My Four Biggest Passions as President of the Southern Baptist Convention
For those of you here at the Summit: I’m accepting a nomination for SBC President, which is a volunteer position. The nature of the position means I’m not going anywhere. I am your pastor and will remain as actively involved in this church as ever.
God first called me into ministry by calling me to the mission field. After serving overseas, he made clear that the role I was to play in the spread of the Great Commission was as a pastor, but he never relinquished that call to the field.
For the past 14 years, I have been trying to faithfully follow God in that call—serving the Great Commission by making the Summit a church that takes the Great Commission seriously. We want sending capacity, not seating capacity, to be our highest aspiration.
The Southern Baptist Convention began with a vision for missions, too. I am proud to be a part of the SBC and grateful for the legacy that prior generations have left for us. Yes, we’ve made our share of mistakes. Early Southern Baptist leaders’ complicity in the institution of slavery was despicable. We are, like all people, broken and sinful. But God brought repentance, and he has worked graciously in us despite our sins.
In recent decades, many great Southern Baptist men and women labored in faith, at great personal cost, to restore our denomination to biblical fidelity. Their courage is a light of inspiration to us.
God’s great work in the past gives me great anticipation for what he will do in our future. Past graces are almost always evidences of God’s intentions to bestow future graces. What he does, he does for the purpose of seeking and saving the lost. It’s all about the Great Commission. We have only to ask, the Holy Spirit tells us through the psalmist, and he will give us the nations as our inheritance (Psalm 2:8).
It is with this spirit of grateful humility that I am accepting the nomination for presidency of the SBC. When I was approached by several older SBC leaders asking me to consider this role, quite frankly, it took me by surprise. I know that the Holy Spirit often speaks through his church (Acts 13:2), so we took their counsel seriously. As my wife, our pastors and leadership team, and I prayed, we sensed that God had indeed done things in our hearts and in our midst that may have prepared us for this. We believed we were supposed to at least make ourselves available. If it “seems good to the Holy Spirit and to the people of the SBC,” we are willing (Acts 15:28).
Here are four of the biggest passions God has put in my heart for this time:
1. To continue and deepen our focus on gospel-centeredness in both theology and mission
Southern Baptists have always been a “gospel” people. In recent years God has raised up many to remind us that the gospel is not simply the “entry rite” into Christianity but the focus of our mission and the core of our discipleship.
The gospel is the good news that Jesus died in our place to restore us to God and offers us abundant life in him through his resurrection. This is good news for non-believer and believer alike. It both saves the sinner and makes the saint come alive. Fire to do in the Christian life comes from being soaked in the fuel of what has been done. The way we will grow in Christ in the future is not by progressing beyond the gospel but by doing deeper into it. I am grateful for what we have seen in recent days on this and want to see that deepened and continued.
2. To engage our culture with both grace and truth
The Apostle John said that Jesus’ ministry could be summed up in one phrase: grace and truth (John 1:17). If we are to engage our culture like Jesus, we should aim for that same balance. Truth without grace is fundamentalism. Grace without truth is vapid sentimentality. Failing in either puts us out of step with Jesus. We must not only speak the truth of Christ; we must also do so with the spirit of Christ.
Southern Baptists should be known for their excessive love toward their neighbors and the nations. As the Emperor Julian complained about the Christians in his day, “How can we stop the growth of these wretched Galileans! They take care not only of their own poor, but ours as well!” We must, like Christ, enter into the world that God loves, with the courage to speak the truth and the compassion to do so with grace. As the late Francis Schaeffer explained, love on display in the church is God’s final apologetic to the world.
3. To call for a new era of engagement in the entities and boards of the SBC
As I mentioned above, our Convention is rooted in, and organized around, a passion for missions. It is at the heart of who we are—and at the heart of God, too.
I see two things here as the need of the hour: First, it is time for the next generation of Southern Baptists to take personal responsibility for the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention. The budgeting shortfalls that have led to more than 1,000 missionaries coming off the field is not “the SBC’s problem.” It is our problem. It is time for us to step up and own this mission, and the vehicles God has given us for accomplishing it, as our own. The next generation needs to sacrificially give, support, and serve in these entities, boards, and institutions. God has given us tremendous leaders in them. It’s time for us to step up and engage.
