Reeves is certainly right, GCR discussions are quite muddy. And there doesn’t seem to be any signs that things will change. So, where do we go from here? This answer, of course, is complicated. But, to throw in our two cents, we’ll offer one suggestion.
We think that the conversation will only advance with clarity. That is, we think the conversation will only advance in a way that is pleasing to Christ when all of the pertinent facts are communicated about the issue. Nobody will fight against a Great Commission Resurgence (not many, at least). Come on, we’re all about the Great Commission. In the same way, nobody will fight against reaching the state of Kentucky for Christ. Yet, there will be great disagreement about the precise way there will be a Great Commission Resurgence and how Southern Baptists will reach the state of Kentucky for Christ. Right?
If we had to vote for or against keeping the same percentage of every dollar in the state of Kentucky as before based solely on the information provided by Reeves’ articles, we would probably vote in favor of it. But, if we heard about the great need in Kentucky while also hearing about the even greater need around the globe, we would undoubtedly vote to send a greater percentage of our money towards this greater need. Make sense? If Southern Baptists do not have clarity when they’re talking about this issue, then it will not be Southern Baptists who are deciding whether or not to vote for a Great Commission initiative. Instead, it will be those that are delivering the “facts” that will be deciding the issues, since they only report the “facts” that support their cause.
Let us be up front. We think that if Southern Baptists are given the opportunity to view all of the relevant facts, they will support giving a greater percentage of their CP dollars for international missions. We think Southern Baptists will struggle to find words to describe the greatness of the need around the unreached globe when they see all the numbers. It seems to us that when many hear that 93 cents of every dollar stays in the local church they will realize that this only highlights the fact that too much money is staying in the state, since the current allocation of CP funds would mean that around 97 or 98 cents out of every dollar stays in state. In light of all of this, we wonder whether people will think that giving more money to the CP is the best answer since only a small percentage will actually make it to the unreached peoples languishing without a Savior.
Whatever you think about all of this, the key point we’re trying to make is this. In order for the GCR discussion to move forward we all need to put the facts on the table, even the ones that might hurt our arguments. We need to be able to say to those who disagree with us that we think that higher percentages of our CP money should go to reaching the hundreds of millions of people around the globe who have little or no Christians, let alone churches or denominational structures, and less should stay here. Or, we need to be able to say that we understand that there will be a lower percentage of the dollars given going to the nations, but we need the money to support the efforts of the denominational leadership and thousands of churches to reach the millions of Kentuckians. That is, there needs to be Southern Baptists who say we know that there are billions of lost people outside of the states, many of whom do not have a single Christian in their midst, but we think that most of our CP dollars still need to stay in our state. When Southern Baptists have discussions like this, we think the Great Commission will actually be helped.
The Great Commission Resurgence is important. What comes of it is important. How we discuss the various options along the way is important. At Baptist21, we are very concerned and excited about the discussions we’re all having. We’re haunted by the unbelievably large amounts of lost people around the world, with little or no access to the gospel. We know that many others, on all sides of the GCR, are haunted by this as well. But when it comes to the GCR, like Reeves said, things remain a bit muddy.
At the last SBC, 95% of Southern Baptists in attendance voted in favor of having a presidential appointed GCR task force. It was an exciting day by all accounts. Over the past several months many of us have followed with excitement and prayed with hope, as the GCR task force carried out its weighty task. Exactly what they’ll report and how their report will be received is yet to be seen.
In the meantime, we thought it would be helpful to talk a little about how things are going. It seems to us that one of the most critical and sensitive areas under examination has to do with the way our Cooperative Program dollars are split up and the way that people talk about the issues associated with this.
In most states, around 70 cents of every dollar given to the Cooperative Program stays in the state. The 70 cents funds all kinds of helpful and serious ministry in the respective state. The 30 cents that makes it beyond the borders of the state through the CP is divided up between the national entities, seminaries, mission boards, etc. This, of course, is coupled with special offerings for NAMB, the IMB, and other state offerings throughout the year.
