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?”)

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