NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) – The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is ready to consider revisions to working agreements that will allow the International Mission Board to work directly with internationals living in the United States.
On the agenda at the Executive Committee’s June 13 meeting, just prior to start of the 2011 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix, is a recommendation by IMB trustees to expand the agency’s ministry assignment beyond geographic borders to authorize “specialized defined and agreed upon assistance to the North American Mission Board in assisting churches to reach unreached and underserved people groups within the United States and Canada.”
The proposed change stems from a “Great Commission Resurgence” task force recommendation approved last year to entrust the IMB with “the ministry of reaching unreached and underserved people groups without regard to any geographic limitation.”
Supporters of the change say it makes no sense for IMB missionaries specialized for ministry with a particular ethnic group to be unutilized for reaching people from that same group just because they live in North America.
Critics fear it blurs the lines between “foreign” and “domestic” missions, separate dual priorities since the convention’s organization in 1845, each with its own mission offering, and could open the door to merger of the two mission boards.
Peter Lumpkins, a blogger who writes often about denominational affairs, said the proposal announced by e-mail points to a “One World Missions Ministry” for Southern Baptists, something he opposes.
“This language represents exactly what many of those cited as an open door to combine NAMB and IMB, a merger which was vehemently denied by GCRTF advocates,” Lumpkins wrote. “Yet while NAMB and IMB may not officially ‘tie the knot’ so to speak, the ministry reassignment certainly constitutes what may be the beginning of a legitimate betrothal.”
Merger talk surfaced in 2009 when the chairman of the North American Mission Board said he thinks Southern Baptists would be better served by a “singular world mission agency.” Tim Patterson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., later apologized for giving the impression that his interview with the Florida Baptist Witness was on behalf of the entire board of trustees.
NAMB trustees adopted a statement calling the agency “crucial” to Southern Baptists and “an efficient and effective” entity. The same statement described trustees as “unified in support of our president,” whom they credited with “providing exemplary, unique leadership and vision.” Three months later he resigned after several trustees said they wanted to fire him.
Johnny Hunt, the SBC president at the time who appointed the Great Commission task force, told NAMB employees he was as surprised as anyone by talk of merging the two mission boards. "The Great Commission Resurgence has absolutely nothing to do with that,” Hunt said. “I want to clear the air."
The new mission statement was on the agenda at the Executive Committee’s meeting in February, but action was postponed “so that the approved process for making ministry statement changes can be fully complied with, during which time all pertinent factors can be thoroughly examined.”
Executives from both mission agencies told committee members that their boards had agreed in principle but due to leadership changes at both entities needed more time to iron out details. The motion presented to the Executive Committee in February said the group “affirms the expressed desires” of the task force report but it was amended to “acknowledges” after a member said he did not want to give the impression that he is in favor of the task force's idea.
That suggests there might be differences of opinion in sessions of the pre-SBC meeting in Valley of the Sun Ballroom at Sheraton Hotel, Phoenix. The motion will be presented at 9 a.m. June 13 to the Convention Ministries Workgroup in Ballroom D and then at 10:30 in the same room to the Cooperative Program Subcommittee. From there it goes to a plenary session at 2 p.m. in Ballroom C.
The new NAMB ministry statement proposes streamlining from nine ministry assignments to six, because others are already implied. Another blogger, Howell Scott, said the new language “seems to move the new NAMB toward a full-blown church planting network.”
Scott, a former lawyer and now pastor of Bethel Road Baptist Church in Alamogordo, N.M., said he has nothing against church-planting networks, but he wondered if ministries like collegiate, student and resort ministries not directly related to church planting “have already been or will be told to get off the new NAMB bus.”
Ministry program statements are listed in the Organization Manual of the Southern Baptist Convention and designed to help various convention entities work together in non-competitive ways that promote the total work of the convention. They “express the policy of the convention with respect to entities” and can be changed only by vote of the convention in annual session.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.