Q&A with new SBC President J.D. Greearby BSCNC Communications
J.D. Greear, pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during the 2018 SBC annual meeting, held June 12-13 in Dallas, Texas. During a press conference following his election, Greear addressed a series of questions on a variety of topics. Following is an edited transcript of Greear’s responses to some of the questions that he was asked. A video of the press conference is available here.
On his focus areas as SBC president.
From the very beginning, there were six things that I believe God had put on my heart for areas of concern in the Southern Baptist Convention. … The first one is gospel above all. The Southern Baptist Convention is a network of churches who are not necessarily identical on everything. We’re not identical in style, or age, or cultural background, or even political alliance, but we come together united by a common gospel confession and also by a common gospel mission.
The second is elevation of culture and diversity in our leadership. By God’s grace there are a number of people of color that are a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, and our leadership, when you look at it, doesn’t really reflect that yet … [and] that’s something we desperately need in the days to come. As we all know the United States is changing, and because of that, [we must be equipped] to meet the questions and challenges that we are presented within our society. We need the perspective and wisdom that our members of color are bringing to us. There are a lot of things that personal experiences will give to you that you just don’t have when you don’t share those experiences. That’s something we really need in the days to come.
Third is continuing to focus on evangelism — evangelism being what President [Steve] Gaines has championed for two years. Evangelism is our core responsibility to declare the gospel to all peoples of the world. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died in our place so that we wouldn’t have to pay the punishment for our sin and that all people can be born again through faith in Him. That is what we do. It’s the essence of making disciples. That’s something that is not [just for] leaders [but], it’s something that individual members do.
Fourth is our mission of church planting. Our church has taken on the mission of planting 1,000 churches in our generation, and helping people see that they’ve been given skills that can be helpful in seeing the gospel go into different nations and in other places in the United States. We always tell people that the question is no longer if you’re called to the mission of God, the question is only “where” and “how.” To be a follower of Jesus means that whatever God made you good at, you do it well to the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God. [We want to help] every Southern Baptist church take on this responsibility of church planting to reproduce itself, and [I] want to see us take some big steps forward in that in partnership with the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board because they are the agencies that lead in that.
Fifth is the mobilization of the college generation. … The Raleigh-Durham area where I pastor has a lot of college students. Forbes magazine ranks it as the educational hub of America. … We have a lot of college students, and we’ve tried to mobilize them to say, ‘Hey, you’ve been given something. Whatever God made you good at, do it well for the glory of God and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.’ We’d love to see a generation of Southern Baptist students that begin to think of the kingdom of God first in where they chose to live their lives and pursue their careers. Lots of factors go into where you pursue your career. Why not let the kingdom of God be the largest of those factors?
Sixth is to engage the next generation in cooperative giving and cooperative mission. We want to engage people that are not yet being engaged. Our church doesn’t officially represent anybody, but it obviously trends younger. Our church has grown in diversity, and we believe that the Southern Baptist Convention is a mission and gospel organization for all people in the United States. We want to engage, and we want to show up and we want to be responsible for the institutions that help lead the way in mission…. So that’s what brought me here to this moment, and we’ve put [these six things] out there for the last several months.
On the dignity and roles of women.
We have to be committed to be a safe place for the vulnerable, which means a place that people can come and that we listen ... and take the proper steps that are necessary. … We’ve also got to be a place where women sit at the seats of influence. It’s like I said with cultural diversity. There are perspectives that women bring to the conversation that men are not always aware of because they do not have those experiences.
Both [men and women] were created differently in the image of God. He created them as equals, but in the home and in the church, He gave men a leadership role so that only men could be pastors and elders in the church. That does not mean that women do not have leadership abilities. It doesn’t mean they don’t have wisdom. It does not mean that they don’t have a lot of things that are crucial. All the gifts that God gives to the body of Christ are given freely to women, and for us to not bring them to the table to exercise influence and wisdom is to deprive ourselves of one of the greatest gifts God has given. So I hope in the days to come we will see an increased role for women being able to not just be a part of the process, … but to actually be part of the leadership.
On whether this year’s election represents a generational shift within the SBC
What I don’t think is accurate is that this represents some kind of official passing of the baton where the older generation fades off into the sunset and the new young generation is in charge. We walk forward together. The purpose of what I did two years ago when Steve Gaines and I had the second runoff and there still wasn’t a majority winner was to say that I didn’t think we had lost. We will happily follow a gospel-loving guy like Steve Gaines.… I hope that those who voted for Ken [Hemphill] would see that I want to be a president that goes forward together with them because they are a necessary part of the body of Christ.
