ORLANDO, Fla.–After nearly a year of formulation and discussion among Southern Baptists and the pleas of proponents to “penetrate lostness,” messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 15 adopted, after lengthy discussion, a list of strategic and organizational recommendations aimed at fueling a resurgence of global gospel advancement.
The seven recommendations offered by the 22-member Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, appointed in June 2009 by SBC President Johnny Hunt at the direction of last year’s messengers, included a 30-word convention vision statement, a list of core values, and five “requests” referred to the SBC Executive Committee and other specified entities that might affect changes in the convention missions enterprise.
Prior to the floor debate, GCR Task Force chairman Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas referenced the words of 19th-century abolitionist William Wilberforce in urging messengers to action.
“There are literally billions of people in the world today who are enslaved in their sin and who will perish without the savior named Jesus Christ ? but after today you can’t say that you did not know,” Floyd said.
Floyd closed his part of the task force report by pointing to previous watershed convention meetings in 1925, the year the Cooperative Program was adopted, and 1979, the year the conservative theological resurgence began.
“And today in 2010, what are we going to do? This is our moment. This is our time. The future is now,” Floyd said.
The raised-ballot vote was called at the podium following more than 90 minutes of debate. Floyd told reporters at a press conference after the vote that parliamentarians estimated the report was carried by 75-80 percent of voting messengers. Messenger registration at the Orange County Convention Center at the time of the vote was announced at 10,994.
The debate was at times spirited, but polite. Objections to adopting the recommendations ranged from a desire for another year of study to concern that language recognizing non-CP missions giving would hurt missionaries on the field, while supporters spoke of a dual need for “structural reform and spiritual renewal” as well as the urgency of the gospel.
David Tolliver, Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive director, and a messenger from Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo., made a motion asking the task force to refer the entire report to the SBC Executive Committee for “study and evaluation.”
“I never want to be an obstructionist. I never want to vote, ‘No,’” Tolliver said in explaining his motion. “We haven’t counted the cost. Let’s take a year and then let us vote on the work with full knowledge,” he said, citing Luke 14:28 where the Scripture talks about counting the cost before undertaking a task.
Tolliver’s motion was defeated after task force member R. Albert Mohler Jr. defended the report as worded, noting that it was drafted carefully—with advice from the SBC’s legal counsel—as a list of requests giving “due deference” to the respective trustee boards in keeping with SBC polity.
Former SBC president and Atlanta-area pastor James Merritt pleaded with messengers to adopt the report.
“This task force is not coming to you to ask you to shift the chairs on the Titanic,” Merritt said. “In fact, we [the SBC] haven’t even been doing that.”
Mike Smith, a North American Mission Board church planter in Washington state, spoke in favor of adopting the task force report as it was worded, arguing that the recommendations would lead to NAMB having “ownership of its employees” and allow it to “continue to fund what works and stop funding what doesn’t work.”
Several motions to amend the recommendations were offered and defeated, leading to a brokered amendment between John Waters, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Statesboro, GA., and the task force. It was adopted after concern by Jan Bryant, a messenger from Morrow Baptist Church in Morrow, Ohio, that messengers were “being bullied” during the debate.
After Bryant’s comment, dialogue halted briefly as Hunt, the SBC president and presiding chair of the business sessions, conferred with parliamentarian Barry McCarty.
McCarty, noting that a substitute amendment agreeable to both Waters and the task force was coming, told messengers: “Please be patient with one another and patient with the committee. Everyone is trying to ascertain what’s best here, listening to the messengers, listening to the committee, listening to God and each heart. So, thank you so much for your patience. We’ll always try as hard as we can to try to ascertain what it is that you’re trying to do.”
What resulted was an amendment that altered recommendation number three’s language lauding “Great Commission Giving” to enhance and celebrate” the 85-year-old Cooperative Program missions funding plan and the “generous support of Southern Baptists channeled through their churches.”
The amendment added the words “and to continue to affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach. We affirm that designated gifts to special causes are to be considered as a supplement and not as a substitute to Cooperative Program giving.”
Bill Sutton, a messenger from First Baptist Church in McAllen, Texas, made a motion to “postpone indefinitely” the vote on the report so that more time could be given for it to be considered. Sutton said his motion stemmed from a concern the report “has been divisive, which I believe does not indicate God’s blessing, and if we are going to reach the nations and pierce the darkness we’ve got to do it together as one.” Sutton’s motion was defeated after Floyd spoke against it on behalf of the task force.
“We are absolutely confident that the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando did not come here to leave and do nothing more than what we’re doing about the Great Commission,” Floyd said.
Florida messenger Darrell Orman, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Stuart and trustee of the SBC Executive Committee, spoke in favor of the first amendment offered by Waters of Georgia that would have eliminated the “Great Commission Giving” language in recommendation three, explaining that his visits with a missionary daughter led him to believe in the crucial nature of the CP.
“We need to be careful with something God has blessed for all these years,” Orman pleaded.
In addition to the convention vision statement to “present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations,” and eight core values of Christ-likeness, truth, unity, relationships, trust, future, local church and kingdom, the recommendations request the SBC’s Executive Committee to:
>consider new language honoring the cooperative Program missions funding plan and that designated giving to SBC causes be esteemed under the title “Great Commission Giving”;
>consider revising NAMB’s ministry assignment in light of the task force’s focus on more effectively reaching unreached peoples and regions in North America;
>in conjunction with the International Mission Board, consider a revised ministry assignment, freeing the IMB to help reach unreached and underserved people groups irrespective of geographic boundaries, including with North America;
>consider working with states in a comprehensive CP promotion and stewardship education plan “in alignment with the report”;
>consider recommending a CP allocation budget shifting 1 percent from its work to the IMB, increasing the mission board’s CP percentage to 51 percent of the SBC budget.
The recommendations correspond with seven components, each outlined in the GCR Task Force’s report, titled “Penetrating the Lostness.”
At one point in the debate, James Goforth Sr., a messenger from Camp Ground Baptist Church in Alto, Texas, prompted a motion to end discussion, pray and vote on the motion at hand, leading Hunt to lead in prayer in the middle of the debate.
Hunt’s prayer noted the divergent views among the messenger body and acknowledged the well-known opposition to the recommendations by retiring EC President Morris Chapman, who spoke passionately against the GCR report earlier in the day, thanking God that he and Chapman were able to speak their convictions freely.
“Lord,” Hunt prayed, “we just ask that your sovereign will be done, not our will, Father, but your will be done.”