At First Baptist Church of Mt Healthy, we pray for and support cooperative missions, church planting, and the gospel work. As a congregation, we have focused on doing more with less, squeezing every penny that we could to reach as many people as we can in the little time we have left on this earth. We work hard to place the gospel at the forefront of every activity we do, whether it is to share Christ at a Block Party, hand out tracts at Trunk n Treat, or give away Bibles to anyone who needs one. We are a solid, theologically conservative church, placing the message of God’s love to be preeminent while at the same time being willing to change the message in an attempt to reach more.
Though I became a Christian in the midst of the SBC Conservative Resurgence, I am indebted to those pastors and lay leaders who spoke out for the SBC to go back to its values involving Scripture. I am proud to have attended a Southern Baptist Seminary, spending over nine years to receive a MDiv and a PhD. I am thrilled for the renewed interest in church planting, seeing so many young men and women sacrifice all for the sake of the gospel in this venue. When the Great Commission Report was passed by the SBC messengers, I was in support of change. I saw bureaucracy, bloatedness, and ineffectiveness in some SBC entitites, and I saw the need for the SBC to do some radical things to end the decline within the convention. I am equally joyful to be in Ohio, who as a frontier state, has done radical things for the gospel in the areas of church planting, outreach, and church strengthening. This is why I am scratching my head about the proposed changes from the North American Mission Board (NAMB), led by Dr. Ezell. The changes, mostly in terms of funding and structure, may impact our work adversely in Ohio, an unreached and unserved state.
Truth is, this just doesn’t make sense. In Ohio, we have seen a sizable percentage of church plants succeed, plants that make up a large number of our total church number and of baptisms. We have demonstrated a willingness to give and to sacrifice, devoting a significant part of our SCBO budget to church planting. For example, our most effective ministries also center around reaching the lost in college campuses and community ministries, yet even now it is unknown if these ministries will be funded by NAMB beyond 2012. Even more, though the Send North America strategy seems to be a wonderful attempt to reach cities in Ohio, details are sketchy and slow in coming. All of this piled together makes for a confusing and frustrating experience in churches, associations, and the SCBO.
Is this the Great Commission Resurgence we talked about a few short years ago? So far, I think not, because there is little doubt that it has been disruptive. We in Ohio are going to vote on resolutions calling for change within NAMB, and I wholeheartedly support these resolutions that we will discuss. It is shameful that we must do this, but we must, and I grieve that we have to do this rather than talk about the progress of our vision to reach 1 million people and 2020 churches in Ohio by the year 2020. However, in the spirit of being constructive, and to show that not everything that NAMB has done has been off base, I am recommending seven changes to NAMB’s methods regarding the state of Ohio to help us reach more souls for Christ:
- Continue to emphasis church planting. Church planting is the lifeblood of our gospel work- if we do not plant churches we will die. Fund planters and fund our state planting directors- currently, NAMB is proposing to cut this for 2013 (a very strange move indeed). Put your money where your mouth is.
- Reaffirm commitment to State Conventions. Okay, let’s be honest about this. Dr. Ezell, I love you, brother, but the perception is that you did not had a good track record on State Convention support when you were in Kentucky. You claim to support state conventions, but the latest cuts in funding while wanting an increase in funding from conventions (a 50/50 split in CP) over a very short period of time communicates otherwise. You need to reaffirm your commitment to the conventions in a real way, working with executive directors such as our well loved Dr. Kwok, and understand them before seeking to be understood. Not doing this may mean disastrous consequences for relations with NAMB and for the gospel work.
- Open more dialogue with our associations, pastors, and SCBO personnel. One-way communication rarely works in any setting, and in Baptist settings, it doesn’t work at all. Right now, there is a great deal of mistrust as to the intentions of NAMB toward associational and state convention work. Having open dialogues with knowledgeable representatives from NAMB will help. The days of shoulder shrugs and statements of “I don’t know” for most every answer need to be over, and NAMB reps need to be better informed and empowered to give straight answers to difficult questions.
- Respect associational and state autonomy. Associations and state conventions are voluntary, autonomous fellowships of churches. Rather than forcing the hand of these groups to change through finances and job descriptions, work with member churches to help come up with simple, logical solutions to achieve a common goal: use less money for administration and more for direct gospel work. For example, in Cincinnati, it could be argued that we have four associations inefficiently overlapping this area, but NAMB and the SCBO can be a catalyst to help make change in this area rather than force the change financially.
- Reach our college campuses. An influx of college aged students in a church has been a huge blessing for us at FBC Mt. Healthy. Most churches would be more than thrilled to have them. Without collegiate ministries, we would have little to no presence at college campuses. If we are serious about the Great Commission and reaching the lost, why would we ignore campuses that often have the population of small cities? There’s a serious disconnect here.
- Remember the poor. We have a great deal of talk about the gospel, but we are commanded to share verbally and care physically. Funding the church and community missionaries will help churches be reminded of the need to meet physical needs while sharing the eternal truth of Jesus Christ. In fact, as a pastor of a ever changing and multicultural church in Cincinnati, we have little to no hope of reaching more people in the cities unless we show them that we care.
- Be clear on Send North America. Most people haven’t heard about it. If they have, they don’t know details. Why? Because the concept either hasn’t been fully developed or fully explained. Tell us what you want to do, and I think we as gospel focused churches will want to partner in it, but we need to have clarity.