Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The GCRTF and the SBC Partnership Model

Recently the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) released their initial report. Among other things, it called for dramatic changes in the funding and structure of state conventions and NAMB, including the elimination of the long-standing cooperative agreements between the two entities. My discussion here is not to debate the spiritual reputations of the men and women of the GCR Task Force. They are all talented brothers and sisters in Christ. However, their reputations are not going to be on the floor of the convention in June. It will be the six actual recommendations of their report and the long-term ramifications that will result if adopted.

The Bible tells us to thoroughly evaluate our plans before implementation. Before drastic changes are made, it is helpful to assess the current structure in a realistic manner. Our current SBC Partnership Model, which is the state and national convention, association, and the local sponsoring church working cooperatively together to plant new churches, should be evaluated carefully before hitting the reset switch.

Evaluating Effectiveness
In the secular world, an Industry Standard is the optimum criteria for any industry to measure effectiveness within the respective field of production. When evaluating any missional structure one of the critical questions that must be answered is, “What structures are you measuring it against?

For example, take the Ford Motor Company. Ford does not expect 100% of the population to drive their cars. Rather, performance is measured in how well it does in comparison to, say, Honda in terms of market share. If Ford were outperforming every other car company, it would be unwise to throw out their overall management plan. Improve yes, overhaul no.

It is, alas, unrealistic to expect that any agency will be “100% efficient.” To seek to “do more” without knowing the current levels of effectiveness will end in frustration. Undefined performance standards are unachievable and wastes resources (i.e. unending reorganizations) that should be invested in ministry needs. What is our “Ministry Standard” to measure our current effectiveness?

To what other ministry structures were our SBC missional efforts compared? If the GCR Task Force did any comparisons, they were not in the report.

Benchmarking Effectiveness through California Church Growth, 2000-2008
The American Church Research Project (, led by David T. Olson organized statistical reports from 305,000 congregations by state and county. This research allows us to compare the effectiveness of the SBC Partnership Model against ALL other Christian and Catholic church starting ministries in California for years 2000-2008. This data allows us to move beyond inspirational challenges to numerical measurements of ministry performance. Is the current SBC Partnership Model effective in California? This is key because many SBC churches across the country support this work as they contribute to the Cooperative Program. Are their resources well spent?
Unfortunately, church planting is falling behind the tremendous population growth of California; however, evangelical churches (this includes SBC churches) are the only group in growth mode. How many churches did the SBC model plant during this time period? According to the CSBC, statistical data 1,155 SBC churches were planted between the years 2000-2008. CSBC reports an 80% success rate in its overall church planting efforts. This means that the current SBC model is producing 96% of all church starting efforts in the California evangelical world! Even with its flaws, our current model dominates the church planting structure in California. Every SBC pastor should stand up and applaud this work of God!

If we want to do more to penetrate the darkness in California, I would argue that the last thing that should be done is to start a massive overhaul of this amazing model of partnership. That will take over a decade and cost millions. Invest heavily in what is working right now, the Cooperative Program and the local Baptist association!
The current SBC Partnership Model is highly effective and it is difficult to see what could be gained for the Great Commission in engaging in a complex reorganization of resources. Can we improve? Always! But, those who are calling for SBC structures to produce “more” should provide other efficient ministry models (with data) for Southern Baptists to carefully consider.

Dr. Mike Stewart, Director of Missions
Central Coast Baptist Associations (CCBA)
San Jose, CA
(CCBA is 100% funded by its own ministries.
CSBC and all other SBC ministries are valued partners of the CCBA.
The views expressed here are his and not necessarily those of the churches of the CCBA.)

Ignore the Boneheads and Obey the Great Commission!

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a 38-year old husband, and father of three. I am an imperfect, but growing disciple of Jesus Christ, meaning that I don’t love and adore Him as I should, and conversely love and adore myself way too much at times. In spite of that, I’m grateful that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, I have a relationship with God, the assurance of ultimate escape from sin and its consequences, and the promise of heaven. Because of all that my relationship with Jesus means to me, I am anxious to talk about it with others—especially in an area where 90% of the residents don’t know Him. Fortunately, I serve a great Association—58 churches in all as of the last one we planted just a month ago—that allows me to function as a missionary among the people of central Maryland. Over the past 5 ½ years, I have worked with our churches to plant roughly 30 congregations both inside our own area, and in other areas, partnering with other associations to help their work as well. Throughout our state, I have been privileged to work with others to see more than 100 churches started in the past 5 years. We did all of this because we believe Jesus wants the people of central Maryland to know Him, and we are excited about how the Gospel will be advanced through all of these new congregations. You see, I love sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with people who don’t know Him, and I love being a DOM in an association that plants churches, because I can’t think of a better way to get that message out.

Oh, and by the way, I’m also a Calvinist.

