It is my hope and dream, knowing the autonomy within our convention, that the leaders within our state conventions will take a radical, prayerful look at this priority,” Wright said. “State leaders could be the real heroes here. They are controlling the funds. The Southern Baptist Convention has no authority in this area. It is my hope that there will be a radical reprioritization so that we can bring about these thousands of people groups who have practically no witness of the gospel. Byrant Wright, President of the Southern Baptist Convention
Haven’t we had enough radical change in our country in the last two years? Apparently not, according to new SBC President Byrant Wright. Restating his vision to radically reprioritize (and redefine) the Southern Baptist Convention, he continued his call to dismantle change the autonomous Baptist State Conventions and the Cooperative Program. The above quote by Wright (full article here), which I have no reason to believe is inaccurate, speaks volumes about where he and others would like to take our Convention (it’s not a denomination, no matter how many times certain leaders say it) in the coming years.
Even if certain politicians feign ignorance of the definition of certain words (i.e., “is”), most people understand that words have meaning. When you put words together to form sentences and paragraphs (as I’m doing in this post), you generally have an idea that you are trying to convey. We may not always speak or write as clearly as we would like (and none of us do), but we cannot be so ignorant to think that our words are devoid of meaning.
Which brings me to Bryant Wright’s quote above. Speaking to members of the SBC’s Executive Committee and other leaders assembled in Nashville this week, President Wright challenged Baptist State leaders to be the “real heroes” in the radical reprioritization of how we fund missions within the Convention. How can these Baptist State Convention leaders be heroes in fulfilling the Great Commission and taking the Gospel to unreached people groups overseas? After all, no one wants to be a villain (or a rebellious spy in the desert or a skunk or a liberal). The answer to this question is not a mystery. Wright’s words to members of the EC were not spoken in a vacuum. To understand them in context, one need only read Bryant Wright’s own words in a guest editorial that he wrote for Georgia’s Christian Index, published on November 5, 2009. Among his proposals were:
That each state strive to keep no more than 25-30 percent of the CP funds in state. Funds staying in state currently range from 43-86 percent (see documentation here). The local church should be the primary vehicle in carrying out state and local missions.
This is a major change that would need to be implemented over 3-5 years to allow the state conventions to adjust in their planning. But implementation toward this goal needs to begin immediately with the state CP budgets that will be planned in 2010.
As a pastor and an elected leader within the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, I believe that Wright’s vision, if implemented, will decimate not only our State Convention, but all 41 State Conventions and Fellowships that partner together to fulfill Christ’s mandate to take the Gospel to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Perhaps that was part of the transparent conversation among members of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, but we won’t know that until the records are unsealed in 15 years. Of course by then, it will be moot. For Wright and other establishment leaders, the Great Commission seems to be primarily about the ends of the earth (and certain seminaries, but I digress). With 90% of New Mexico residents lost without Christ, all of whom would spend an eternity in hell, separated from a loving and holy God, I’m not willing to see a Convention of autonomous Southern Baptist churches destroyed in the process of a radical makeover of the SBC!
And so, I have now just outed myself as a villain. You see, State leaders COULD BE THE REAL HEROES if we just let go of the funds. What that means is that States forward 70-75% of all CP money to Nashville, to be divided among the various SBC entities and agencies. That leaves 25-30% for State missions and evangelism for a population like New Mexico that is 90% lost. And don’t be fooled. That level of lostness, while it may not be as high in all states, is almost as high, whether you live in the deep South or the desert Southwest.
If State leaders do not let go of the funds, then they are, by implication, villains. If State Baptist Convention leaders do not buy into Wright and the establishment’s vision, then understand that they will be labeled the opposite of heroes. If State Executive Directors, like Louisiana’s David Hankins or Arkansas’ Emil Turner, dare publicly question the low level of support for NAMB from its new President, then they will not be seen as real heroes. If pastors of small and medium-sized grass-roots churches do not prod their State Conventions to radically alter their CP allocations, keeping less in state and sending far more to national headquarters, then they obviously don’t want to be real heroes.
Real heroes, according to Bryant Wright, let go of the funds. But, if letting go of the funds means crippling our State Baptist Conventions by sending more CP money to an increasingly out-of-touch, elitist establishment who seek to radically redefine the cooperative nature of the Southern Baptist Convention, then call me a villain!