GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (3a): Challenges for Local Churches and Pastors, Part 1
By Danny Akin and Steven A. McKinion
The Gospel is the message of God’s salvation of individuals through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Consequently, any effort to fulfill the Great Commission (proclaiming the Gospel) must begin with individual Christians and their families. But there is a corporate aspect to salvation that must not be overlooked. Christians gather together as the Community of Faith, tasked with proclaiming the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit. For there to be a resurgence of Great Commission activity in the Southern Baptist Convention, the churches that are the convention through their voluntary association with one another must adopt a Great Commission posture. This posture should reflect a commitment to the outward progress of the Gospel to the nations through its inward progress in the lives of Baptists. The Challenges to Local Churches and Pastors section of the GCRTF Report addresses the need to ensure that our attention is on both the inward and outward progress of the Gospel.
Specifically, the Challenges to Local Churches and Pastors focus on the need for Southern Baptist churches to be intentional in their efforts to “make disciples.” Disciple-making includes proclamation of the Gospel, calling people to repentance and conversion, teaching them what Scripture says about the Christian life, providing an environment for living out Christian faith, and helping Christians live missionally (as missionaries regardless of location or vocation).
Regular, intentional, and persistent sharing of the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ with men and women in the same community as the local church is indispensable to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Having embraced the “faith once for all delivered to the saints,” churches should teach Christians how to live missionally in the places they work, recreate, and encounter the lost. The challenges addressed to local churches give concrete examples of how this might happen.
Local churches that adopt a Gospel-centered posture toward one another will also posture themselves Gospel-centeredly toward the nations. When a congregation is Spirit-led, it will be a missional congregation.
Pastors have an important responsibility to help the congregations they shepherd adopt this missional, Gospel-centered posture. In fact, they are the key! The Task Force has offered some sixteen challenges to pastors that, the Task Force believes, will help local Southern Baptist churches fulfill the Great Commission more effectively. We agree with the GCRTF in their offering these challenges to pastors.
- Lead your church by calling a Solemn Assembly in January 2011 for the purpose of calling Christ’s people to return to God, to repentance, and to humility in service to a renewed commitment to Christ and the Great Commission. We request that the newly-elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention lead Southern Baptists in this effort.
Churches can easily forget the mission they have been given to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the nations, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Regular periods of reflection and remembering can help us avoid becoming myopic, interested only in our preferences and agendas. By setting aside a time for the sole purpose of renewing our congregational commitment to the Great Commission we believe pastors will help their churches embrace a resurgence of the Great Commission in their own congregation.
- Become knowledgeable of the mission field of your specific region, identifying the various people groups and developing a strategy to penetrate the lostness in your region. Be intentional in working with your local association, state convention and NAMB in pursuing this task.
Sometimes churches can limit their mission field to people who are “like them,” meaning those who are racially, culturally, or socially closest to the congregation. Instead, pastors can help their churches begin to think like missionaries, understanding that God has called them to reach out in their community to “everyone” with the life-changing power of the Gospel. Churches cannot expect slick marketing to “attract” unbelievers to the Gospel. Such marketing techniques may increase attendance at church functions (appealing primarily to unhappy members of other churches), but only by discovering the types of people who live in the broader community, then strategizing for ways to build genuine, Christian relationships with them can we expect to see unbelievers first hear the Gospel, then respond to it in faith. Romans 10 tells us that no one come to faith without hearing the Gospel and that no one hears it unless there is someone to tell them that message.
- Work to cultivate a Great Commission atmosphere that is contagious in your church and becomes the DNA of the pastor, staff, adults, students, youth and children of your local body of Christ.
How much time do pastors spend talking about the Gospel? It may be wonderful to give people “Five Steps to a Happy Home,” but non-Christians can be happy in their lostness. It is a myth that only Christians are happy. In fact, if the rise of Christian counseling in any indicator, it may be harder to be happy in this fallen world as a Christian, whose happiness is really in another world. Rather than pursuing happiness, financial success, and comfort, Great Commission Christians are pursuing Christ, the gospel and His Kingdom. The Task Force challenges pastors to reject the contemporary practice of making church a happy, moral, religious society and instead to make church a Great Commission community of disciple-making disciples of Jesus.
- Working with the IMB and NAMB, set goals for Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong that will enable us to send $200 million to the IMB and $100 million to NAMB in annual gifts by 2015.
Not every Southern Baptist is called to relocate in order to do missions, but every Southern Baptist church is called to contribute resources to fund Southern Baptist missionaries who are called to relocate. Besides the genius of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptist churches have taken two special offerings each year that help fund the missionaries that come out of your church and ours. These two offerings provide opportunities to speak about our cooperative mission efforts as well as to fund them. Every dollar that goes to the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings are dollars that help local churches win people to Jesus. These are bold goals! Even audacious!!! But, they are reachable if God’s people capture a vision for penetrating lostness; if God’s people find God’s heart in the matter.
- Strengthen missions education for believers of all ages, working with the Woman’s Missionary Union and other mission’s education programs. Every believer must be made aware of the global missions challenge.
We have lost the art of mission’s education in most of our churches. We must reverse this tragic trend. Our people must learn of Carey, Judson, Moon and Wallace.
