GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (3b): Challenges for Local Churches and Pastors, Part 2
By Danny Akin and Jon Akin
The local churches are the headquarters of the SBC. Christ died for His church. He commissioned her to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth! So, regardless of votes or passed recommendations, there will be no GCR if it is not led by the pastors and lay people of our local SBC churches.
With that being the case, the core of the GCRTF report is the list of specific challenges given to local churches and pastors. If we as pastors and churches will rise to meet these challenges then a great work will take place in our midst! Let’s look briefly at the last 15 in this section.
- Get involved in a regular church planting program at some level of your congregation’s capability. This can include specific partnerships with another church, your association, state convention or NAMB.
The GCRTF report challenges every church, regardless of size, to be a church planting church. This is as it should be (always have been!) because churches plant churches. If we are going to reach North America for Christ then we need churches of every size, model, and method that are biblically faithful to reproduce themselves. This will look different in each case. But it must be done. There are exciting church planting movements taking place right now in America and around the world, and they are being driven by small churches, medium churches, and large churches.
In order to achieve this, churches need to seek out partnerships with other churches who are currently planting to see how you can get involved. Seek out partnerships with your association, state convention and NAMB. They are there to assist us in planting!
- Adopt an unreached people group and an underserved megacity in North America and regularly inform the membership about them, pray for them, and when applicable work toward short-term mission trips to serve them. Encourage families to consider moving to those cities to be part of the core group for that plant.
This is one practical way that churches can own the Great Commission. Our church (Jon’s church, Highview Baptist in Louisville, KY) has adopted and is in the process of engaging two unreached people groups in Africa. There are over 6,000 of these unreached people groups in the world, and 1,568 unengaged people groups who have no Christians or missionaries among them. If every one of the thousands of congregations in the SBC adopted an unreached group, prayed weekly for them to be reached, prayed regularly for more laborers for the harvest field, annually or bi-annually sent short-term teams to them, and eventually called out at least one from their church to give their life to reaching that people group then in the generations to come we would see a great multitude of people singing “Worthy is the Lamb,” who currently have no worship of Christ in their midst!
Highview Baptist Church has helped support many church plants in major cities and we are currently helping in places like NYC, Philly, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Boise, etc. We keep these cities and these works in front of our people through prayer cards, maps with planters pictures on them, etc. We send teams to minister there. Faithful members of our church have uprooted their families and moved to be a part of the core group of the plants. This has instilled in us an attitude that it’s not all about us, but it is about reaching others, and it has given us a heart for the big cities of our country where so many millions are moving, as well as enlarged our heart for our city! If we are going to reach North America we have to reach our cities. This is not an option. It should not even be up for debate.
- Plan at least one evangelism training course annually for your church members; consider inviting members of other churches in your association to participate, especially smaller churches.
People must hear the gospel to be saved, and in order for them to hear it, Christians must know how to share it and then obediently tell the good news of Jesus Christ. It is heartbreaking that most “Christians” will live their entire life without ever experiencing the joy of leading another person to faith in Jesus. This should not be! Some do not share because they do not know how or what to say. Training our people in evangelism can relieve at least one burden that hinders us from sharing.
If there is to be a GCR then this has to be a priority. Not only do we need a Great Commission Resurgence, we need an Evangelism Resurgence. Evangelism is not optional for the Christian. It is expected, not just of a “good” Christian, but of every Christian. Anything less is simply sinful disobedience and in need of repentance.
Reaching our local communities in North America is the responsibility of the churches. We already have an army of millions of people who claim the name of Christ. If we could train them and unleash them to share the gospel imagine what might happen! Churches need to help churches in this area by linking with other churches who are already doing the training.
- Plan at least one North American or international mission trip a year and/or encourage members to participate mission trips sponsored by a local association.
There is no better way for people’s hearts to be captured for this nation and all nations than getting them on the field! Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw the multitudes who were like sheep without a shepherd. If we can get our people among the multitudes then their hearts will burn with a passion to reach them. I have never seen a person or church who loves being involved in international missions who was not also motivated more than ever for local work in their own neighborhoods with greater passion after trips like these. Short term trips are a great way to energize our people for work at home and abroad.
- Develop a comprehensive strategy for sharing the gospel with every person in your community with no regard to racial, social or economic status. This may include elements such as home-to-home evangelism, neighborhood block parties, servant evangelism projects, one-on-one mentoring, after-school programs, university campus outreach, innovative outreach events, neighborhood Bible studies, evangelistic mercy ministries, etc.