That’s how I’ve tried to lead our church for the last 16 years. I had 300 who were with me, most of whom were 40 and above when I became pastor in 2002. I told them the first month I was there that this is what God has called us to do, and I want us to go forward together. By God’s grace, the vast majority of them stayed with me and are still with me to this day. In fact, on our 10-year anniversary as a church, I gave them a ring that had ‘300’ written on it. I said, ‘God gave Gideon his 300 men of valor, and you men and women have been mine.’ Our church has a lot of younger people, but it’s got a lot of older people that have been with me for a long time. I hope that’s the way the Southern Baptist Convention feels because it is our responsibility to walk forward together.
On the recommendations of the SBC’s evangelism task force.
I was part of the committee that wrote the document, so I want to continue to champion those. I’ve already been talking with Kevin Ezell at NAMB and with the leaders of the International Mission Board about how to implement some of those things. … I was very honored that I got to be a part of that task force which means that I’m excited about the things that have been recommended.
One of the things on evangelism that I’ve been really excited about is getting individual Southern Baptist members to reassume the responsibility for evangelism. At our church, we encourage everybody to have their ‘one.’ Who is your one person that God has put in your life that you pray for or are reaching out to? That’s something immediately I want to begin to implement and [have Southern Baptists ask themselves], ‘What would it look like for 16 million Southern Baptists to all be praying about one person that they can share the hope of Jesus Christ with?’
On the role of state conventions in the life of the SBC.
State conventions are a very valuable partner to us. I am very involved and have been increasingly involved with our state convention. … They are one of the first lines of cooperation, and so we have a long legacy of how they can work in local contexts with churches, catalyzing church plants and making relationships [and] networks work together. … Every few years we have to ask questions about what’s the best way to cooperate. What are things that we did 100 years ago, 50 years ago, that are no longer as effective? We ask, is the state convention doing exactly what it needs to be doing?
As a president, I’m not really in a place to go through and just say all of those things, but I do want to be a part of asking that question. That should not be considered hostile toward any convention or association because I would ask the same thing of our own church. Every year we just review. Are we spending our money as effectively as we can? Are we giving the opportunities that we need to give to our people?
The reality is that the younger generation and those that are coming in as Southern Baptists, are asking the question, ‘Where should I be involved, and why?’ It may have been that 50 years ago, that people just said, ‘Show me where to give my money, and I’ll give it there.’ Today, people say, ‘Show me why you deserve this money.’ … I think a lot of younger guys are saying, ‘Show me what is it that the state convention does as I give through it to the national convention.’ ... I think that is a good opportunity for state conventions to step in and say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing.’
As I’ve gotten involved, I encounter things like the way they guide us in church planting, the way they foster relationships, the children’s homes and disaster relief. Those are some of the best opportunities we have. I believe there is a lot there that they are doing that makes a great partner for churches.
Of the churches we’ve planted, we give them pretty free reign in where they choose to associate. The majority of the ones we’ve planted chose to associate with their state convention because ... they’ve seen the value in the things I’ve just mentioned.
On reversing the trend of declining baptisms within the SBC.
There’s no question that it has been declining, [but] I think there are some questions about how things are counted. I think certainly you are seeing in the United States a shift away from cultural Christianity. That’s led to a drop in a lot of denominations because people just don’t say, ‘Hey, well, I’m not Jewish, and I’m not Muslim and I’m not an atheist, so I must be a Christian.’ The amount of people who identify as ‘none’ [no religious affiliation] grows at an alarming rate every year. So I think you are seeing people who were never really committed to the church no longer being counted in the church, and that may not necessarily be a bad thing. … It has to be fixed at the local church level. The president cannot fix it. Our agencies can’t fix it. It has to be pastors and churches that are growing.
The things that I have seen God bless the Summit Church [with] that have led to an average of 600-700 baptisms for the last several years, are the things that I hope to represent and to champion in our churches. They’re some of the six things that I have laid out. If somebody spent some time in our church, I think they would find that those six things are a reflection of who we are as a church. … I think the more we reflect Jesus and look like Jesus and organize our churches like Jesus, the more an individual church will baptize and the aggregate of that will reverse the decline.
At the end of the day, we’re a collection of churches. That’s what we are. And because our churches are autonomous, the health of the churches put together equals the health of the Southern Baptist Convention. So the fact that these numbers are not going in the right direction shows that there’s a lot of unhealthy and sick churches. That can’t be fixed by a president. We can champion it, we can put things out there, but we’re praying for pastors and members and for the Spirit of God to move them to be the church that we need to be in our generation.