The Illinois Baptist editors asked the SBC Presidential candidates this question: What are the three greatest challenges facing the SBC? Here are their replies:
First Baptist Church, New Orleans
1. We must get out of our buildings and into our communities. We are plagued with the mentality that people “go to church.” This says that “church” is a location somewhere. We need the reverse: “Churches go to people.”
I want us to expand the presence of our churches in their communities. I will seek to foster strategies of compassion ministries that keep us in touch with neighbors in need and open wide the doors of loving witness. These ministries break down racial and class barriers and help our churches look more like our communities and more like heaven. This is our future.
2. We must bring a message of hope to our churches and our culture. The primary metaphor for being in the world as believers is not warfare. It is light. Anyone in darkness is thrilled to see a glimmer of light. Our warfare mentality has had the unintended effect of stealing hope from our hearts and our message. An angry and fearful posture in the world is unwise, unfounded, and unchristian. Losing the culture wars is no loss at all compared to losing the message of a living hope.
My daily reality is the hardscrabble world of urban New Orleans. I will lead the SBC from the perspective of this highly diverse and difficult mission field where God’s people shine like stars and loving engagement brings true hope.
3. We must be cooperative. Southern Baptists are distinguished from other groups in that they actually do mission together, not just independently. Cooperation, we believe, is biblical and is a superior strategy for accomplishing the world mission of the church.
The spirit of cooperation has waned, but the need for it has not.
As SBC President, I will not talk or act as if a return to the society method of supporting our cooperative work is progress. I will cultivate and promote a cooperative spirit. I will demonstrate cooperation by continuing to give a substantial percentage of the undesignated receipts of my church to our unified giving plan.
Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis
Three of our greatest challenges in the SBC are: spiritual awakening, soul winning, and stewardship.
Regarding the second challenge, the SBC is in a 15-year downward trajectory in baptisms, the longest in SBC history. In 2014 we baptized 100,000 fewer people than in 1999. Regarding the third challenge, we recently called 1,000+ IMB missionaries home due to financial deficits.
In my opinion, the first challenge, our need for spiritual awakening, is the most important. If prioritized, it can solve the other two.
The SBC needs fresh wind and fire from heaven. That will only come when a spirit of prayer and repentance captivates our pastors, lay leaders, church members, associations, state conventions, and SBC entities.
I will seek to lead our SBC to prioritize passionate prayer in each person’s personal life, and encourage the development of specific prayer strategies for pastors, church members and all who serve in our SBC agencies. Without spiritual awakening, the SBC will continue to decline. God can do more in revival in one hour than we can do in years without it.
Both the early church (cf. Acts 2:1f) and missions (cf. Acts 13:1f) were birthed in prayer meetings. Prayer and revival caused the early church to win multitudes to faith in Jesus. Prayer and revival also made the early believers strong financial stewards who gave generously. When we pray, we will evangelize and make disciples. God will also activate his angelic army to defeat our enemy, the devil, and thus advance his kingdom in our churches, Convention and culture.
If chosen to lead the SBC, I will give myself wholeheartedly to help the SBC experience spiritual awakening to bring glory to God through souls being saved, people being discipled, financial resources being made available, and more missionaries being sent out to the ends of the earth.
The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham
First and foremost, we need a continued re-awakening to the gospel. Historically, revival has begun not with lost people getting saved, but with the church getting “re-converted” to the gospel, which then leads to massive evangelism. I know we feel like we live in a dark age, but if we look at the last four awakenings in the Western world, we see that the conditions in our country are riper for revival now than at any other point since the Great Awakening.
The time is right. The harvest is ready. So we need to boldly ask God for what we know he wants to give us. And our entities need to respond accordingly. The Convention doesn’t exist for sake of the entities or the state conventions. It exists for the Great Commission. We must constantly re-evaluate everything we do in light of that.
Second, we need to bring a new generation of Southern Baptists to the table to partner with older generations in the cooperative missions of the SBC. There is a new wave of excitement about the SBC, but many newer generations of churches are still sitting on the sidelines. We need to take personal responsibility for the entities of the SBC and step up to own the mission. We must join with a faithful older generation to sacrificially give, support, and serve in these entities, boards, and institutions.
Third, we need to see diversification in the leadership of the SBC. About one in five churches in the SBC now is predominantly non-Anglo (praise God!), and we want to see our brothers and sisters from these non-Anglo backgrounds join us in leadership. I believe we are at a kairos moment in this. We should strive to see SBC leadership reflect the diversity of the SBC—culturally and racially, including younger and older, more traditional and more modern. We are united by The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) and our passion for the Great Commission. I believe that our greatest days are yet ahead!