Great Commission Advance 'imperative,' Page says
"The need for a larger mission force, not a smaller one, is greater than ever," Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said during the opening session of the EC's Sept. 21-22 meeting in Nashville.
The Great Commission Advance, Page noted, will focus on the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' channel for national, international and state-by-state missions and ministries.
"The need for evangelistic church plants … is greater than ever, as our own continent is more lost than ever before," said Page, speaking at the five-year point of his service as EC president.
"The need for excellent theological education is more necessary now than ever before. The need for an ethical voice in our society and our culture is certainly more crucial than ever before," Page said. "The need for missions education, the need for godly resources and assistance to our churches and our pastors is absolutely imperative. …
"We need to have a Great Commission Advance, and the best way to fund it is through the Cooperative Program," Page said.
The 10-year emphasis, now in development with SBC entity and state convention partners, will culminate with the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Program's founding in 1925.
The Great Commission Advance, Page said, will provide pastors and churches with ongoing encouragement "to look at the wisdom of supporting missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program. We're always seeking ways to improve it, to review it. However, its underlying principles, we believe, are sound.
"Through the Cooperative Program, we definitely are not alone," Page stated. "That is the theme of this emphasis: We are not alone. I truly believe that often-quoted phrase: We can go more together than we can do separately."
Several thousand churches have embraced the 1% CP Challenge to increase their giving to Southern Baptist causes by 1 percentage point of their yearly budgets, Page reported.
"But I think it's also time to call our churches to a 1% increase in baptisms and a 1% increase in stewardship," he said. "We're seeing less money given to the Cooperative Program because we have less people in our churches. And those that are in the churches are giving less than ever before.
"We must approach these issues with great, great purposefulness."
Page said seven key objectives will undergird the Great Commission Advance:
-- Prayer: "We must undergird a renewed commitment to Cooperative Program missions with coordinated prayer that invites God's blessing and unites our churches and our entities in a Great Commission Advance," he said.
SBC President Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas has "beaten this drum over and over, and exemplified it for us and encouraged us in perhaps more ways than we've ever seen before," Page said. "The need is greater than ever, and a Great Commission Advance will only occur when people are praying to our great Lord."
-- Vision: "We must communicate a renewed, clear and compelling vision of what the Cooperative Program is and what it is not for both present and future generations," Page said.
"We cannot scream a tired announcement louder and louder over and over," he said, recounting that he challenges young pastors "to study the Cooperative Program and if, at the end of the day, you don't like it, do something else. I believe if you study it thoroughly and accurately, you'll find it is still, even with all its weaknesses, the most efficient and effective way to do missions and ministries around the world."
-- Responsibility: "We must teach every willing Southern Baptist in every Southern Baptist church to embrace a personal responsibility for the Great Commission, to a balanced Acts 1:8 strategy that values cooperation with multiple SBC mission partners," Page said, referencing Jesus' call in Acts 1:8 for His followers to witness to their faith in their local communities and regions as well the continent and world in which they live.
-- Positioning: "We must effectively position the Cooperative Program as the foundational means for SBC churches to implement that intentional Acts 1:8 strategy," Page said.
"There are many other great missions opportunities out there," he said. Yet, the decline in support of the Cooperative Program over the years "is often due to a church's involvement in its own mission work. We're not against that. Every church I've ever pastored did its own mission work," he said. "We believe the issue is balance, and we believe God can provide for both."
-- Partnership: "We must renew full trust and collaborative Cooperative Program partnership among national SBC entities and state conventions," Page said.
"We have begun an aggressive foundational strategy with a national consultant and our state partners … for improvement, enlistment and retention of churches" in support of the Cooperative Program, he said. "Our North American Mission Board, our International Mission Board have joined with us in this process.... We are not alone and we need to work together."
-- Customization: "We must translate and customize cooperative missions in the convention to key audiences, sustaining positive relationships and dialogue with each of those audiences," Page said.
-- Stewardship: "We must challenge every Southern Baptist to a biblical standard of stewardship and a renewed culture of generosity," Page said.
SBC leaders are "calling on every Southern Baptist, every Southern Baptist church, every Southern Baptist entity and partner to be a part of a Great Commission Advance, so that we can do more evangelism, more in church planting, more in church strengthening, more in missions," he said. "We want to see every man, woman, boy and girl hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Once Southern Baptists launched the Cooperative Program 90 years ago, "God has used it to do things that no other denomination has ever seen," Page said. "As we approach that 100-year mark, may it be stronger than it has ever been before, may there truly be a Great Commission Advance."