My Fears for the SBC: Thoughts from an SBC Church Planter
In just a few short weeks, Southern Baptists from all over the United States and the world will gather in Dallas, Texas for the Convention’s Annual Meeting. These men and women known as “messengers” represent their respective churches as both clergy and laymen. During the convention, the messengers will be given the opportunity to elect a new president for the Southern Baptist Convention. This man, elected to his position by popular vote, will represent Southern Baptists for the next two years.
If you are a Southern Baptist, you are probably very familiar with this process as it happens every year at the Annual Meeting. Usually a few months before the convention, names begin circling as to who the candidates for the presidency will be. This year was no different. J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh, NC was announced as one of the candidates. For the second time is as many elections, Greear’s name would be on the ballot. Shortly after that announcement, it was heralded that Kenneth Hemphill would be nominated as well.
Both these men are Baptist statesmen. They have served the convention well. Hemphill is the son of a pastor, was a pastor himself and for most of the last three decades has served faithfully in theological academia. Greear has been involved in SBC life for almost twenty years as an IMB missionary and pastor. His role in revitalizing Homestead Heights Baptist Church, now known as Summit Church is nothing short of remarkable. A plateaued church that wasn’t reaching students is now a burgeoning megachurch with a heart to plant 1,000 churches by 2050.
Both these men are qualified and more than capable of leading the convention well. Both these men have followings from all across Southern Baptist life. Both have committed themselves the furthering of God’s Kingdom in ministry and life.
In the midst of their qualifications, credentials and abilities, there is a deep schism in the convention about this presidential election. A state convention is lobbying for one candidate while seminary presidents are tweeting defense of the other. Calvinists have their candidate while Traditionalists rally behind theirs. This election hype will far exceed two years ago when Greear conceded to current president, Steve Gaines of Memphis, Tennessee, after two too-close-to-call votes on the convention floor.
If both candidates are qualified and capable to lead, of what are we afraid? Why the lobbying, tweeting, name-calling, and debating over these two fine men?
Regardless of which side on which you land, here are my fears for our SBC in this election cycle.
Deeper Generational Schism
It is no secret that the argument of Calvinism has taken center stage in our convention in the last decade. What seems to be a sharp schism between younger and elder pastors over this issue will only continue to grow deeper. What should be a deep respect and affection for one another a la Charles Simeon and John Wesley is more known along the lines of post-1952 North and South Korea.
This election serves to only deepen that schism and hinder unity within the convention.
Continued Lack of Focus on Evangelism
At the same time we are debating the nuances of soteriology and how someone is saved, there are entire generations of people who don’t know Christ as Savior! They aren’t hearing of the beauty of what it means to actually be saved! We are quick to open our mouths in defense of a theological position. Adversely, we are slow to open our mouths to lost people about coming to Christ. Our declining conversion and baptism rates are evidence to this trend.
We have planted more churches and yet, we aren’t making disciples. We aren’t seeing men and women who have never named Jesus as Savior come to saving faith in Him and trust Him for salvation. We’ve planted churches only to see church members and attenders hop from an existing church to new church plant.
This election stands to keep the Calvinism debate at the forefront as opposed to our age-old focus of seeing men, women, boys and girls become devoted disciples of Jesus Christ through evangelism, missions and church planting.
There are many men and women coming to Dallas intent on casting their vote for their candidate. They believe their man will do a better job than the other in leading the convention. Friends, don’t miss the forest for the trees. As long as the elected president will help to draw together the generations, remind us of our focus on prayer, evangelism and missions, he will be God’s man for the season in the SBC. I fully believe both men are capable of these tasks.
Johann von Goethe said, “Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of those which matter least.”
Fellow Baptists, let’s not make our vote for a man more important than the redemptive mission for which Christ came. Ken Hemphill and JD Greear have shown in their respective ministries that they are devoted to and love the Gospel. They are committed to seeing men and women saved by faith in Jesus Christ.
If your candidate loses the election in Dallas, rather than take up your sword in defense, beat that sword into a plowshare and get back to the white harvest fields.
Until the whole world hears,
Stan Britton, Lead Pastor
The Church at Buffalo Creek