JD Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC, is running for President of the SBC at our Annual Meeting in Dallas in June. As is tradition here at SBCVoices, we like to interview presidential candidates with a few questions to get a deeper perspective on why they are running and what their hopes for the present and future of the SBC might be. Since the wheels went into motion on this interview, Dr. Ken Hemphill has also decided to run for SBC president. We hope to interview him as well.
JD Greear Interview
1. Tell us why you sense this is the right season for you to serve as SBC President. You ran in 2016, so this is clearly something that God has put on your heart during this time period. Why do you sense He is calling you to this?
When I was approached a couple of years ago to allow my name to be placed in nomination, I was quite surprised. But I loved and respected the leaders talking to me—older leaders with proven track records of commitment to the SBC. Our elders and family wrestled with the issue for several months and perceived God placing several strong burdens on our heart. At the time, I explained those here. At the end of our season of prayer, we believed we should at least make ourselves available for that if it’s what God wanted.
The passions God put in my heart two years ago remain, stronger than ever. They are (1) to keep the gospel above all as our unifying factor, (2) to see us continue growing in cultural and racial diversity, (3) to turn up the temperature in our churches with more intentional, personal evangelism, (4) to plant and revitalize hundreds of churches, (5) to mobilize college students and recent graduates into the mission, and (6) to engage the next generation in cooperative mission. There’s a lot of talk now about who stands where on “the five points.” Those are the “six points” I want to see propel our Convention forward in mission.
2. The vast majority of SBC churches are small churches and many have bivocational pastors. While megachurches get much of attention, the backbone of the SBC is still the small church. How can we encourage strength and mission/discipleship effectiveness for small churches? How can larger churches help smaller churches?
You are right—smaller churches have always been the heart of the SBC and will remain such for the foreseeable future. The vast majority of kingdom work does not take place on a platform once a year. It happens the other 51 weeks of the year through regional networks of pastors and through organizations like Baptist Men—even more so, through “ordinary” members doing the work of discipleship and evangelism in their local communities. The vast majority of Southern Baptist believers attend “smaller” churches, so it just makes sense that a lot of our effort be focused there.
In fact, one of the dangers of a large church is that people are liable to lose the commitment to intentional evangelism. When it comes to equipping members for the work of the ministry, many of our so-called smaller churches are leading the way.
I don’t think the strategy is any deep secret; it is simply disciple-makers raising up new disciple-makers to go start new works, just like in the New Testament. Most of the churches in the New Testament were quite small, but the impact they made for the Great Commission was nothing short of miraculous. I see many parallels among the numerous smaller churches in the SBC today, whose members are making an enormous impact for the gospel.
3. As SBC President, you will make appointments to Committees like the Committee on Committees and the Resolutions Committee. What will guide you in that process? How will you make those decisions?
The SBC intentionally has a “wide tent,” but sometimes we let our rather minor differences obscure the urgent mission that unites us. We need gospel-loving Baptists of all kinds to be engaged in that mission—traditional as well as younger; men as well as women; black, white, Latino, and Asian. It’s all of our Convention. The BFM 2000 is our doctrinal rallying point. I believe the BFM 2000 is an ideal confession of faith, narrow enough to keep us unified on the essentials and broad enough to encompass all gospel-loving, scripturally faithful Baptists. For the sake of the mission, that kind of unity is absolutely crucial. Every time we fight about a non-essential, evangelism loses and the Enemy wins.
So when I think about the sorts of ideals that would guide me in making appointments, it’s pretty simple: someone who has a love for the Great Commission, a passion for local churches, a commitment to evangelism, and a disposition toward a “wide tent” of SBC life. They need to be from small churches, big churches, and medium-sized churches, young and old, traditional and more modern, and of varying ethnic backgrounds. As I stated with my six objectives above, I think it is time for us to recognize and put into positions of influence brothers and sisters of color. This should have happened a long time ago, but in this new era we desperately need their wisdom and influence.
4. What is your vision for the Annual Meeting? What would you like to see happen differently than has been happening in the past?
A lot of good progress has already been made, for which I am grateful. I’m grateful for Ronnie Floyd’s leadership in making prayer a distinct emphasis at the 2016 meeting and anticipate that again this year. He has also prioritized racial diversity by encouraging different leaders to speak and lead in times of worship. Leading the people of the SBC to trust God in prayer and to follow him in racial diversity are huge steps forward, and we want to keep taking those steps. And while the lion’s share of those changes will happen in individual churches, the annual meeting gives us a chance to demonstrate what we value. You replicate what you celebrate.
As far as procedural practices, I’m open to thinking through the annual meeting. The Convention meeting was designed a long time ago, and many of its procedures and rituals were designed to meet needs of a bygone era. We should always be humble and open enough to rethink what we’re doing in light of a new generation.
And, at times, the annual meeting feels more like an entity-led infomercial for why they need our money and approval. We need to lay the Convention meeting, along with many other things, on the table and ask what the objectives are and what the best ways are to accomplish them. We should ask how we can make it (1) more efficient, (2) more spiritually enriching, and (3) a better representation of the SBC people as a whole. Obviously, change of this kind never happens overnight. But we should always be asking the question. Anything less is unfaithfulness to the mission.
