B21 Interviews with SBC Presidential Candidates: Bryant Wright

1216.bryantwright.jpg.image_Over the next week Baptist21 will release interviews with the three men who will be nominated for President of the SBC. Up first is Pastor Bryant Wright.

Will you give us a brief introduction to who you are?

Growing up in Atlanta, it was my good fortune to be raised by godly Christian parents. When I was 7, I made a profession of faith and was baptized by my granddaddy, a Southern Baptist minister. Looking back on that experience, however, I cannot say with certainty that was when I became a Christian. During my high school years, I would often find myself using God, praying to Him only before a big date or a big test. Prior to my senior year in high school, I was invited to attend summer camp at Frontier Ranch, a YoungLife camp in Colorado. One night the speaker gave a clear call to follow Christ, and I certainly answered that call that night.  I felt I needed to settle who was going to be the boss of my life – me or God. There was no emotion in the decision, which was disappointing. It was simply a resolve to follow Jesus every day of my life. I found that when I returned home, I began reading my Bible for the first time on my own. I had a hunger for God’s Word that grew daily. I’ve been sure of my salvation since that time.

After high school, I followed a family tradition and went to the University of South Carolina. It was there that I met Anne Hoskins, a lovely Columbia honey. We soon fell in love and were married. It was during those days at Carolina that I had my first experience with preaching. I was called to start a YoungLife Club at a local high school. I would tell my buddies that I was going there each week to give a “talk about Jesus,” but in reality, I was really preaching the Gospel! What a joy it was to share the Good News with young people searching for truth.

After graduating from South Carolina in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts in English, I went into sales with the Puritan Chemical Company. I was looking forward to following in my father’s footsteps as a Christian businessman. I sure enjoyed those days in the business world. Yet, even though it was rewarding financially, I began to sense a call into full-time vocational ministry. I eventually left sales to pursue a Master of Divinity from Southern Baptist Seminary, and graduated in 1979. We then moved to Houston, Texas, where I began to serve at Second Baptist Houston as their first Singles Minister.

In December 1981, I was called from Second Baptist to be the founding Pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, where 20 families had begun meeting in a doctor’s office the previous year. It’s been my privilege to be the Senior Pastor for this body of believers for 28½ years. In addition to pastoring Johnson Ferry, I also serve as Founder and Chairman of Right From The Heart Ministries – a multi-media ministry using secular and Christian radio, television, print media and the internet to challenge, inspire and encourage people to get to know God through Jesus Christ in this hard-charging world in which we live.

In 2006, it was my privilege to serve as President of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Greensboro, N.C. I sure enjoyed shaping the program for the conference and heard so much positive feedback about the different styles of worship and the break-out sessions.

Writing is a joy and it has been meaningful to author four books: One Minute of Your Time, Another Minute of Your Time, and One Minute of Your Day – devotionals – and Seeds of Turmoil – a Thomas Nelson publication to be available in August this year – detailing the biblical roots of the Middle East conflict.

Ultimately, my passion is preaching the Word at Johnson Ferry. I love pastoring the fine people at our church. I am inspired by their love for Jesus and their desire to be more and more like Him every day.

Serving as the President of the SBC is a massive time commitment. Why are you willing to commit to such a task?

To tell the truth, I was very reluctant at first. I love pastoring Johnson Ferry and leading Right From the Heart media ministry. Near the end of 2009 some pastors from different parts of the country contacted me about the possibility of being nominated for President of the Southern Baptist Convention this June in Orlando, FL. This had not been on my radar and yet when it came out of the blue from more than one pastor, I realized I needed to pray seriously for God’s will in this matter. For a couple of months in early 2010, Anne and I prayed diligently. I kept coming up with one reason after another before the Lord why I was reluctant to do this, yet as we prayed more and more, Anne and I both began to sense this was clearly God’s leading to be willing to be nominated. I began to feel that if I didn’t respond to a sense of calling in this matter, it would be pure selfishness on my part and I would be disobedient to the Lord.

How do you think your gifts and vision will help the SBC?

First, I would call on the individual Christians in our churches to return to their first love of Jesus Christ. I long to see people fall in love with Jesus – not just first-time believers, but also seasoned Christians loving Jesus with all their hearts and following Him. We love Jesus when we love the lost.

