Missing the Target: The Southern Baptist Convention and the Great Commission Resurgence

By Mike Raether

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has long championed the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) as Priority Number 1. An admirable goal indeed – the only problem is that fulfillment of the Great Commission isn’t top priority according to Jesus. The SBC is putting the harvest ahead of preparing the field. And unless the field is properly prepared, there’ll be no harvest.

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I admire the people of the SBC. Under the umbrella of the SBC and with the help of SBC people, I’ve planted and pastored two successful SBC church plants. But like many associated with the SBC, I’m distressed by the decline of the Convention. Although I’ve seen some pretty fancy dancing around the issues, most don’t deny that the SBC has been declining in membership and baptisms for around eight years. Some even say that the SBC is losing ground as a force for the gospel.

I’m not the only one concerned, of course. At the annual meeting of SBC this year, a task force was organized to “study how Southern Baptists can work ‘more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.’”(1) The task force was charged to research “key issues and bring their report, along with any recommendations, to the 2010 SBC annual meeting, June 15-16 in Orlando, Florida.”(2)

It is my hope and prayer that the task force will conclude that promotion and fulfillment of the Great Commission is missing the target. I hope and pray that the SBC will conclude that they’ve lost their first love – literally – and change directions, therefore making the main thing the main thing according to Jesus, and thereby usher in fulfillment of the Great Commission.

And what is the “main thing”? What is it that will prepare the fields for a harvest? What is it that will lead to the actual fulfillment of the Great Commission?

It is the Great Commandment, given by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-38.

In response to a question as to His opinion regarding the greatest commandment Jesus answered, “…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”(3) If we come to love God as Jesus stated, we’ll also come to love people and fulfill the second Great Commandment according to Jesus – Matthew 22:39, “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Once we reach the point where we love God and love others, the field (our hearts) will be prepared for the harvest, and fulfilling the Great Commission will be the natural outflow of our lives. Fulfilling the Great Commission will be as natural as stretching in the morning.

To be fair, this is clearly stated in Point III. of the Great Commission Declaration: “Every Christian is called first and foremost to love God and secondly to love others. Greater love for God will always lead to greater love for people created in His image. The Great Commission flows from the Great Commandments.”(4) The problem is that this profound truth is buried in a section of a document few will ever bother to read. And it’s not even Point I, although it’s clearly point 1 according to Jesus.

And so, with a very small and puny voice I’m calling for a Great Commandment Resurgence. Let it begin with the leadership of the SBC, but let it not end there. Let it begin with every church. Let it begin with every pastor. Let it begin with every Christian. Let it begin with me. And let it begin with you.

If you and I truly loved God, sin would be as rare in our lives as mud in a desert.

If you and I truly loved God, hate and racism wouldn’t be any more common in our hearts than germs on a surgeon’s hands.

If you and I truly loved God, Christ’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness would shine from our lives like a flashing beacon set on a mountain.

If you and I truly loved God, good works would flow from us as naturally as water flows from a spring.

If you and I truly loved God, we wouldn’t be known as a bunch of hypocrites.

If you and I truly loved God, the truth would set us free.

We’d hit the target.

And we’d fulfill the Great Commission.

Footnotes – (1) “A Great Commission Resurgence”, SBC LIfe journal, August/September 2009 issue (2) ibed (3) Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (4) www.pray4gcr.com/ (click “What is the GCR?”)

Reminisce or Live?

By Mike Raether

Do you like to daydream? I caught myself daydreaming at my desk

Entrance to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington State
Entrance to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington State

recently, or rather, reminiscing on some past pleasures of my life. I smiled as I remembered when I had a boat, a 24’ cabin cruiser aboard which I spent many lovely days plying the protected bays and harbors of the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Ah! Those were the days! I thought to myself, missing the sea something awful now that I live hundreds of miles away in the mountains of Montana.

About that time an alarm went off in my head.

“Self,” I said to myself, “What are you doing living in the past?”

There is danger hidden in some memories. A memory can be an insidious enemy that drifts lightly into our minds, enchanting us like a feather floating on the wind, all the while robbing us of the present and the future. We can get so caught up in memories that we forget to live in the present, and sometimes even pass on the future. We can become like old men feeding pigeons in a park, mindlessly passing time until death draws a curtain over life.