There are a number of ways to educate people about missions, but every appropriate means includes a reminder of both the responsibility of local churches to join in the global mission’s effort and the opportunities that are available for churches and individual Southern Baptists.
- Lead your church to grow and increase in sacrificial Cooperative Program giving.
The Task Force clearly affirms the Cooperative Program as the preferred means of supporting the agencies and boards of the SBC. As the other elements of the GCRTF Report are enacted, it will become evident that more of the resources given to SBC entities through the CP will go to the outward progress of the Gospel among the nations, particularly in underserved areas like pioneer state conventions. The TF challenges pastors to respond to these Great Commission changes by leading their churches to increase giving that goes “to the nations,” where Gospel witness is less.
- Make sure every sermon, devotion, or other type of teaching is gospel centered and driven by the inerrant and infallible text of Scripture with emphasis on how to apply the text to the lives of different kinds of people.
- Make sure every sermon, devotion, or other type of teaching clearly articulates and applies the gospel message and is centered in the grand narrative of Scripture.
Moral, sentimental self-help has supplanted genuine Gospel-centered preaching and teaching in too many churches. Southern Baptists have not been immune to this invasion of worldliness resulting in an impotent pulpit. When the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation,” why would pastors waste their time trying to attract people with a message of “how to function better” in the world!? When the Bible is the only inerrant Story of God at work in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, why would any pastor look to the wisdom of the world to help people?! The Task Force’s challenge recognizes that any proper application of the Conservative Resurgence will mean actually preaching Scripture as it is: the inerrant Word of God.
- Call your people continually to a radical devotion and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
- Preach passionately for the conversion of the lost and extend consistently the gospel call for persons to be saved.
- Honor the role of the evangelist, affirming the calling and witness of those who give their lives to the call of the Gospel.
Every person in a worship service needs to hear the full Gospel. The Gospel is not just “get saved,” it is the whole Story of God and His work in Jesus. The Gospel is not just a message of “how to get to heaven when you die,” it calls people to complete surrender to Jesus as Lord. Pastors must understand that the Gospel claims the lives of people completely and entirely, and that only by its faithful proclamation do people come to faith. Calling believes to greater devotion and unbelievers to embrace Christ is the Great Commission. Pastors must embrace this two-fold Great Commission calling in their churches. They must refuse to believe the lie that big crowds generated through soft-peddling moralism is worthy of their time and effort. Pastor, proclaim the Gospel, offer sinners the hope of the Gospel, offer Christians the chance to enjoy the Gospel in community with one another.
- Challenge people to identify with Christ and testify to Him through believer’s baptism by immersion.
The two ordinances of the church recognized by Southern Baptists both proclaim the Gospel in word and symbol. Central to the Great Commission is the baptism of disciples. Christians identify with Christ and His church through the ordinance of baptism. But they also preach the Gospel through baptism. Pastors should take great care to ensure that Christians understand the important role the baptism plays, beyond just “making someone a church member.” Seeing baptism as a “gospel-proclaiming” ordinance is essential. We might also add that regular celebration of the Lord’s Table in its disciplining and gospel-proclaiming roles is also essential to a Great Commission church.
- Call people passionately and consistently to surrender their life to full-time ministry. Include in this call the challenge to a career as a missionary through the IMB or NAMB.
- Preach regularly and passionately on Christian stewardship helping your people see this as a vital component of discipleship and life lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Undergird this with lessons on biblical stewardship in your church’s Bible Study ministries.
People in our Southern Baptist churches should regularly here their responsibility to live missionally. As I (Danny) and Alvin Reid argued in an earlier post, life is intended to be a mission trip. In our experience many Christians never hear that they can be missionaries right where the live. But additionally, many Christians never hear that they can be missionaries in other cities, states, or nations. Perhaps many Southern Baptists never respond to a call to relocate as a North American or international missionary because no pastor ever offers the opportunity for them to hear God’s call. Moreover, for those Christians who are not called to move overseas, they can nonetheless participate in international missions by helping fund missions through the CP. Pastors should talk about the call to missions and educate Christians as to the opportunities to go and to, if you can’t go, give.
- Cultivate an atmosphere of evangelism, missions, discipleship and biblical theology that permeates every aspect of the church’s ministry.
- Give particular attention to the evangelizing and discipling of children and youth.
From an early age children should be taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many Baptists have taught their children through formal catechisms. Whether formally or informally, churches should be the place where parents learn the Gospel, then teach that to their children. Pastors should lead the way by teaching their own families the Gospel, and then by leading their church to put considerable focus on the teaching of children and youth. We believe the Task Force’s challenge in this regard would mean abandoning the model of ministry to these age groups that focuses on entertainment. Churches should be lead to foster a Gospel-centered environment and not a personality- or preference-centered environment for children and youth. By intentionally giving attention to teaching the Gospel to children and youth, pastors are passing on the faith to the next generation.
In a day when many pastors feel overwhelmed with their roles of caretaker, chaplain, CEO, marketer, teacher, preacher, evangelist, etc., they can find solace in the Gospel as the “power of God unto salvation.” These challenges are great, but the value of the Gospel is greater. Gospel-centered ministry and Gospel-centered preaching will produce Gospel-centered Southern Baptists whose ultimate concern is the furtherance of the Gospel to every tribe, every tongue, every people and every nation.