DALLAS (BP)—North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear and University administrator and former seminary president Ken Hemphill are the two candidates to be nominated for Southern Baptist Convention president in June. Both responded to six questions from Baptist Press and Baptist state editors.
What are some specific ways you would like to help bridge possible theological and generational differences in the SBC that Southern Baptists have expressed concerns about in recent years?
Greear: The basis of our unity in the SBC has always been the Gospel and beyond that, the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). It’s what the messengers have seen fit, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to establish as the parameters of our cooperation.
Every word taught in Scripture is important, but we have set the BFM 2000 as the basis of our unity, and I believe that should be our guide. Whenever we let secondary or tertiary doctrines, cultural customs or worship preferences distract or divide us, the devil wins and evangelism loses.
Hemphill: In order to bridge any “potential” barriers to fellowship and mutual cooperation, we must restore trust and civility in our conversations about each other. Social media gives everyone instant access to unfettered means of sharing opinions on everything.
The internet is an effective tool of communications, but it must be self-monitored by biblical standards such as “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and avoiding unwholesome words and speaking for edification (Eph. 4:29).
Second, we must provide opportunities for listening and discussing theological, racial or generational differences. Local associations and state conventions can play a vital role in bringing together diverse groups of people for fellowship, respectful discussion and prayer. We must avoid labeling faithful Southern Baptists.
Third, our structure at every level of our convention must reflect and celebrate our racial and generational diversity while maintaining our core spiritual and theological convictions.
Please describe why you believe support for the Cooperative Program (CP), Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is vital to Southern Baptists’ mission and vision.
Greear: Cooperation between churches for the sake of mission is why the convention exists, and that cooperation has enabled Southern Baptists to produce more church planters, more missionaries and more seminary graduates than any other group in America. Cooperative giving through the CP, Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon Offerings is a powerful and proven method for supporting Great Commission work.
As a former IMB missionary and a two-time seminary graduate, I have been the beneficiary of the CP in multiple ways. In recent years our church has increasingly gotten involved in giving, and we only plan for that to continue. We want to call a new generation of Southern Baptist churches, similarly, to rise up and engage in cooperative mission and giving.
Institutions like the CP and the entities they support enable our mission efforts to have staying power, and they should be important to all Southern Baptists.
Hemphill: This is a key issue that motivated me to become a candidate.
First, establishing the budget requires cooperation at every level of SBC life. It is fine-tuned by the Executive Committee and approved by messengers at the annual convention. A church’s non-restricted gift through CP should be the norm for the sake of budgeting and planning.
Second, cooperative giving is a biblical approach to funding missions by churches who work together for Kingdom-sized goals. As a funding mechanism for supporting missions, it has absolutely no peer in Christian history.
Third, CP giving and our mission offerings allow every church of every size to be an equal partner in the ministries of the state and national convention. Percentage giving is not measured by the size of the gift but the size of the sacrifice. We must celebrate percentage giving rather than actual dollars given by a particular church.
What are some lessons Southern Baptist churches in the South can learn—and possibly apply to their ministries—from congregations outside of that region in more pioneer or unreached areas of the country?
Greear: Baptisms are down in the SBC, especially in the Southeast, where the population is growing the fastest! The answer isn’t to be found in circling the wagons. It’s to remember that God founded every church with sending in mind.
Many churches in the SBC have devolved from mission outposts to maintenance facilities, and as such they have lost the presence and power of Jesus. Jesus said, “If any serves me, where I am, there he will be also” (paraphrase of John 12:26). Jesus is seeking and saving the lost. Churches in frontier regions naturally live there; all churches should return to that.
This is also where the distinction between smaller and larger churches becomes insignificant. Smaller churches often reach people in frontier areas more effectively than big ones. Most of the churches in the New Testament, for instance, were smaller, but the impact they made for the Great Commission was nothing short of miraculous.
Hemphill: I have been privileged to speak in many new-work areas and have learned far more than I have ever imparted.
First, we can learn the importance of working together on those things that facilitate Gospel encounters. In this same vein, they teach us how to build relationships and share the story of Jesus with persons with little exposure to the Gospel or Southern Baptists. Also, we can learn from them how to do much with so little. Few of these churches have full-time or multiple staff members, and many of our smaller state conventions no longer have the equipping resources they once had.Therefore, they teach us to rely upon the Lord and to work with others. Because they understand the crucial nature of working together, these new-work churches are often very generous in their cooperative giving. They teach us percentage giving has greater value than flat-lined dollar amounts.
What would you suggest should be changed across the convention within the next two to three years to ensure growth?
