GCR Task Force chairman encouraged, burdened after group's initial meeting
ATLANTA (BP)--The first meeting of the task force charged with helping spark a "Great Commission resurgence" among Southern Baptists held its first meeting Aug. 11-12 in Atlanta, and chairman Ronnie Floyd came away feeling both encouraged by the spirit of the gathering and burdened by the enormity of the challenge before them.
Floyd opened a noontime press conference immediately following the close of the Aug. 12 session by reading a prepared statement.
"We began with an extended period of prayer, then immediately got busy with the job that Southern Baptists had assigned to us," Floyd said. "We talked to each other. We talked seriously. Honest talk. But we were able to do that within a context of Christian kindness and friendship. I am thankful that we are already talking about these issues and looking at big questions. This is how I hoped we would begin."
Analyzing the challenges facing Southern Baptists and suggesting a course of action that will foster greater effectiveness and efficiency in taking the Gospel to -- and making disciples of -- all nations is a daunting task, said Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark.
"I trust that all of us understand that we have a huge job to accomplish and a looming deadline before us," he said, continuing to read from the prepared statement. "This much is already clear: Our great passion is the Great Commission. We yearn with all our hearts, every one of us, to see Southern Baptists be more faithful in taking the Gospel to all of the nations. It is our passion. We will work long, hard and tirelessly to develop a report that will unleash a passion for the Great Commission, that will energize Southern Baptists and prioritize our work together. We are so highly honored by this task that has been entrusted to us."
Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt, who also participated in the press conference, said he felt the diverse 23-member task force made a good start on the kind of open dialogue needed to find a path forward for the 16.2-million-member convention of nearly 45,000 congregations.
"I am excited about the start. I feel like it was a very engaging time, a very challenging time. I feel like the longer we were together, the more open and honest we could be to share how we really felt," Hunt said. "Not always what we wanted to hear, but what kept the conversation flowing and could lead to change.
"Change is difficult always, in our lives personally, in our church and in our denomination," Hunt added. "So even in our own committee to come together, lead for change that will bring positive change, as pertains to being more effective and more inclusive for the Great Commission, is quite a task but I think it's a great start." Hunt is pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church of Woodstock.
Floyd said he is more convinced than ever of the need for great numbers of Southern Baptists to pray for the task force's efforts.
"We all leave today, I believe, with a great deal of hope, with a deep sense of burden on our hearts. We leave with more conviction than when we came that we must rally Southern Baptists by the thousands to pray for us in this process, that we do our very best in all our churches to talk to them about that these are desperate times, not only in our convention but in our country and in our world," Floyd said. "This is a great moment for God's people to rise up -- and the greatest way we need to rise up is to be a people who are convicted to pray for one another, especially with this enormous task that we have before us."
Regardless of whether people are enthused about the committee's work, Floyd said he hoped they would visit the task force's www.pray4gcr.com website and join more than 2,500 others in praying for what everyone can agree is a desperate need: a resurgence of passion for the Great Commission mandate.
"We want our people involved in the process. It doesn't really matter where they are in this perspective," Floyd said. "Every one of our churches needs a Great Commission resurgence, beginning with my church -- and I've told my church that and I'm preaching on that week after next, because we need that in our fellowship."
Only two task force members -- Ted Traylor and David Dockery -- were unable to attend the first meeting, Floyd said. The second meeting, set for Aug. 26-27 in Rogers, Ark., will be preceded by an open session in which interested Southern Baptists will have an opportunity to share their concerns for the convention with task force members.
Floyd also encouraged people to write committee members -- either by letter, e-mail or through the pray4gcr website -- and voice their thoughts about how to lead the convention forward in missions commitment.
While additional meetings beyond the Rogers gathering have not yet been scheduled, Floyd said the group is studying ways technology like Internet conferencing could facilitate the process for members unable to travel to meeting locations.
He also declined to discuss the topics addressed in their meeting, which was closed to the public, except to say that Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, had been invited to "talk about the actual, real status of the Southern Baptist Convention from a statistical analysis."
"My goal was for us to come here to get to know one another, to pray together, to try and learn how we got here -- in other words, why are we in this room together," Floyd said. "Then we talked about where we are as a convention and that's where Dr. Rainer came in. Then we started talking about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, what that needed to look like, and that's really where we did most of our meeting was in all those areas."
Regarding the Aug. 11 resignation of Geoff Hammond as president of the North American Mission Board, which came as the task force was opening its meeting, Floyd said: "First of all, it adds to our urgency and our burden. It adds to the challenge we have before us. But we are going to trust the trustee process in the SBC and really it's not our issue to talk about."
Floyd added a personal observation as well: "Dr Hammond is personal friend of mine. I was his pastor for a period of time. I hurt deeply for them and have prayed with them and for them through this entire process."
"Our hearts go out to Dr. Hammond and his family and his associates and the other staff members," Hunt added. "[We are] praying for God to give wisdom to the trustees and whoever will be appointed as an interim leader for this time, that God will give them wisdom, and just pray and trust the process."
Floyd also declined to discuss specific issues the task force may be addressing, such as suggestions about merging the convention's two mission boards or changing the formula for distributing missions offerings between convention entities.
"We're not really at this point talking in any of our deliberations about those kind of sensitive issues," Floyd said. "Our heart is to get more dollars and more cents to what we're greatly committed to -- and that's the planting of churches in North America and, ultimately, to take the Gospel to all the nations. That's our heart and obviously we want to do everything we can to get more dollars to the unreached people groups of this world. That's where our heart is and that's where we're going."
As for funding of the task force's work, Floyd said he had received a letter from SBC Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman requesting a budget that the Executive Committee would consider during its September business meeting. The SBC business and financial plan assigns the funding of SBC ad hoc committees to the Executive Committee.
Even though he opposed the Great Commission Resurgence Declaration because of several "negative characterizations" about the denomination in its original form, Chapman told Baptist Press he nonetheless had expressed to Hunt in Louisville his commitment to work with the task force that was formed by vote of the messengers to the SBC's annual meeting.
In the July 23 letter (copy obtained by BP), Chapman explained the budgeting process and offered to set aside funds for work completed by the task force prior to the approval of a budget, offering help with the budget and otherwise.
Floyd said he "greatly appreciated" Chapman's initiative to contact him.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. To register for the open meeting preceding the Aug. 26-27 task force meeting at the Embassy Suites Northwest Arkansas in Rogers, Ark., call 479-751-4523 and RSVP to Debby Swart.