Great Commission Resurgence Task Force
NASHVILLE (FBW)—Florida Baptists in Nashville for a Feb. 22-23 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee voiced a variety of opinions about a progress report issued by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.
EC members from Stuart and Sarasota expressed concern about suggestions in the report related to funding; while Tampa’s Tom Biles, an EC member who also serves on the GCRTF, said he is pleased with the “receptivity” of people towards the report. Pensacola pastor Ted Traylor, a member of the task force who heads the North American Mission Board’s presidential search committee, agreed with NAMB’s trustee chairman, Jacksonville pastor, Tim Patterson, who said he is “excited” about the report’s recommendations and how they could impact NAMB at a time the mission board is seeking a new president.
The EC’s chairman, Randall James, said it’s too early to offer an opinion but he believes questions raised as a result of the report could bring changes over the next 90 days and “there will be an opportunity for unity among those who agree and disagree on certain points.”
“I think with Jesus all things are possible,” he said. The task force will publish a final report in May, which will be considered at the SBC meeting in Orlando in June.
James, an assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in Orlando, declined to comment about the recommendations the task force brought to the meeting, indicating there was no action required of the EC as the result of the presentation and he preferred to wait until the June meeting of the EC to offer an opinion, “if it’s appropriate.”
“The beginning of the meeting, I was under conviction about repentance and the lostness of the world and how much we need to concentrate in the local church, the Great Commission,” James added.
Darrell Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, said he believes two-thirds of the report is something “everyone in our convention universally agrees in; the desperate need to win the world for Christ because of it’s lost condition.”
Orman expressed caution, however, about a task force recommendation calling for the establishment of a “broader category of ‘Great Commission Giving’’’ currently not specified as such in the Annual Church Profile, the instrument used by Southern Baptists to voluntarily report contributions to SBC causes such as Cooperative Program giving, the Lottie Moon Offering for international missions and the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American missions.“My problem with that is the possibility that it could return to a societal system where entrepreneurial-type pastors or church leaders would want to designate to just specific ministries or their interest or their seminary they graduated from—and then be able to receive the credit we are now giving for Cooperative Program giving,” Orman said.
Noting he completed a study of 12 of the past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, he said in interviews they agreed that once the “resurgence” occurred, and they were elected, each realized they “should finance the enterprise that God’s given us.”
“The power of Cooperative Program giving is the fact that from the smallest churches to the largest, they can underwrite all the enterprise of Southern Baptists,” Orman said. “What is going to happen when you get down the road ... and then all of a sudden the wheels start coming off [of] so many of the things that are enabling us to minister all over the country and all over the world?“
Orman said his church puts its “money where our mouth is” and gives over 8 percent to CP. The question of whether the recommendation would cause him to oppose the GCRTF report is still up in the air.
“I’ve got to pray about that,” Orman said.
Jody Hudgins, an EC trustee and layman from Sarasota Baptist Church, said he believes a lot of new responsibility will fall to state conventions to inform the denomination’s churches about how the SBC’s budget funds missions if the task force recommendation moving the responsibility for CP promotion and stewardship education is realized.
“States are going to now have to spend money that they previously didn’t spend and ... our fear is for them to fund it they are going to have to take money out of dollars they are sending to Nashville which will then cause the 200 million to possibly be 190 million,” Hudgins said. “And so, where do we start looking at the delicate equilibrium of the funding formulas and the way people start to send money up here. It’s going to be very difficult to try to maintain just an even keel.”
Hudgins, a banker, said “the devil’s in the details” of the task force recommendations which also include a related recommendation to increase CP funds to the SBC’s International Mission Board by 1 percent. The increase to IMB would be a result of decreasing the current allocation of 3.40 percent, or roughly $2 million, to the SBC Operating Budget. That funding change results, in part, from reassigning the CP promotion and stewardship responsibilities from the EC to the state conventions.
