In 1924 the Southern Baptist Convention was faced with a crisis of conscience?how best to reach the rapidly changing population of the United States, a circumstance prompted by migration within its borders.
Baron DeKalb Gray rose to the occasion as corresponding secretary of the Home Mission Board, appealing for “a successful missionary endeavor among a field unmatched in opportunity anywhere.”
“They are in our midst, in our homes, in our fields, and by every consideration of Christian motives must be given the best services we can command. To neglect them is to neglect a large and most vital part of our citizenship. To help them is at once to help ourselves and our country,” he reminded. “We must help them or the curse of God will rest upon us.”
The written version of his report began with the heading, “Brighter Skies,” which led into updates on “A Wonderful Year’s Work.” Gray then closed by facing the facts of “New Adjustments.”
Gray marshaled Southern Baptist troops to assess the new reality of the world in which they lived, addressing “The Great Migration” of 1.3 million African Americans who had relocated to the North.
Eighty-five years later the condition of North America still captivates the hearts of Southern Baptists. Nearly a fourth of the Cooperative Program (CP) allocation budget goes through the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
NAMB “assists Southern Baptists in their task of fulfilling the Great Commission in the United States, Canada and their territories through a national strategy for sharing Christ, starting churches and sending missionaries, in cooperation with Acts 1:8 Partners.” That priority was demonstrated by the founding of the Domestic Mission Board the same year the SBC was organized in 1845, remained urgent during a new wave of immigration and westward frontier expansion, and still today dominates the conversation at mission-focused gatherings.
With three of four people in North America having no personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the task of reaching such a vast continent for Christ is daunting, NAMB reiterates on its website.
Hundreds of Southern Baptist leaders representing state conventions and local associations, along with church planting and evangelism specialists, gathered in late August to review their strategy.
The NAMB president sought to rally troops with the news that Southern Baptists are planting a church every six hours?half of them ethnic and African-American congregations. Still, the pace must increase to keep up with an additional 400 million people in the U.S. over the next 35 years and another quarter million people added to Canada’s population annually.
North American missions must be cross-cultural, reproducible, indigenous, and must use multiplication, not simple addition, in order to reach the continent’s estimated 255 million non-believers, the NAMB leader said. The recently piloted nationwide evangelistic strategy known as GPS?God’s Plan for Sharing?is flexible enough to contextualize to each particular mission field, whether rural, suburban, or urban.
The four components involve praying, engaging, sowing and harvesting. (Details are available at nei2020.org.)
With a complex network of partners at the local church, association, state convention and national entity levels, there’s no doubt the work of reaching North America for Christ will continue at NAMB despite the recent departure of its president. (Related article on Geoff Hammond: page 12.)
But the yearlong study by the 23-member Great Commission Resurgence Task Force could prompt changes in how NAMB operates in the future.
NAMB’s 2009 annual ministry report grouped significant advances in three assigned categories, including:
?2,875 SBC-endorsed chaplains serving in the military, hospitals and various professional and corporate capacities, including volunteer ministries;
?24,205 volunteers assisting with 1,505 homes and 26 churches in three years of the New Orleans Area Home Rebuild (NOAH) project;
?$1.2 million in domestic hunger funds distributed to state convention partners, providing more than 4 million meals, with over 2,000 hunger ministries reporting over 32,000 professions of faith; and
?4,726 babies saved through NAMB-affiliated pregnancy resource centers.
?Aided more than 1,500 new congregations begun by Southern Baptists in 2008;
?778 seminary students trained and placed as long-term church planters in 2008.
?5,611 missionaries in North America; 3,739 are missionaries and their spouses serving in partnership with state conventions and associations; 1,872 are long-term Mission Service Corps volunteers;
?1,641 short-term high school and college missionaries sent;
?5,800 new Disaster Relief volunteers, bringing total to more than 88,800;
?20,096 World Changers in 95 projects and 1,889 student participants in 20 PowerPlant projects;
?Strategic Focus Cities focused on Baltimore, where 1,267 professions of faith were reported, and San Diego, where 25 new churches were planted.
Amid swirling rumors–and no evidence–that the SBC’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force would recommend merging the International and North American Mission Boards, convention leaders familiar with both boards argue that a merger would harm the cause of missions.
“I have not heard anyone who really understands both organizations to any degree talk about [a merger] in the positive,” said Calvin Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, Colo., and a recent member of the SBC Executive Committee who completed his tenure in June.
Scott Moody, a NAMB trustee and pastor of First Baptist Church in Silsbee, said the board has not discussed the possibility of a merger.
