If Southern Baptists are going to fulfill their God-given mission in a lost world, they must deal with fragmentation and self-centeredness and recommit themselves to gratitude, trust, unified ministry, and honesty, messengers were told during the opening session of the SBC annual meeting June 14.
"We have been headed in the wrong direction, in several ways," said Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee president, during the EC's report to the convention. "Our convention is fracturing into various groups, some theological, most methodological. Sometimes there is an honest difference of opinion, but often there is self-centeredness that frequently mirrors our own culture.
"Christ-like selflessness is our only hope."
While many have lamented a decline in giving through the SBC's Cooperative Program missions channel, Page cited statistics that showed total mission expenditures in Southern Baptist churches also have declined over the past twenty years. In 1989, Southern Baptist congregations allocated 16.5 percent of their total receipts to missions, but by 2009 that had declined to 12.32 percent.
"Our cooperating churches have not just shifted their Cooperative Program dollars away from the Cooperative Program to other missions..." Page said. "What this means is that we have been keeping more of our dollars at home. While the Cooperative Program certainly has taken its hit, it is our total mission giving that is the real victim."
As CEO of the Executive Committee, Page said he is working to rebuild trust by reducing bureaucracy. EC staff has been reduced by 19 percent and the budget has been cut 13.58 percent, Page said. The budget being presented to messengers during the annual meeting allocates 95 percent of Cooperative Program dollars to international missions, North American church planting and evangelism, and seminary education, Page said.
As a show of unity and support for cooperative missions, Page called to the platform a large group of people—the twelve heads of Southern Baptist national entities, executives of Baptist state conventions, and a number of ethnic fellowship presidents who had signed a document titled "Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation."
That document includes five core pledges:
• "We pledge to maintain a relationship of mutual trust, behaving ourselves trustworthily before one another and trusting one another as brothers and sisters indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God." (Ephesians 4:20- 32; Philippians 4:8; 2 Peter 1:3-8)
• "We pledge to attribute the highest motives to those engaged in local church ministries and those engaged in denominational service in any level of Convention life—motives that originate within hearts truly desiring to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we also serve." (1 Samuel 2:3; Matthew 7:1-5; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5)
• "We pledge to affirm the value of cooperative ministry as the most effective and efficient means of reaching a lost world with the message of the Gospel." (Acts 9:31; 1 Corinthians 16:1-23; Psalm 68:11; Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
• "We pledge to embrace our brothers and sisters of every ethnicity, race, and language as equal partners in our collective ministries to engage all people groups with the Gospel of Jesus Christ." (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 16:25-27; Revelation 7:9)
• "We pledge to continue to honor and affirm proportional giving through the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach as Southern Baptists, enabling us to work together to evangelize the lost people of our world locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally." (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, 20:20-21; Romans 10:14-17; 2 Corinthians 8:1-13; 9:1-15)"
For Southern Baptists to be an effective mission force in a lost world, however, grassroots leadership and rank-and-file church members also must renew their commitments to unity and cooperation, Page said.
"As these SBC leaders stand with me, I want you the messengers to understand these affirmations are not only for those standing with me," Page said. "You are the foundational base of any mission enterprise. Our unified ministry is effective because you make it so—or you don't. Through the Cooperative Program, we can accomplish more than we could ever do alone."
Referring to the account of four men who brought a hurting friend to Jesus for healing in Mark 2:2-5, Page challenged Southern Baptists to commit themselves to working together to help a hurting people at home and abroad.
"Let's covenant together to reverse the declines in baptisms and mission giving and Cooperative Program support for the sake of carrying the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ," Page declared. "Let's bring that hurting one to the One who can minister to the physical but, most of all, the spiritual needs."
The real problem in Southern Baptist life is spiritual, not logistical, Page added.
"We spent a great deal of time and energy in the last two years dealing with issues from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force," Page said. "I was a member of that task force. My fear from the beginning was that if we were not careful, we would spend a great deal of time with logistical issues, when the bottom-line problem before us is not logistical as much as it is spiritual.
"Our great need is a heaven-sent revival that begins in our own hearts," Page said. "Unless and until that happens, there will be no increase in baptisms and missions support. So, in all honesty, I stand before you today and tell you that what we need is a Holy Ghost revival. God, may it be so."
Mark Kelly is a member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, and is an assistant editor and senior writer with Baptist Press.