Editor’s Note: Having returned from Phoenix, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting, I began to assess all that took place during the meeting. If all you did was read or watch the news reports about the SBC, you would think all that took place was one vote on a resolution condemning the alt-right. However, as Dr. Ronnie Floyd proves with this article so much more happened. In fact, warts and all I’m more proud and excited to be a Southern Baptist than I’ve ever been. One of the highlights for me was the Connect 316 banquet where we had a record attendance while the overall attendance for the convention fell.
After serving as President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2014-2016 and presiding over the 2015 and 2016 Annual Conventions, this year’s convention was an interesting journey for me personally. With the peace of God and the confident assurance in His timing, I enjoyed praying and participating as a messenger again.
I participated in the entire meeting, and my reflections are from my observations, where my own indelible memories from previous years cannot help but shape my perspective. Here are five personal reflections on the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention.
Reflection #1: Evangelism Awaits Becoming The Priority In Our Churches Again
Dr. Steve Gaines, our president, shared with conviction the great need for evangelism to become the priority of our churches again. While baptisms continue to decline deplorably, at least it is being talked about again. Thank you, President Gaines, for making this the needed priority again.
In my own 2016 Presidential Address in St. Louis, The Stakes Are High, one of the main points of my message was, “Now is the time for Southern Baptists to evangelize.” In fact, as I called upon us to prioritize evangelism again, I stated: “While theological debate is ascending and is applauded loudly in our convention, evangelistic fervor and fire is being extinguished and the masses are silent about it.” Yes, it is time for us to evangelize. Furthermore, I stated, “Our convention celebrates everything but the main thing and then we wonder what happened with the main thing… evangelism.”
Until evangelism becomes the priority of pastors, church leaders, and churches again, our baptisms will continue to decline. Thank God, evangelism matters in our Cross Church family and it is applauded in every way. We are on our way perhaps to one of our greatest years in baptisms and possibly the strongest yet. However, we willrecommit ourselves, and yes, I have recommitted myself personally to intensifying my own witness for Jesus daily.
Reflection #2: Personal Stewardship Is Being Emphasized and Strategized
Thank God that personal stewardship is being emphasized and strategy is taking place. This is far overdue, and I applaud this action. Dr. Frank Page gave an excellent report on Tuesday afternoon, championing a new partnership with Dave Ramsey Solutions.
Dave Ramsey is the leading champion in helping families in areas of personal finance. Just recently, Dave Ramsey was a guest on my podcast, and you can listen here. Additionally, we put together an article of some lessons I’ve learned from Dave.
This is a brilliant stroke by our Executive Committee. Financing the work of Southern Baptists was one of my great burdens for our convention while I was President. In fact, in the same 2016 Presidential Address noted above, I talked about our great need of stewardship.
By the way, the Wednesday afternoon panel on stewardship I was privileged to participate in was strong. You can watch this panel here. It is something you could even show your church in certain settings.
Reflection #3: Southern Baptists Spoke Clearly and Powerfully Against All Alt-Right White Supremacy
Southern Baptists denounce all racism as anti-Christ and anti-Gospel. This has been our position and is our position today. I believe it will always be our position. We are clearly and powerfully against all Alt-Right White Supremacy.
While some were confused by our Resolution Committee’s challenge relating to bringing forward this resolution, it was not a matter of the heart, but of judgment and logistics. However, the Resolutions Committee and their chairman, Barrett Duke, with humility, offered apology, responding with a resolution all Southern Baptists could support. This Resolution #10 is powerful and you can read it here.
There were many references to resolutions and ways we have spoken to the entire race issue in the past. Yet, the Alt-Right White Supremacy issue needed to be addressed specifically. Southern Baptists have made a remarkable commitment over the past years. Both the 2015 and 2016 conventions prioritized sections of the annual meeting regarding racial unity, and addressed this great need clearly. We must and will continue forward in this area, and this resolution is proof.
Reflection #4: Celebrate The SBC Process
The past two years, we have seen messengers help the Resolutions Committee reach important decisions. Last year, it was related to the Confederate Flag. If the 2016 Resolutions Committee would have brought out a resolution calling for the confederate flag’s removal, it would have been very divisive and probably defeated. Yet, the humility of last year’s chairman, Stephen Rummage and his committee, permitted the messengers to help shape the resolution. It was done in a wholesome and right manner, all over a very difficult issue.