Should We Change the Percentage of CP Dollars that Stay in State?
One of the key questions that many are asking is whether or not 70 cents out of every CP dollar should stay in state. On the one hand, there are people like Dr. Danny Akin who have argued that more CP money should go to support international missions and less should stay here. Though the GCR document later softened the language, Akin, one of its authors, writes, “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.” When Akin was later asked what the real motivation was behind his strong language and hope for a GCR, he answered simply, “It is about getting the gospel of Jesus Christ to the 6 plus billion people on planet earth.”
So, it would seem, Akin and those who agree with him would like to see less money staying in the states (especially those with a large number of churches in their state) and more going to effectively equip those attempting to reach unreached parts of America and, especially, those attempting to reach the unreached peoples of the world. Their perspective really makes sense when you think about a few statistics.
For instance, the Joshua Project says that there are 2.75 billion unreached/least reached people in the world. I know, I know, it’s hard to wrap your head around that number. I’ll just pick a few examples from the site. For instance, the Ansari people of India have a population of 9,726,000. How many evangelical Christians are there of the 9 million? None. That is, amongst a people that are twice the size of the people in the state of Kentucky there are no Christians. Zero. And, as you would guess, the Ansari people are not the exception.
The Uyghur people of China have a population of 10,760,000. They have zero evangelical witness at the moment. The Hui people of China have a population of 12,561,000. You’ll find no evangelical witness amongst these people as well. The Sunda people of Indonesia total 34,720,000. Of this number, 0.08% are evangelical Christians. The Somali people of Somalia have a total of 7,678,000 people. They too, have zero evangelical witness. Are you tracking with us? Needless to say, when the need for gospel witness around the globe is put into focus it is overwhelming. At the very least, it would seem that more resources should go towards reaching these completely unreached people than currently does. This seems especially true in light of the fact that the IMB has recently stopped sending certain types of missionaries because of a lack of resources to support them.
Should We Keep the Current CP Standards and Focus on Giving More?
On the other hand, there are people like those writing for the Kentucky Baptist State Convention who have argued that the states do not keep too much money in their state and that they are not bloated bureaucracies. Rather, state conventions are actually quite streamlined in their ministry efforts. In a recent article, entitled “State Conventions Stretched, not Bloated,” Robert Reeves wrote, “Here in Kentucky, even in the best of times, we only have about 75 full-time Mission Board employees to meet the needs of nearly 2,400 churches. Other part-time, contract or temporary workers are also used to help out but their roles are by budgetary necessity very limited.” In other words, this team is doing a lot with very little in order to help Kentucky churches reach the 4.5 million people that live in Kentucky. Reaching these people, Reeves argued in another article, should not be minimized or overlooked in favor of international efforts.
Reeves writes, “This lostness is not imagined. It has been documented in a variety of ways. According to research conducted by NAMB, some 251 million people in the United States and Canada — that’s three out of every four — are lost. Here in Kentucky, according to research conducted by the Barna Group on behalf of the KBC, nearly 1 million Kentuckians are unchurched with another 650,000 not committed to the church on whose roll their name appears. The Association of Religious Data Archives estimated that nearly 1.9 million of Kentucky’s 4 million population in 2000 had no affiliation with any religious group. No matter how you want to cut it or whose numbers you want to use, the point is that there is a great need for missions on our own continent and in our own country and state.”
Thus, for Reeves and others who would agree with him, Southern Baptists don’t need to rearrange the percentages of each dollar that stay in state and go beyond. Instead, Southern Baptists simply need to give more dollars. Commenting on the need for more money, Reeves states, “right now on average here in Kentucky, 93 cents of every undesignated dollar that a person puts into the offering plate, stays in the local community for local church operations, ministries and missions. That leaves 7 cents to be divided among the state conventions and Southern Baptist Convention for all of the other work that takes place across the nation and world. And where we’ve ended up in part with the GCR is a scramble for how best to divide up that 7 cents. At times it reminds me of football players trying to recover a fumble on a muddy field.”
