By Will Hall, Message Editor
NEW ORLEANS – David Crosby, pastor of the First Baptist Church in New Orleans, shared with the Louisiana Baptist Message some of his thoughts about what his possible election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention might mean for the denomination, emphasizing that “the work we do together is about the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.”
Speaking by phone, Crosby said on that point “We’ve got to do both proclamation and incarnation. I think the Gospel requires behavior as well as words.” He added he would work with our national entities to underscore compassion ministries as a way to unleash churches to reach the lost.
Crosby also expressed “alarm” about the multi-year trend of designated giving — the focus on independent work instead of cooperative ministries — outpacing gifts through the Cooperative Program.
Likewise, he expressed grave concern about the “almost accidental” downsizing of the International Mission Board, asking “Why didn’t we have a conversation about this?” instead of “just being blindsided by it.”
Regarding the impact of Calvinism on the Convention, Crosby said Southern Baptists always before have been able to live together “with some tensions but in relative peace for years and decades,” but now there is too much passion in “defending our particular point of view, instead of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and God’s love for lost people.”
COMPASSION FOR THE LOST
“The main thing is love God with all your heart, love your neighbors as yourself,” Crosby emphasized, adding that “the great commission and the great commandment are what drives me personally and what drives the creation of our entities and the mission of our entities.
He said one of his emphases as denominational president would be to push Southern Baptist entities to “be more deliberate with this at the national level” — making compassion ministries a priority as part of our evangelism strategy.
“I think the Gospel requires behavior as well as words,” he explained. “I don’t think words are enough. If words were enough, God wouldn’t have become flesh, but the Word became flesh. Not just a prophet but a healer; not just a teacher but a carpenter. The Word became flesh. It’s very practical, and I think a full-orbed presentation of the Gospel includes ‘love thy neighbor’ in demonstrable ways that turn our proclamation into an endearing testimony of the love of God.
“I’m not saying it’s easy or that it makes everybody happy” to focus the congregation’s energies on reaching out to “neighbors in need,” he conceded. “But it sure gives you a wonderful platform for sharing the love of Christ and demonstrating His love in your world.”
“We deploy our body of believers on Wednesday night to about a dozen compassion ministry sites — helping our neighbors and loving them. It’s been a joy to see Christians growing in Christ, understanding the Gospel better — now that they’re sharing it every week at a nursing home or in a prison setting or at a feeding station.
“They’re working with ESL or reaching out to dancers on Bourbon Street,” he described. “I mean there are all kinds of ways in which we express the love of God to our neighbors in need around us, and the amazing thing is that, as we do that, we learn the Gospel.
“Most people learn by doing not sitting in a chair,” Crosby observed, “and doing ‘love thy neighbor’ is a profound and powerful way to understand the Good News.
Crosby said there is some direction from denominational leaders about compassion ministries, but added that Southern Baptists are missing lots of opportunities at the local level.
Meanwhile, Crosby has written a book on the topic based largely on the compassion ministries at his church.
“If I were elected president, it would be an interesting alignment of the arrival of that book and being elected and maybe that’s part of the purpose of God,” Crosby offered.
Crosby underscored his belief that the Southern Baptist Convention as an entity is defined by “the work we do together.”
“I think that is why we have a Convention,” he added. “We work together to do things to accomplish the worldwide mission of the church.”
Crosby recounted how he started out as a young independent Baptist preacher.
He said in a couple of months the contrast with the way Southern Baptists did missions was stark: “After a while in that setting, I came to greatly appreciate cooperation in missions.
“The independent way did not offer the kind of supervision, oversight, and accountability that I wanted to see in our mission work,” he stated. “It did not offer a worldwide strategy, a strategic approach to where we deployed missionaries.”
Furthermore, it was “accidental,” he said. “So I’ve led my churches through these 40-plus years to be involved in our cooperative work in a significant way, and it’s been a blessing to me.”
As SBC president, he declared, “that’s what I’m going to do — talk about the cooperative spirit and what it means to get along together: how we do that; what it means to trust each other and maintain the lines of accountability and supervision with grass roots but really in humility; love each other and work together for the cause of Christ around the world.”
EMPHASIZE CP AGAIN
Crosby said he was “alarmed” about the swing in preference toward designated giving, termed “Great Commission Giving,” to the apparent detriment of the Cooperative Program.
“Because the unified giving method allows us as a convention to develop a strategy that goes from the pew to the preacher to the seminary training to the deploying of missionaries and their support,” he said. “It gives us a comprehensive strategy.”
“For instance, if seminaries were depending on designated dollars from churches, those seminaries would be in trouble, and,” he continued, “I’m thinking a lot of our work would be in trouble.
“How many churches are designating money to support the collegiate ministries in Louisiana, to support church planting?” he asked. “When you really look at the breadth and the depth of our work together, the designated process — if we continue to go that way – is going to dismantle a lot of what we do, and it will hurt all of what we do.
“We’re going to look back on these days when we had 5,000 missionaries on the field and we’re going to pine for these days and say ‘You know there was a time when Southern Baptists did their work together, and we had a grand plan for carrying the Gospel locally, Judea, Samaria, to the outermost parts of the earth,’” Crosby stressed.
