Although I am not really big on the idea of denominational initiatives to promote programs that are designed to help churches with outreach and evangelism if they will simply sign on and follow the instructions, I like the idea behind the “Great Commission Resurgence” being promoted in the Southern Baptist Convention, primarily by current president Johnny Hunt and Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can click on the link above and read each of the points, along with an explanation of their rationale. There is a place for readers to click and become a signatory on the document.
Unlike many denominational initiatives that are promoted and pushed as “programs,” this is simply a call to an emphasis in the churches, rather than a plan of specific action. It’s sort of like a sermon that is being passed around, well thought out and aimed at correcting perceived deficiencies that the convention’s churches have been experiencing in the past couple of decades. Perhaps SBC leaders have finally come to the realization that the denomination is its churches, rather than its institutional leadership or the annual meeting, and that unless large numbers of churches are inspired to buy into a denominational initiative, for whatever reason, such approaches will have very minimal effect.
The Great Commission Resurgence is not without its detractors, nor has it escaped criticism from some denominational leaders. Dr. Morris Chapman, current executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention, objects to the vague and relatively undefined nature of Article 9, relating to the efficient operation of the convention in order to increase wise stewardship of convention resources, namely the Cooperative Program gifts that come from the churches. His objections came as a result of statements from the first draft which asserted “… our denominational structures have become bloated and bureaucratic at every level, from local associations to state conventions to the SBC itself. We believe our ministry effectiveness is being strangled by overlap and duplication, poor stewardship, and a disproportionate amount of Cooperative Program dollars being kept by the state conventions.”
Dr. Chapman seems to object to any hint that indicates a “restructuring” is needed in the SBC’s broader organization, including state conventions and related institutions and agencies. He points out that there has been a “slippage” in the amount of money forwarded to the Cooperative Program from the local churches, in spite of the fact that the reorganization which took place as a result of a 1997 study has been implemented and he believes the convention is operating as efficiently as possible.
The Great Commission Resurgence is predominantly an emphasis to encourage evangelistic efforts among the churches as a result of declining baptism numbers in the convention. If declining Cooperative Program revenues are also a concern, and Dr. Chapman’s noting that giving from the churches has declined would be an indication that they are, then perhaps there should be a few articles related to addressing issues that have caused the churches to reduce their giving. From one who has served in several local churches since the “conservative resurgence” first began in 1979, I can share a few of the concerns that I have heard in different churches in different locations.
1. It has not escaped the notice of people in church leadership positions, especially those who are attentive to the Baptist news media, that few of the resurgence leaders who served as SBC president came from churches who did much more than tip the Cooperative Program. The arguments that megachurches were somehow exempt from having to commit as high a percentage of their income to the CP, or the retort that “we give dollars, not percentages” fell on deaf ears for the most part. It was noted in response that even the dollar amounts did not match those given by medium sized churches that were a fraction of the size of some of the bigger ones. I served in one church where, during Charles Stanley’s tenure as president, the finance team chair led the church to match the percentage given by FBC Atlanta, which amounted to less than 2% of the undesignated receipts, and in that particular church, less than $10,000 in CP gifts.
2. Many church leaders are aware of what denominational executives, on both the state and national convention level, earn in salaries that come from CP contributions. They are also aware of what the executives in various entities and institutions earn. In a denomination where two-thirds of the churches have fewer than 150 people in worship on any given Sunday, this does not go over well. Most churches would prefer to give their own pastor and staff larger salaries, and cut the CP giving to do it, rather than support some denominational executive with a six figure salary and “generous” benefits. Golden parachutes, which were also highly publicized, were part of the problem as well.
3. The conservative resurgence came on the scene with a promise to end the nepotism and the entrenched bureaucracy that existed in the SBC prior to 1979. And yet, to many people in many churches, it seems that the old guard was simply replaced by a new one that does the same thing. There are lines of family members, from brothers-in-law who have occupied three seminary presidencies, to sons or sons-in-law who serve on boards, or have received professorships or high paying executive jobs in SBC agencies while their relatives either served on a board or committee, or held another executive position somewhere else. I’ve also heard the criticism that relatives, family members and friends of executives have a pipeline into getting their writing published. On the one hand, it is good to have people who take ownership of Baptist conventions, agencies and institutions, and work hard for them, while on the other, it seems Baptists are particularly susceptible to the virus of nepotism and influence peddling. This translates into churches justifying their Cooperative Program cutbacks.
These may be hard problems to fix with a simple declaration of emphasis on the Great Commission. From where I sit, in a local church, convincing people that either the state convention or the SBC is a cause worthy of more than 10% of the church budget, especially when there is a highly publicized problem or incident, is becoming increasingly difficult. Resolve some of those issues, and I think you will see churches willing to give a little bit more to cooperative missions ministry.