NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—The three pastors who will be nominated for Southern Baptist Convention president in June responded to questions.
Baptist Press, news service of the SBC Executive Committee, submitted six questions to the three expected nominees—David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans; Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.; and J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
Q: What influence on the Southern Baptist Convention do you pray to have during the two consecutive one-year terms an SBC president typically serves?
CROSBY: I hope to renew a spirit of cooperation among our churches. We are all experiencing the reality of America as a mission field. Any true mission setting requires more cooperation, not less, to share an effective witness. On the mission field, you must set aside your differences and rally around the true core of the gospel. That is where we are now in our nation and our world.
We have a wide-open door that will help us evangelize our nation and present the full wonder of the gospel—the love of our neighbors. This love may be expressed corporately in compassion ministries initiated by our churches to address local needs. I hope to help foster such ministries. This strategy of outreach will put us in touch with the many residents of our communities who are distant from us culturally and provide bridges for powerful witness.
GAINES: I want to build on the wonderful foundation that has been laid by our current president, Ronnie Floyd, by being a catalyst for spiritual awakening and revival. The SBC needs fresh fire and wind from heaven. It will come through fervent prayer and seeking God.
I also want to emphasize soul winning. The SBC is currently in a 15-year downward nosedive in baptisms. In 2014, we baptized 100,000 less than we did in 1999. Pastors must lead their churches to verbally share the gospel with lost people and also extend evangelistic invitations when they preach.
I also will focus on stewardship. Individual Christians must give more to their churches so our churches can give more to the Cooperative Program, so we can send more missionaries overseas. We need to put 1,100 missionaries back on the foreign fields instead of calling them home.
GREEAR: First, we need a continued re-awakening to the gospel. Revival begins not with the world awakening to Christ, but the church getting “re-awakened” to the gospel. Times in our country may be dark, but—based on past history—that actually means conditions are incredibly ripe for revival.
Second, we need to bring a new generation of Southern Baptists to the table, partnering with older generations in the cooperative missions of the SBC. There is a new wave of excitement about the SBC, but many are still sitting on the sidelines. We’ve been given a rich legacy, and it’s time we, the rising generations, pick up that torch, taking personal responsibility for the mission.
Third, we need to see diversification in the SBC’s leadership. About one in five Southern Baptist churches are now predominantly non-Anglo, and we want to see our brothers and sisters from these non-Anglo backgrounds join us in leadership.
Q: If elected as SBC president, in what ways do you envision calling Southern Baptists forward in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission and undergirding the Cooperative Program?
CROSBY: We communicate our true relationship with Jesus through love of neighbor. If we fail to love, we are just an annoying noise. Any future revival of the Great Commission will be linked to our keeping the Great Commandment. The notion that these two great commands of Jesus are in tension is a true absurdity. We will never faithfully represent the Savior without both the words and the deeds of the gospel. All of our churches have multiple ways to love neighbors in need. Let’s grab our bandages and go help them.
The Cooperative Program is suffering from the notion that designated giving to our individual entities is just as faithful to our cooperative work as supporting the unified giving plan. We will continue to see layoffs and the downsizing of our cooperative mission enterprise until and unless we have a revival of support for the Cooperative Program.
GAINES: We must emphasize the Great Commission, which is making disciples, baptizing disciples and teaching disciples. Making disciples includes winning lost people to Jesus. If not, then there is no evangelism in the Great Commission. I will call Southern Baptists back to our historic roots of being soul winners—people who proactively, intentionally and verbally share the gospel to win people to Jesus. Each person we win to Christ must then be baptized. We do NOT need to deemphasize baptisms as a valid metric to measure our evangelistic effectiveness. Baptisms are a biblical metric. Every person who was saved in the New Testament was baptized! Once a person is saved and baptized, he should be taught and discipled, so he can grow in Christlikeness. Financial stewardship is part of being a disciple. Christians must give more to their churches so churches can give more to the Cooperative Program.
GREEAR: To the churches who choose to affiliate with the SBC, I would say that we must take ownership of our entities and mission. More than 1,000 missionaries coming off the field isn’t the SBC’s problem. It’s our problem. We need to respond with intentional, sacrificial generosity, giving away more than we feel we can spare. We must rest on the promise that as we seek the kingdom of God first, he’ll supply the rest of what we need.
