GCR Myth #2: The goal of [certain members of] the Task Force is to turn North American church planting over to Acts 29 or to at least enter into a formal partnership with them.

This myth may be my favorite because of the incredible imagination needed to come up with it! The creative imaginations behind this myth deserve a medal. The fact is that Acts 29 has never been an item on the GCRTF agenda. In fact, I suspect a number of the Task Force members have never heard of Acts 29. Amazingly, this was my experience when meeting with leadership at NAMB several years ago. Acts 29 was unknown to them.

Now, several of us are appreciative of certain aspects, goals and strategies of Acts 29 and their passion for church planting. Do I think we can learn from them? Yes. Would I support a formal partnership? No. Would I support turning North American church planting over to them? Never! I am quite confident my feelings would reflect the sentiments of the rest of the GCRTF were our discussions ever to turn to Acts 29. Further, given some of the harsh rhetoric directed at Acts 29 and their leadership, I strongly suspect they are not all that interested in any kind of partnership with the SBC!

It may be the case that some SBC churches choose to partner with Acts 29. As local and autonomous bodies, that is their right and their decision. This is nothing new as for years now we have had SBC churches partner with the Willow Creek Association and Purpose Driven Churches.

So, can we expect a future wedding between Acts 29 and the SBC? Not likely, since they are not even dating!

My Reflections on the 2009 SBC Annual Meeting

It is possible years from now that we will look back on the 2009 SBC in Louisville and see it as a historic watershed moment in our history. It is possible that on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence (CR), we will have witnessed the natural and hoped for outcome of the CR in the genesis of a new movement of God among His people in a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) that signaled a new day in the advance of the gospel across North America and to all the nations of the earth. I know this is my heart’s cry and desire.

Southern Baptists recently concluded what I thought was one of the most encouraging annual meetings we have had in years. I believe there are many reasons Southern Baptists should be excited about the direction the SBC is heading. I thought it would be appropriate to offer my personal reflections on the Louisville Convention and note some of the highlights of this year’s meeting.

I believe the Pastor’s Conference was one of the best in recent memory. Many people expressed similar sentiments to me. Southeastern was ably represented by evangelism and student ministry professor Alvin Reid and by adjunctive professors J. D. Greear and Ed Stetzer. David Platt brought one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard at a denominational meeting. One former SBC president told a friend of mine that David’s sermon was the best he’d ever heard in his four-plus decades of attending Pastor’s Conferences.

I am pleased with the way my dear friend (and SEBTS alum!) Johnny Hunt presided over this Convention. Bro. Johnny is a godly husband and father, a fervent evangelist, a faithful expositor, a model pastor, and a denominational statesman. All Southern Baptists should be thankful for the way he is leading us. I was also pleased to see another SEBTS alum and former faculty member Stephen Rummage elected to serve as our Second Vice President.

I am very encouraged by the number of younger faces I saw in Louisville. No doubt part of this was due to the close proximity of Southern Seminary, but I talked to many young pastors and seminarians who came to Louisville because they are excited about a Great Commission Resurgence. I was thrilled with the attendance at the two “Nine Marks at Nine” sessions and the Baptist 21 Panel Discussion, both of which attracted hundreds of young Southern Baptists. This bodes well for our future.

I am thankful that my close friend Al Mohler felt led to make the motion that President Hunt appoint a GCR task force to study the denomination and bring a report to the 2010 Convention in Orlando. I am thrilled that the messengers voted by an overwhelming majority (at least 95%) to approve Dr. Mohler’s motion. I am also humbled that Bro. Johnny asked me to serve on the task force with some of the godliest, most gifted Southern Baptists I know. Pray for us as we get to work with the important job the Convention has assigned us.

I am glad to see Southern Baptists are reaching across generational and theological differences to unite around the GCR. I heard messengers of many ages and backgrounds share their enthusiasm for the SBC’s future. I personally spoke before gatherings of younger ministers and SBC Calvinists who are longing for a GCR. I believe the tribe of Carey, Judson and Spurgeon type Calvinists is growing. That is a good thing! I was delighted to see former Convention president Frank Page publicly speak in favor of Dr. Mohler’s motion, despite their differences concerning particular details of theology that should not divide us. That’s a picture of the type of Great Commission unity we need in the SBC!

Before closing, I do want to address some of the criticisms of Southeastern Seminary and my leadership of the school. I think this is something I need to do. A number of motions and proposed resolutions expressed concern about my relationship with Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. Many of these concerns were based upon information that has been circulated around our Convention in the last six months in the form of Baptist Press articles, blog posts, and position papers. Some of that information was erroneous or outdated. Some of it is accurate, but my opinion usually differs from those raising the concerns. So, let me speak plainly and from my heart.

