"Getting the Gospel to the nations" was the rallying cry that produced a 95%-plus vote to form the GCR Task Force on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville last year. Mine was one of the ballots raised in favor of forming that group, and in this part of my response to the preliminary report, I'd like to point out the things that make me glad I did:
1. Unleashing the International Mission Board on American soil. This idea has been a long-time coming, and I'm very thankful to see it endorsed by the task force. For years, NAMB and the IMB have collaborated regarding unreached people groups residing in North America. (see www.peoplegroups.info for just one example), and the IMB has been a helpful counselor in bringing the focus on missions in North America from generations and geography to people groups. "Simple church" training for multiplying disciples has been very effective in some parts of North America, and this training has been provided by--you guessed it--the International Mission Board. At the associational level, we train missions volunteers with "Frontliners," a curriculum I was privlleged to preview and consult on for presentation in North America. It was written by the former Middle America-Caribbean Region of the IMB, and is without a doubt the best training in missions philosophy and practice out there. With this recommendation, the IMB can finally function officially in a role they have already proven to be effective in a more meritorious way. In my area alone, more than 25 unreached people groups reside without an indigenous church to reach them. Over the past six years, we have planted churches among 7 language groups, including the most recent Chin Burmese church launched just three weeks ago. Yet more than 60 languages are spoken in our area. I for one will be elated to have the expertise of the International Mission Board in helping us reach the 53 language groups and more than 25 people groups who need Gospel-preaching churches in their midst.
2. The Concept of a De-centralized North American Mission Board: Since 1997, NAMB has been charged with developing a strategic framework in which contextual and regional strategies can be developed nationwide that will effectively reach North America for Christ. Even amidst all the tumultuous activity that has taken place "at the top" of this organization, NAMB has managed over the past four years to narrow their focus from nine major ministry objectives to three, thereby producing a sharper focus toward reaching North America. With this in view, it only makes sense that the next step would be to downnsize the NAMB staff accordingly, and relocate NAMB to separate regions of the continent, with the majority locations being found in new work areas. Though I remain skeptical of the apparent assumption that geographic relocation alone constitutes "de-centralization" (I'll deal with this assumption in the next post), I'm genuinely excited about the prospect of a scenario that I hope will include the sale of the lucrative real estate in Alpharetta, and the disbursment of NAMB to areas where we should be concentrating most on penetrating lostness.
3. The Concept of "Great Commission Giving." I know there are many who believe this recommendation will spell the end of Cooperative Program giving in the classical sense. I do not share their pessimism, and in fact believe that this recommendation puts appropriate pressure on associations (including the one I am privileged to lead), state conventions, and our seminaries to be worthy of those gifts. I believe that all will rise to the challenge. Furthermore, I am one who has grown tired over the years at seeing good and godly men chastised publicly simply because their churches gave to missions in a different way. One church of which I am aware gave $1.5 million directly to the IMB to help fund a church planting movement in an area of the world that is 99% Muslim. I strongly believe such gifts should be celebrated and encouraged. No level of denominational beaureacracy should dictate what is and is not appropriate "missions giving." Such decisions should be made by the local church alone, and when such churches give sacrificially to reach the nations, the SBC at all levels should celebrate God's work through them, regardless of "how" or "to whom" those gifts are credited.
4. More than 50% of Cooperative Program Dollars Directed at the International Mission Board. If there is any rationale for a church to continue to give through the Cooperative Program, this is it. For the first time in our history since the founding of the CP in 1925, more than 50% of the gifts that make it to Nashville will in turn make it to the unreached peoples of the world. That said, $3 million is not enough and frankly, I believe the Task Force can do better in this regard (this too will be addressed in future posts), but I'm excited to see any increase in the percentage of funds that go to international missions.
As I said earlier, there is much to love about this report, and the four issues mentioned above are representative of a few things that I personally find very encouraging. At the same time, there are some unintended consequences that I am afraid will result from other recommendations made--unintended consequences that could potentially weaken our efforts to reach North America, and that do not meet the need with the appropriate resources required for missions overseas. These are issues I'll deal with in the next post.