Greear: We need (1) to focus again on the priority of the Gospel as the basis of our unity and evangelism as our mission; (2) to make way for ethnic leaders to lead us in reaching a changing demographic; (3) to make it easy for churches to get involved in church planting, here and abroad; (4) to mobilize a generation of college students to live on mission, and (5) to increase involvement in the CP. We can increase CP involvement in three ways. First, call for churches to give more to the CP. (Obvious, but bears repeating.) Second, celebrate state conventions getting money to the field. (Southern Baptists have many desires in their giving, but I believe this is dearest to their hearts.) Third, encourage all forms of Great Commission giving. We do not, of course, want to foster a societal approach, but we need to allow churches freedom in engaging.
Hemphill: Let’s be clear! The Lord builds His church (Matt. 16:18). He uses human instruments and expects all of us to engage in the singular mandate of the Great Commission—to make disciples. This requires going (evangelizing), baptizing (congregationalizing), and teaching (disciple-making). History shows that when our convention loses its laser-like focus on the Great Commission, we lose ground.
We must regain our kingdom focus. We are called to be a royal priesthood (Exodus 19:4-6), representing the King and advancing His kingdom to all peoples before His triumphal return. Our goal is far larger than growing our church or even our convention. We must regain the high ground of being a people on mission with God. That means that some of our personal preferences must be put aside as we renew our minds — a kingdom mindset through churches, associations, state conventions, and SBC missions and ministries. We need to revitalize the role of state convention evangelism director, invest more in campus ministries, utilize gifted evangelists, and restore a passion for soul-winning.
What are some ways relationships between SBC entities can be improved or strengthened?
Greear: All backbiting and cynicism has to stop. We are one people with a Gospel too great and a mission too urgent to focus on petty differences or territorialism between ourselves. Each entity should look at itself as the servant of the others, and most of all of as servant of the mission. Practically, this means we give each other the benefit of the doubt, assume the best in one another, and extend grace just as Christ did with us.
Trustee boards should allow appointed leaders the freedom to lead, but those leaders should lead transparently and in submission to the oversight of those boards. Our trustee boards are there to offer counsel, to manage crises, and at times, to put on the brakes or re-direct the focus. In other words, boards should hold the entity heads accountable, but let them lead the charge in mission.
Hemphill: There is a “hermeneutic of suspicion” in our culture today and it impacts the Christian community and our ability to cooperate. We must repent of critical attitudes and rhetoric that damage our ability to work together for the Kingdom. We must learn again to operate based on the principle of love which chooses to believe the best and refuses to judge motives.
When you have a valid criticism, express it with kindness with a view to finding helpful solutions. We must restore “trust,” because cooperation is impossible without trust. Trust and mutual care can only happen when we sit down together, discuss issues, pray, and work for a solution. We must relearn the art of “pulling for each other.” We need to work to establish situations that produce “win/win” outcomes. As Scripture indicates, when one member suffers, we all suffer together and when one succeeds we all succeed. SBC entities must be transparent and responsive to its constituents.
In the wake of the #Metoo movement and numerous sex-related scandals that have impacted our nation, including Southern Baptist churches and leaders, what are some ways congregations can better respond to these issues and minister to those affected?
Greear: First, we must understand that some actions are not only immoral, but also illegal. In such cases, rebuking the immorality is not enough; we need to involve law enforcement. Our government structures, Paul says, are appointed by God to keep the peace and we should submit to them.
Second, we need to become as skilled in applying the Gospel to suffering as we are to sin. We must learn to listen, to seek counsel, and to fight to protect the vulnerable in our flocks.
Third, we should mention the experience of abuse in our teaching. When we don’t mention experiences like sexual abuse, we indirectly communicate, “The Gospel doesn’t apply here.”
Fourth, we must insist on the highest standards of transparency and accountability. Things that grow in a secret garden always grow mutant! Pastors must be wise in not putting themselves in tempting or compromising situations.
Hemphill: We must first teach biblical holiness as a positive alternative to the world’s obsession with sexual permissiveness. We must provide biblical teaching that the body belongs to the Lord and is a Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
We must train church leaders concerning the importance of safety and security. Such measures include adopting strong policies, properly reporting, and taking seriously the claims of those indicating abuse. Churches should create accountability groups where a mentor or a mature friend has permission to ask the hard questions about what we are listening to, reading and watching.
The sexual abuse of women and children should never be tolerated or left unpunished. When church leaders/members are guilty, action needs to be swift and decisive. If someone experiences moral failure, the church must respond with biblical discipline that has as its ultimate goal the restoration to fellowship of the repentant offender (2 Cor. 2:7-8).