KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Christian Examiner)—For the second time in the past decade, a key Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leader publically suggested the nation's largest Protestant denomination will soon have to grapple with the possibility of merging its North American Mission Board (NAMB) and International Mission Board (IMB). The comments from SBC president Ronnie Floyd came earlier this week at the 2015 Symposium on the SBC and the 21st Century at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
"This is not a new question at all," Floyd told symposium attendees. "Some of us who have been involved in shaping the future have asked this question and tried to answer it honestly. With our present matters at hand, this question is being asked more today than ever before. It should be asked. And there is nothing wrong with asking it by the way."
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin made a similar suggestion, among others, during a seminary chapel sermon in 2009. Thanks in part to that sermon, Southern Baptists formed a task force, led by Floyd, to look at how the denomination could more effectively pursue evangelism and discipleship.
Though the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommended significant changes to the work of the North American Mission and some changes to the International Mission Board, they did not recommend the merger of the two entities.
The foreign and domestic missions entities, as they were known at the time, have been a part of the convention, as separate agencies, since its 1845 founding. In its latest ministry report to the convention, the IMB reported 4,793 missionaries on the field. NAMB supports 5,611 missionaries, according to its report. The two entities receive a total of 73.2 percent of the convention's 2014-15 Cooperative Program allocation.
Floyd, who was elected to his second consecutive term as convention president at the 2015 SBC in Columbus, Ohio, prefaced his comments by telling attendees that spiritual revival had to proceed any structural change. To make his point, he turned to scriptural illustrations of Jacob, Moses, Hezekiah, Josiah, Nehemiah, Peter, Paul and ultimately Jesus who modeled the priority of spiritual revival before structural changes.
"When God renews His people, things change," said Floyd, who has pastored Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas since 1986. "The way things are done change. The attitude of doing things change."
After explaining the priority of spiritual revival, Floyd turned his attention to six probing questions about the convention's future:
- When conversing about this subject, is the real question what is best for the entire Southern Baptist Convention and its future together;or is the real question what is best for the advancement of the Gospel through our Southern Baptist Convention?
- Do we exist to preserve our present brand, structure and systems or do we exist to advance the Gospel together regionally, statewide, nationally and internationally?
- For the sake of Gospel advancement, should the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board become one mission board, the Global Mission Board of our Southern Baptist Convention?
- Do state conventions and associations have a future in Southern Baptist life?
- How will we finance our work together in the future in the most effective way?
- Is there anything new we need to create for today or for the future that will help our churches in their mission of going, baptizing and making disciples of all the nations?
Floyd said he had opinions as to the answers of many of the questions, but only hinted at them in his message. Although many of the questions have been debated in the Baptist blogosphere for years, they've rarely been suggested by sitting SBC presidents.
Besides talking about the potential of combining the two mission boards, he openly discussed the possibility of SBC associations and state conventions merging for greater efficiency. He also suggested the possibility of a new entity focused around compassion ministries and the need for a concerted effort to bring existing other churches into the convention's fold.
"As the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention there is some level of risk for me to be open and honest concerning this subject," said Floyd, speaking of the overall topic of the SBC's future. "Yet this is not about me, and in reality it's not even about the Southern Baptist Convention. It's about the progress and the advancement of the Gospel to the nations through the cooperative work of our churches through the Southern Baptist Convention."
During his message, Floyd systematically questioned objections past leaders have had about merging the two boards.
Most notably, he responded to the objection that the uniqueness of the mission field internationally and in North America required the SBC to have separate sending agencies.
"While this has been true before, is this still true within the global culture we experience daily and with the reality that ethnicities live everywhere across this world?" Floyd asked. "Is this true when technology is helping shape the culture today and can assist us in our mission? Furthermore, with an undeniable global mindset in America today, is this still the right strategy?"
Floyd's questions about a potential merger of the two missions sending agencies come two months after NAMB and the IMB partnered together for the Send North America Conference, a missions conference with more than 13,000 in attendance.
The two entities have done an increasing number of activities together since David Platt became president of the IMB in August of 2014.
During last summer's Southern Baptist Convention, the two entities held a joint luncheon where leaders discussed how they could serve the needs of churches more effectively if they worked more closely together.