Second, we want to encourage the Convention to continue to create more efficient structures for resourcing and sending missionaries, adapting to the needs and opportunities of a new generation of churches. The Spirit of God is doing new things in our generation, and we need a Convention that responds to that. By no means does that mean we scrap the old. The Cooperative Program continues to be our primary way to resource our efforts in the Great Commission. At the same time, the SBC has recognized the category of “Great Commission Giving” as a legitimate way to support Southern Baptist mission. We need to respect the autonomy of churches in deciding where and how to allocate their resources between these and to celebrate both as faithful service to the kingdom of God. We need increases in both.
The Summit Church has tried to demonstrate the kind of sacrificial giving that we are calling for. Three years ago, our church voted to increase our Cooperative Program giving by 230 percent over the course of five years. By God’s grace, we were able to complete that this year, two years ahead of schedule. On Jan. 1, we took our 2016 giving to $390,000 for the year (2.4 percent of undesignated receipts), making us the leading CP contributing church in North Carolina. Our “Great Commission Giving” has remained consistent at 10 percent now for four years, and our total missions giving has stayed between 15-20 percent of our undesignated receipts. By God’s grace, we will continue to do more.
Both churches and Southern Baptist institutions need to ask what they can do to get more resources to the field. C. S. Lewis once said, “The only safe rule when it comes to generosity is to give away more than we can spare.” Churches ought to give away more money to mission than they feel like they can spare, trusting that when we seek the kingdom of God first, he’ll supply to us the rest of what we need.
In like manner, our institutions, at all levels, need to ask how they can get more money to the mission. In particular, we applaud those state conventions that have taken such great strides in getting more money to the field. Many have asked hard questions and made notable sacrifices. To choose only one example, Tommy Green of the Florida Baptist Convention has been a wonderful inspiration—leading his convention to a 51-49 split (i.e., 51 percent passed on to the Executive Committee, which distributes it toward NAMB, the IMB, the seminaries, and other entities, with 49 percent kept in the state). And he has indicated that he wants to do more. My own state convention here in North Carolina, under the leadership of Milton Hollifield, Jr., is striving to get more money to the field. We want to see those efforts continue. We believe the Spirit of God is leading us to take radical measures in response to the pressing needs of the hour and that if we put his kingdom first in all things, he will take care of us (Matthew 6:33). As Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”
4. To platform and equip non-Anglo pastors and members
The SBC is not yet known for being a diverse group. Just a few years ago, neither was our church. But as we have asked God to help us in this area, we have seen God move in breathtaking ways. Nearly 20 percent of our church is now non-white. About 50 percent of our campus pastors and worship leaders are non-white. Our church still has a long way to go, but we are proof that diversity is possible.
I want to see minority leaders take places of real prominence in the SBC, such that diversity might become a hallmark of our denomination. While we will never fully reflect the diversity of heaven, we should aim to show the world a uniquely united fellowship. The church should reflect the diversity of its community and declare the diversity of the kingdom. As it was in the days of the Apostle Paul, this could be one of our most powerful testimonies to the world around us (Ephesians 3:10-11). There is one race of man. One Creator of all. One problem, sin. One solution, the blood of Jesus. One hope, the glorious return of Jesus.
I’m thrilled at the prospects of what God might do in this denomination going forward. I am grateful for the incredible, effective two years Pastor Ronnie Floyd has given us. I nominated him for his second term last year, and I think everyone agrees he has exceeded expectations in every way. Thank you, Pastor Ronnie. We stand in your debt.
Building off of Pastor Ronnie’s faithful service, I believe that we in the SBC are approaching a moment where we will see the gospel go deeper into people’s hearts and wider into the non-believing world (Colossians 1:5-6). Our best days lie ahead. They have to! There are still more than 6,000 unreached people groups in the world, and history cannot end until they have been given a gospel witness. It is time again to expect great things of God and then attempt great things for God.
Pray for me over the next weeks and months. I am first a husband and father and second a local church pastor. These have been and will remain my primary assignments. My wife, our pastors and leaders, and I believe that we are following the leading of the Holy Spirit in putting our “yes” on the table. Pray that God gives all of us grace for the future. We are sheep, that is for sure. We need to trust in the Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep and promised the success of the church in every generation, world without end (Ephesians 3:20-21).