This afternoon the Southern Baptist Convention voted to elect me as its 62nd president. I am at once honored and humbled to step into this role, which I will do, officially, tomorrow afternoon.
(For those of you in The Summit Church unfamiliar with how the SBC works, “president” is a volunteer role that will not take away from my responsibilities at the Summit. Our church is, and will always be, my top priority.)
Throughout the entire lead-up to this year’s Convention, I have been open about the passions God has put on my heart for this season in the SBC. We need to:
- Keep the gospel above all as the foundation of our unity and the focus of our mission
- Continue growing in cultural and racial diversity
- Turn up the temperature in our churches with more intentional, personal evangelism
- Plant and revitalize hundreds of churches
- Mobilize college students and recent graduates into the mission, and
- Engage the next generation in cooperative mission.
The Apostle Paul said that the gospel was “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). If we are going to move forward in unity, we have got to keep the gospel at the center of all we do. The gospel must be greater than our programs, greater than our political agendas, and greater than any petty differences that threaten to divide us.
As I taught the pastors here on Monday, recently the Holy Spirit has been drawing me back to Matthew 16:13-20 again and again. After Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:17-18 CSB). This is a promise that we in the SBC need to claim, and it is one that will produce in us a spirit of humility and hope.
On one hand, Jesus’ promise should lead us to humility. In this same passage, Jesus calls Peter “Satan” when he attempts to correct Jesus on his path to the cross (Matthew 16:23). Yes, Jesus promises that he will build his church, but he never shies away from chastising his people when they oppose his methods. God will accomplish his purposes. That is as guaranteed as Jesus’ resurrection. But what is not clear is whether he’ll use us to accomplish those purposes.
We would not be the first people God had set aside. The Jews of Jesus’ day assumed God would never set them aside. God needed them! But Jesus warned them, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit” (Matthew 21:43). He gives the same warning to us: The grace of God is overwhelming and overflowing, but we must never take it for granted.
God is stirring in the SBC. He has exposed a startling amount of sin in our midst. He has shaken many of our foundations. And I actually think that’s good news, because whom the Lord loves, he chastens. He is inviting us, I believe, into an era of unprecedented effectiveness for the Great Commission, if we repent.
Which leads me to the other aspect of Jesus’ promise: hope. The hope of the church (or the SBC) is not in the quality of our leaders. We are not God’s “last best hope on earth.” The grace of God is our best hope, and when the preacher falls, praise God, the promise remains. Even when everything around us crumbles, his promise of grace remains.
In one of my favorite stories from the Gospels, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus asking for healing for her daughter, who is being tormented by a demon. Jesus’ initial response is harsh: “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). But the woman is unflinched, because she knew he wasn’t speaking to her gender or her race; he was speaking to her unworthiness. So she responds with desperate faith in his grace: “Yes, Lord … yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27). In other words, the grace of God is so rich and so abundant that it flows off of the table so that even those with no more worthiness than dogs can eat until they are satisfied.
Jesus said that this Canaanite woman had faith like none in Israel. And she is our example. We can never hope too much in the grace of God, never lean too fully into it. Would we rather be dogs feasting the crumbs off of God’s table or “heroes” asking God to reward us for our greatness? I’ll take the path of the dog every single time.
William Carey once said that the future is always as bright as the promises of God. When I think of the future of the SBC, I believe that the Holy Spirit has great days ahead. If we believe Christ’s promises, heed the voice of the Holy Spirit, turn from our sin, and cast ourselves upon the mercy of his grace, the gates of hell will not stand a chance.
God is not done with the SBC. There are still more than 6,000 unreached people groups in our world. I believe God wants to bless us for their sake. With the unchanging Word as our foundation, soul-winning as our focus, and the Holy Spirit as our guide, we can once again “expect great things of God and attempt great things for God.” He desires to be merciful to us and bless us and cause his face to shine upon us—not for our sake but so that his way may be known in all the earth (Psalm 67).
If we heed the voice of the Spirit, turn from our sin, and cast ourselves upon God’s rich grace, the gates of hell will not stand a chance.
I covet your prayers for me, my family, and our church during this upcoming season. I am—and always will be—first a husband and father and second a local church pastor. Please pray that God gives all of us—my family, our church, and the denomination—grace for the future. Pray that my kids grow up to love Jesus and the sheep. Pray for wisdom for me. Even those of us appointed to be shepherds are still sheep, which means we need to lean on Christ to make our paths straight and not trust in our ability to understand. We need to cast ourselves on the mercy of the One who laid down his life for us and promised the success of the church in every generation, world without end (Ephesians 3:20-21).