There are a lot of folks that we could’ve chosen to represent these views. Hopefully, these examples provided a helpful description of two different ways that people are approaching a “GCR.” Although many times they use the same language, it seems that they mean something contrary to the other. This, obviously, makes discussions about the GCR clear as mud for many people. We’ll follow up with our take on these two options next.
1. Missionary Work Overseas – It’s hard to imagine what it’d be like to grow up amongst a people and die without ever hearing the gospel. Yet, there are large numbers of peoples who still find themselves in this situation. That’s one of the key reasons that Southern Baptists continue to pool their monies and people together in order to reach these peoples and cultures. What’s it like to lead the first person from a completely unreached people group to Christ? Many have never done this. But, by God’s grace and great sacrifice by men and women, many more will have this experience. The nations need Jesus. In order to hear of Jesus, they need missionaries. That’s why their work is so significant to the SBC and the kingdom of Christ.
2. Changing Presidential Leadership – The significance of Southern Baptist entity heads is often under-appreciated. The decisions that these men make impact massive amounts of people for good or for ill. Southern Baptists are at a critical point in time with three key presidencies opening up. The Executive Committee, NAMB, and IMB presidencies are all open or opening soon. B21 is praying and asking you to pray for the men who will fill these positions. Placing the right men at the head of these entities will do much to advance the Great Commission.
3. Dr. Danny Akin’s GCR Sermon – Whether you’re talking about Dr. Danny Akin’s passion, his preaching, or, simply, his love for the Great Commission, it would be misguided not to mention his work in 2009 as one of the most significant stories. Standing behind the pulpit in SEBTS’s chapel, Akin delivered what would become a great rallying point (and point of controversy) in his GCR Axiom sermon. Clearly coming from a heart for nations, Akin set in motion a movement (or gave it a BIG push) that would change 2009 and, by God’s grace, the way SBC approaches the Great Commission.
4. Increased SBC Unity – By almost all accounts, there seems to be a growing unity in the SBC. That is, we are more unified today than we have been in past years. What this means or implies is up for some debate. Yet, B21 thinks that there is a growing unity around the Great Commission. For instance, at the B21 event at the SBC, the panelists came from all kinds of theological and methodological stripes. Yet, these men were unified around the Great Commission and the BF&M. Still more, the lunch for the 600 attendees was provided personally by SBC President, Johnny Hunt (a man that has embodied unity around the Great Commission as much, if not more, than anyone). Hunt, as many know, would disagree in many ways with the panelists. Yet, because of its Great Commission purposes, he supported the B21 panel. In fact, B21 believes that the unity that Southern Baptists presently enjoy, in large part, is due to the excellent leadership of Johnny Hunt. With men like Hunt leading the way, Southern Baptists have a lot to hope for in the coming days.
5. Union University’s “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism” – Dr. David Dockery has, amongst other things, turned Union University into one of the leading think tanks for Baptist life. Like in his past conferences, Dockery put together a line up that included the most significant and helpful voices in Baptist life. And they didn’t disappoint. Southern Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to David Dockery for putting this conference together, the effects of which we are still enjoying.
6. Higher Attendance at SBC Louisville – Okay, so it didn’t hurt that the SBC was in a town filled with young people and in the heart of the church-saturated part of the country. But, we’d argue, it is still quite an achievement to get that many people in this kind of economy to attend the SBC. Even if the economy wasn’t in the shape that it was (and is), it’s still hard to get people to spend their time at a convention. Come on, there are Southern Baptist associational meetings that know how difficult it is to get people to participate. The numbers at the 2009 SBC pointed to great life and health. It pointed, perhaps, to a resurgence in Great Commission engagement in the SBC. It will be interesting to see how many show up in Orlando.