The CP should remain our best and primary means of giving, but we should encourage other cooperative ways to give, too. God is doing new things in the coming days, and we must respect the autonomy of Southern Baptist churches in responding to that. The entities of the convention exist for one reason—the Great Commission. We must constantly re-evaluate everything we do in light of that. Mission above all.
Q: Describe ways you have led your church to be involved in Great Commission outreach through Southern Baptist cooperative missions and the Cooperative Program.
CROSBY: We have adopted an unreached people group in Africa in response to the challenge of the IMB. We have made 15 trips with many different individuals from our church.
We are fully engaged in the cooperative mission work in New Orleans. Our church sponsors a new church plant and is working on a second one. The North American Mission Board and the Louisiana Baptist Convention are our partners in serving the homeless population and children who come to school hungry. The LBC also partners with us in our ministry that recruits, trains and supports foster families in our region. We work hard to connect the words and deeds of the gospel in all compassion ministries. We have seen many people come to faith in Christ with this strategy.
GAINES: At Bellevue Baptist Church, over the past six years we have increased our Cooperative Program (CP) giving from $250,000 per year to $1 million per year. We have been the top giver to the CP in our state for several years now. We have annually increased both the amount given and also the percentage. Since Great Commission outreach should be done at the local church level, the associational level, the state convention level and the national convention level, we believe in supporting each of these financially and with our participation.
We win people to Christ in Memphis through personal soul winning and also through multiple evangelistic ministries. On the national level, we are planting churches in the Seattle area through the Send North America emphasis. Bellevue also serves overseas in evangelistic outreach and church planting efforts in partnership with our IMB. We believe in cooperating with other Southern Baptist churches.
GREEAR: Currently, we have 150 of our members serving overseas through the IMB. We’ve also, by God’s grace, planted 26 Southern Baptist churches through NAMB here in the U.S., sending out over 400 members, all in the past 5 years. We have a God-sized goal of planting 1,000 churches by 2050 through the entities of the SBC, and our people have rallied behind that vision.
Over the same period, we’ve also tried to demonstrate the kind of increased, sacrificial giving the hour demands. Three years ago, our church voted to increase our CP giving by 230 percent over the course of five years, and we were able to complete that two years early. On Jan. 1, we took our 2016 giving to $390,000 for the year. Our “Great Commission Giving” has remained consistent at 10 percent for four years, and our total missions giving has remained between 15 to 20 percent of undesignated receipts.
Q: In what ways do you see the SBC president coming alongside leaders of the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, GuideStone Financial Resources and the convention’s six seminaries to undergird and encourage their respective ministries?
CROSBY: The greatest encouragement I could give as president to our entity heads is to be a cheerleader for the Cooperative Program. I will do this faithfully.
I am happy to represent a pastor’s perspective in meetings with our denominational leaders. For more than 40 years I have been the pastor of local churches that gave generously and faithfully to our unified giving plan. I have made more than 30 international trips to work with our missionaries. I have served at all levels of our work together. I am prepared to help us process the challenges that lie before us and develop creative strategies to address them.
I see much to admire in the new generation of young pastors and church planters. They are courageous and committed. We have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit and heaven as our home. We have no reason to be fearful, angry or discouraged.
GAINES: I will emphasize the need for all of our national entities to work in cooperation with one another and also with our state conventions and local associations to fulfill the Great Commission. Southern Baptist churches do not need to digress to a societal form of giving to support our various agencies at various levels. State conventions must not be pressured into giving such high percentages to the national entities that they are unable to evangelize their own states. We must seek to have a unified way of funding all levels of SBC missional work, and that is the Cooperative Program.
We must discourage a spirit of competition between the national entities and the state conventions and local associations. All of these levels of SBC activity are vital to our success in carrying out the Great Commission. Southern Baptists will advance if we focus on cooperating instead of competing against one another.
GREEAR: God has given us tremendous leaders—men and women of God raised up for the hour—in these entities. He sent us a Conservative Resurgence, then a Great Commission Resurgence, and the leadership of our entities reflects those great movements. Here’s what excites me: past grace is evidence that God intends to bestow future grace. These are exciting days for Southern Baptists. God didn’t act to preserve institutions but to advance the mission.
These entities exist to assist local churches in the work of the ministry, not to do ministry for them. The local church is God’s “Plan A.” Churches plant churches, raise up leaders, send out missionaries and evangelize their cities. I’ve been encouraged to see these entities begin asking how they can better serve the churches. I hope to represent Southern Baptist churches of all shapes and sizes well to these entities, pressing in on that very question.
