How institutions keep us faithful

March 14, 2019

A lot can be lost in a single generation. Ronald Reagan famously admonished Americans that they had to teach the principles of freedom to a rising generation or those principles could be lost. The writers of Scripture often warned the leaders of Israel that unless they rehearsed the works of God to their children and grandchildren, a generation would arise that “knew not the Lord or his ways.” Read the pages of Scripture and church history, and you’ll find a troubling reality: It is far too easy to begin well and end poorly.

Southern Baptists have a lot to pass on to the next generation, and one of the most important principles is the concept and practice of cooperative mission. Our cooperative mission strategy has yielded one of the greatest gospel movements in history. If we are going to remain faithful as a denomination, then we will only do so by remaining fixed on the mission Christ commissioned for us.

Passing the torch of mission in the SBC

Cooperation between churches for the sake of mission is what drives the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Of course, Baptists didn’t invent the idea of missional cooperation. All throughout the New Testament, we see churches partnering together to advance the mission. Paul mentioned giving—from one church to another—in several of his letters (Rom. 15:26; 1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 8-9; cf. Acts 11:27-30). Interestingly, when Paul mentioned the gift given by the Macedonian Christians in Romans 15, he called it “koinonia”—literally, “fellowship.” Chad Brand, in his online article, “Cooperative Ministry in the New Testament,” goes so far as to say that financial sharing for the sake of the mission is the key element of fellowship for churches in the New Testament.

The church I pastor, The Summit Church, has “fellowshipped” with the SBC since our birth. It is a partnership that has greatly enriched us. For instance, the SBC enables and equips us to send our people out in ways that we could not do alone. We currently have more than 200 people serving overseas, most of whom are with the International Mission Board (IMB). That’s an enormous investment, and we are incredibly grateful to stand with Southern Baptists in support of all our missionaries.

Closer to home, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has been a crucial partner in all of our 43 domestic church plants. Then there’s the world-class training provided by our SBC seminaries, which has equipped a huge portion of our staff. And I can’t ignore the personal debt I owe to the SBC as a two-time seminary graduate and former IMB missionary! I could go on—retirement benefits, community outreach, mission trip coordination, representation in Washington, D.C., local and state church planting partnerships, aid in work among refugees and immigrant communities, and many other crucial projects.

All of that (and quite a bit more) is made possible by something that the younger generation finds uninspiring—a commitment to our institutional structures. More specifically, our mission opportunities are a result of our cooperative giving. When we give through the Cooperative Program (CP), Annie Armstrong, or Lottie Moon offerings, we are giving to a powerful and proven method for supporting the Great Commission. This is what the SBC has always
been about.

It’s hard for many people to get pumped about giving to an institution. We love hearing stories of life change and success in missions. We rarely hear (or tell) stories of the support structures that made those stories possible. Perhaps we should.

A rising tide raises all ships 

One of the biggest challenges for the SBC in the next two decades will be increasing the engagement of a new generation of churches in our Convention. Much of this is specific to the SBC, but the broad strokes of these ideas apply, I believe, to all churches in the United States. If we keep our focus on the mission, we have to do what we can to continue funding the mission. God has given us what we have, not to make us more comfortable, but to make us more effective in mission. I see our engagement increasing in three key ways:

1. All churches ought to be giving more to the Cooperative Program.

That may seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating. At The Summit Church, our Great Commission Giving (i.e. all giving to SBC entities) has always been high (last year totaling 19 percent of our undesignated receipts). Over the last few years, however, we have made a concerted effort to increase our traditional CP giving as well (currently 2.4 percent of undesignated receipts). That’s worth celebrating. But I recognize that there is still a great need for more money to go through traditional CP structures.
We aren’t where we need to be yet.

And, candidly, neither are most of the churches in our Convention. I’ve heard it said that if 100 percent of the members of any one church just tithed, then most churches would more than triple their available funds. The same is true across our denomination. Our institutional structures have allowed the mission to go forward, so we should feel no shame in calling each other to keeping the mission going.

2. Since CP giving goes through the states, we should encourage state conventions to do as much as they can to get money to the field.

CP money is given for the sake of mission, particularly overseas mission among unreached people groups. As much of that money as possible should be directed toward that aim. I appreciate the conventions like Florida and Texas (among many others!) that have led the way in this, giving more of their money away to the field than they keep. Our own executive director-treasurer, Milton Hollifield, has talked about doing this in North Carolina, too. We are grateful for the many kingdom-minded leaders in our local and state conventions.

3. We should celebrate all Great Commission giving.

Some churches will choose to give cooperatively but not through the traditional CP structures. We recognize that churches have the freedom to give in various ways; however, I don’t want to see us go back to “societal giving”—where everybody gives only to their favorite entity. Overly-specified giving is not healthy in a local church, and it wouldn’t be for the Convention either. We have elected leaders, and we should trust them to steward the money. If we’re not happy with those leaders, we should vote them out. But as Paul Chitwood, former executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (and huge CP advocate) and newly-elected president of the IMB, has put it, cooperation means more than mere CP percentages. A rising tide, as they say, raises all ships; the more we celebrate all of the Great Commission giving we see in the SBC, the more we’ll see giving toward the CP rise, too.

Movements need institutions 

As I look to the future of the SBC, I am reminded of the need for both movements and institutions in the kingdom of God. Movements are exciting—they are grassroots level initiatives that feel spontaneous, Spirit-prompted, and generate a lot of buzz, enthusiasm, and participation. Institutions, by contrast, have the reputation of being fixed, firm, and sometimes boring and bureaucratic. But both movements and institutions need each other. Institutions without movements lack vitality. But movements without institutions lack staying power.

For example, if you look at some of the most robust movements of church planting networks in the U.S.—many of which are doing excellent work—you may be disappointed in the actual numbers. Very few of these charismatic movements are churning out more than 100 new church planters a year. Most are sending out far fewer.

Compare that with the number of SBC graduates from last year—2,000. Even if you wanted to eliminate half of those (as underqualified or not headed into pastoral ministry), that still leaves 1,000 qualified graduates every year. Together, as Southern Baptists, we have nearly 4,000 missionaries serving overseas, in almost every nation in the world. Because of our cooperation, they have training and care structures, and a multi-million dollar budget to support them.

None of that would be feasible without the machinations of the SBC institutions. It may be easier and more exciting to jump on board with a nimble movement, but the long-term impact is not nearly as substantial. The cumbersome nature of institutions can be maddening, but there’s really no arguing with their strategic importance.

We need the institutions of the SBC. And we need the next generation to get involved in all of them. I’ve heard it said that decisions in our Convention, at every level, are made by those who choose to show up. For those of us who have led the SBC in mission, it’s time for us to encourage others to “show up” in our Convention.

More importantly, for all of the passionate, missions-minded, and movement-oriented people who are eager to see advancement in the SBC, I want to say: Show up. Stick it out. Stay involved. You need this institution, and just as importantly, this institution needs you if it’s going to stay faithful to its mission. You will always have institutions with you, but you won’t always have movements. Don’t buy the lie that you’ve got to pick between the two; instead, be the movement that these institutions need!

This article originally appeared in Light Magazine.

J.D. Greear

J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and the 62nd president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24