“A lot of what is fueling this merger talk and those kinds of things is because NAMB has hit some hard times here of late,” Moody told the TEXAN. “But I just say we need to fix what is broken and complete the task.
“I remember a few years ago when the IMB was going through some turmoil over the tongues issue and all of that. IMB wasn’t thrown under the bus. They righted the course, and I believe they responded properly to that. And I believe that we can do the same thing here.”
Other NAMB trustees from Texas either failed to respond to the TEXAN’s request for an interview or declined to comment.
The rumor of a merger stemmed in part from statements by NAMB trustee chairman Tim Patterson, who in May said he believes Southern Baptists should have a “singular world mission agency.”
Because “North America is now just as much a foreign mission field as any other country or continent” with diverse people groups and cultures, Patterson said, “we need a singular world mission agency that does not lessen its emphasis on missions in North America or any other part of the world, but enhances it.”
Patterson added, “The way we structure, fund and administer our work is overly bureaucratic and bloated. If we combine our efforts and funding, we could be much more effective and become better stewards of God’s resources.”
But Patterson appears to have softened his position. While declining to answer questions from the
TEXAN about whether his opinions have changed and whether others helped him arrive at them, he stated support for both mission boards.
“I believe with all my heart that the North American Mission Board and its ministries are needed more now than ever before in the history of this agency,” he said in a statement. “The tasks that NAMB has been given by Southern Baptists call for a unique and particular type of agency to fulfill them. That is why Southern Baptists designed the North American Mission Board to be different in organization and structure from the International Mission Board.
“That does not mean that we should not investigate the possibility that there are ministries and services each provides that could be done more efficiently and effectively together or at least in a more synergistic manner.”
SBC President Johnny Hunt may have added fuel to the rumors of a merger by telling four Baptist state paper editors in June that despite having restructured its entities a dozen years ago, it is not too soon to consider another restructuring. Also in June, however, he told NAMB staff members, “I was as surprised as you were when the story hit proposing to join NAMB and the IMB.”
IMB President Jerry Rankin declined comment on the prospect of a merger but noted that he believes “the SBC ought to always be open to exploring any and all options for its effectiveness in fulfilling the Great Commission and our task to serve the churches as a denomination.”
Opponents of a merger offer several reasons for their resistance:
>A singular world mission organization would result in the neglect of international missions, remarked Avery Willis, former vice president of overseas operations at the IMB. “I don’t think it wise to merge the two mission organizations. There are several reasons. One is the disproportionate emphasis that we naturally give to that which we’re closest to,” he said, adding, “You have to have a concerted effort of people who are focused on the rest of the world.”
>The organizational structures of the IMB and NAMB are too different to combine them effectively, many opponents say. While the IMB funds its missionaries directly, all but a small number of NAMB missionaries are funded jointly through state conventions and accountable to those conventions. Unlike IMB missionaries, the spouses of NAMB missionaries are not on the payroll, and many are employed apart from the time they serve.
“If the organizations were similar, then there might be a possibility (of merging),” said Bob Pearle, pastor of Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth and a recent IMB trustee who serves as SBTC president. “But they are so dissimilar that I do not see the feasibility of that happening. They are just two separate animals.”
>Some observers, including Wittman and Willis, charge that NAMB’s structure is so ineffective that it would drag down international missions if the two were forced to merge. Wittman argued in a recent TEXAN column that NAMB must structure itself more like the IMB in order to be maximally effective.
Jim Sibley, who has served as both an international and North American missionary, said the logistics of merging would be difficult if both organizations were healthy, but they prove nearly impossible give NAMB’ inefficiencies.
“The IMB is basically a very healthy organization,” Sibley, director of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies and associate professor of Jewish ministry at Criswell College, said. “The North American Mission Board has been beset with difficulties and problems over the last number of years. So it would be a healthy organization taking on an organization that’s not very healthy. I just don’t see very many advantages at all to a merger.”
Willis, however, left open the possibility of a merger should NAMB become healthier.
>The SBC’s merger of entities during the late 1990’s demonstrated that such efforts generally prove unsuccessful, Larry Lewis, head of the Home Mission Board at the time, told the TEXAN.
Though the restructuring of several agencies into NAMB promised to bring increased effectiveness, Lewis said it actually eliminated or marginalized important ministries. For example, the Brotherhood Commission formerly handled disaster relief, allowing the HMB so focus on church planting. When NAMB was given charge of both church planting and disaster relief, however, staff members were forced to neglect church planting and evangelism when major disasters struck. During Hurricane Katrina, the NAMB staff was distracted from a major evangelistic campaign because its full attention was required on the Gulf Coast, he said.