At Johnson Ferry, we are passionate about seeing the Great Commission fulfilled. We are a missions-minded church; locally, state-wide, nationally and internationally. We are so passionate about seeing people go to the mission field that our church pays for half the cost of a short-term mission trip for our members. It is my prayer that all churches in our convention – small, medium, and large – will consider taking at least one mission trip next year. I can’t tell you how much being on the mission field has energized our whole church to pray, give and go in the name of Jesus to the areas of greatest need. If God were to lead the convention to elect me as President, I would challenge our churches to make fulfilling the Great Commission our highest priority.

To do this, we have to stay focused on the unchanging message but be open to ever-changing methodologies in reaching our world for Christ.

What is one of the greatest strengths of the SBC? Why? What is one of the most encouraging trends right now in SBC life?

One of the great strengths of the SBC is most certainly the mission force assembled and sent out all over the world.  Every year at the convention, I am eager to hear what God has done through the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board and their more than 10,600 missionaries combined. I’m very encouraged to know that the IMB is implementing strategies that focus on the great number of people groups currently unreached around the world. My passion is that we would get a greater amount of resources to the areas of our world with the greatest need.

Another encouraging trend right now is the emphasis toward church planting in the United States through the local church first, and then NAMB, state conventions, and local associations assisting in as many ways as possible. NAMB can assist greatly in the major unreached metropolitan areas and unreached regions of our nation. Southern Baptists have recognized the great need for healthy churches in the areas of great need in our country, especially urban centers full of unreached people of all generations.

I have seen firsthand the impact of church plants that have capable, Spirit-filled leadership, accountability and coaching from experienced pastors or church planters, and strong resourcing of funds and people.

At Johnson Ferry, we’ve made some mistakes along the way, yet feel we have learned a great deal in every church start. In some of the church plants we were the sole sponsor of churches, and in some we were a co-sponsor or partner with other Southern Baptist churches. We’ve planted eight churches that currently average a combined 2,692 in worship attendance and currently host three ethnic congregations on our campus. Our largest church plants are Stonecreek Church in Alpharetta (more than 1,000 in attendance) and Cedarcrest Church in Acworth (more than 700 in attendance). We currently are working with Felix Lora, a member of our congregation, who has been called to plant a Hispanic congregation in Atlanta.

In addition, we have been partners along with other Southern Baptist churches and denominational entities in sponsoring fifteen church plants across the United States. Our most successful church partnership is The Journey Church in Manhattan. It was also unique in that just a small handful of churches joined together to resource, pray for, mentor and send mission teams to a highly-populated urban center with very little gospel witness. The Journey Church has grown to four campuses and averages more than 1,000 in attendance, and has even started a congregation across the country in San Francisco. Along with some of these original churches, we helped sponsor a second New York City church called Apostles Church NYC which now has two campuses. Our most recent church partnership, South Bay Church, was launched in the Silicon Valley and just celebrated their one-year anniversary. In fact, we were thrilled to hear this past Easter South Bay experienced a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit as indicated by its highest attendance ever (525) and saw 20 people commit their lives to following Jesus.

The most exciting part about today’s church planters is they envision reproducing themselves and starting other churches as part of their missions strategy from the very beginning. Having a church multiplication mind-set is absolutely essential for churches in our country and around the world.

What is one of the greatest weaknesses of the SBC? Why? What is one of the most discouraging trends right now in the SBC?

Reaching the world for Christ should be the SBC’s priority, with missions being the heartbeat of local churches and, in turn, our convention. I felt compelled to be nominated for President not only out of a sense of personal calling and obedience, but because I feel the convention is at a crossroads when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission.

I’ve already written about the need for state conventions to keep less at home and send more dollars to the IMB and to other areas of the country where lostness is so prevalent. I have a hunch that the average man or woman in the pew has no idea that the IMB currently receives only about 17 percent of Cooperative Program dollars or that some states keep more than 60% of receipts at home. We need to encourage our state conventions to strive to see that the majority of the CP funds sent through the states wind up on the international mission field. So I think the first area of impact will be in awakening Southern Baptists to the fact that our use of cooperative dollars falls very short in reflecting the urgency and priority of carrying out Jesus’ commands to preach the gospel to everyone and every nation, especially in the places with little or no access to the gospel.

What kind of ministry should women have in the life of a local church? How is this applied in your church?

