by Christopher Regas
Associate Pastor, Glenwood Baptist Church, Kansas City, MO
The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time,
Chuck Lawless and Adam W. Greenway. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010. 429 pp. $26.99.
I have often thought through the years, if the body of Christ — the local church in general and me in particular — would get serious about the last words that Jesus spoke to the local church, we could fulfill the Great Commission in our generation. What a challenge and encouragement that is to my own heart” (xi). With these words, Johnny Hunt, popular preacher and current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, begins his foreword to the book, The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Time. If your heart beats with the same passion, then you will want to get a copy of this book. Be prepared, though, for that passion to rise and grow stronger for having read it.
Nineteen essays written by Southern Baptist leaders (contributors include recognizable names such as Ed Stetzer, Thom Rainer, Albert Mohler, and David Platt) attempt to address the growing concern among Southern Baptists that their fellowship is in decline in the midst of demographic changes. Unfortunately, the problem of dormant churches, declining numbers, and discouraging trends is not unique to Southern Baptists, and we in the Fellowship can learn from this volume.
The five sections of the book suggest a pathway for experiencing a resurgence in fulfilling the Great Commission: (1) Where We Are; (2) From the Word; (3) For the World; (4) Via the Church; and (5) The Way Forward. This structure agrees with Hunt’s observation “that if we really desire to be where God wants us, we must honestly appraise where we are now and then make sure we have a clear path based on His precious Word to lead us to where He would have us to be.” (xi)
The first four chapters explain the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC): how demographic changes in the U.S. population impact church growth; how doctrinal faithfulness does not guarantee evangelistic fruitfulness; how past and present threats can undermine Great Commission priorities and partnerships; and ten questions any organization more than 20 years old should ask about its future.
The next four chapters deal with the relationship of theology and the Great Commission, with a good discussion of the balance of both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. The next section of four chapters has to do with missions. Chapters on how North America has become a mission field, and the threat that the American dream poses to a Great Commission resurgence are especially helpful.
Yet another four chapters concentrate on the local church and the Great Commission. Finally three chapters attempt to chart a way forward in light of recent trends and developments. A latter chapter “reminds all church leaders and local churches that as we move forward, we will need convictional boundaries grounded in the truthfulness of Scripture while at the same time we will need to build bridges of cooperation. We cannot ignore necessary boundary markers.”
When the largest Baptist group in America publicly admits decline and seeks to address its deficiencies in a biblical and practical manner, we should all sit up and take notice. The pastors and churches of our Fellowship will identify with much here: the repeated call for a grass roots resurgence at the local church level; the weakness of a mechanical, programmatic approach to making disciples; and the threat of denominational bureaucracy. Many of the struggles identified will ring true for every Baptist pastor and church in America, no matter the affiliation: the changing demographics of the U.S. population, the “tsunami” of global urbanization and immigration, the need for “methodological pluralism,” the increasing secularization of our culture, evangelistic ineffectiveness, the graying of our churches, and the disengagement of younger leaders.
On this last point, I was struck by a statement in one chapter by Stetzer and Nation on partnering with our sons and daughters for a Great Commission future. They present five options regarding younger leaders who are coming of age: we can (1) try to stop them; (2) alienate them; (3) be apathetic; (4) be hesitant; or (5) take a deep breath, hand them the keys, mentor, and pray! The wisdom of the final challenge is worth quoting:
“Paul struggled with the young leader Mark, but multiplied himself through young men like Timothy and Titus. It will not always be easy but it will always be worthwhile. He gave ministry away to young leaders. He valued them as sons. He released them as co-laborers. He knew the future of the movement was beyond what he could physically protect and accomplish….
You can provide what no technology or trend can do. You can become a leader to the next leaders. You can become the person who cares enough to pray and invest in young leaders. You can help keep them accountable and encouraged as they take the keys and get behind the wheel…. The greatest legacy that you may leave behind is not a large ministry but the ability in another person to lead in the grandness of God’s kingdom and His church.” (385-386)
The issues in this book are not unique to any one movement, but are shared concerns of all who are burdened for fulfilling the Great Commission in our generation, and every movement must come to grips with the current need for a resurgence in reaching our generation for Christ.