God’s people are never without an assignment, and the Southern Baptist Convention came into being more than a century and a half ago as a means of answering the call of the nations and mobilizing Southern Baptists for the Great Commission. Thankfully, we are still focused on that call. Strategically, we must ask if there is a way to do even more.
When Baptists came together to form the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, they left Augusta, Ga. with a clear sense of purpose, a unique Southern Baptist way of mobilizing for missions, and a brave commitment to move into the future together. Nothing less than those commitments is demanded of us now.
The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has been assigned to consider how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively in obeying the Great Commission. We face unprecedented challenges even as we see unlimited opportunities.
Let’s be thankful for this —Southern Baptists still believe in the Great Commission. While so many other denominations have experienced a loss of theological nerve and a decrease of Great Commission commitment, Southern Baptists have experienced a theological recovery that underlines the very theological convictions that brought the Convention into being. We know that there is no hope of salvation apart from Christ, and we know that those who believe in Christ will be saved. Of these truths we are certain, and this fuels our passion.
The great question for Southern Baptists now is this—will this passion be translated into concrete action and the mobilization of greater numbers of missionaries for the mission fields of the world?
The interim report of the Task Force is out, and I am encouraged by the interest and insights of Southern Baptists from across the country who, along with our missionaries around the world, have responded with eagerness, excitement and new ideas.
At the same time, it is clear that some areas of our report and intentions need to be explained and discussed further. This is why we released an interim report. We want to hear from Southern Baptists and to find a way to do even more, together, for the glory of God.
One particular aspect of recent discussions offers a good opportunity for all Southern Baptists to reclaim and affirm every good thing we do together in the service of the Gospel of Christ.
A key aspect of this is the relationship of the Southern Baptist Convention and the state conventions. Outsiders often have a difficult time understanding the structure of the Southern Baptist Convention and our cooperative Baptist work. The SBC is not a national entity with state and local divisions. Baptist associations and state conventions exist on their own right and direct their own mission programs and work.
At the same time, the national convention and the state conventions must work together, rather than competitively. There is more than enough for all of us to do, and it will take all of us doing all within our reach if we are to be faithful in the future, even as we look to the achievements of the past.
We do not want to weaken or marginalize the state conventions. To the contrary, we want to see the state conventions play an even greater role in the future.
I am the product of Southern Baptist work at every level and in every context. In my childhood and youth I had the privilege of belonging to two churches that were deeply involved in the SBC and Baptist work at every level. I attended choir festivals and clinics conducted by the local association. As a boy, one of my chief ambitions was to attend Royal Ambassador camp at Lake Yale, the assembly of the Florida Baptist Convention. I attended a Baptist university deeply connected to its own state convention.
I made my profession of faith in Christ after hearing the Gospel preached in Vacation Bible School. I first experienced a call to ministry while sitting in the auditorium of the state convention’s assembly—a nine-year-old in an RA t-shirt and camp shorts who felt, quite unexpectedly, that God might be calling me to full-time Christian service. I was propelled in ministry and theological education by a state convention college. As president of its student ministerial association, I traveled with the university’s president to the state convention meeting and sessions of its state missions board.
Later, I received my theological education at The Southern Seminary, where for 17 years I have had the experience of serving as president. I have been across this nation and in far regions of the globe where I have seen first-hand the commitment and faithfulness of Southern Baptist missionaries, church planters and other Great Commission workers.
I would never put my name on any proposal that would weaken any aspect of our work together. I want Southern Baptists of the future to have ever richer opportunities than I knew.
We hear the call of the nations; we feel the energy of younger pastors and Baptist leaders at every level who call for us to do more, not less; we are determined to bring a report that will thrill and unify Southern Baptists at every level.
So, we have work yet to do. We asked Southern Baptists to suggest what they thought needed to be changed or adjusted in order for us to work more faithfully together. We received an earful—all valuable and graciously offered. Our report reflects these suggestions, and is driven by sense of urgency.
The bare facts speak for themselves. In the United States, Southern Baptists are falling behind in reaching the great cities, ethnic populations and underserved regions. We must do what it takes to redirect all of us toward greater faithfulness. Around the world, there are more than 5,000 unreached people groups. We know the Great Commission, and we know our task. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to move us into greater effectiveness and faithfulness?
That question will be answered first in the hearts of individual Southern Baptists. Next, it will be answered by our churches. Eventually, every aspect of our denominational work will give its own answer.
We know what that answer must be. We must be willing to do whatever it takes. I am convinced that Southern Baptists will answer this call—and I am also convinced that we can only answer it together.
The Great Commission Resurgence will never happen if it is not embraced by Southern Baptists who are deployed for the Great Commission in every dimension of our work, from the Southern Baptist Convention to every state convention and association.
I am so thankful for the commitment and generosity of Oklahoma Baptists. I am humbled by your commitment and invigorated by your vision. I am thankful for the visionary leadership of Anthony Jordan, and I deeply appreciate his personal words of encouragement and counsel to me and to the Task Force.
Our work is not yet finished—not by a long shot. But we are determined to arrive in Orlando with a report that the Southern Baptist Convention will eagerly embrace. Pray for us as we work to that end, and give us your best thoughts. It will take all of us working together to make this happen.
It has been years now since I was that boy in t-shirt and camp shorts at Royal Ambassador camp, but I still have the same excitement to be a part of what Southern Baptists are doing at home and around the world. Let’s move into the future determined to do even more, together, for the glory of God.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., is president of Southern Seminary.