LOUISVILLE, Ky.–Messengers to the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention enthusiastically embraced SBC President Johnny Hunt’s plan to appoint a task force to study how Southern Baptists can work “more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”
Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd of First Baptist Church of Springdale will chair the 19-member committee that includes Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards.
Richards told the TEXAN he finds it humbling to be named to the task force, joining Floyd in asking for prayer that the group will find God’s will. “My hope is that the Southern Baptist Convention will produce spiritual fruit with excellence.”
Floyd appealed for 5,000 volunteers to pray regularly on behalf of the newly named committee.
“Without any doubt at all, with an overwhelming heart of support, there is a rising of the Great Commission in Southern Baptist life. There is a resurgence that is happening already,” Floyd wrote on his blog June 24. “This is a God moment for all of our churches to rally together to pray for this divine assignment that all of our convention of churches share–taking the gospel to the world.”
Months before the June 23-24 annual meeting, Hunt expressed concern that annual reports of membership and baptisms forecast a declining trend line for the denomination. He envisioned Southern Baptists moving forward from the battleground of the 1970s and 1980s that secured the SBC’s position on the inerrancy of Scripture to take the next hill to “become a real delight to the Lord we serve.”
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin served as the architect of Hunt’s call for a Great Commission Resurgence, offering a sermon that outlined axioms of accomplishing such a movement that Hunt predicted would lead to revival. LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler reviewed Akin’s manuscript before he delivered it to a chapel audience April 16. Then Hunt released the GCR document April 27 via the website GreatCommissionResurgence.com, eventually garnering support from 4,222 who declared their endorsement online.
Some critics, chief among them Executive Committee President Morris Chapman, accused Hunt of usurping the role of trustees and negating the need for another study, 12 years after the convention’s reorganization. Chapman used his convention report as an occasion to further challenge the SBC president’s proposal.
Ultimately, the motion to appoint a task force was introduced by Mohler and affirmed by an estimated 90-plus percent of the messengers casting ballots. While it only addressed Article IX of the GCR document penned by Akin, Hunt is hopeful individuals and local churches will embrace the entire vision.
“It’s about all of us starting with the local church, taking a look to see if we’re doing the best we’ve ever done in our lifetime to fulfill the Great Commission,” he stated in his president’s address.
In making the motion, Mohler said: “We are looking at an unprecedented set of opportunities before us, especially when it comes to reaching the world for the Lord Jesus Christ. We sense from our churches an incredible desire to be even more active in the task of getting the gospel to the ends of the earth.”
“It’s the task of this generation to be responsive both to the opportunities that are before us and to the conviction and commitment of our churches. We need to set that passion loose and in this generation Southern Baptists will either move greatly ahead or we will fall more tragically behind.”
Rebuffing those who feared the proposal sought to reorganize convention structures, Mohler asserted, “This is not an effort to reinvent the Southern Baptist Convention.”
There is “absolutely no reason to fear asking that question [about how to be more effective in obeying the Great Commission], Mohler said.
“We have every reason to feel an excitement and an enthusiasm about asking in every single generation, indeed in every season, is there more we can do and can we do even more if we are more faithful in the task of deploying the conviction and the passion of Southern Baptists in service to the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
Noting that the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845 “for the solitary purpose of getting the gospel to ends of the earth,” Mohler declared: “There is a generation ready and waiting to be challenged to do something great for the cause of Christ. I say we take this opportunity.”
One messenger who spoke against the motion asserted that the decline in baptisms reported by Southern Baptist churches could be attributed to a rise in Calvinist convictions. Another messenger argued that it didn’t require a task force to discover the Bible’s call to witness and minister to the lost. A third messenger offered a substitute motion to have the SBC’s North American and International Mission boards conduct the study themselves, rather than incurring the expense of creating a task force.
The effort to redirect the proposal failed, however, and a final messenger, who identified himself as “a young Southern Baptist,” called on messengers to vote for the proposal “for the sake of the younger generation and the future of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Great Commission resurgence.”
