Recently, we asked Dr. Ken Hemphill to comment on pastoral ministry, baptist life, and the future of the Southern Baptist Convention under his leadership.
What do you miss most about pastoring?
I miss most everything about it. I think the call to pastor the local church is a great privilege. I miss the continual interaction with people from new birth to the point where they are producing other disciples. I miss interaction with the staff. I miss being able to do a connected series of messages and watching people when the pieces of Scripture begin to fit together. I am grateful for every pastor of every size and style of church. It will take us all working together to complete the great commission.
Why are you allowing yourself to be nominated, and what would you hope to accomplish as president of the SBC?
This is not a position I sought or ever seriously considered. When I was first approached, I only committed to praying about it with my wife. As we prayed, we came to the conclusion that to say “no” would have been an act of disobedience. We felt it would be bad stewardship of the lifetime of service God had given us in SBC life. With the turbulence we are presently facing, we felt we had the time and experience to make a difference. When first asked this same question by a young student at North Greenville University, I responded that I am doing this for you. I went on to talk about his plans for seminary and the role of CP in his tuition. I then turned to the room full of students and asked how many of them were planning for a career in missions. I then responded that if God calls you to full time missions, I want to promise you that Southern Baptists will send you.
What are the biggest threats facing the SBC, both within and without?
In some ways I think the biggest threat is our apathy over lost souls. A passion for souls locally and globally has been the force that has driven us over the years. The yearly decline in Baptisms indicates that some have lost their passion. From within, we must guard our rhetoric which has been divisive. We must restore civility and trust. We must listen to each other and learn to value people with whom we disagree. From without, the growing cultural decay seems to impact us. We are called to transform culture and yet we are often conformed by the culture around us. We must be salt and light. We are no longer the moral majority. We are clearly in the minority when it comes to our stand for biblical values. The good news is that so was the early church that turned the world upside down.
What are your hopes for the entities that are looking for new presidents (IMB and EC)?
I am praying that each of entities will get a president who is passionate about their unique ministry. I am praying that IMB will have someone who has lived cross culturally as a vocational missionary. The missionaries tell me that is a great concern to them. We need statesmen who can build bridges. I am praying that these leaders have demonstrated generosity when it comes to the funding of missions and can thus lead our churches to give sacrificially, enabling us to reach the world together.
If you could change one thing at the annual meeting, what would it be and why?
I would like to see people give as much attention to the entity reports as they do to the resolutions and voting for officers. There is so much to celebrate in what God is doing through our entities. That makes it tragic that the hall often empties when it is time for the reports.
Is the BFM 2000 a sufficient doctrinal statement for Southern Baptist cooperation, or do other things need to be added?
I think the BFM 2000 is sufficient. If issues arise in the future that demand additional response, I am confident we will make the necessary changes.
What were your thoughts on the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) and how do you think the GCR is going across the convention?
I think the authors of that movement had the right motives. I believe they honestly wanted to get additional resources to the mission field. At the time and still today, I felt that it needed to challenge individuals and churches to a more sacrificial level of giving. We didn’t need a plan to change the size of the pizza slices; we needed a plan for a bigger pizza. Second, I think it inadvertently created a tension between state conventions and national entities. It produced a “win—lose” situation when what we needed was a “win—win.” I think the Great Commission Giving category has been used by some in a neo-societal method of funding so that CP giving has been on a steady decline since 2008. To be fair, it was declining before that time, but we didn’t address the question of how to stimulate giving at the local and national level. I believe that every church is autonomous and can give as it seems best, but I think our default method should be CP giving since that funds our agreed upon budget. When a church chooses to do additional mission projects they should raise that money above the amount designated for CP giving. I am passionate about the SBC and our entities and I want them to have the funding necessary to do their work. I do not want to see additional missionaries having to return from the field.
How will you try to encourage and incorporate young Southern Baptist pastors into the work of the convention?
I have dedicated the latter half of my ministry to mentoring and teaching the coming generations. They are our great hope. I plan to continue my personal mentoring work and will hopefully set up a network of mentoring opportunities across our convention. I will continue to build relationships and listen to young pastors respectfully. I plan to include the younger pastors in my appointments. One of the great gifts of my candidacy has been the many young pastors I have met and developed friendships with.
How can your experience serving at Southwestern Seminary help you as president?
I believe that that experience is one of the reasons I am a candidate today. I was called to that campus during a time of turmoil. Many persons thought SWBTS would not survive. I called our people to prayer, built bridges of reconciliation, and allowed God to use me to see it turn around and thrive. During my tenure we endured many challenges, including the Wedgewood shootings. I not only was able to minister to a grieving community, I was able to address the secular press in a way that pointed to Jesus. I think these are unusual and tumultuous days and my experience is a grace gift from the Lord that I must hold in stewardship.