A story in the Florida Baptist Witness begins by trumpeting that “no question was turned down” during a dialogue Aug. 26 between four members of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and 400 people attending a luncheon. But a careful reading of the article reveals sticky issues that weren’t adequately answered.
The first issue focused on is loyalty to the Cooperative Program (CP) -- the SBC’s method of distributing money. Churches send money to state Baptist conventions, which keep a share and send the rest to the SBC.
Many Southern Baptists, especially older church-goers, regard the CP as nearly sacred.
Many younger Baptists, however, have much less denominational loyalty and question why they should support the SBC.
Complicating the issue are the amounts sent to the CP by the churches of those who serve on the task force. Several questioners, according to the Witness article, said it sent a "mixed signal" when task force members’ churches do not contribute at an average level of CP giving.
Baptist Press, the official news agency of the SBC, detailed the percentage of undesignated funds in commission member church budgets that is sent to the CP.
Three of the commissioners' churches were not reported.
Out of the remaining 20, BP reported that 14 sent less than five percent to the CP and seven sent 2.5 percent or less. Only three of the 20 sent more than 10 percent, although two others were close -- 9.9 percent and 9.8 percent respectively. Another was 9.4 percent.
The highest was 18.3 percent.
SBC president Johnny Hunt, who appointed the task force as required by a directive from messengers at the SBC annual meeting in June, and who also serves on the commission, responded to a question about CP giving. Hunt -- whose church gave 2.5 percent of its $17.45 million in undesignated receipts to CP -- said his church had given a total of $3.6 million to “Southern Baptist causes.”
"But it's not Cooperative Program missions," responded Jim Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Seneca, Mo., who asked the question.
Al Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. and a member of the task force, appealed for local churches to exercise their autonomy in deciding how best to deliver mission dollars to the field.
“Quite frankly, our church could care less about how folks outside count our loyalty," he said, discounting attempts to quantify a church's commitment to missions by citing its gifts to the traditional Cooperative Program funding mechanism. "It's a game the next generation is sick of and they have no desire to have that kind of loyalty pin. We'd better wake up and listen to that," he said.
Hunt hinted that he might be interested in changing the formula for division of CP funds between international and national missions efforts. He said he wants to "get the dollars to the pockets of lostness, instead of the majority staying in the States or in the country we're in."
The task force is reportedly reviewing an analysis showing the denomination spends per capita 33 times more for missions in North America than it does for the rest of the world.
But the most disturbing revelation in the article lay in the way the panelists answered questions. In response to a question about some task force members’ ties to a controversial pastor who is admired by some younger pastors, a seminary president said he was glad his students didn’t hear it and called for the need to “elevate the discussion.”
Worse, Hunt showed a propensity to answer questions by asking a question in return. Two questioners called for greater representation from smaller churches.
For example, according the BP profile, 16 of the 23 members attend churches with an average worship attendance of more than 2,000. While only two have an average worship attendance of less than 200.
Hunt’s response when asked about that: "Does it matter the size church you serve or does it still matter where you've been?"
When someone asked about a rumor that the task force’s plan would "deemphasize church planting and evangelism in America," Hunt said, "An even greater question is who's addressing the poor journalism that would allow reporting that we may be attempting to disassemble NAMB,” the SBC’s North American Mission Board.
These responses, coupled with the task force’s decision to meet behind closed doors, did little to raise the confidence level among those in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
A group that could call for a major restructuring of the convention can expect skepticism in response to a pose which in effect says, "Trust us. We know what we're doing."