I appreciate Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. Southeastern has no formal relationship with either, but I am thankful for many aspects of both ministries. I think there is much that our students can learn from them. Mark and I have become good friends, but I do not agree with everything Mark says or does. In particular, I disagree with some of the language he has used in the pulpit in the past (though not in several years!) and I am uncomfortable with his position on beverage alcohol. I do appreciate his courage to tackle the difficult book The Song of Solomon and to address sexual issues with the adults in his congregation who have serious and important questions needing answers. Many of you know I have had a similar ministry through Marriage and Family conferences for years. I also wrote a book on the Song entitled God on Sex. Now it is the case I have chosen to address these issues in a different manner than has Mark, and at certain points I think he might have addressed some sensitive sexual issues in a more careful manner. But, I believe we can learn from those with whom we differ, and on the whole I believe Mark has much to teach us about missional living, theology-driven ministry, and culturally relevant expositional preaching. I also think our students, and Southern Baptists in general, are mature enough to treat Mark Driscoll (and every Christian leader) with appropriate discernment.

I want to remind our readers that good seminaries continually expose their students to diverse opinions, including the opinions of those with whom we disagree. There are few textbooks, guest lecturers, and even chapel speakers with whom I am in 100% agreement! Several times in the last decade the SBC annual meeting has been addressed by speakers who differ with Southern Baptists, including Condoleeza Rice (a Presbyterian who describes her views on abortion as “mildly pro-choice”), James Dobson (a Nazarene) and Bill Bright (another Presbyterian). Individual Southern Baptists also learn from others every time they read a book by Augustine, C. S. Lewis or John Stott and every time they listen to a sermon by John MacArthur or Chuck Swindoll. It is a healthy thing to interact with and appreciate fellow Christians with whom we have theological differences and even strong disagreements on secondary and tertiary matters.

Let me invite any of our readers who have concerns about Mark or Acts 29 to do three things. First, make sure your criticisms are up-to-date rather than rehashing issues that were settled several years ago. Second, acquaint yourself with the doctrinal convictions of both Mars Hill Church and Acts 29. Finally, please note that all of the Driscoll addresses are available online at our website. I would encourage you to listen to them as well as an interview David Nelson conducted with Mark last spring. I think you will be blessed and encouraged by what you hear. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to email me or call my office. I would be happy to talk with you, listen to your heart, and hopefully put your concerns to rest.

I remain very hopeful about the future of the SBC. I hope you will join me in praying for a Great Commission Resurgence among all Southern Baptists.mobi onlinemobi online

On The GCR Declaration, Part 6

This is the final article in a series on the GCR Declaration in anticipation of next week’s SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. As you read, please remember that while Between the Times is a group blog that includes a number of Southeastern Seminary professors, these articles (and every article I write) represent my own personal opinions. I speak only for myself, so please avoid imputing my views to any of my fellow contributors unless they have publicly spoken/written about these matters and you can cite their agreement. The comments are open, but because of the large volume of blogging I will be engaging in this week you will understand if I choose not to interact with many comments.

Article IX: A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure

Judging by the reactions on all sides, you would think this is the only thing in the GCR statement. There are people who have been energized by this article. There are people who have been horrified by this article. There are some who think this is the most important section of the GCR Declaration. There are others who think this section needs to be cut. I have saved my engagement with this article for last, for two reasons. First, it is the article that has generated the most buzz. Second, I want to be absolutely clear about my convictions–and one major concern–related to this section of the GCR Declaration.

Let me begin by saying I think the SBC needs to be reevaluated and possibly restructured. I am not sure that Covenant for a New Century went far enough, though I think it began moving us in the right direction. I also believe that the various autonomous layers of our denomination that cooperate with the SBC (like state conventions) also need to be reevaluated and in some cases possibly restructured. I agree with the GCR Declaration when it says, “Some of our convention structures at all levels need to be streamlined for more faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted to them. We must address with courage and action where there is overlap and duplication of ministries, and where poor stewardship is present”.

Second, I realize that every layer of our denomination is autonomous and that the SBC can only make decisions about the SBC. If President Hunt’s taskforce is approved and if that taskforce recommends a restructuring, such recommendations, if implemented, will only affect the SBC. State conventions and local associations may or may not follow suit. Only a majority vote of the messengers to multiple annual meetings in each layer can bring change to that layer. But that didn’t stop us from pursuing a Conservative Resurgence, did it? I think a Great Commission Resurgence is worth the same effort. If enough churches want to see changes, you can bet that every layer of the denomination will start changing. It’s that simple.

Third, contrary to some of the rhetoric you may have heard, any restructuring would most certainly be about the Great Commission if it was done well and for the right reasons. While the Great Commission was given to the churches, in our polity the local churches have entrusted some of their “Great Commission responsibilities” to different denominational layers on the assumption that those layers would help the churches pursue the task more effectively. To the degree that any of our denominational parachurch ministries are not helping our churches in these responsibilities, they are a Great Commission liability. We have an obligation–for the sake of effective gospel proclamation–to examine everything we do and see if we can do it better.

