Posted on : Monday April 26, 2010

By Martin King, Illinois Baptist

NASHVILLE (IB)—In 1996, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a new strategy and structure to prepare the denomination for the soon-to-arrive twenty-first century. The most prominent component of the Covenant for a New Century was combining of three agencies into a new domestic mission agency called the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

Fifteen years later, the Southern Baptist Convention is again considering recommendations from a national study committee, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF), and much of the focus is, again, on NAMB. According to an initial report from the task force, the agency’s primary task of missions advance remains much the same, but the strategies, responsibilities and partnerships need to change.

Seven pages of a 32-page “progress report” delivered Feb. 22 to the SBC’s Executive Committee in advance of a final May report describes Component #2 of the task force’s vision that NAMB “needs to be reinvented and released … to plant churches in North America and to reach our nation’s cities, and clarify its role to lead and accomplish efforts to reach North America with the Gospel.”

The report addresses two basic questions about NAMB: What should the agency do, and how should NAMB do its work, especially in relation to state Baptist conventions? (For how NAMB might complete its task, please see “How NAMB’s ‘reinvention’ could change the way it works” on page 17.)

What should NAMB do?

With the adoption of the Covenant for a New Century, the SBC adopted ministry assignments for each national agency to “direct the agencies to serve the mission of its churches through focused ministry responsibilities.”
NAMB still carries the nine ministry statements approved as part of the Covenant, each beginning with the phrase “Assist churches” followed by a statement of responsibility for:
-Supporting missionaries
-Establishing new congregations
-Christian social ministries
-Volunteer missions
-Missions involvement and education
-Communication technologies
-Service to associations
-Disaster relief
The GCRTF progress report doesn’t differentiate between purpose and mission statements, official ministry assignments, and unofficial priorities and emphases, however, it presents a vision for a reinvented NAMB to focus on five areas:
-Church Planting
-Evangelism and discipleship
-Sending and Supporting Missionaries
-Missional Impact ministries

It’s clear the task force believes the primary emphasis of the agency should be on church planting. In fact, the report proposes that half of the agency’s “ministry efforts” be given to church planting. During a news conference the evening the report was released, representatives of the task force said they did not know what percent of NAMB’s resources were currently devoted to church planting, although NAMB officials say that as much as 40 percent or more of the agency is now focused on starting new congregations.

The report also prioritizes church planting in metropolitan areas and “underserved people groups,” a term later explained to refer to areas where Southern Baptist work is not as well established as it is in the Southern US, often referred to as pioneer or new work areas.

The GCRTF envisions NAMB continuing to emphasize evangelism, but encourages the agency to also “embrace discipleship,” a responsibility specifically assigned to LifeWay Christian Resources in the 1996 Covenant. However, the report states that NAMB and LifeWay “can work together to deepen our commitment to disciplemaking.”

Ronnie Floyd, GCRTF chairman, told reporters in a Feb. 22 news conference after presenting the report he doesn’t envision LifeWay discontinuing
anything it is doing in discipleship.

Another new responsibility proposed for NAMB is pastoral leadership training. The GCRTF envisions NAMB equipping “pastors for contextual evangelism and church planting … to assess and equip church planters, and provide networking to equip current church leaders.” LifeWay’s ministry assignment does not currently include pastoral leadership training.

The morning after releasing the task force interim report, chairman Ronnie Floyd shared with four state Baptist papers a graphic representation of NAMB as envisioned by the GCRTF. Half of the “NAMB pie” was devoted to church planting, one-fourth to evangelism and discipleship, and another fourth to “current pastoral leadership.” Encircling those three tasks was a section labeled “Sending and Supporting Missionaries,” assumed to be a fourth major emphasis or ministry assignment for the reinvented mission board.
Five of NAMB’s remaining current six ministry assignments are mentioned in one paragraph of the GCRTF report under a desire for NAMB to assist churches “through missional impact.” The “progress report” says of NAMB: “As they educate Southern Baptists for mission involvement and commitment, they will direct and facilitate disaster relief ministries and Christian social ministries, endorse chaplains, communicate with associations and state conventions, and assist volunteer mission involvement.” Also included in the “missional impact” assignments is the task of endorsing chaplains which NAMB currently handles through a special commission created by the SBC in 1941.

The lack of attention to these five ministries in the report and in the “NAMB pie,” and a reference in the report to “streamlining” the agency has caused ministry supporters to question the future of these ministries in a reinvented agency. Several of the ministries have a high national profile, such as disaster relief, SBC chaplains, and WorldChangers, while others with a long denominational history include Royal Ambassadors, Christian social ministries, and support of regional associations.

In answering a question about these ministries, Floyd told the Illinois Baptist newspaper, the GCRTF was being general and not specific about some ministries.
“We painted in broad strokes, but obviously, the NAMB trustees will have to work those matters out. I think they will continue to do those things, but they will have to decide those matters in the relationship of the entire organization,” Floyd said. “By no means do we envision matters like disaster relief or chaplaincy be minimized because we are big proponents of them.”

Not included in the report is NAMB’s assignment to communicate the Gospel through the use of communication technologies which, in the 1996 Covenant, referenced the work of FamilyNet, which NAMB operated for ten years but sold in 2007. The omission of such assumes that specific assignment will be discontinued.
What ministries NAMB emphasizes or de-emphasizes, funds or de-funds, handles itself or passes along to state conventions, associations or churches, ultimately depends on two things: SBC approved ministry assignments and the trustees and leadership of the affected entities, according to the SBC Constitution and ByLaws. Approval of changes in NAMB’s formal ministry statements by the Convention may delay implementation for another year because recommendations on such changes must first come from the SBC Executive Committee which could likely not happen until 2011.

Of course, if the final task force report is approved at the annual meeting in Orlando, the new NAMB president, who observers believe will most certainly be a GCR supporter, will begin to implement the new vision even before the technicalities of ministry assignments are approved.

Editor’s note: Marty King served as director of communications for the Home Mission Board and North American Mission Board for 14 years prior to joining the Illinois Baptist State Association in 2006 as associate executive director and editor of
Illinois Baptist.