The role of women leadership is different in the secular world than in the church. Many at Johnson Ferry would have no problem with a woman President of the United States (as long as she is like Margaret Thatcher). The body of Christ is called to be distinct in certain roles of leadership. Ability is not the issue; what God has ordained is. We believe scripture calls for male leadership in the home and in certain roles of spiritual leadership in the church – specifically pastor, elders and deacons. These guidelines are clearly described in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9.

I see no biblical evidence for women serving as pastor or elder, yet I realize Bible-believing churches around the world will vary on whether the Bible allows for women deacons. Phoebe is often mentioned from Romans 16:1, and 1 Timothy 3:11 can be interpreted as women, or deaconesses, or wives (of deacons) in the section of scripture that describes the biblical qualifications of deacons. At Johnson Ferry, we feel the evidence of the passage weighs heavily for men being in that spiritual leadership role. This is biblically consistent with men being the spiritual leader in the home. I’m also convinced that this is one reason Johnson Ferry has an unusually high percentage of actively involved men in the church. So at Johnson Ferry, we have not been led to ordain women as pastors, elders, or deacons.

What are some of the strengths of the GCR?

I’m so thankful for Johnny Hunt’s leadership in forming the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force to help our denomination reprioritize reaching the world for Christ. I look forward to hearing the final report from the task force, knowing that there will likely be some modifications based on the feedback they have received. I support the Task Force in that I firmly believe we’ve got to get more people out on the mission field in order to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. My passion is to get more resources to the areas of our country and world where the lostness is the greatest.

As a former church planter, I am encouraged that the Task Force sees the importance of church planting in the areas of greatest need in the United States – particularly our pioneer states and our large cities.

Also, I agree with the Task Force that every church should be a “missional center.” My prayer is that every local church will consider going on a mission trip in the coming year, as well as focusing on their local community as a mission field.

What are some of the weaknesses of the GCR?

I think the greatest difficulty with a convention as large as ours is the difficulty in making significant headway from the top down. I hope an important next step is on the grass roots level; I’m simply suggesting that local churches, pastors and messengers, examine how the Great Commission can be carried out with more urgency and effect at home. I am encouraged that the Task Force members are meeting with our state directors, particularly those in pioneer work areas. Their feedback is vitally important.

As I have mentioned before, I’d like to see us send a greater percentage of our CP dollars given to the IMB, NAMB and our seminaries. I am firmly convinced that we can do more to penetrate the staggering lostness of our world by supporting our mission agencies and mission training centers with more resources. This would, of course, go hand in hand with every church in our convention catching a vision for reaching their community and the world for Jesus. I want us to pray the Holy Spirit moves upon our convention as a whole. God can make a way.

Is there anything else that would be helpful for our readers to know about your ministry at Johnson Ferry?

FYI — Additional Information about JFBC:

For the last ten years, the church has given $14,964,426 to Southern Baptist Causes:

• GBC – $7,774,046 (CP)
• IMB Lottie Moon – $5,548,547.  The church was the top giver to Lottie Moon in 2005, 2007, and 2008.
• Noonday Association (1 percent of our annual budget) – $1,348,898
• Annie Armstrong Offering – $109,249
• Georgia Baptist Children’s Home – $135,278
• Truett-McConnell College – $13,408
• New Orleans Seminary (Hurricane Katrina Relief) – $35,000

In 2009, Johnson Ferry sent 1575 adults and students on 70 mission trips to 27 nations.

The North Georgia Hub of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary meets at Johnson Ferry. Almost 400 seminary students attend classes at our facility.

In 2009, Johnson Ferry disbursed $1,581,181 from its “SBC Cooperative Program” budget line. Of this amount, $1,420,441 was reported on the 2009 Annual Church Profile as “Cooperative Program” with half of this total ($710,220.50) going through the Georgia Baptist Convention and the other half ($710,220.50) given directly to the IMB. The remaining amount from this budget line ($160,740) was given to the Noonday Baptist Association and was reported on the “Association Missions” line of the 2009 Annual Church Profile.

In the second half of our 2008-2009 budget year, our church faced a financial challenge that required some major budget trimming and refocusing. As a part of the budget solution, we decided to temporarily lower our CP/Lottie/IMB giving from 10% to 7% (3.5% to CP, 3.5% to Lottie/IMB). This was a painful decision and was approved with the understanding that we would return to the 10% amount as soon as possible.

Baptist21 is thankful for Pastor Bryant Wright and his graciousness in taking the time to answer these questions