By Randy C. Davis
TBC Executive Director
Almost everyone has seen the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels perform their amazing aerial acrobatics. These highly skilled pilots are among the best of the best in the world. The “Blues” as they are nicknamed, fly $60 million F/A-18s inches apart at hundreds of miles per hour. There is virtually no margin for error. These pilots strive for perfection every time.
But they are not perfect. Immediately after every “mission,” the Blues debrief every moment and dissect each to the smallest detail. The point is not to dwell on the past but to improve for the future.
In a sense, Southern Baptists need a debrief in the wake of approximately 1,000 International Mission Board missionaries and staffers stepping away from Great Commission work. The purpose of such a rigorous introspection would be to improve for the future. We need to refocus and reset.
In a previous column (“IMB: How Did We Get Here?” in the March 9 issue of the Baptist and Reflector), I offered six observations why I believe Southern Baptists should step back and evaluate our advance of the gospel. My assessment is that we’ve lost evangelism as a priority, that we’re failing at discipleship, that we’ve become financially selfish, that we’ve focused on maintaining the “SBC Machine” more than the mission, that we’ve become prideful, and that we’ve created unrealistic expectations by extending our missions force beyond our financial resources.
More broadly stated, the SBC has a vision problem and that’s why we need to refocus and reset. Historically, the DNA of Southern Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention is rooted in the authority of the Bible and passionate Great Commission cooperation. There was a season in our history when individuals surrendered personal agendas, made noticeable sacrifices, and had a hunger to see people come to Christ. The salvation of the spiritually lost was paramount in everything we did individually and collectively. As a result, our forebearers instituted great benevolent ministries, Christian colleges and seminaries, medical facilities, and missionary sending agencies. Their goal was not to build ecclesiastical machines, but to fervently pursue the God-ordained mission of the Great Commission.
In more recent decades, however, we’ve often focused on building kingdoms, just not God’s Kingdom.
A recent article reported the IMB’s significant downturn in overseas baptisms. Yes, we can reason away the fact that numbers are down because the way reporting has changed, but truth is, we are probably baptizing fewer overseas because we are definitely baptizing fewer in North America.
So how do we recover clarity of vision? How do we actually reset? Here are three fundamental steps I believe we need to take to improve for the future.
(1) We must “own it.” By “it” I mean everything — our apathy, our indifference, our pettiness, our personal agendas cloaked in righteous language. I mean everything, and I mean first as individuals and then collectively as a people. It is easy to toss responsibility on a faceless denomination, but responsibility begins with you and me, the individuals who comprise the denomination. Each entity leader needs to own it, pastors need to own it, and people in our churches need to own it. We each need to point to ourselves, and in brokenness, repent. Let’s really get serious with God. Let’s really strive for humility and obedience.
(2) We must recapture the heart of God. I believe this begins in the prayer closet. I think of Abraham praying for Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham didn’t change God’s mind; God already knew what He was going to do. But prayer changed Abraham. He developed a vision for the heart of God that came as a result of laboring in prayer before God. We can preach about the Great Commission, we can create efficient organizations to support Great Commission work, we can generate a significant amount of Great Commission activity, but the heart of God is found through the diligence in prayer.
(3) We must actually do “whatever it takes.” Several years ago, this was one of the IMB’s annual themes. We use it as part of our annual Tennessee Baptist Convention Summit theme. But have you ever noticed we jump from one annual theme to another? We spend financial resources developing a “look” to support the theme, but themes have become disposable clichés. What if “Whatever it Takes” became an attitude woven into the fabric of our lives? What if we really did whatever it took to ensure the advance of the gospel? Spend a few minutes envisioning how your life would look if “Whatever It Takes” became the air you breathed.
Ultimately I believe we can’t have a reset without a refocus, and I believe a refocus comes from owning our piece of the problem as an individual which leads to repentance, which fuels prayer, which breeds humility, which aligns us with the heart of God.
And when we come together through a cooperative effort, we will share a Great Commission vision that moves forward to globally accomplish His will for all nations.