“Now we’ve sort of retired that plan — for what? What is the plan to sustain our work together if we all go to designated giving?
“It’s going to be a return to a day that was not pleasant for our churches and was not as effective for our cooperative work.
Crosby also expressed concern about the suddenness by the International Mission Board in deciding to eliminate 1,132 positions through voluntary terminations, while still hiring new appointees during the drawdown process.
Crosby called the downsizing of SBC overseas missionaries “almost accidental.”
“It was like, ‘What happened?’” he said. “Why didn’t we have a conversation about this? Did anybody know that this was going on? All of a sudden we were just blindsided by it.”
He added that the IMB should have informed Southern Baptists years ago about this budgetary crisis and how they were handling it.
He also commented on the current IMB strategy of investing so heavily among people groups who are historically resistant to the Gospel.
Crosby said “responsiveness” should be the key metric in how resources are apportioned to reach lost people around the globe, and he offered an analogy to illustrate his point.
“At the local level, if I know somebody is asking questions about Christ, and I’ve got somebody over here who’s a hardened atheist and I’ve argued with him, I’m going to go find that person who is asking questions,” he said. “If they say, ‘Please have pastor call me,’ or ‘I want to trust Christ the Savior,’ I’m going to make my first call there just because they are responsive, curious, interested and open. That same principle should apply around the world.”
“There are some places where we can with certainty help many people come to trust in Christ, and there are other places where you can invest a lifetime and have very few souls saved,” he reiterated.
“I’ve talked to missionaries from those very hard places, and it is hard for them to maintain their zeal,” Crosby shared. “I’ve prayed with them after four years on the field and when they’re back for a furlough and they’re overwhelmed because they’ve had almost no visible results from their labor.
“It’s hard for them and it’s hard for that mission team.
“I’m not saying we should not have a presence in hard places,” he added. “But I think this situation is a wholly different thing.
“Our mission here in the United States is not to save the whole world, Crosby said. “We need to be bringing those we touch on the mission field to a maturity where they can send missionaries
“I know there are great missionary forces coming out of Korea and Brazil now,” he pointed out. “I would think that part of our strategy should be the development of a missionary mindset in places where we have fairly strong work, and that we spend some dollars and some time and some personnel continuing to develop those Christians there doing discipleship, getting them beyond just a local field so that they can see the world. Sending missionaries from one Third World Country to another Third World Country may seem surprising. But it’s actually already happening and it’s a very efficient way to do missions.”
“If we’re trying to deploy missionaries ultimately so that we can get Jesus to come back because we’ve told all the nations, I don’t see that being a legitimate way of looking at [Matthew 24:14] ‘Then the end will come,” Crosby said. “I think that’s part of the reason we depleted our reserves and sold off capital assets to keep the mission force on the field — because someone falsely thought they could hasten the return of Christ by just getting the Word out to everybody and then the end would come.
“I think we have to balance that urgency of getting the Word to those who have never heard it with the long-term strategy of developing a mission’s mindset, a mission’s structure, helping national conventions develop their own international strategy.”
CALVINISIM IN THE SBC
The Baptist Message also asked Crosby about his thoughts on the controversy surrounding Calvinism in the SBC, and he responded in terms of the push by some to advance a viewpoint rather than implementing those beliefs to reach the lost.
“I think that Reformed thinking has always been part of Southern Baptist life,” Crosby outlined. “Our convention was formed with the confluence of two historical streams — General Baptists, and their belief in general atonement, and Particular Baptists who believed in a particular atonement.
“We have lived together with some tensions between the Reformed stream and the General Atonement stream, but in relative peace for these years and decades.
“I am not ready to label anybody a heretic in this talk,” he clarified. “For myself, I don’t think the questions we ask about the balance between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man can be determined with such confidence that we ought separate from one another over it.
“I think what we’re suffering from is people have become apostles of their own point of view, and, they show more passion defending a particular point of view instead of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and God’s love for lost people.
“Wherever you fall in the spectrum between free will of man and the sovereignty of God, you should not on where you are on that spectrum, but on the Good News that’s made available to us through the death of Christ upon the cross. So that’s my take on that.”
PERSONAL SOUL WINNING
The Message concluded the interview by inviting Crosby to share about the last time he personally led someone to saving knowledge and faith in Christ.
He described a recent spiritual encounter with a young man at his church.
“I had a child that came and asked a question and indicated by his question that God was stirring his heart, and that he understood something of what it meant to be a Christian,” he said. “I led that child through the plan of salvation, and he prayed to receive Christ. That was a couple of weeks ago.”
But Crosby added some context to explain how the young man’s decision was a result of the emphasis on compassion ministries in his church.
“His mother had come to Christ through the witness of people in our church,” he said, adding that the home had become a Christian home because of the congregation’s ‘love thy neighbor’ approach.
“And so he knew who Jesus was,” Crosby said when the young man then came to him.
“I think he’s joyfully seeking to be growing in Christ,” Crosby added. “He was baptized last week.”
“We had eight children baptized and we have a New Believer’s class that they get in.
“He’s part of the biological growth of our church, if you want to call it that, but that was the last time I personally led someone to Christ.”
The 2016 SBC Annual Meeting will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, June 14-15, and the election of a new president will take place the afternoon of the first day.