Q: If elected as SBC president, how do you foresee speaking to the next generation of Southern Baptist leaders to be involved in expanding the convention’s Great Commission work?
CROSBY: The next generation will inherit from us a unified giving plan. I hope that they will support it and not let it languish. We have no proposals on the table that I know of that will keep our cooperative work healthy and whole apart from the Cooperative Program or something like it.
Our young leaders need to put their hands and their eyes on our cooperative work. We should develop scholarship programs that will help young pastors go overseas to work with our missionaries. When we get to know our missionaries, we love them and see them for who they are—faithful servants of Christ who represent us well around the world.
Our state conventions should be highly valued. I am a Southern Baptist because my father went to a Texas Baptist college. Our witness for Christ has been magnified through the various associations and conventions.
GAINES: Our son is a 33-year-old pastor of a Southern Baptist church here in Tennessee. I encourage him and all the next generation of Southern Baptists to get involved in SBC life at every level. Local associations provide fellowship and ministry opportunities that are encouraging. State conventions allow younger Southern Baptists unique opportunities to reach lost people in their states. God has brought the world to our cities and states. There are over 3 million lost people in Tennessee and 18 million in Texas. We can reach the world by reaching the lost people in our states! I also encourage the next generation to support the national SBC by being involved in church planting through NAMB and a variety of worldwide missional opportunities through the IMB.
No other gospel-preaching fellowship has greater potential for providing comprehensive involvement for the next generation than the SBC at all its various levels of ministry.
GREEAR: Those of us in the younger generation stand on the shoulders of faithful, older generations. We should honor them, learn from them and unite with them. We need to humbly ask lots of questions. (As my mentor Paige Patterson told me, “Never tear a wall down before you know why it exists!”) And we must continue supporting the mission structures that have made Southern Baptists the most prolific church-planting people on the planet. We must own our convention.
Again: great days are ahead. Why would the Holy Spirit have been so gracious in the Conservative Resurgence if not to give us an unprecedented effectiveness among the nations? The SBC’s best days are before us. They have to be. More than 6,000 people groups remain unreached, and history cannot end until that changes. It is time again to expect great things of God, and then attempt great things for God.
Q: What do you see as the key moral issues of our day, and how can the SBC president represent Southern Baptists as America increasingly moves away from Judeo-Christian values?
CROSBY: The greatest moral issue is our flagging love for the lost and dying around us. We must get out of our houses of worship and into our communities. Unless we renew our love for our neighbors, we will never renew our witness.
Jesus introduced race in his story of the Good Samaritan in order to make it abundantly clear that love of neighbor involves loving people across ethnic, economic and cultural barriers. The tendency is universal in the human heart to pull into ourselves, into our own group and shut out the rest of the world. We must love the world enough to give of ourselves.
I am less concerned with the moral drift of the culture than I am with the moral drift of people who call themselves Christians. If we do not look like Jesus in our behavior, we will certainly not sound like Jesus nor represent Him faithfully in our world.
GAINES: The three key moral issues in our day are abortion, sexual immorality and racism.
The SBC, including the president, must continue to be a champion for the unborn and their right to life. We must never waver regarding the fact that the Bible teaches that life begins at conception. Every unborn child is an eternal soul.
We must also continue to provide a prophetic voice crying out in the wilderness of a morally confused culture regarding sexuality. We must advocate for biblical marriage. The only marriage Jesus affirmed was heterosexual, monogamous marriage—one man married to one woman for life. God created males to be males and females to be females. Gender is biological, not psychological.
Regarding race, all people are created in God’s image. Thus there is only one race—the human race. Christians must lead by example by loving everyone, regardless of skin color.
GREEAR: Antagonism toward Christianity is growing, but this is no time to despair. The early church didn’t grow exponentially because the government was behind them, but because they trusted the Spirit and proclaimed the gospel boldly. Thus, while we will continue to advocate for religious liberty, we must also live as the counter-cultural people of God, a unique community where the fragrance of Christ is sweet and distinct. The darker our culture becomes, the brighter the light of the Gospel shines forth.
We must aim for the same paradox Jesus embodied — “full of grace and truth” (John 1:17). Truth without grace is fundamentalism. Grace without truth is vapid sentimentality. The Great Commission is that we proclaim the gospel; the second Great Commandment is that we love our neighbors. Both should be evident among Southern Baptists. We must not only speak the truth of Christ; we must do so with the spirit of Christ.