Midlothian pastor Blain R. Craig of Oak Crest Baptist said he was encouraged by the presence of younger messengers. “For some time, there has been a lot of talk about needing younger leaders in the SBC. This year there seemed to be tangible evidence of that becoming a reality.”
Craig said their “young, enthusiastic faces” demonstrated that they were energized about the GCR, adding that Alabama pastor David Platt’s “gospel-centered sermon enhanced the focus on the Great Commission,” along with the challenges offered at the “9 Marks at 9” panel discussions hosted by Washington, D.C. pastor Mark Dever both nights following the meeting.
Springtown pastor John Mann of La Junta Baptist also picked up on an energized annual meeting, but questioned whether it was prompted by the excitement of newly involved, young messengers or concern regarding the SBC’s future growth.
“My primary hope is that by focusing on the Great Commission it will remind us that the message the Lord has given us is an intentionally distinctive one as compared to what the culture would want us to have.” Mann preferred the GCR focus on biblical faithfulness rather than pragmatic solutions to stagnation. “Simply reorganizing is not going to solve the issues.”
Lee Welch, pastor of First Baptist of Rusk, said he longed for a more positive and challenging focus from more of the pre-convention and annual meeting speakers, noting that some emphasized statistical trends in order to rally attention to the GCR document.
“I’m interested in what that’s going to be when it’s fleshed out. I don’t know anyone who’s against the Great Commission,” he said, explaining why the motion drew such strong support.
“I can appreciate the intent of helping us refocus on evangelism, but we’ve also got to be involved in discipleship. We may have created our won monster in that way by going after numbers without the follow-up that’s necessary to really get those people rooted in their faith.”
Texas pastor Gary May of First Baptist of Diana said he hopes Southern Baptists will unite around the purpose of the gospel as a result of Hunt’s leadership.
“I believe he is demonstrating visionary leadership and is seeking dialogue among many corners of Southern Baptist life,” May said, noting that most SBC presidents tend to grow in their affection for Southern Baptist churches and cooperative denominational efforts after the first term of office.
“He is stronger supporter of the Cooperative Program today than he ever has been and will continue to lead us to greater unity toward reaching the world with the gospel. When a sitting SBC president leads his church to increase its CP and commits to continuing that trend into the future, it is a positive sign.”
The newly formed task force will study the issues and bring their report, along with any recommendations, to the 2010 SBC annual meeting, June 15-16 in Orlando, Fla.
In a June 3 teleconference interview, Hunt endorsed an appeal from four state Baptist paper editors that the task force would be as open and transparent as possible, but he backed off of that statement in his presidential news conference three weeks later.
Hunt said on June 3: “I would be real open to say that we look forward to every meeting that there will be a state editor there to be able to document the meeting. We have nothing to hide,” Hunt told the editors from the Florida Baptist Witness, Georgia Christian Index, Illinois Baptist and Southern Baptist TEXAN.
But when asked about press access during his SBC news conference, Hunt said media presence would be “counterproductive because we want people to be at liberty to share their heart.”
It could be “embarrassing where we’re just seeking wisdom,” Hunt added, “but we would love to have any and all of you at the meetings and as soon as it is over we’d be delighted to share what we came to by the way of context.”
Floyd told Baptist Press, “The task before us is huge and without the Lord’s leadership and power will be impossible. Through prayer and due diligence, God wil direct our path toward the future.”
Besides Floyd, Hunt, Akin, Mohler and Richards, other committee members are: Frank Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.; David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.; Simon Tsoi, trustee of the International Mission Board and retired pastor; Donna Gaines, pastor’s wife at Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn.; Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C>; J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Tom Biles, executive director of the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Baptist Association; John Drummond, a layman at St. Andrew Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla.; Harry Lewis, senior strategist for partnership missions and mobilization at the North American Mission Board; Michael Orr, pastor of First Baptist Church in Chipley, Fla.; Roger Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif.; J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention; Ken Whitten, pastor of the Tampa-area Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla.; and Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.