7. Cancer Classroom – Several prominent Southern Baptists found out that they had cancer this year. This, of course, is terrible news. But, by God’s grace, these men who have taught the church so excellently in their preaching ministries are now teaching the church in a different way. They’re showing the church how godly men suffer. Johnny Hunt and Matt Chandler, to name a couple, continue to battle cancer. They continue to teach us of Christ. Pray for these men and that their cancer will provide great opportunity to advance the kingdom of Christ.
8. Christmas in August – After the heart wrenching news of the IMB financial shortfall, causing them to stop sending “M’s”, Southern Baptists responded to calls from Hunt, Akin, and others to take a special Lottie Moon Christmas offering in August. Thus, the “Christmas in August” movement was born. It’s this kind of responsiveness in which B21 finds great encouragement.
9. SBTS’s Sesquiencentennial – Southern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrated its 150th Anniversary. This is even more significant in light of an economic situation that’s included the closing of several schools’ doors. SBTS survived the Great Depression, Liberalism, and is currently thriving under the excellent leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler. Their story is amazing and a testimony to God’s grace. SBTS professor, Greg Wills, masterfully tells the story in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009. We’re praying for at least 150 more!!
10. GCR Task Force – There aren’t many things that you can get 95% of Southern Baptists to agree on. Clothing style? No. Worship style? No. GCR? Yes! When Southern Baptists were given the opportunity to affirm or deny the formulation of a Great Commission Task Force, they overwhelmingly voted for it. Thus, President Hunt put together a 23 member, GCR task force. The task? They are to examine the Southern Baptist entities and structure in order to bring an assessment to the 2010 SBC in Orlando. Everybody is looking forward to this report. They need our prayers. Sign up to pray here.
Cities are so fascinating. Each one stands so uniquely with its own strengths and weaknesses. My recent travels have taken me to some of our nation’s largest urban centers. Without exception, I’m always struck by two things: the mass of people populating cities and the lack of churches reaching them. Fortunately, it seems, more believers are focusing their gospel energy on reaching these cities. As we do, we’ll need to make sure that we address the massive challenges that face us. Right now, I’ll just mention one.
Do you know how much it costs to live in the city? You’re right, it depends. But without exception, it costs a lot, a whole lot. I’ve got friends and family that have planted or are about to plant churches in New York, Chicago, Denver, and more. The of the things that they face without exception is the financial challenge. On a recent trip to Denver, I had the chance to hear about the cost of living in areas that were exploding with young people. Yet, the staggering cost of living made we wonder how any single person who didn’t make the big bucks could live there, not to mention a family. One sister in Christ pointed my attention to a couple of houses, about 1000 sq ft in size and structurally weak, and told me about the $350,000 to $400,000 price tag. Did you get that?
In order to get a place in the city, living among the people, church planters will have to drop some serious cash. Now, of course, their will be some less expensive housing options. But let’s not fool ourselves, there will be large costs and little space. Where is a church planter going to come up with $100,000 a year, give or take $25,000? How does this affect church planters with kids? How will he be able to plant an effective church if he’s always scrambling to make ends meet?
Now, I know there’s something to be said for scrambling to make things work. I get that. But I think we’d all agree that, if possible, it’d be better if the church planter could focus more on reaching lost people and establishing a church. Thankfully, Southern Baptists have made things a little bit easier. Basically, for a couple of years, Southern Baptists will pitch in $20,000 (give or take a few thousand dollars). This is helpful. Instead of having to come up with $100,000 or so, the church planter only has to come up with $80,000.
But wouldn’t it be great if we could commit money for more than a couple years? Wouldn’t it be great, if we could commit significantly more money to church planters? Instead of focusing a lot of energy, mental and physical, on providing for the family and dealing with all the pressures and anxieties that come with this, wouldn’t it be great if church planters could throw themselves more fully into the difficult work of planting a church in a pagan setting? With all the challenges that urban life and 21st century American culture present, wouldn’t we all agree that these are some of the most difficult challenges imaginably?