Even if CP promotion and stewardship education is already a part of some state convention ministries, Hudgins said the recommendation might still create a problem for states that are not as developed as Florida.
In addition, Hudgins was cautious about what he said would result in a 30 percent drop in the EC’s budget.
“I wanted to just get it on the floor and let people just start thinking about the details and let people start seeing that we’re taking $2 million out of a $6.7 million budget,” Hudgins said, referencing the Feb. 23 plenary session of the EC in which he raised concerns about the progress report.
Tom Biles, director of missions for the Tampa Bay Baptist Association, who is a member of the Executive Committee and also serves on the GCRTF, said he believes any questions of how the EC will make up a potential loss of $2 million will have to be up to the EC and not the GCRTF.
“There have been some questions raised about the possibility of a decrease in funding of the EC. I think the answer to that is, we don’t have all the details yet and the report is not finalized, but every organization has to live within their budget, whatever it is,” Biles said. “If the budget increases or it decreases, we have to live within the budget.”
Acknowledging disagreement among members of the EC on the funding issue, Biles said some EC members believe moving the ministry assignments to the state conventions will reduce what is needed to meet the operating budget at the EC. “We think it will work out in a more effective manner, but it won’t be universally accepted,” he said.
Overall Biles said there was “great receptivity” to the report at the EC meeting and that he is “humbled” to be a part of the discussion.
“We believe that we kept the one thing in our focus and that was our assignment,” Biles said of the work of the task force since June.
“How can Southern Baptists more effectively and faithfully carry out the Great Commission? Washing away all other agendas, that was our focus, that was our task and we think these components will help us to be more effective in carrying out the Great Commission globally and internationally.”
“I think the components will be overwhelmingly accepted at the Southern Baptist Convention,” Biles predicted.
Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, and a member of the task force, said although he sensed “challenge” and “concern,” there “was not fear or anger” in response to the report.
Most of the state convention leaders he has heard from, Traylor said, are “thrilled” with the report’s recommendation regarding CP promotion and stewardship education reassignment.
Likewise, Traylor, who also serves as the chairman of the NAMB presidential search committee, said NAMB staff who approached the task force to ask for assistance with the “log jam of getting their work done,” is excited about recommendations related to the mission board.
Traylor said it’s the NAMB recommendation that includes phasing out funding to state conventions over a 4-year period also raises “the most contentious point” for the task force. He said the task force hopes members like Bob White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, will “help us carry some state convention leaders along with us.”
Commenting in a Baptist Press story, Tim Patterson, NAMB trustee chairman, said he is excited and encouraged by the report and that NAMB trustees will begin familiarizing themselves with the recommendations immediately.
Patterson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, said he and other NAMB leaders met Feb. 23 with GCRTF chairman Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., and SBC President Johnny Hunt, who appointed the task force during the SBC annual meeting last June.
“They walked us through the vision for this and how it would empower NAMB to carry out the Great Commission in North America in a much more effective way,” Patterson said.
He promised to spread that vision and lead the entity in implementing the task force recommendations.
“I will share with our trustees how I see this vision unfolding and the particulars the GCR leaders shared at the recent Executive Committee meeting in Nashville. I will encourage them to prayerfully consider how NAMB—as the lead entity in North America for evangelism, church planting and leadership development—can implement these recommendations in a timely manner,” Patterson said.
Patterson said even though the task force has called for a graduated end to cooperative budgets as they now exist with state conventions, NAMB will still work under cooperative agreements and will still work with state conventions as highly valued partners.
“The states will absolutely take on a greater role than ever before,” Patterson said. “Their responsibilities will increase as NAMB becomes much more of a facilitator than a program provider.”
Editor’s Note: Through his spokesperson Don Hepburn, John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, declined to offer a comment about the progress report at this time. James A. Smith Sr. contributed to this report. See story in the March 25 issue of the Witness: Florida Baptist State Convention president reacts to GCRTF progress report.
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