SBC Today: What do you think are the greatest challenges confronting the SBC?
Dr. Richards: Other than a spiritual awakening, perhaps one major challenge to the SBC is cooperation. The monolithic structure of the Southern Baptist Convention is long gone. We no longer have the stack poles of uniform Sunday school literature, hymnody, or Training Union. As we made huge strides in diversifying to reach people for Christ we changed some aspects of our convention. This is not necessarily bad. However, we must find commonalities to share in order to stay together.
Three simple core values will enable us to meet the challenges. We must be biblically based. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is not a maximal statement but it does provide general parameters. Being Kingdom focused by keeping missions and evangelism in the forefront is essential. Minimizing bureaucracy and maximizing accountability by Southern Baptist ministries beyond the local church builds confidence and participation. Missional funding is the third value. Having a unified budget for missions and education enables us to function as a group of churches. Without the Cooperative Program or something very similar it is impossible to maintain the infrastructure to do many of the ministries we celebrate. Some ministries that depend on missional funding are coordination of an international and North American mission strategy, quality theological education, services to churches and ministers, and disaster relief to name only a few.
SBC Today: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the SBC?
Dr. Lance: In my mind and heart, our greatest challenge has been and it always will be a matter of faithfulness to the Lord and to His Great Commission. As a long term former pastor, I have felt the tensions of trying to help churches stay focused on our mission and purpose as His people in the world today. That ministry assignment is still a major part of what I am seeking to do as a state missionary in Alabama Baptist life. Followers of Christ can lose focus on our mission, just like a football team can lose focus on their objective. We have to take care of the daily devotion to being on mission with the Great Commission. As long as I serve the Lord, my passion is to be a faithful example of following Christ and leading His people.
Additionally, Southern Baptists will need to do all we can to work together as a missions people as we look to the future. I have learned from the past that, in working with people, we as human beings do not naturally unify. We tend to divide in various ways. Building partnerships among our family of faith represents hard work. Partnership is a two way street. Paternalism is a one way street. This is an integral part of team building leadership. In the future, the SBC will, by necessity, need leaders who are called and gifted in developing and nurturing partnerships.
Dr. Brad Whitt is Pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. He has served as President of the South Carolina Convention Pastor’s Conference, and authored “Young, Southern Baptist, and . . . Irrelevant?”
SBC Today: Who are your three or four greatest “heroes in ministry”?
Brad Whitt: There are many men who’ve been my “heroes in ministry.” But since I’m a PK (Pastor’s Kid) I’d definitely have to put my father at the top of that list. I was raised by a godly father who showed me what real pastoral leadership was on a daily basis. When I was just a boy he would often take my brothers and me out on evangelistic visits during the week. We lived our lives with the leaders and people of the First Baptist Church of Milan, TN. He was a strong leader, faithfully preached the Bible and was a personal soul-winner. As I was growing up I knew that my father pastored one of the largest and most respected churches in that part of the state, but it was only after I moved off to college and had to start looking for a new church home that I began to realize just how great of a church I was blessed to have been raised in. Those early years under my father’s ministry have left an indelible mark not only upon my ministry, but my life. My dad is without a doubt my number one “hero in ministry.”
Since my dad is in a category by himself, three other pastors who had a tremendous impact upon my ministry, especially in my early years as a pastor, were Adrian Rogers, James Merritt and Steve Gaines. I was blessed to not only learn from their preaching, but to have them invest in me personally as a young pastor. I soaked up everything I could from them. I took advantage of any time that they would allow me to spend with them, watching how they interacted with people, and gleaned from their experience and wisdom. I drove them to and from the airport, went hunting with them, made special trips to see them, hung around any meeting where they were speaking. If I heard that they were preaching anywhere within driving distance I made it a point to be there. I knew that God had gifted them as pastors, preachers and leaders and I wanted to learn as much from them while I could. I’m so thankful that I did. Hardly a day goes by in my ministry where I don’t hear some truth from a sermon, piece of advice they gave while walking down a hallway or experience they shared riding to the airport speaking into my life and ministry.