The Great Commission Task Force report that was overwhelmingly approved by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention on June 15 has its roots in a chapel address given by Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin in April 2009. In that address, but not in the adopted report, is an expressed concern over “bloated bureaucracies” in the denominational structure.
Nothing gets bloated bureaucrats more agitated than someone bringing up bloated bureaucracies. But clearly Baptist bureaucracies get a closer look when money dries up or when some loyalists become concerned that too little of it is getting to the preferred location — in the case of the SBC, that is the international mission field.
How the recommendations of this report play out in SBC structures are uncertain and likely varied. But staking down turf is sure to increase.
More than anything, the vote for the task force report and the election of Georgia pastor Bryant Wright as SBC president, whose congregation splits its SBC mission giving between the unified budget (Cooperative Program) and direct support of international missions (Lottie Moon offering), signal that change is coming. However, restructuring old systems is more likely to result from the vote of congregations with the direction of their funding than any report or self-initiated insider trimming.
Likewise, the much younger and smaller Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is looking at restructuring. During a retreat of CBF leaders and partners in April, there was much discussion about how the CBF has evolved over the past 20 years and how it might need to evolve structurally over the next several years.
Coming out of the singularly controlled SBC, the CBF made every effort to be structurally free from the possibility of a takeover. But such looseness has its own challenges.
For example, theology schools have emerged in much greater number than the six that are owned and operated by the SBC. These schools relate to CBF to various degrees along with ties to other institutions and agencies.
Other independent partners (including Baptists Today) work in voluntary cooperation but have no clear divisions of responsibilities (like SBC entities). And state and regional CBF groups, which have emerged over the past two decades, are autonomous as well and require funding for their own operations.
Also worth noting, these groups dip into the same limited pool of resources for funding.
CBF leadership left the retreat with a promise to explore some ways the Fellowship could be restructured. Many of us are eager to hear these ideas and to have the chance to respond.
Change is never without pain and is rarely initiated by those who feel it the most. But it is often necessitated by realities (such as funding and other strong indicators of need) and dealt with because simply “staying the course” will not work.
Such efforts can be done with clenched fists or open hands. Yet, if change is inevitable, the latter sure seems to produce better results than defensiveness and territorial protection.
However, it takes a certain amount of openness – to fresh thinking, new methodologies and even personal risk – to consider a future that is unlike the past. But the results are often worth the pain if an organization comes out leaner, healthier and more effective.
John D. Pierce is executive editor of Baptists Today. This column appeared previously on his blog.