Merging entities also weakened Southern Baptist participation in the Celebrate Jesus 2000 evangelistic effort, Lewis said.
“At the time, I felt possibly (a merger) was a good idea but I had a gut feeling that it probably was not,” he said. “But nevertheless I endorsed it and didn’t oppose it. I’ve come to believe as time has gone on—in fact, quite quickly came to believe—that it was not a good idea and that it was really a step backwards for our denomination and especially for home missions.”
He fears a merger of NAMB and the IMB could similarly harm important ministries.
“The restructuring was not a good idea,” he said. “It would have been better to finetune what we had and make changes as necessary.”
Likewise, better to fine-tune NAMB, Lewis argued. “I am totally, absolutely and completely opposed to merging the two boards,” he said. “I think that would be a giant step backwards.”
Other reasons some Southern Baptists oppose a merger include the need for an organization that specialized in cross-cultural missions in America and fear that a unified mission agency wouldn’t save the SBC much money.
In reality, Southern Baptists likely will not know until sometime next year whether the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force will propose a merger in the report, But Moody, the NAMB trustee, offered a suggestion as to what Southern Baptists can do as they wait to hear the report.
“Get the right leadership, the right president, and I believe we can fulfill God’s Plan for Sharing, starting churches, sharing Christ,” he said of NAMB.
ROGERS, Ark.?The questions ranged from mission board mergers to the significance of traditional missions giving percentages, and not one was turned down by the tag team of four Great Commission Resurgence Task Force members as they fielded inquiries for two hours at the Church at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers, Ark.
The questions came during an open luncheon that preceded the Southern Baptist task force’s scheduled two-day meeting Aug. 26-27.
Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, in the luncheon’s opening prayer, petitioned God to bring a “refocus and rejuvenation” to the Southern Baptist Convention.
“God, help us to have a resurgence, in prayer, in discipleship and being like Jesus,” Richards prayed. “In doing so, there’ll be a resurgence in the Great Commission.”
The task force chairman and host pastor, Ronnie Floyd, kept the dialogue on task, telling the crowd of more than 400 people the ultimate goal was “to do just what they were asked to do?figure out together how to more faithfully and effectively fulfill the Great Commission around the world in our churches, in our state conventions, in our national convention and all we do together.”
Joining Floyd on the platform were SBC President Johnny Hunt of Woodstock, Ga., Al Gilbert of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Louisville, Ky., the four men relating their visions for a Great Commission Resurgence amid audience questions.
After several attendees asked how the mandate of the task force might effect their local associations, Floyd recounted the task force’s commitment to the autonomy of each level of Southern Baptist life. He urged associational leaders to direct Southern Baptists to the pray4gcr.com website to “get aggressive in enlisting churches to pray for a Great Commission Resurgence.”
“While all of us practice our autonomy, we’re supposed to cooperate together,” he reminded. “Therein lies the complexity of our assignment.”
Floyd offered no pretense of changing associations or state conventions. “We are bringing recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention national body,” he said when asked by Jeff Thompson, director of missions for Concord Baptist Association in Fort Smith, Ark., to outline their goal. “We can perhaps ask them to consider a few things we may do.”
The one thing Hunt wants to see done is “get the dollars to the pockets of lostness, instead of the majority staying in the States or in the country we’re in,” he said in answer to a question from Scott Gordon, pastor of Claycomo Baptist Church near Kansas City, Mo. Gordon sought assurance that the Cooperative Program was not regarded as passé.
Gilbert agreed that the task force “can’t tell state conventions what to do, but we can deal with it on a national level.” He appealed for local churches to exercise their autonomy in deciding how best to deliver mission dollars to the field.
“Quite frankly, our church could care less about how folks outside count our loyalty,” he said, discounting attempts to quantify a church’s commitment to missions by citing its gifts to the traditional Cooperative Program funding mechanism. “It’s a game the next generation is sick of and they have no desire to have that kind of loyalty pin. We’d better wake up and listen to that,” he insisted.
“Our state conventions are not the same across the SBC. They don’t all give the same percentages,” Gilbert said, referring to the disparity in the portion state conventions retain for ministry within their states?ranging from 88 percent to 45 percent?before sending the rest to national and international Southern Baptist causes.
ROGERS, Ark.–Underscoring the need for Southern Baptists to unify around prayer, Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, welcomed more than 400 participants to an Aug. 26 luncheon where he and three other task force members delivered comments and fielded questions for more than two hours.
