"Trustees . . . ." Simply the mention of the term has seemed to polarize Southern Baptists in recent days. Over the past year, much has been made of alleged theological agendas and dissension within the trustee system at the International Mission Board, and this discussion has widened to the extent that many view with suspicion anyone who currently helps administrate the "system" within Southern Baptist life.
This mistrust and cynicism toward SBC leaers was hightened just weeks ago when Georgia pastor Bill Harrell publicly stated his desire to deal with what he perceived as two of the most viable threats to Southern Baptists: worship styles and Calvinism. Once again, the blogosphere set fuses ablaze. But just today, the chairman of my trustees at the North American Mission Board cut the fuses loose, and eloquently calls us back to our main task!
Admittedlly, I am a bit partial to Bill Curtis. After all, he is a fellow South Carolinian! Yet his open letter to Southern Baptists speaks to an issue that transcends our home state, and speaks to the very heart of why we cooperate:
Despite our temptation to major on the minors, I’m absolutely convinced that we all know the biggest problem facing Southern Baptists: the reality that there are so many lost people in the world and so few of us are doing anything about it. I’m sure Bill Harrell would agree. As chairman of trustees for the North American Mission Board, let me take a moment to review some indicators of the severity of our problem in North America:
• SBC baptisms are at their lowest levels in 12 years;
• 73 percent of SBC churches are plateaued or declining;
• 11,740 SBC churches reported zero or one baptism in 2005;
• 55 percent of SBC churches baptized no youth between the ages of 12-17 in 2004;
• From 1991-2004, the number of unchurched adults in America increased from 39 million to 79 million;
• Every county in North America is at least 50 percent unchurched (statistics available from NAMB).
It is my understanding that the conservative resurgence was undertaken, ultimately, so that we could have confidence that our agencies and seminaries would equip pastors and churches to fulfill the Great Commission. And in a resulting spirit of unity, we could tackle our biggest problem.
Therefore, I’m calling upon all Southern Baptists — pastors, agency leaders, and laypeople — to consider adopting the following framework for our continued cooperation in evangelism. I offer these suggestions in a spirit of humility and with the sincere desire that our convention successfully refocus on the priority of the Great Commission”
Bravo to Dr. Curtis! You can read his open letter in its entirety here:
As you read Bill Curtis' letter, you will find a brother who called Bill Harrell personally before writing this response, in submission to Matthew 18. You will find a pastor strong in his own convictions, but respectful of the differring perspectives of his fellow Southern Baptists within the parameters of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. You will find true humility that does not seek to arrogantly instruct, but instead pleads with his brothers and sisters as equals. And you will find a Trustee chairman who hasn't lost sight of why we are Southern Baptists! God help all of us to assume such a mindset and spirit!