The GCR was a failure.
The GCR was a waste of time.
The GCR was a backroom deal proven by the sealing of their documents.
It has become almost a truism in certain circles of Southern Baptist life that the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, the Report they produced, and that which has resulted from that, was a tremendous failure. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so is effectiveness. Some, disdainful of the direction and priorities of current convention leaders, have little choice but to see the initiatives of those leaders as failures. Others, more balanced in their perspective of our leaders and their direction, still see the GCR as a misdirected effort. Others have given a positive perspective on the effects of the GCR. Some have challenged the meme that the GCR was an unquestioned failure. If you hear our current president talk about the GCR, you will hear a glowing report of success that varies greatly from the doom and gloom of the negative nellies.
Which side has the truth? It’s been almost 6 years since we adopted the GCR. How do we judge whether or not it was a success? Each of us will use our own standards. I would say the following.
1. It is not fair to create an artificial standard of judgment for the GCR.
The SBC continues to struggle annually when our statistical reports are released. We are continuing our numerical slide, which actually began six decades ago (I wrote on this in 2013). Our growth rate slowed gradually, then we plateaued, and now we’ve begun to decline. The decline began about a decade ago, so some want to pin it on the Calvinism wars. The plateau came some time before that, making it convenient to affix blame on the conservative resurgence of the 80s. But the slide really began back in the early 50s, when the Southern Baptist Convention bought into a model that emphasized culture over kingdom. Read Alan Cross’s book “When Heaven and Earth Collide,” for a better understanding.
Those who disdain the GCR often point out that the statistical decline has continued in spite of the passing of the GCR. “I thought the GCR was supposed to turn this around,” some have stated sarcastically. That is not fair. A convention proposal cannot magically fix a 60-year convention problem quickly.
2. We are a convention of churches – our problems are church problems, and people problems.
This is the ultimate problem with a convention of congregational churches. We cannot fix our problems at the convention level. There are things we can do better. Perhaps Frank Page can change a few things, and David Platt and Kevin Ezell, and other leaders. But we are a convention of churches and our problems are not primarily convention problems but church problems. We are congregational churches so the problems in those churches are not just church problems but people problems.
The GCR could only deal with systemic and convention problems, but our real problems are at the personal and church level. Those take longer to fix. The GCR addressed those to some extent but did cannot fix them.
3. To condemn the GCR because the records were sealed is unfair.
In nine years the GCR records will be unsealed. If I’ve still around and blogging, that will be a big day. I have a feeling it will be a bit like the day that Geraldo opened Al Capone’s vault. But much has been made of fact that the records of the deliberations of the GCR Task Force were sealed. Aha! Proof positive that shenanigans were happening. My opinion is that the furor is unfair. Our church just commissioned a task force to study an issue and they produced a report. They did interviews and had discussions. The only thing they published was their final report. That’s pretty much standard. You have the freedom to discuss things in committee, to ask questions privately and confidentially. Then, you produce a public document – standard operating procedure.
But even if you are one of those suspecting a deep dark conspiracy in the sealing of the records, that should be a separate issue. Judge the document on it’s own merits. When the records are unsealed we can fight about the fairness of the process again, but the convention adopted the report and that report ought to be the standard for its judgment.
4. The fairest way to judge the GCR is to look at what it recommended.
The final report of the GCR made seven recommendations to the convention – specific, measurable recommendations. We ought to be able to judge the GCR by that standard. The convention approved the document. Has it been a success? If we want to judge the GCR, let’s examine the document and judge it according to the purposes that it set forth.
A PDF of the GCR’s final report with recommendations can be found here, if you wish to read it.
The document identifies 7 components and then presented 7 recommendations to the convention, all of which were approved.
In the next few weeks, leading up to the convention, I intend to review the seven components and recommendations of the SBC’s Great Commission Task Force and review them individually. How have we done? Was the process successful? Was it a waste of time? I’m going to ask some of my fellow contributors to join in the process as well.
Let me reveal my perspective. I voted for the GCR, but I did not expect it to save our denomination from all of our problems. I think there were some good ideas in it and some I was not as enthusiastic about. As a pastor involved in a new-work state, the relationship of NAMB to the state conventions is always a concern and there was quite a bit of roiling about that during the discussion leading up to the vote. One of our state staff members accused me of being “against” the BCI and said he hoped to get me back “one their side” just because I said on this blog that I was going to vote for the plan. But I did vote for it. I sat in a group of friends from the upper Midwest and I think I was the only person in the section who was a “yes” vote. But I was a cautious, tepid, yes. There were two reasons.
- What we had been doing had not been working so well that we could refuse to change.
- There was enough good in the GCR that I thought it was worth a try.
So, in the weeks to come, and before the SBC in St. Louis, I hope to do a series of posts about the various components and recommendations of the GCR. Old news, you say? I don’t think so. It might surprise you to know that it has guided more to the direction of the SBC in the last 6 years than we have realized.
Has it been a success?
Well, that’s the question. Before you start offering judgments, though, could I make one request? Go back and read the report one more time? Let’s be fair.