Floyd urged those gathered at the Church at Pinnacle Hills campus of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., where he is senior pastor, to pray not only for the 23 other members of the task force, but “that God will give us resurgence personally.”
Pointing to a website with over 3,200 signatures of people who have said they will pray, Floyd asked participants to help mobilize their churches to sign up at Pray4GCR.com and to be very “deliberate” about it.
Jim Richards, executive director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, in the luncheon’s opening prayer, petitioned God to bring a “refocus and rejuvenation” to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Floyd asked for prayer for and noted the absence of Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a member of the task force. He said Akin was under a doctor’s care and would be undergoing colon surgery in the future.
Two other task force members joined Floyd in sharing their vision for a Great Commission Resurgence and listened to Southern Baptist pastors, directors of missions and laymen voice their questions and concerns.
Floyd, Johnny Hunt, SBC president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, near Atlanta; and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky; spoke nearly an hour. Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., who previously served five years with the International Mission Board, field questions during the Q&A.
Seeking the “true status” of the denomination, Floyd said the task force has exercised “due diligence” in seeking out information and needs to take an honest and close look at the SBC.
“We probably need to stop believing all that we read about ourselves and take an honest look, like every church needs to take an honest look, about who we really are,” Floyd said. “We can’t go where we need to go if we don’t really understand where we are,” Floyd said.
Acknowledging a decline in membership and baptisms in Southern Baptist churches in the United States, Floyd noted God is working internationally in “unbelievable” ways, but Southern Baptists are “losing ground with American culture every day.”
“We have more money than we’ve ever had, more resources than we’ve ever had, and we are doing less with it to reach the lost, unchurched people of America,” Floyd said.
Floyd said he would like to see a “return of this denomination to the primacy of the local church,” and “reestablish the centrality of the local church.” The headquarters of the denomination, Floyd said, is not in Nashville or in any state convention office, but in every pulpit?despite the church’s size.
Theaudio from the GCR luncheon held on August 26, 2009 in Rogers, Ark., is now available online at http://www.pray4gcr.com/category/updates/audio/. This luncheon was for all pastors, staff members, any denominational employee, as well as any layperson serving as a trustee of one of the SBC entities, and featured a Q&A time with GCR Task Force Members.
Coverage of the event is also posted to the TEXAN website at www.texanonline.net
LUBBOCK?The SBTC will offer age-restricted childcare during the 2009 Bible Conference and Annual Meeting in Lubbock. Please note the requirements below:
Registration: Must pre-register by Oct. 1st, 2009
Ages: Birth through 4-years-old only
Location: Holiday Inn (adjacent to Civic Center)
Cost: No charge.
Contact: Carma Hackett at firstname.lastname@example.org Ashlee Garner at email@example.com.
FORT WORTH–A music professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has opted for early retirement rather than leave a church declared out of fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention because of openly homosexual members.
Michael Cox, an award-winning professor of music theory and composition who has served at the school since 1990, chose to remain in membership of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, a congregation with 125-year ties to the SBC and a long history of faculty and seminary leaders in its membership. The seminary requires faculty to be members in Southern Baptist churches.
SBC messengers meeting in Louisville, Ky., in June voted overwhelmingly to declare the congregation “not in friendly cooperation” for violating the convention’s bylaws prohibiting the approval, affirmation or endorsement of homosexual behavior.
The church made news in 2007 as it was deciding whether or not to include same-sex couples in a church pictorial directory. In the end, the church voted 294-182 to publish a directory without family portraits but with candid shots of members involved in various ministries and activities. In seeking to resolve the issue with the SBC’s Executive Committee, church leaders acknowledged that several homosexual members serve on congregational committees, but denied taking any official action to affirm, endorse or approve of homosexual behavior.
“Southwestern is disappointed with Dr. Cox’s decision,” said Thomas White, Southwestern’s vice president of student services and communications. “We wish he would have decided to continue his service at Southwestern; however, what the Southern Baptist Convention requires of the seminary is crystal clear on this issue.”
Brent Beasley, who became Broadway’s pastor earlier this year, said in a statement he shared with the TEXAN: “I’m sorry Southwestern and the Southern Baptist Convention put Michael in this difficult position, but from Broadway’s perspective, we’re thrilled that he made the courageous decision he did to take early retirement from Southwestern and stay at Broadway. Michael is a gifted composer and conductor, and he means a lot to our Chancel Choir and entire congregation. And continuing their relationship with Broadway is obviously important to Michael and Rhonda, as well.”
Beasley said Cox has been named the church’s composer-in-residence, a one-year appointment in addition to his serving as chancel choir director.