If that last line jolted you a bit after reading the first paragraph, then you probably feel exactly the same way I felt after reading a post on the NoBA website last week from a fellow Director of Missions citing the presence of Calvinism in the SBC as one major reason we are failing in our attempts to fulfill the Great Commission. While reading, I was well educated regarding what a few like this gentleman think of men like me. For one, I had no idea that I really believed that God doesn’t really love everybody, and that salvation isn’t offered by God to every person. Moreover, I was a bit rattled to read that people like me couldn’t be trusted—that the entire SBC is in an identity crisis because of folks like me. But, the real surprise came when I read that its folks of my ilk that are responsible for the splitting of churches all over our beloved denomination. I’m sure these folks wonder how on earth a guy like me could have passed NAMB’s missionary appointment process.

That said, if you are one of those suspicious of Calvinistic thinking and think this article is being written to defend Reformed theology, let me set your mind at ease. I’m not inclined toward debating things that have been debated for half a millennium and still have no resolution within the wider body of Christ. I figure if Luther, Calvin, Huss, Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield, and Spurgeon couldn’t all hammer out their differences, this native South Carolina redneck isn’t going to figure it all out either. At the same time, the recent practice by many on both sides of this debate of tossing mischaracterizing salvos toward the other side while claiming they have no interest in fighting seems disingenuous to me. It’s sort of like marching through a trailer park denouncing pickup trucks and green Astroturf while declaring that you didn’t come to pick a fight.

Discussions of this nature could be very healthy for our denomination, if we could develop the maturity to dialogue with each other in a way that was respectful, gave the benefit of the doubt, and did not detract us from fulfilling the Great Commission . . .together! The purpose of this article is to respond to my colleague’s apparent contention that Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC can’t work together, and in fact can’t even trust each other.

After nearly 18 years in ministry, I’ve run into a few Southern Baptists like my colleague who simply assume the worst about anyone identifying themselves as a Calvinist. Over the past 10 years in particular, a lot of vitriol seems to have been expressed over this issue. Most recently, an unnamed group in west Tennessee circulated a series of papers teaching “how to find out if any of your staff are Calvinists and how to get rid of them.” Apparently, the rabid non-Calvinist answer to the “troublemaking” Calvinists is to make more trouble, start a war, and then accuse the other side of firing the first shot. Nice.

And to be fair, the Calvinists have contributed their own share of fecal matter to this mess. Just two weeks ago, I was appalled to see many of my fellow Calvinists across the country using the internet to speak in degrading terms about Rick Warren—some even going so far as to say he didn’t preach the “true Gospel.” After speaking my mind to them regarding their immature and myopic view of the Kingdom of God, some of them turned on me, sending me private emails accusing me of enabling false doctrine, fraternizing with false prophets, and compromising the purity of the Gospel.

What’s weird about all this is that my experiences in Maryland don’t reflect the theological civil war that seems to be inevitably fought over this issue in some other parts of the Convention. Among our 58 churches, we have pastors who would identify as Calvinists and others who would never wear such a label. And, these men have planted churches together! (Oh, the shame of it all indeed!) These men differ greatly on the doctrine of election, and they hold their views with strong conviction. But they aren’t so angry about what they believe that they refuse to cooperate (now, there is a good Baptist word!) with others for the sake of making Jesus known among the lost. This is exactly what Ed Stetzer meant when he said that the SBC must “welcome young, Missional Calvinists.” Though I won’t claim to speak for Stetzer, I’m betting he would be OK with me saying we should welcome any Biblically-sound Christ-follower who is missional, regardless of their soteriology.

Additionally, I would guess that at least ¼ of the church planters we have put in the field in the past five years would—if asked directly—identify themselves as Calvinists. After seeing people saved who would likely not be saved if it weren’t for their new churches, they too would be shocked at how they are portrayed by some in our Convention. Conversely, the less-Reformed planters among us would also be shocked to know that some think they really don’t preach a “pure Gospel,” particularly that same group of Calvinists angry that Rick Warren and John Piper are actually speaking to each other and talking about [gasp] doing ministry together!

So, after all these experiences, here is one man’s take on this issue. The problem in our Convention is not the Calvinists, nor is it the non-Calvinists. The problem in our Convention is that we have entirely too many boneheads! We aren’t reaching North America and the world, to a large extent, because we are giving an inordinate amount of attention to people more committed to proving the other side wrong than they are to proving Jesus right to an unbelieving world. 165 years ago, our Southern Baptist forebears had differences over these same issues, yet still managed to work together to build what today is the greatest missions-sending delivery system in the world! Those saints who helped start our denomination would likely be ashamed of a few of their great-great grandchildren today if they knew how we were letting issues of this nature divide us and get us off mission.

The fight over Calvinism is but one example of a larger problem that we often find we have in the SBC—allowing the fringe on both extremes of an issue to dictate the subject and terms of the argument. Hyper-Calvinists afraid to witness for fear of sharing Christ with someone who is “non-elect,” Hyper-Fundamentalists afraid to sit down with someone that uses a translation other than the KJV, and Hyper-Dispensationalists afraid to fellowship with anyone who doesn’t have the Jack Van Impe program on their pre-set channel list are probably the least qualified among us to decide what are and are not important subjects of conversation.

