In the six years since the SBC adopted the Great Commission Resurgence report, “Penetrating the Lostness,” we’ve not seen a dramatic turnaround in our statistical decline and because of that, the effort has been written off as a failure, a waste of time. It is my intention to review the work of the GCR and ask the question, did it really do anything? Was it a failure and a waste of time as so many have assumed, or has there been some good that came of it? My intent in the weeks leading up to the SBC Annual Meeting is to look at each of the seven recommendations the report included and see if progress has been made.
But I will begin the process today with the section of the report which struck me the hardest when I first read it – the introduction. In that part, the task force identified the heart of the problem and it is not pretty. That not only was the heart of the problem but the source of much of the heat surrounding the report.
The problem is pretty simple and though they stated it a bit more tactfully than I will it is pretty clear.
We have a Great Commission problem because of a growing selfishness among Southern Baptists, our churches and even, perhaps, our structures.
Jesus came to lay down his life for us. Jesus said that anyone who would be his disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him.” In America, we’ve said the opposite. Faith is about self-affirmation, achieving your best life now, getting all you can from God. We’ve created a fictional Christianity in which God serves our needs and desires instead of heeding the call of God to give up everything for Christ.
The Great Commission has been a casualty in this deception. Only those who walk the way of the cross will pay the price to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. When we buy into the false gospel of self-affirmation, when we adopt our own version of the prosperity gospel (God wants our churches big and hip), our churches will not be Great Commission friendly.
The analysis of the second page identifies the problem, “Urgency: A World of Lostness,” and makes it clear that our denomination needs to take radical steps to refocus ourselves on the work Christ gave us. Unfortunately, though some things have changed for the good in 6 years the basics of this discouraging report remain unchanged and our statistical decline continues.
But the information in the next section, “Reality: What is Holding Us Back?” is what grabbed my heart the first time I read it. The facts are uncontested and the interpretation of those facts seems incontestable to me. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there our heart is. When we examine where we invest our earthly treasure shows there can be little doubt that American’s treasure, in general, is not the Great Commission, but comfort, indulgence, and the enjoyment of earthly riches.
Unfair? You tell me!
The statistic that turns my stomach is this – The average Southern Baptist gives 2.5% of his or her income to gospel causes. I know a lot of good Baptist folks who tithe and give well above a tithe, so if the average is only 2.5%, that tells you that many people give little or nothing to cause of Christ.
- Think of it this way. The average Southern Baptist keeps 97.5% of his or her income for personal causes.
There is a debate on whether Christians are required to tithe in the New Testament. I don’t believe tithing is the New Testament standard – it’s actually a higher standard, defined in 2 Corinthians 8-9. “They gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability.” New Testament Christians were so devoted to the cause of Christ that they gave all they could and even more to the cause of the gospel. The idea of giving 2.5% would have been unthinkable to them.
When the average Christian is giving 2.5% – the AVERAGE Baptist – we cannot say we are a Great Commission people. We are a selfish people, an indulgent people, devoted more to our own comfort and pleasure than to the cause of Christ.
The next statistic that bothered me was that average CP giving had fallen to 6%. It is my understanding that in the intervening 6 years that statistic has fallen even more. I understand that some churches are going “do-it-yourself” on missions, either doing direct support for missionaries or spending their missions budget on mission trips and other internal projects. But the fact is that churches are keeping around 94% of their budget on themselves.
- Think of it this way. The average Southern Baptist church keeps well over 90% of its offerings for itself.
Again, there is no formula for what makes a church mission-minded (that’s our old-fogey term, before you youngsters whipped up that missional thing). But when well over 90% of what I put in the offering plate stays at the church, that is likely a signal that the church is mimicking the self-centered values of the self-centered people. Which is the cause and which is the effect? I don’t know. But selfish people have selfish churches and selfish churches tend to produce selfish people.
There will be no “Great Commission Resurgence” until we restore a biblical sense that Christianity is not about self-fulfillment and achieving our dreams, but that it is about dying to self and being raised to walk a new life in Christ.
Until we come to understand self-sacrifice, self-denial – NO, death! – as the heart of Christianity, we will never do anything but spin our wheels and wonder why we can’t gain traction.
The most controversial part, of course, was this: that state conventions were keeping about 63% of CP money for themselves and only sending 37% on to the SBC. This created a sense of competition between national entities and state conventions and was the genesis of a lot of criticism. However, it should be noted that in the years since, the state conventions have responded well, making significant cuts in their bureaucracy to put more people on the field.
If the third section is true, if we truly believe the theology that undergirds the Great Commission – that all are sinners and need Christ – then we have no choice but to deny ourselves and follow Christ on the way of the cross.
There are aspects of the GCR I never cared much for or was enthused about.
- I am convinced that the problems of our “convention of churches” are primarily church problems. Since our churches are congregational in nature, that means that our issues are primarily people problems. Solutions to the problems we have cannot be institutional or denominational, but personal and ecclesiological. Thus, I was never sure the GCR was going to work.
- As a pastor in a new work state, some of the changes seemed to impact us disproportionately (and that has proved to be the effect, in my opinion).
- I am not sure that SBC presidents are supposed to be setting up task forces and doing these sorts of initiatives. I agree with an unnamed friend of mine (I won’t name the Texas pastor I’ve traveled to Africa with without his permission) who has told me often that a primary task of the president is to focus on making good appointments. When presidents pour themselves into these kinds of initiatives there is a danger that they will farm out their most important duty, that of making key appointments.
- I voted for the GCR but was hardly a passionate supporter.
But this analysis was so spot-on that I found myself positively disposed toward the GCR. I wanted to “give it a chance.”
GCR or anti-GCR, we can disagree on the solution. But can we at least agree on the true heart of the problem in the average American church and in far too many SBC churches? We’ve adopted a watered-down form of the prosperity gospel. Life is about me. God wants me to be happy and successful. God wants my church to grow and be big. We’ve adopted “therapeutic moral deism” instead of the call to die with Christ and live for him. Instead of us existing for God’s glory and purposes, God exists for our happiness and achievement.
Of course, many churches and many church members are doing it right. But the statistics seem undeniable to me. There are far too many self-centered Christians in our churches and too many churches focused on “building our church” instead of reaching the world.
For this Southern Baptist preacher, the introduction was worth it even if the rest of the document was completely vacuous.