidly. It is a herculean effort for all of us to keep up. However, if Southern Baptists are going to be useful to God for the future advancement of His kingdom we will have to change. Again, business as usual is not working and it has not been working for a long time. A changeless gospel for an ever changing world must be a fundamental principle that guides our convention of churches if we are to have a viable future in God’s glorious plan to bring the nations to the throne of the Lamb (Rev 7:9-17).

The members of the GCRTF want to be helpful not harmful to our associations and state conventions. We want to serve them. Further, we recognize that we cannot direct them to do anything. Our polity is clear. We can make suggestions that we believe would be helpful to them that we would hope that they would give prayerful consideration. I suspect that we may do something like this. How they respond will be their decision.

The bottom-line is our local associations and state conventions do many good things. The more important and crucial question for them, as well as all our national agencies and entities is, “are we doing the best things for the advancement of the gospel and the evangelization of the nations? All of us, and again I reiterate all of us, must (we should!) be willing to ask hard questions that our churches, with a growing chorus, are demanding we ask. After all, we serve them, they do not serve us.

The GCRTF is not the enemy of our associations, state conventions or national agencies. I believe we are their friend. And, sometimes friends say hard or tough things to their friends because they love them and are concerned for their welfare. This is our heart for all entities of our convention. We want them to have a significant future. We want them to excel for the glory of God. We want them to experience their best days in the future for the advancement of the gospel and the fulfilling of the Great Commission.

Will that require all of us asking hard questions? Yes. Will that require us making hard but necessary decision? Yes. Will that require us saying no to some good things that we might say yes to the best things? Yes. Does that mean the future shape, ministries and priorities for many of us will have to change? Almost certainly. The time is right for Southern Baptists to move from good to great, from good to better and best.

Our Task Force believes we really have no other option. From what we are hearing across our Convention, so do most Southern Baptists. It is clear that is what 95% of our people thought in Louisville. Our pledge is to respond as best we can to what our people have asked us to do. Our prayer is we will be joining hands across the whole spectrum of SBC life to see great things come to pass for the glory of God and the good of the nations. On this I believe we can all shout “Amen!”