(Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift. If he’s not in your feed, he should be.)
The Great Commission Resurgence. This was the rallying cry of the new SBC 2-3 years ago. Southern Baptists had a task force that met for a year and made recommendations to the convention that dealt with funding mechanisms, an emphasis on church planting, and a suggestion to get more money from state conventions to the International and North American Mission Boards. These are good suggestions, but they weren’t exactly the things that would lead to a true, grassroots resurgence of the Great Commission on the front lines of Southern Baptist life – the local church. We’ve had some tinkering with our entities, some coalescing of power in the upper echelons of Baptist life, some more money flowing in particular directions – that’s about it. I am not even saying that the changes approved 2 years ago are bad. Honestly, they might be fine suggestions for those entities. But, I can tell you that any movement toward a Great Commission “Resurgence” is not evident, nor do I see any real move toward it in the only place that matters – the local church.
The thing is, I am not hearing anything about the GCR. Not a thing. I haven’t heard anything about it in over a year. No one is talking about it, nor are we talking about how local churches are going to lead the Convention. We just had a name change committee that met over the past year to give us a nickname – Great Commission Baptists, because they found out that it would be financially and legally irresponsible to actually change our name. So, we have a nickname now that is supposed to give us a better reputation. But, a self-appointed nickname does not make for a Great Commission Resurgence. It is almost as if we engaged in a lot of sound and fury to make some cosmetic changes and move some things around. But, cosmetics will not bring about revival or resurgence or a missional awakening or even greater personal devotion to Christ. Only faith and repentance will do that and the repentance we need is to turn from everything we have trusted in apart from Christ, including our size, wealth, influence, power, knowledge, strategic plans, and history. We need Jesus to stir our hearts.
But, by every possible metric, the decline continues.
Baptisms keep dropping.
Church attendance keeps dropping.
Giving keeps dropping.
People keep turning to idols in increasing numbers.
Maybe all of this is necessary. Perhaps it is all inevitable and maybe there is nothing that can be done – what is dying will die and that is all there is to it and there are cultural and social tsunamis happening that cannot be defended against. Maybe God is doing something different and the institutional church and the SBC is not meant to continue on as a strong convention of churches. Maybe a pruning is needed. Jesus Himself said he would cut off every branch that does not bear fruit (John 15). Maybe. Some might say that.
But, I still think that there is a call upon us to repent, return to the Lord as our only hope, and believe God to make all things new. I believe that God can do anything, even revive and awaken churches. I even think that God can cause churches to work together and support one another and be the hands and feet of Jesus in a community – together. So, because of this, I believe that there is hope for a real Great Commission Resurgence, one that happens in the hearts and hallways of every believer and church in the SBC and not just in the boardrooms of our agencies.
What if? What if, over the next 6 months to a year, all employees and executives of Baptist entities, state conventions, and local associations endeavored to meet with local pastors and church leaders in small groups in their communities for the purpose of finding ways that they could work together on the ground for the purpose of witnessing to Jesus where they are? What if, those same Baptist workers, also encouraged those local believers and leaders to talk about how they could work together globally? The IMB could then serve that movement. What if we tried to find ways that we could specifically demonstrate unity, sacrificial love, and support for other believers in our communities so that the world would know that Jesus is real? Then, we might take a step to fulfill both the Great Commandment AND the Great Commission.
What if the leadership of our seminaries, missions agencies, and other entities actually put real effort toward bringing us together relationally instead of just through the giving of money so that other people can do the work? What if stronger churches helped weaker churches with their mission instead of being content to receive their people because they offer better programs so they can grow their own churches at the expense of others? What if we all worked together to serve and love and preach and demonstrate the Gospel of Jesus to our communities?
I am sitting at the Alabama Baptist State Evangelism Conference and am listening to Frank Page speak about the state of evangelism in the SBC as I think about these things. He just said that personal evangelism is at an all-time low in Southern Baptist life at the highest levels – meaning the local church. He is saying that we now look at personal evangelism with aspersion. We think it is beneath us and that people are not interested in spiritual things. That is a heart issue. We are full of unbelief. Rearranging entity structures will not bring a resurgence and obviously, it has not. We need to actually meet with people, pray, listen, get involved with others, and speak the Word to one another to build our faith. But, we cannot do that when the main things that we want are power and more money. We cannot spread faith until we are willing to suffer alongside those who have lost it or have never had it in the first place.
We need to quit mobilizing, recruiting, and fundraising for our things and start healing, restoring, and journeying with one another, arm in arm. I truly believe that a real GCR, or the beginnings of it, could be just 6 to 12 months away if we would do the work of the ministry instead of just talking about it and expecting others to do it. If only 20% of SBC churches and pastors, participated and worked together, that would be over 8,000 churches working together in new and fresh ways. Something would happen in our communities. From that base, those churches could draw in others and plant new churches in areas of need. SBC entities need to stop dictating and directing the work and asking to be given more and more money and begin facilitating and serving the work that could only truly happen in the local church in unnamed and out of the way places. In an age of technological innovation that is making grassroots social entrepreneurship possible, the very best tool we have for reaching the world for Christ happens to be the very one that Jesus instituted – Hia church. What if we really believed that?
Then, we would not need to give ourselves a nickname. We would be known simply as those who follow Jesus and we might find a resurgence of many things that are needed.