As the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) moves toward her annual meeting in New Orleans much is being spoken and written concerning the expected recommendation of a new descriptor for the SBC – Great Commission Baptists. When it comes to the new descriptor I really have mixed emotions. As a former pastor, SBC evangelism professor and now state convention leader in church planting and missions, I long for us to be Great Commission Baptists. I’m just not sure at this point in our history we are worthy of the name and I’ll tell you why – mission creep.
Mission creep is when an organization gradually broadens its original objectives or mission. Originally used in the early 1990s with reference to military operations, it is now a most appropriate term to identify the disease attacking organizations across the spectrum of society – and that includes the church.
Today, it seems the church in America has lost sight of her “original objective,” the one given to her by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, to “Go… and make disciples of all nations.” In all four Gospels, (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20) and in Acts (Acts 1) Jesus clearly gives His followers their mission. Again and again, He drives home His objective for them – make disciples of all people groups. Our Lord could not have stated more clearly the mission of the church!!
However, my focus for this blog is not to critique the American church but rather to call attention to the growing problem within the SBC. The problem is that the church, as expressed in Southern Baptist life, has fallen victim to mission creep at every level – the individual believer, the local church, associations, state conventions and our national SBC entities. We have replaced fulfilling the Great Commission with good things – fighting for social justice, working for racial diversity, championing environmental stewardship, defending doctrinal belief systems, building homes for the homeless, feeding the hungry, providing a myriad of programs/activities/training for our people and churches, supporting institutions of social ministry, embracing foster care and adoption, caring for immigrants, expanding our educational platforms, and the list goes on and on.
Please hear me. These are all good things, some are even biblical mandates, but none are the mission of the church. While Southern Baptists have turned our attention to these worthy activities, the Great Commission has received less of our money, time, energy, focus and spiritual giftedness. Southern Baptists have become victims of mission creep.
So, where do Southern Baptists go from here? How do we roll back the devastating effects of mission creep in our churches and throughout our denomination? Well, it begins with repentance. As a family of faith known as Southern Baptists, we must ask the Father to forgive us of the sin of mission creep and we must return to a preeminent focus on the Great Commission. Second, we must reprioritize our focus, our finances, our ministries and our hearts upon glorifying God through the making of disciples of all people groups. That is our mission! Third, we must find the courage, and it will take great courage, to divest ourselves of many “priorities” that we have accumulated along the way. “Priorities” that have taken our eyes off the Great Commission and led us down a path of stagnation and now decline. Many good things, many very good things, have to fall by the wayside for Southern Baptists to truly become Great Commission Baptists.
For 44 years I have been a member of a Southern Baptist Church, and through those years have discovered the Great Commission to be our battle cry. My prayer is that the Great Commission will become our conviction and we will once again embrace the Great Commission as our mission. Then, and only then, will we be worthy of the name Great Commission Baptists.