For almost six years, I have served the Lord, the churches of my association, and those separated from Jesus in central Maryland. After spending some time planting churches in the south and teaching adjuctively, our family answered God's call to come to the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor to work with what was then about 40 churches in reaching a population of more than 1.2 million who live in the area between these two large cities. Over that time, we have seen God do some incredible things. We have seen lives changed by the Gospel, more than 25 new churches started in our associational area, and roughly 100 more churches started in partnership with our state convention and in different parts of the world through our international work. Its been quite a ride!
With all this in view, it goes without saying that I was excited to see a Task Force appointed at last year's SBC to examine whether we could do more of this very thing--in more effective ways. My signature was among the first electronically afixed to the "Axioms" document, and as a missionary in the field, I waited to see what the initial results of their work might look like. After hearing the report, having the opportunity to hear directly from Task Force members, advocates and opponents of the initial recommendations, and spending some time reflecting on how these recommendations might affect our work here, as well as mission work around the world, I still don't think myself able to speak to the report in the fullest sense that I would wish. Still, I do believe I have a pretty good handle on the implications of what the Task Force is recommending, and believe I can provide an analysis that gives the perspective of a guy "in the field."
As an association, our On Mission Council (i.e. Executive Board) have all read the report, read the responses, had their own conversations with Task Force members, and sought to anticipate what this means for an association of 58 churches in central Maryland. They asked me to speak to the report, interpreting as best as I can the implications, both for ourselves and the rest of the Southern Baptist Convention. What will follow is a three-part analysis I will provide for our churches--and whoever else might be interested--on their behalf.
Next week, I will post Part I, which will deal specifically with areas of agreement. There are many. In fact, there is much, MUCH to love about this initial report, and I want to latch on to that greater vision of accomplishing the Great Commission together, and doing it more effectively.
In Part II, I will note areas of concern. Specifically, I will note areas where, as it appears to me, some of the proposed plans of the Task Force are unconnected to the original GCR declaration, and may in fact weaken our abilities to advance the Kingdom of God together. Any restructuring plan as complex as this one will never be without unintended consequences. Nevertheless, I will seek to point out some areas where--as an "insider" to our mission work in a new work area, we may want the Task Force to take a second look.
Part III is the result of a direct question I was asked by our Association's On Mission Council: "What would you do if it were up to you to structure the SBC for more effective Great Commission ministry?" Our pastors--rightly--think it is not enough to simply critique, but also to offer helpful solutions. I will seek to do that in this final part for the six or seven people who will be left reading by that point. :)
To be honest, I struggled for several weeks as to whether I should even speak publicly to the GCR at all. With all the unhelpful rhetoric on both sides out there, the last thing I want to do is join a verbal fight. To be honest, I've got better things to do. So why did I ultimately decide to speak to this?
In short, it is because I love the Southern Baptist Convention. I was brought to faith in Jesus in an SBC church, baptized in an SBC church, ordained by an SBC church, and trained in an SBC seminary. After nearly 18 years of ministry I have been on both the giving and receiving end of Cooperative Program dollars. Though it is far from a perfect system, I have experienced the incredible Kingdom advance that results when we are firing on all cylinders, and like the Task Force, I want to see our churches pushing back the darkness here, and all over the world.
So in that spirit, I'll look forward to offering to our churches, and anyone else willing to listen, what I hope will be a helpful, substantive contribution to this discussion. Additionally, I pray God continues to use our collaborative work as 40,000+ churches to bring the Gospel to everyone in the world.