Does this proposed change seem obvious? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not, of course, unprecedented. The IMB does something almost exactly like this with great effect. While many missionaries struggle, raising support, our IMB missionaries are able to deal more energetically with other burdens that wait for them in dark places throughout the world. The missionaries are given support through the IMB, which is given by Southern Baptists through the CP and Lottie Moon. The level of support is enough to live off of and graded according to cost of living in particular cities.
Listen folks, we’ve got the money. Just look at the budgets of our state conventions and agencies. The question is can Southern Baptists prioritize their monies so that they are more focused on church planting and less on good, but secondary concerns? Is it possible that Southern Baptists might be able to grade their monies, pouring more money into urban church planting in cities outside of the south? Would it be possible to take the millions and millions of dollars that we are spending on things in the south and redirect those monies towards church planters who are ready to leave momma so that pagans will praise Christ?
There are challenges to this, seemingly obvious, suggestion. Unlike the overseas mission effort, North American church planting involves NAMB, state conventions, and associations. This means that there is a lot of, to say the least, opinions involved in how this effort should go forward. There are a lot of opinions about what a church planter should be like, how much a church planter should make, etc. There are also those who would say that we should keep a good bit of money in the southern states because there are lots of lost people here too. Never mind, that those southern regions have more churches in their areas than most urban centers, outside of the south, have Christians. These challenges shouldn’t intimidate us though.
How do you think we can best address the money issue for church planting purposes? There is no doubt that this one little problem is related to a whole host of issues. More, of course, needs to be said. And you’re right, God does own the cattle on a thousand hills. But, I think it’s important for us to realize that he’s given us a lot of those cows. Recognizing the mission God’s given us, the lostness of those cities, and more, do you think God will be happy with the way that we’re spending his money?
This year’s Southern Baptist Convention caused great excitement for many Southern Baptists. While a few of the usual absurdities were present, the convention showcased greater theological depth, greater passion for missions, and greater unity in diversity. I’ll offer eight highlights and some links to similar efforts.
1. The Great Commission Resurgence – Over the past several months, Pastor Johnny Hunt and Dr. Daniel Akin have led the charge for a Great Commission Resurgence amongst Southern Baptists. While their efforts have met some resistance from a number of SBC leaders, the messengers of the 2009 SBC overwhelmingly passed the Great Commission Task Force motion. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything is settled. In fact, there is quite a long way to go! Yet, Southern Baptists have come together to show their present desire to see greater faithfulness to the Great Commission.
2. 9 Marks at 9 – Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary partnered with 9 Marks to provide substantive biblical and theological discussions about various issues. Showcasing brief addresses by Pastor Mark Dever and Dr. Akin, on respective nights, followed by lively panel discussions, the 9 Marks event provided the several hundred in attendance the type of discussion not typical, but much needed, for a Southern Baptist Convention.
3. B21 Panel – This luncheon sought to provide Southern Baptists with an opportunity to listen in on a conversation between some of the most important voices in the SBC about the most pressing issues facing the SBC. B21’s Jon Akin ably moderated a panel consisting of convention employees (Dr. Albert Mohler, Dr. Daniel Akin, and Dr. Ed Stetzer) and Pastors (Mark Dever, David Platt, and Daniel Montgomery). The panel touched on everything from the state of preaching, to the GCR, to the significance of the ministries of our state conventions. B21 wasn’t sure if the 450 people who signed up would be willing to make the tricky drive through Louisville’s back roads, but over 600 people showed up! And the panelists’ insights made it worth the extra effort.