Broadway’s stance on homosexuality was referred to the SBC Executive Committee for study at the 2008 SBC annual meeting. Prior to a February meeting with the Executive Committee, the church stated in a letter to the committee: “Broadway has never taken any church action to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior. Broadway Baptist Church considers itself to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention and has every intention of remaining so.” It further stated, “While we extend Christian hospitality to everyone–including homosexuals–we do not endorse, approve, or affirm homosexual behavior.”
David Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church in Canyon, and president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas of which Broadway is a member, told Baptist Press in June that he had hoped Broadway would do more to make clear it opposed homosexuality. He said he had discussions with church leaders and that his involvement was “more as a pastor than as the president” of the BGCT. Lowrie said he told church leadership “that they needed to take a step beyond just making a public declaration” in a letter.
“They needed to actually express those convictions in some practical way,” Lowrie told BP. “They, for whatever reason, weren’t able to do that…. I felt that here were things that they could have done to minister to those within their church fellowship that struggled with those issues and other issues.”
He said he though a ministry within the church to help people with “unhealthy lifestyles” would have helped clarify the matter.
ATLANTA–A week after he resigned from serving as president of the North American Mission Board, Geoff Hammond said he was glad to have played a role in helping Southern Baptists “live with urgency” in reaching the continent for Christ. His remarks to the Southern Baptist TEXAN provide the first public response since the day-long meeting of the NAMB trustee board that led to the resignations of Hammond and three of his closest vice presidents.
“The events as they unfolded last Tuesday [Aug. 11] were a shock to me. Although I am not at liberty to discuss the details, needless to say my resignation was not for moral, ethical or fiduciary responsibility but there were methodological differences,” Hammond told the TEXAN in an e-mail he also made available to Baptist Press. “I still feel God led me to the North American Mission Board for a purpose–to help Southern Baptists see North America as a mission field and to live with urgency reaching this continent for Christ.”
Board chairman Tim Patterson of Florida would not elaborate on the cause of the disagreement with Hammond, stating in his Aug. 11 remarks that they “worked through some very difficult issues” and “carried out their responsibilities today in a way that has been honorable, thorough and fair.”
Patterson thanked Southern Baptists for their prayers and appealed for God’s guidance, adding “NAMB will play a key part in the Southern Baptist effort to reach North America for Christ.”
Hammond was elected president by a unanimous vote of the NAMB board in March 2007 following a nine-month search to replace the previous president, Robert E. Reccord, who resigned as president in April 2006, citing “honest philosophical and methodological differences.”
In his response to questions posed by the TEXAN, Hammond noted: “Just the week before we hosted our State Summer Leadership meeting with state [convention] partners. In talking with hundreds of those partners, I felt we had incredible momentum and synergy and were set to have one of our greatest years ever. One of the greatest joys of my life was to lead NAMB as we created, developed and introduced the national evangelism initiative to Southern Baptists, GPS–God’s Plan for Sharing,” he added.
Though initially planned as a meeting of the NAMB trustees’ executive committee to “gain clarity” on several matters of conflict, the full board was called together for what became a daylong deliberation. One trustee cited Hammond’s failure to continue working with an executive leadership coach selected by trustees, his hiring of an administrative associate without consulting trustee leadership and low morale among the staff.
As recently as May, board chairman Tim Patterson of Florida affirmed Hammond as one “who for the past two years has led NAMB with a steady, efficient and effective hand. He has consistently sounded the clarion call that North America is a mission field. And he has done all this with a Christ-like attitude that I have had the privilege to witness firsthand.”
Last year Hammond unfolded the most ambitious nationwide evangelistic strategy since the Here’s Hope emphasis, which ran from 1990-95. Tagged God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS), Interim President Richard Harris said he hope to channel even more resources for what he considers “an opportunity to make the greatest impact in the time we have.”
“However, despite what occurred, I am still grateful to have had an opportunity to influence Southern Baptists to reach North America for Christ and to help them understand that it will take missionary thinking and practices to achieve that goal. I praise the Lord that Southern Baptists are still so mission minded and we are still planting a new church in North America every six hours,” Hammond told the TEXAN. “Southern Baptists have some of the most effective servants of the Lord in their North American missionaries and partners.”
Harris told an Aug. 13 chapel gathering, “I’m going to honor the past and try to learn from the past, but every day is a new day.” He asked staffers to imagine holding in their hands the 225 million people in North America that still do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, then to look in the mirror and say, “God, I’m responsible. This is under our watch. What are we going to do?”