Here in Maryland, we prefer to allow Jesus and His Great Commission to set our agenda. For the past 5½ years its worked pretty well, and is certainly appreciated by the folks who typically find themselves in the middle of all the arguments; all those good Baptist men and women who hold to varying views on a number of things, but who agree that men and women are fallen in sin, separated from God, hopeless and headed toward an eternity in hell apart from Christ. But we also agree that Jesus came into the world, lived a sinless life and thus became man’s righteousness, died as a substitute bearing the wrath of God in the place of sinners, and rose bodily from the dead. Best of all, we agree that anyone who hears this amazing story, repents of his or her sin and places all of their hope and faith in what Jesus did will have the same relationship with God, deliverance from judgment, and promise of heaven that I have now. To us, those truths far outweigh whatever secondary differences we might have with each other.

Of course, I recognize that many in our Convention would rather fight over this issue. Some have even suggested that the recent GCR movement is a clandestine plot by which Calvinists aim to take over the Convention (if so, someone should probably warn Johnny Hunt and Frank Page, both of whom serve on the GCR Task Force and neither of whom would ever claim to be a Calvinist.) Many have almost certainly categorized me and anyone else who shares my soteriology under “heretic” (I just hope they remembered to put Spurgeon’s name on that list too. Also William Carey. Oh yeah, and the majority of the folks who helped start the International Mission Board in 1845).

Others in the extreme Calvinist camp would also rather divide over how many petals are on one’s TULIP than to unite around the death and resurrection of Jesus. I can’t be responsible for their beliefs on the subject. What I can do is simply talk about Jesus. It’s the whole reason I came to Maryland in the first place. If you would like to join me in that effort, I’d love to have your help. There are lots of people out there who don’t know Him, and neither the Calvinists nor the non-Calvinists in our Convention have the ability to reach them without their brothers in the other camp. We need each other, and the world needs Jesus. That said, it’s time to stop fighting, ignore the boneheads, and do what He left us here to do.

Joel O. Rainey, Ph.D.
Director of Missions/Church Planting Missionary
Mid-Maryland Baptist Association
Eldersburg, MD

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Great Commission, YES - GCR, NO

It is as though an outside consulting firm has been hired to do an efficiency study of the Southern Baptist Convention. In reading the progress report, it is obvious the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has made a very serious attempt to say something significant, while at the same time ignoring some harsh realities. The Chairman stated at the first listening session “Our commission is to reveal the honest and true status of this denomination.” Can it be that we have some family secrets we do not want everyone to know? We may have wasted thousands of Cooperative Program dollars on the GCRTF and the most tangible suggestion so far is to raise the International Mission Board budget by 1 per cent.

The first two components refer to trust as a part of our cooperative relationships. Trust may be hard to come by in the midst of an identity crisis in the SBC. A Director at Lifeway has said “If our confession is to have any integrity, we need to welcome young missional Calvinists.” I, for one, have a problem trusting someone who does not believe God loves everyone and does not believe Jesus died so that all people would have the opportunity to receive God’s gift of salvation. How can we build trust when an unsuspecting congregation listens to the recommendation of a denominational employee when calling a pastor, only to find out after the church is in turmoil and mission giving is down, that their pastor is a Calvinist? Thirty years ago we learned there does come a breaking point.

An outsider would think it makes sense for NAMB to save $50.6 million by eliminating Cooperative Agreements with state conventions. Of course, they would not understand the source of the $50.6 million and therefore would not equate the reduction of expenditures with the reduction of revenue. There is no simple solution but I suspect the outcome would ultimately be catastrophic in our pioneer mission areas.

The idea of removing the responsibility for Cooperative Program promotion and Stewardship Education from any of our organizations, at any level, seems to be a shallow attempt to make some kind of statement. Could this really be just fodder for a report? We are all in this together; the SBC, State Conventions, Associations and local churches. It is not a major part of any budget, but it is a vital part of every budget.

The statement given by a GCRTF leader in a listening session “A church ought to be judged on the dollars it is giving—rather than the percentage…” strikes at the very heart of Biblical stewardship and is contrary to where most Southern Baptists are. Large numbers impress some people but Jesus told us He is impressed by the large percentage given by the widow. To come up with a new name for non-Cooperative Program giving simply renames a line item already on the Annual Church Profile. Every year our churches report Cooperative Program giving and also Total Missions giving. Will we celebrate it more by calling it Great Commission Giving? Will we give more?

I am excited about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, but we come again to a crossroads. Our best days are ahead of us as a denomination if we will reclaim our doctrinal integrity and commitment to the true Gospel. God will do a mighty work among us as we live out the Great Commission as Evangelical Christians. Or, we will embrace the doctrines of the Primitive Baptists and others and become just another ecumenical denomination in decline. The path we choose will determine the extent to which our churches will support the Cooperative Program.

Jerry W. Nash, Director of Missions
Harmony Baptist Association
Trenton, Florida