I do cherish my memories, especially as I’m now in my sixth decade of life. I’ve been a lot of places, seen a lot of things, and done a lot of

Road to Somewhere
Road to Somewhere

stuff. I think I’ve lived well, and would have few regrets should I receive a bad report from my doctor. But I’ve come to realize that there’s a whole lot of livin’ left to be done. And life may have saved the best for last.

I write mostly to my older readers today, who like me are standing in the shadow of mortality. Far gone are the days of youth when I thought I was bullet-proof. My body howls at the things I demand of it. If I take a six-mile hike, I’ll pay for three days (although I’ll do it anyway). I used to survive on five or six hours of sleep a night and brag about it, but now eight hours of solid sleep is one of life’s great treasures. And so it’s tempting to fold my hands in rest, leave the mountains of life to the young bucks, and toss a few crumbs to the pigeons. Until the challenge of what yet may be serves up a better plate than that of stale, past pursuits. Until I think of what can be, what should be, what must be.

I’m reminded of those who accomplished great things in the Indian summer of life.

At 60, playwright and essayist George Bernard Shaw completed the play, Heartbreak House, thought of by many as his masterpiece.

At 70, Benjamin Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence.

At 80, British-American actress Jessica Tandy became the oldest person to receive an Oscar for her performance in Driving Miss Daisy.

In his 80s, the Biblical patriarch Caleb sought permission to make his home in the hill country of the Promised Land, where the enemy still held strongholds. “Perhaps God will be with me,” he said, “And I’ll drive them out.”

“Perhaps…” Perhaps is a good word. The 16th century French Renaissance writer Francois Rabelais once said, “I go to seek a great perhaps.”

What is your “great perhaps”? What would you attempt if “perhaps”? What would you try? Why not find out? Beats feeding pigeons in the park.

Grow old along with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life,

For which the first was made.

(Robert Browning).

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can send me an email, post a comment right here online and more –  

“In the beginning was the Word…”

By Mike Raether

Words. They can be spoken, written, signed, whispered, sung, and shouted. They can communicate love, comfort, and truth. They can inspire, challenge, and correct. And although words are sometimes misused, the truth remains unblemished that words were originally designed by God to be used for the good of mankind.

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In His wisdom, God created words to reveal truth to man. They are His chosen conduits of communication. When Jesus walked the earth, He used words to tell people about God’s love, to heal, and to save. When Jesus returned home, He continued to work in such a way that within a few hundred years the book we call the Holy Bible was completed, a book filled with words to tell us of God’s purposes and plans for man.

Why do you write? To help people become all they can be? That’s admirable. Do you write to make money? That’s OK, too, for Jesus said in Matthew 10:10, “…the worker is worthy of his support.” (NASU). I write for both reasons, and more. The convictions that fuel our writing are many and varied. And our convictions sometimes change with the seasons of our lives. But I believe that the important thing is not so much what we write and why we write, but how we approach our writing that counts.

You and I have a gift. We have the ability to communicate truth with words, the talent to sway men’s opinions and thoughts, to even change the courses of their lives. It is a God-given talent, a special ability not entrusted to many.

We have been given much – and much is required. Writing is a gift that is oft admired, but you and I know that writing is not as glamorous as it seems. It’s often a whole lot of hard work. And with the gift comes responsibility; responsibility to develop the gift of writing to its fullest potential, responsibility to be professionals, and responsibility to put our best efforts into everything we write.

From the beginning, God used words to reveal Himself and His ways to the world. And God made us partners with Him, using the medium of words. Our gift may find expression in many ways, but it is the gift of God nonetheless. As the apostle Paul once told the Corinthians, “…What do you have that you did not receive…” (1 Corinthians 4:7, NASU).

God has created us all different. No two humans have ever been created the same. We are, as Scripture says, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And yet, we humans share many of the same likes and dislikes, and our preferences spill out into our relationship with God and the way we relate to Him. Take worship, for example. Some of us prefer traditional hymns; others like contemporary praise choruses. For some of us worship must be deeply personal, quite, and reflective. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who celebrate God corporately with clapping, swaying, and uplifted hands.

And then there are writers. As writers, can we not approach writing as an act of worship, a special pathway of connection to God?

The next time you sit down to write, make writing an act of worship. Pause and reflect on the gift that has been giving to you. Take a deep breath and breathe out a prayer of thanks. Pick up the pen or rest your fingers on the keyboard with reverent awe. “For in the beginning was the word…”