Randy Adams, who has served as executive director-treasurer of the Northwest Baptist Convention since 2013, will be nominated for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention when it gathers June 9-10, 2020, in Orlando. Adams recently spoke with the TEXAN about his nomination and the SBC’s need for a “change in direction.”
TEXAN: What made you decide to allow yourself to be nominated for president of the SBC?
Adams: I was really approached last summer by some suggesting I might consider doing this. And these were some who heard me speak or read what I had written about various issues affecting Southern Baptists. And then committed to pray about it probably mid-October, when a few other guys got on a conference call with me, anyway, and then determined by end of November that I felt really God did want me to do this. It’s something I feel like I’m supposed to do.
TEXAN: You have mentioned that you believe the SBC needs a “clear change in direction.” What are some needed changes?
Adams: In 2010, we made the decision to adopt the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) report. And when you look at what’s happened over the last 10 years, we’ve gone to a real top-down approach to the way we do a lot of our work. Especially in North America. And rather than a resurgence in our advance of the Great Commission, we have experienced what I would call a regression. Basically, every metric that we use to measure our effectiveness is moving in the wrong direction, and substantially in the wrong direction. Baptisms are down about 30 percent over the past decade. Our four lowest years since 1947 are 2015, ‘16, ‘17 and ‘18. We don’t have the numbers for ‘19 yet. So, the last four years that we have are the lowest four years in over 70 years. And each of those years is lower than the one prior. So, when you look at baptisms, which of course is a key metric, when you look at church attendance, church membership, missionaries on the field, all of those metrics are down. They’re at historic lows or at least the steepness of decline is historic. We’ve never experienced this in our 175 years—certainly not going back to 1900, which I’ve done.
TEXAN: How do we address these issues?
Adams: It’s not simple. We need honest discussion and debate about what is the best way forward. We need a great deal of transparency in terms of where are we. Are we getting our bang for the buck? And how we’re applying dollars.
We need a lot more transparency, I’d say, in budgets and in the performance, the metrics of the Great Commission. And then we need much more local control. Every partner has their role to play, whether it be national partners, state association or local church. But I’ve always believed that the people that ought to have the loudest voice when it comes to strategy development and implementation are the implementers themselves.
We need to listen to the people on the local field and those closest to the local field, the associations, the state conventions. That’s where they live. They live with their choices more so than people more remote from the situation. We understand our field better. We know the people. We know the issues. I would say we need to flip that from going from a top-down approach to more of a bottom-up approach in terms of strategy development and implementation. Which is what we used to do, by the way. We used to have more of that approach before the GCR.
TEXAN: What are some reasons you believe you’re qualified to be SBC president?
Adams: I grew up in Whitefish, Montana. I became a Baptist through Baptist Student Union, in Butte, Montana, at Montana Tech. I was an engineer major in college, and I already accepted Jesus but I really wasn’t a part of a church and didn’t really understand the purpose of the church until I got involved with Baptist Student Union and joined Floral Park Baptist Church in Butte. So, I’m really a product of the mission field.
One reason I love Southern Baptists is they were the only group on my college campus, the only Christian group, and that struck me as to why the Assemblies of God weren’t there, the Methodists or others.
And I began learning about Cooperative Program and the way Southern Baptists work together to do things that an individual church can’t do. I think I bring that background. My dad ran a sawmill and quit when he was 52. My mom quit, she ran a dental office. And they moved to [Central Asia] with the IMB [International Mission Board], so they served about 12 years in primarily those places with the IMB. So, I have a really, really strong missions commitment, both from what it has meant to me personally in the Northwest and Montana but also overseas.
One of the things I bring is I was a pastor. I was in the local church for 22 years, senior pastor for 19 years, state convention work now for 15 years. At the state convention level, I work with both the IMB and NAMB [North American Mission Board] in Oklahoma and then of course here as well, really learned how the system works. I didn’t understand the role of the association quite like I did until I became a state convention person. The same with NAMB. I didn’t understand NAMB’s role until I worked with NAMB through the state convention beginning in 2005.
Personally, I think that background at the associational level, the local church level, the state convention level is a great background for something like this, [as well as] a passion for missions. At the Northwest Convention we established, after I came, the very first international partnership that we’ve ever had. We’re the first convention ever to provide the volunteers for one of the large affinity retreats. Usually, it’s a megachurch that does that. But in 2016, we sent 163 people from 32 different churches to Thailand to provide the volunteers for the East Asia retreat. We did the same thing in 2019. We provided 113 volunteers from 23 churches to do that retreat.