Again, this year, the messengers helped the 2017 Resolutions Committee achieve Resolution #10 in the right way and in the right tone. This process should be celebrated.
Yes, the SBC process can be slow, laborious, and at times, not friendly to growth. But, we need to celebrate the SBC process that was a true friend to our convention this year. The SBC messengers have been and are heard at the annual conventions.
Reflection #5: H.B. Charles’ Election As The 2018 Pastors’ Conference President Was Special
Pastor H.B. Charles of Jacksonville, Florida, was elected President of the 2018 Pastors’ Conference. I so rejoice over his election, a pastor and great preacher of God’s Word. His message in the final session of the convention was strong and wonderful.
Pastor Charles will be the first African American President of our Pastors’ Conference. This again, more than shows our great commitment to racial diversity in the future of our Southern Baptist Convention. As I stated in my 2016 Presidential Address last year, “It is with deep regret that I can do nothing about this stained past against our African American brothers and sisters; but with all I am and with all I can, I join you in creating a future together that binds up the nation’s wounds and always marches ahead knowing we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)
Electing Pastor Charles is another forward step toward our future in the Southern Baptist Convention. I cannot go forth without calling our attention to the humble spirit demonstrated by Pastor Brad Graves of First Baptist Church in Ada, Oklahoma. Pastor Graves, already a candidate for Pastors’ Conference President, stepped aside in humility and in honor of Pastor Charles within 24 hours of Pastor Charles being nominated. Pastor Graves did so because he too saw this as a major need in our convention and future; therefore, he put aside himself for the sake of the convention. This is refreshing and worth celebrating. Thank you, Pastor Graves and Pastor Charles, for both being great leaders and examples for all of us. We are thankful for each of you.
By the way, this past Saturday, Pastor Graves’ dad passed away. One day after withdrawing from the election, Brad led his dad to Jesus Christ after twenty-five years of witnessing to him. Thirty-seven days after giving his life to Christ, Pastor Graves’ dad went to heaven. Oh, we serve a great and gracious God. Please pray for Pastor Graves and his family during this time.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (LBM)—The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee released financial data, June 2, showing the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has fallen short $11.3 million, or about 7 percent, compared to last year, in funds received by the Nashville entity for the Richmond-based International Mission Board. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I reached out to Dr. Steve Gaines about the possibility of doing a question and answer blog with SBCToday. Due to us both being busy, I suggested sending these questions in the form of an email so that he could answer them as his schedule permitted. He graciously agreed to do so.
With the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting less than a month away we are now running this “conversation” and hope, if nothing else, it will encourage you to pray for our President and for our Southern Baptist Convention.
We greatly appreciate Dr. Gaines taking the time to speak to our readers. Below are our questions and his answers.
What has been your biggest surprise about being President of the Southern Baptist Convention?
Dr. Gaines: I am surprised that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) can be so large and effective even though it is not a hierarchical, top-down organization. No national or state entity can tell any churches what to do. Yet we voluntarily choose to work together. That is amazing to me, and I am more convinced than ever that the Lord has His hand on Southern Baptists and that He has a great future for us in the years to come.
What has been your biggest blessing as President of the Southern Baptist Convention?
Dr. Gaines: My biggest blessing has been to see firsthand how vastly the Lord is working through Southern Baptists at multiple venues and levels. God is using Southern Baptists at the local church, association, state, and national levels.
I have focused on preaching. I’ve had the privilege to preach at five of our six seminaries. I have attended the board meetings of both the International Mission Board (IMB) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB). I preached to the NAMB trustees. I also attended the board meeting for GuideStone and preached to their staff, their trustees, and wives. I preached to the SBC Executive Board in Nashville. I have also preached at numerous state convention meetings and several other SBC meetings. I had the privilege of preaching several times to the State Executives at their annual meeting.
I am overwhelmed with all that the Lord is doing in and through Southern Baptists. Through NAMB, we are seeking to plant one hundred new churches every month in our largest cities across North America. The Gospel will change countless lives as those new works are launched. I am also grateful that the IMB has become stronger fiscally, and that we are once again beginning to add to the number of full time missionaries that we are sending oversees.
Though we have challenges, it is still a wonderful time to be a Southern Baptist. I believe we are poised to take the Gospel of Jesus to the world.
What is your greatest concern facing the Southern Baptist Convention?