4. The Resolution on Adoption and Orphan Care – The acceptance of Dr. Russell Moore’s resolution by Southern Baptists points to a desire to be more faithful in caring for the fatherless. Reading better than many sermons, Dr. Moore’s resolution skillfully ties this effort to its gospel roots. Although the SBC is not known for its racial diversity, if Southern Baptists follow Dr. Moore’s leadership at this point, by God’s grace, 60 years from now, we might be.
5. Pastor’s Conference – There were a number of new faces preaching at the pastor’s conference that many found quite enjoyable. JD Greear, David Platt, Ed Stetzer, Johnny Hunt, Francis Chan, and others, preached God’s word faithfully and passionately, leaving their hearers with much to wrestle with in the following days. With the election of Pastor Kevin Ezell as the president of the Pastor’s Conference next year, Southern Baptists will undoubtedly hear great preaching next year as well.
6. Dinner with David Dockery – A couple of us at B21 were invited to have dinner with Dr. David Dockery on Sunday evening, along with about 15 other young Southern Baptists. It was a fascinating time of conversation about the gospel, the SBC, Alabama football, and much more. Dr. Dockery fielded many questions, speaking with wisdom and clarity. This dinner is worth mentioning because it exemplifies one of many gracious efforts that seasoned Southern Baptist leaders are making all across the convention. While a few whine about a lack of seats at the table, leaders like Dr. Dockery quietly and faithfully offer many young men just that, literally.
7. Johnny Hunt – Pastor Hunt’s leadership of the SBC and love for all of the various types of people that make it up is amazing. Whether preaching at the pastor’s conference, passionately advocating the GCR, sharing a few words to young leaders, personally paying for the lunches of all of the B21 Panel attendees, or whatever, Hunt’s a man worthy of great respect and admiration. Undoubtedly, the GCR resolution would not have passed if it were not for this faithful pastor’s leadership.
8. Four More Key Leaders – We are very excited, and think you should be as well, about the leadership of Dr. Daniel Akin, Dr. Albert Mohler, Dr. Mark Dever, and Dr. David Platt. I know, I know, there are many other key leaders. Agreed. But these four men of God were at the forefront of a number of key happenings throughout this year’s convention, steering Southern Baptists towards greater Gospel faithfulness. Dr. Akin’s sights were set on bringing about a Great Commission Resurgence, whether addressing Southern Baptists in the convention hall, at the 9 Marks event, at the Founder’s Breakfast, or at the B21 Panel. Dr. Mohler ably presented and defended the GCR motion, while also speaking candidly and powerfully at the B21 panel. Dr. Mark Dever, a voice Southern Baptists have long needed to hear, finally was given the opportunity to present his rich biblical views at the 9 Marks and B21 events. Dr. Platt preached several times, while also participating in both 9 Marks and B21 events. I wish this gifted preacher of God’s word spoke several more times!
These eight highlights give me great encouragement. Of course, there’s much to be done. Unless God’s Spirit empowers Christ’s church towards greater faithfulness to the gospel, nothing will come from this. Unless we’re able to put the advancement of the kingdom of Christ amongst the nations above self-preservation, job-preservation…idol-preservation, this year’s convention will be nothing more than a memory. And let’s not kid ourselves, it is not going to be easy. But with God’s help, fervent prayer, and honest conversations, amazing things may come about. Join with us as we pray, think, and talk about these things in the days ahead!
Here are a couple important views/arguments that we think you should interact with or be aware of starting now!
* Mark Dever asks a fascinating question about the possibility of a shift in trust in the SBC
* Ed Stetzer gives his summary of the SBC
* Thom Rainer calls for a great commission resurgence for each one of us
* Alvin Reid recaps the SBC here
* Church planter Jay Hardwick talks both of his survival and enjoyment of the SBC
* Pastor Craig Thompson talks about why he’s going to the SBC again next year
* Timmy Brister talks about his first SBC
Also, check out these stories about the convention:
* ABP’s take on the SBC
* Louisville’s Courier Journal’s perspective
* The Baptist Standard in Texas writes there summary here
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