Fourth, I have no specific recommendations about what any potential restructuring should look like. I leave such decisions to wiser people. But I know there are weak spots. To cite just one example, in our North American church planting in particular there is way too much overlap, as numerous others have already alluded (including President Hunt and Dr. Akin). We have to rethink how we presently do church planting because we don’t do it very well. As one particularly bright (and well-known) younger Southern Baptist said in a recent meeting I attended, “Most of the guys I know believe that ACTS 29 is a resource and NAMB is just a hoop you have to jump through”. I know naming ACTS 29 just sent some readers into cardiac arrest, but rest assured that this young man wasn’t thinking about Calvinism, alcohol, wearing jeans and flip-flops to corporate worship, or cussing in the pulpit when he made that comment. He was thinking about how ineffective our denominational parachurch ministries are when it comes to planting churches. He could have compared NAMB (and many state conventions) to a dozen other church planting agencies and the verdict would have been the same.

Fifth, I think that whatever reevaluation and restructuring may take place applies just as much to me and my institution as it does to you and yours. Let me say loud and clear that if a restructured SBC means I don’t get to be a professor, I will gladly find a local church to serve or will apply for the mission field. God called me to the gospel ministry before he led me to become a professor. And since I hope and pray it is God’s will for us to embrace a more “simple” denominational structure, I trust that if I must go then that is also his will and he will lead me to wherever he wants me to be.

Finally, please know that I am a big fan, in principle, of state conventions and local associations. All state conventions do some things well and some state conventions do most things well. Certain state convention ministries like summer youth camps, Baptist papers, and Christian liberal arts education continue to have a considerable influence on our wider denomination. And who isn’t glad that most state conventions have programs to help connect ministers with open staff positions in local churches? State conventions provide some valuable services. I particularly appreciate some of the smaller state conventions that put a majority of their financial resources into evangelism, church planting, and church revitalization because they are located in what we used to call “pioneer” areas. So rest assured that I do not want to see state conventions go away.

But many state conventions, especially the larger ones that are in regions where the SBC has always been numerically strong, have acquired large bureaucracies as their number of programs has proliferated. Being somewhat familiar with several state conventions, I am convinced that almost all of the “big” conventions (and some of the “smaller” ones) have at least some superfluous programs and initiatives that need to be cut. Some of these programs do little more than perpetuate the bureaucratization of the state conventions.

Let me give one real-life example: no state convention should employ an individual or individuals whose sole job is to figure out how to convince autonomous churches to give more money to the Cooperative Program. I have talked to Southern Baptists in three different states who have told me that the fact such a position even exists in their conventions demonstrates why churches refuse to send a higher percentage of their CP money through the state convention. Two of the brothers who told me this are part of megachurches that greatly irk the state convention bureaucrats because they don’t give the “right amount” to the CP. But for these churches, their choice is a matter of good stewardship.

Thank God for state conventions, but some of them need to go on a diet so that they can get healthier, live longer, and accomplish more for the sake of the kingdom.

As for associations, they have the potential to be the most fruitful layer of our denominational life because they are the layer “closest” to the local church. I know a handful of directors of missions who are some of my heroes because of the way they are serving their churches and advancing the gospel in their respective regions. But as a general rule, since the mid-20th century associations have been little more than the local arm of the bureaucracy. I don’t want to say too much more at the risk that I engage in overgeneralization. Let me just say this: I am sorely disappointed that the very layer that could be the most helpful to our churches is often the layer that is most irrelevant.

Before closing, remember that I said earlier in this article that I did have one major concern about Article IX. I confess it is a very different concern than those voiced by opponents of any type of reevaluation and restructuring. I am very concerned that we will embrace a restructuring and substitute it for the rest of the agenda. I fear we will wake up around 2013 or 2014 and have a “leaner” denomination but will have not grown in our love for God and neighbor, not renewed our commitment to gospel-centeredness, not been honest about some of the problems in our churches, not become more missional, not stopped fighting over secondary and tertiary issues, and not honored our Lord Jesus Christ in the process. I am deathly afraid that five years from now we will be nothing more than a streamlined version of who we are right now. This is what I pray against. I think a restructuring could be of benefit to our denomination, but I do not want to see a restructuring at the expense of the other nine articles. It’s not worth it.

I could say much more, but it’s time to close out this series of articles. I will be in Louisville from Sunday through Thursday. I plan to be at most of the Pastor’s Conference, the Baptist 21 Panel Discussion, the two Nine Marks at Nine events, and of course the Convention itself. I’ll also be in and out of the SEBTS booth a good bit. If you’ve never seen me before, I’m the stocky dude with the bowtie and the beard. I hope you’ll introduce yourself. And even if you don’t, I hope you will join me in praying (and voting!) for a Great Commission Resurgence among the people called Southern Baptist.game online mobile