Dr. Gaines: My concern is that we need to make prayer and soul winning greater priorities. If you love someone, you talk with them and about them. If you love Jesus, you will talk with Him (prayer) and about Him (soul winning). Sometimes I think Christians in general in America are much more focused horizontally than vertically. We are often more focused on emails, texts, phone calls, and social media than we are on reading our Bible and talking with God in prayer.
Prayer is the key to the Christian life. God blesses our lives and ministries in proportion to our prayers. While I do think most all Southern Baptists believe in the need for prayer, I am convinced that most Southern Baptists, as well as most Christians in general, do not pray as we should.
What good is a prayerless pastor, deacon, seminary president, seminary faculty member, seminary student, evangelist, or worship leader? What good is a prayerless conservative? You can be as straight as a gun barrel in your theology and just as empty as a gun barrel if you do not pray as you should.
If Southern Baptists would pray more, God would work in and through us more than He is currently.
Relating to the Calvinist/Traditionalist issue, do you think that the division will ever be bridged?
Dr. Gaines: Without question, Calvinism is increasing in the SBC. How will that affect the SBC in the years to come? I don’t know. I am not a Calvinist. I believe God loves everybody the same, Jesus died for everybody the same, and that anyone can be saved. All people will not be saved because not all will repent of their sins, believe savingly in Jesus, and call on His name by receiving Him as Lord and Savior. If someone hears the Gospel and is not saved, it is because they chose to reject Christ, not because God chose not elect them to salvation.
Many Calvinists would have a problem with what I just said. Yet, I am convinced that what I just said represents the prevailing theological beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptist laypeople. Most Southern Baptists believe that Jesus died for all people and that anyone can choose to receive or reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
It certainly appears that the SBC will become more Calvinistic in the years ahead, but how long that trend will last is uncertain. My prayer is that we will have both Calvinists and Traditionalists serving together to take the Gospel to the nations. But if Calvinistic soteriological becomes the predominant view taught at all of our seminaries, that would be a tragedy resulting in major division.
There seems to be a real issue with regard to SBC entity/agency heads not responding or be held accountable to the grass-roots, mom and pop Southern Baptist members. How can that be fixed?
Dr. Gaines: The SBC is built on the trustee system, which is a good and fair system. The trustees run our SBC boards and entities. The trustees do not answer to the presidents or employees of our SBC boards and entities. Rather, the trustees answer to the churches of the SBC. The presidents and all the employees of our SBC boards and entities answer to the trustees.
SBC trustees are appointed by the SBC Committee on Nominations. The Committee on Nominations is appointed by the Committee on Committees. And guess who appoints the members of the Committee on Committees? The SBC President.
That means that the SBC President has a great deal of influence over what kind of leadership we will have at all of our SBC entities and agencies. If “the grass-roots, mom and pop Southern Baptist members” want their voice to be heard, they need to elect SBC Presidents that will appoint SBC Committee on Committee members who will appoint people who share their convictions. They should attend every SBC annual meeting and vote for the SBC President who will best represent their views.
That is the best way the common folk can be heard. Complaining after the fact regarding various Convention matters might resonate with some and stir a few emotions. But real change occurs only by electing an SBC President that represents a person’s theological viewpoint.
There seems to be a desire to get younger pastors more involved in the SBC as there are obviously fewer and fewer involved. Do you think that “para-convention” organizations (TGC, 9 Marks, Text-Driven Preaching Conference, etc.) holding their own conferences/conventions hurt that effort?
Dr. Gaines: Organizations outside the SBC that influence people in the SBC are popular and they are not going away. My prayer is that all SBC pastors, regardless of age, will make the annual SBC meeting a priority.
At the end of the day, we have something that no para-church organization has. We have 6 of the largest, most influential seminaries in the world, the largest international missions organization in the world, the largest church planting organization in the world, 42 state conventions, and 46,000+ cooperating local churches. No para-church organization comes close to having what we already have. Younger pastors need to understand the great gift we have with our SBC and get involved at every level.
What is the one thing you would like for Southern Baptist Historians to remember about you 100 years from now?
Dr. Gaines: The primary call of my life is prayer. I desire that the SBC will become a house of prayer. I pray that when people say “Southern Baptists,” the first thing that comes to their mind will be: “Those are the people that pray fervently, frequently, and in faith.” If we will pray, God will bless exponentially. But if we choose not to pray, God might move on to another group that makes prayer their priority.