5. The majority of SBC churches are in the South, which is an area that is rapidly growing and diversifying ethnically. Last year, 37% of all new immigrants to America found their home in the South. Since 2000, the South has grown by 22 million people while the SBC has lost 1 million people. Our churches are positioned in the part of the country with the most new growth of all kinds, yet we are in decline. What does this mean, why are we struggling, and how do we address this?
A lot of this is simpler than we think. We need to get back to an emphasis on personal soul-winning. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said that he came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Soul-winning was Jesus’ main thing, and if we follow Jesus, it will be our main thing, too. By God’s grace, evangelism has always been a Southern Baptist essential, and I pray it continues to form the core of our mission strategy for the future.
Keeping an emphasis on personal evangelism takes intentionality, however, not good intentions. Institutional inertia always carries us away from evangelism. That’s why, recently, at The Summit Church, we asked the members of our congregation to identify one person they could pray for and seek to bring to Christ over the year. The phrase we kept repeating was, “Who’s your one?” This emphasis led to our most evangelistically effective year to date. What would it look like if every Southern Baptist asked God to let them lead one person to Christ next year and our agencies worked with pastors and church leaders to make that a possibility?
Reaching our family members, neighbors, and co-workers is not all, however. We also need to engage the growing communities of immigrants and refugees that God is placing at various locations around the country. The SBC has always prioritized reaching the nations, and many of us need to seize the opportunity we now have to reach the nations literally next door.
I’ve loved seeing the people of the Summit catch a vision for this. We have almost 300 people who have done training with World Relief and now are going into neighborhoods and apartment complexes weekly with the Word of God and the love of Christ. Largely because of the major universities in Raleigh-Durham, our area is more diverse than most American cities. We also have an enormous refugee population. We’ve seen this as a field “white for harvest,” for instance, by planting Waypoint Church, an intentionally international church that reaches out to the immigrants in our local neighborhoods.
And we can’t forget church planting—in unreached cities and rural areas in the North and West, and even in the Southeast where the SBC has historically been stronger. Statistically speaking, the church is shrinking fastest in the “Bible-belt” South, which simply means that we need to be planting and revitalizing everywhere and taking nothing for granted. At the Summit, for instance, two of the leaders we sent out from our last church planting cohort were actually revitalization/replant efforts in southern states. And one of our long-term goals is to plant (or revitalize) a vibrant church in every college town in North Carolina—right here in the Bible belt.
The statistics may not look good, but we should recognize in them an opportunity to steward the churches God has already placed in key areas. God’s best days are still ahead of us.
6. What do you hope for the SBC? What do you hope the present and future holds? If you are elected president of the SBC, what difference do you hope it makes?
As I said above, I have six key passions that God has placed on my heart for the SBC, whether I help lead in them or not. Let me unpack them a little more here:
First, I want to see us reinforce our identity as a gospel people, putting the gospel above all. The gospel is the basis of our unity, so as a Convention, we should be neither defined nor characterized by a certain church style, method of ministry, political affiliation, or cultural and racial distinctive. We are a gospel people; the gospel is, as Paul said, “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). We must avoid the temptation to let smaller doctrinal issues or any personal preferences replace the centrality of the gospel as our unifying standard.
Second, I would love to see the church declare the diversity of the kingdom and reflect the diversity of its community. We need to recognize the leadership gifts of brothers and sisters of color that God has placed in our midst and embrace their wisdom and influence. Pursuing diversity benefits everyone as we manifest the unity that God has already declared over us in Christ.
Third, as I mentioned above, we’ve got to recover, in every arm of the SBC and in every church, an emphasis on intentional, personal evangelism. Church planting is great. Church programs have their place. But nothing can or should ever replace the one-on-one soul-winning that Jesus expects of every believer.
Fourth, I would love to see the recent surge in church planting and revitalization continue. Personal evangelism is our fuel, and church planting is the vehicle that the fuel propels into God’s mission. Just think: What would it look like if every Southern Baptist church committed to help in the planting or revitalizing of just one domestic church next year?
Fifth, I would love to see Southern Baptists mobilize a generation of college students to give the first and best of their careers to living strategically on mission. We have asked college students at The Summit Church to spend their first two years after graduation pursuing their careers in a place where we are planting a church. We tell them, “You have to get a job somewhere. Why not get one in a place where you can be part of a strategic work of God?” Every year we see dozens of college graduates accept that challenge and plant their lives in a place where we are planting a church. What would it look like if Southern Baptist college students all across the country did that—pursuing careers in places that NAMB or IMB are facilitating church plants? Can you imagine the catalyst that would be for our church planting?
Sixth, we need to continue engaging the next generation in cooperative mission. Cooperation between churches for the sake of mission is what created the SBC. Cooperation is what has led to Southern Baptists continuing to produce more church planters, more missionaries, and more seminary graduates than any other group in America. We need to do everything we can to get the next generation engaged in cooperative mission.
This is the vision that I have been praying to see in the SBC, and I will continue to pour my passion and energy into these efforts, whether or not I’m president.