At the fast-approaching SBC in St. Louis messengers from our Southern Baptist churches will be tasked to elect the new President of the SBC. This is a significant responsibility, one that we at B21 and thousands of Southern Baptists take seriously. So, in an attempt to facilitate all of us becoming more informed voters, B21 has sent a list of questions to each of our candidates. We will feature each candidate’s response in a three-part post.
Be sure to register and attend our lunch panel Tuesday at the 2016 SBC in St. Louis where we will be sure to discuss these similar pressing issues with all of our panelists.
- Why are you allowing yourself to be nominated? What would you hope to accomplish as president of the SBC?
I was asked by a pastor if I would allow my name to be placed in nomination. Almost always when I have been asked to participate in some aspect of denominational life, I have said yes. I believe it to be a significant stewardship, this work we do together. After thinking about it, praying about it, and talking to people whose perspective I trust and value, I decided to allow it.
I would hope to preside with grace and integrity over two great conventions in 2017 and 2018. That is the president’s main job. I hope to speak with love and joy about our Lord and the Kingdom work we do together. I want to make our cooperative enterprises the best they can be. I hope that we can do our work with such integrity, transparency, and effectiveness that pastors and churches will be wholehearted and enthusiastic in their support.
- What are the biggest threats facing the SBC, both within and without?
The greatest threat to the SBC from within is that pastors and churches will minimize the work we do together—that they will discount it, not appreciate its depth and breadth, and eventually discard it. When the cooperative work is minimized, the SBC itself is minimized, for its reason for existence is to help us do together what we cannot do on our own.
As pastors, we would not think to minimize the work of our churches. We promote our work among our members because, despite weaknesses and maybe wastefulness at times, we know that the work of our church is vital to the eternal future of the persons we reach.
We must reclaim this same confidence in our work together. We will never be perfect in our administration and dispensation of resources. But we should always be able to promote with integrity and enthusiasm the great kingdom work that we do together with other Southern Baptist congregations.
The greatest external threat to the Southern Baptist Convention is the changing mission setting in which our churches and entities exist. This is only a threat because churches and religious institutions in general are slow to adapt to new and different populations in their communities, new ways of communicating, and new cultural realities in general.
- What were your thoughts on the GCR and how do you think the GCR is going across the convention?
The only way I hear the GCR being referenced is in this matter of giving to SBC entities without giving through the Cooperative Program. Apart from the giving language, I am not involved in or hearing any discussion about the GCR.
- What are your thoughts on the new directions of NAMB and IMB?
I think the effort to take the gospel to unreached people groups at home and abroad is courageous and consistent with the purpose statements of these mission enterprises. We should prepare ourselves for falling numbers given these shifts in emphases. The Send Cities are not the easiest places to plant Baptist churches. And the unreached peoples of the world are in part unreached because many of them are highly resistant to the gospel.
Our mission strategy should include the goal of seeing the people groups where we are working sending their own missionaries. Third world cultures have much in common with one another. If our mission strategy included such a maturing process, then the sending of missionaries might greatly multiply around the world.
- If you could change one thing at the annual meeting, what would it be and why?
I want to see more young people and people of color at the annual meeting. They represent the future of our work together.
- Is the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 a sufficient doctrinal statement for Southern Baptist cooperation, or do other things need to be added?
Our churches are increasingly in a mission setting right here in the United States. In all true mission settings, Christians from diverse backgrounds and even denominations work together for the cause of Christ. Go anywhere where Christians are a suspect minority, and you will see how true this is. If we fail to expand our cooperation as our own nation becomes more of a mission field, we will become less effective as a denomination and as churches.
The BFM2000 is a sufficient statement for our work together. It provides boundaries of general consent while generally avoiding unnecessary limitations.
- Our convention is diverse theologically, especially on the issue of Calvinism and Non-Calvinism. How will you engage these issues and how will you help everyone work together?
No one in the SBC is about to reveal a theological fix to this centuries-old theological conundrum. Anyone who thinks they have tied up all the loose ends is either self-deluded or a heretic.
Therefore our solution must be found in the common ground we share in Christ and the work we do together, as it has always been. I don’t want to throw out anyone on either side of this theological discussion.
We must focus on Christ and the gospel. We must fight the “party spirit” that always seeks to divide and weaken our work. We can do this work together. If we do it together, we will get more done for our Savior. He prayed that we would be one. Let’s cooperate with the Spirit in the unity he is bringing to the bride of Christ.
- How will you try to encourage and incorporate young Southern Baptist pastors in to the convention’s work?
I find that young pastors and young people in general are quite interested in the work we do together. They love to be involved in hands-on mission endeavors. If we can focus on our cooperative work—and provide many opportunities for young people to participate in that work—they will learn about the value and effectiveness of our work by doing it.
Our pastors should be encouraged to see firsthand the work we do among the unreached peoples of the earth. Nothing so inspires me as going to the mission field and working alongside our missionaries. Providing scholarship assistance so that young pastors can experience our international mission work firsthand is one concrete proposal.
- How do you explain the decrease in baptisms in the SBC and what do we need to do to address this issue?
We all need to do better in reaching the lost. I want to do better. So part of the answer is all of us working together to reach more people with the gospel. We must pray for the lost, train our people how to lead others to Christ, and make baptisms a great celebration.
There are also sociological forces at work in our country and in our churches that help us understand the decline in baptisms.
Many of the people in our communities must overcome economic and cultural barriers to become part of our churches. Our towns and cities are not nearly as homogeneous as they used to be. But our churches are generally more homogenous than our communities. This means that even when we reach someone with the gospel, having them come for baptism and join our church may be a huge cultural leap.
We can and must overcome these barriers. Our churches can and must look more like their communities. When we do we will also look more like heaven.
- What was it like leading a congregation after the devastation of Katrina? What lessons did you learn?
All of our planning fell at our feet. We learned to live in the moment and respond to the need that was there before us. We did not know what tomorrow would bring. We simply trusted that God would provide.
Hurricane Katrina washed us out of our pews and into our community. More than 200 members of our church joined 6,000 volunteers from around the nation to build 91 new homes in partnership with Habitat. More than a hundred of our members joined 15,000 volunteers from across the nation to help 1,100 homeowners recover their homes.
We learned again in Katrina that people matter more than things. All the things were on the way to the dump. We learned that trouble is an open door for a loving witness. We learned that people need communities and that healthy communities contribute to human flourishing.
We learned that our city appreciated our help and respected us for focusing our attention upon our neighbors who were hurting. We restored playgrounds and cleaned public schools. We helped the local police station purchase supplies. We joined hands with many different groups to get things done.
We learned the great value of collaboration and partnership. We realized that our nonprofits could meet many local needs more efficiently than government entities. We volunteered at our local schools, planned book fairs, parent meals, and tutored at-risk students. We developed a new sense of belonging as individuals and as a church.
We still hear from people who picked up their water, diapers, cleaning supplies, clothing, and meals on our parking lot. We felt a solidarity with our neighbors in their trouble. We learned how truly powerful compassion can be.