TEXAN: We’re meeting in the same city, 20 years after the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 was adopted. Is the current version of the BF&M sufficient for the challenges facing the convention today?
Adams: To my knowledge it is. I would certainly be open to looking at that again to see if there are areas that we need to address that aren’t addressed in the BF&M. That’s not been a focus of mine at this point. My main call is for Southern Baptists to get back focused on the main mission. We were founded to advance the Great Commission, and I feel like we’ve not been really focused on that.
Obviously, we need a theological document that provides theological parameters that we can agree to that enable us to work together. And the Baptist Faith & Message has been that document. It has given us the parameters inside of which Baptists can find the theological unity required to accomplish the mission to work together to accomplish the mission. But I don’t personally know of an area in the BF&M.
TEXAN: Are there any issues that Southern Baptists should talk about in a healthier way?
Adams: In general, what I would say is we ought always try to deal with what Scripture says about issues. And I think we sometimes get in trouble when we venture into social and political theory and we don’t keep our discussion tied to the teaching of Scripture. So, it’s one thing to discuss interpretation of what the Bible says. It’s another thing to talk about things that are extra-biblical.
For example, issues of justice. And I know some of the topics Southern Baptists have been talking about the last year or two. What I would say is the Bible talks about justice. The Bible defines what justice is. It defines it to be extended or applied to widows or orphans and the poor, and whenever we put an adjective in front of the word justice, we get something less than biblical justice.
For example, the term social justice. I think the Bible talks about justice and justice certainly affects relationships. It affects society. It affects the social fabric of who we are. But I think it’s best when we can talk about what justice is and what justice looks like by keeping it tied to what the Scriptures actually teach. Some of the theories are fairly recent in their construction. And to me, the big issue, the overwhelming issue that is largely the cause of most of the problems we face in our country, is the destruction of the family.
TEXAN: What will be your guiding criteria when you make appointments to the Committee on Committees?
Adams: I want people who are strongly, overwhelmingly supportive of the Cooperative Program, people who are inerrantists. And I want them to come from the large fabric of who we are as Southern Baptists, so diversity in terms of the size of the church and other forms of diversity as well, [such as] linguistic diversity. I tend to talk a lot about languages.
In the Northwest, about a third of our churches worship in a language other than English. We have a lot of Korean, Russian, Spanish language churches. We’ve got about 27 different worship languages in the Northwest, so by the way, even in terms of remote access, we have a lot of churches made up of immigrants, some of whom are refugees, like Burmese and Bhutanese.
TEXAN: What is your perspective on the value of small churches in the SBC?
Adams: Those small churches are the backbone of the convention. And I mean that in that I came from a small church in Montana, in Butte. I pastored Fairview Baptist Church in Rhome, Texas, which had 10 people when I arrived. We were running in the mid-30s when I left. I pastored Central Baptist Church in Italy, Texas, which was a little bit larger, but still a small-town church, a town of about 1,700 people. The salt of the earth type people, people who believed in cooperation.
Every church I pastored has given between 10-12.5 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program. The SBC only has about 170 megachurches, but we’ve got about probably 23-24,000 churches that run 70 and under; probably somewhere around 35,000 of our churches—I’m not certain the number there—run under 100. So that’s who we are.
We are a convention of small churches. Without small churches, we wouldn’t be who we are. We need to reach the cities. But Baptists are by and large a rural, small-town people and we’re trying to learn how to reach the cities. We cannot turn our back on where we came from and on those churches that are who we are and do support who we are. It’s part of my concern. One of my platforms is to value every church regardless of size.
TEXAN: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Adams: When I talk to pastors, whether they be SBC or not SBC, in the Northwest, I always tell people that the Southern Baptist Convention is an easy sell. It’s easy to sell who we are. Because even with our issues, no one is planting as many churches as we are. No one sends, sustains as many missionaries as we do. As a group of churches and people we want to do the right thing. We’re searching. We believe in the Great Commission. We believe the Word of God. We have so much going for us and we can accomplish more than we are. But still, when you look around there is nobody else that is even remotely close to where we are in terms of sending missionaries, starting churches and reaching the lost.
I say, look, there’s nobody that has 3,700 international, fully-funded missionaries. There’s nobody that’s starting 600 churches every year other than us. There’s no one that has six seminaries with about 18-19,000 students that are receiving an affordable education because it’s paid for partly through CP. That’s huge.