Any type of prejudice or bigotry in our churches must be banished now and forever! There are no segregated communities in heaven. There should be none here on earth either!
- Enter, if possible, the world of private Christian schooling and Christian homeschooling to provide a Christian alternative for the education of children, especially in areas hostile to the Christian worldview. See this as a complement to the many faithful Christians serving in the public school systems who see their calling to be salt and light in a missional assignment.
This challenge is not a challenge to a sectarian lifestyle. If you do choose homeschooling or private school for your children, then please find other ways to develop relationships with and engage the lost in your community.
- Encourage Christian schools to send each student in their high school year on a cross-cultural missions experience or to an international mission field for at least one week before they graduate, developing a strategy to pay for these trips as a school in order to build a genuine passion and commitment to reach the nations.
Again, there is no better to way to set a person’s heart on fire than to get them on the field. May we train our young people in this early on!
- Develop a comprehensive strategy for Great Commission discipling of all church members. This may include elements such as Sunday School and/or small group ministries, mission education programs, one-on-one mentoring, affinity ministries (e.g. women, singles, etc.), pastoral leadership training, diaconal leadership training, etc.
The Great Commission is not just about making converts; it’s about making disciples. We have fallen extremely short in this area. We are a convention full of Christians who are biblically illiterate, lack a Christian worldview, rampant in sin and who do not make life decisions based on the authority of God’s Word. Discipleship is a must!
The Bible tells us that God’s gift of the local church is the place where discipleship happens. We are to not forsake assembling together because this is where we stir one another up to love and good deeds. It is in the fellowship and community of the church under the teaching of the Word that discipleship takes place. This should be done in co-ed groups, as well as older men to younger men and older women to younger women. Titus 2:1-8 is our model.
- Develop a comprehensive church-based strategy for reaching and discipling college students, including international students.
Young people are so often passionate and idealistic and seeking adventure. If we can capture their hearts for the mission of God then great things will happen. That is why training college students to think and act biblically is so vitally important.
Plus, young people come from all over the world to train in the US, many from unreached peoples. While they are in a context that encourages research and studying new things we have the opportunity to present them with the truth of the Gospel, care for them in the context of the local church, and then launch them out for mission!
- Develop as a comprehensive church-based strategy for reaching and discipling individuals with physical and developmental disabilities.
- Send teenagers and young adults on mission trips with the hope of exposing every young believer to global missions.
- Partner with like-minded ethnic churches or missions in evangelizing immigrants and other underserved ethnic minorities, including migrants and other short-term workers.
May our churches and our cooperation mirror Revelation 5. We are still way too segregated in the SBC. We are making progress, but the process needs to be excelerated!
- Reclaim the Baptist vision of regenerate church membership, recognizing that this vision is central to our Baptist identity and understanding of the church.
Stating that we have “16 million Southern Baptists” has become a running joke, because as the saying goes “we can’t find half of them.” Baptists have historically believed what the Bible teaches, that the church is for those who are saved. Our rolls should match up with the roll in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Since this is the case, we need to take church membership seriously.
One of the reasons we may be declining is because of this very thing. Our churches, because we do not consistently practice regenerate church membership, do not reflect a redeemed community and we therefore look like the rest of the culture. This blunts our witness. Regenerate church membership is vital to our corporate witness to the outside world. It is a biblical necessity.
- Reclaim corrective church discipline as the biblical means of restoring believers to healthy discipleship and faithfulness.
JL Dagg has famously said, “When discipline leaves a church then Jesus goes with it.” If that is the case then we are a convention of Jesus-less churches. Personal holiness is not something we are known for. Hypocrisy might be.
Discipline is not retributive; it is a rescue mission, and we need to practice it in a way that leads us to plead with people (similar to what we do in evangelism) to turn from sin and trust in Jesus. Discipline is about restoration not punishment. The process may lead to dismissing the member, but this is necessary in some cases not only to protect that brother or sister from sin, but also to disciple the congregation through the discipline situation as well. (If you would like to read and think more on this go to www.danielakin.com and read “Church Discipline: Expository Insights from Titus 3:9-15).
- Emphasize meaningful church membership through such practices as decision counseling, believer’s baptism, new convert mentoring, membership covenants, prospective member classes, and redemptive church discipline.
How we do church matters. It matters so much that many of our forefathers were drowned fighting for the Baptistic way of doing church. We need to recapture this in our day. Business as usual in too many churches must come to an end. There needs to be a new day of biblical faithfulness and radical obedience. The GCRTF report seeks to balance the biblical and the practical. That we are true to the whole counsel of God’s word is our hopeful and prayerful goal.