SBC presidential candidate Ronnie Floyd: Spiritual renewal needed

SPRINGDALE, Ark.–Spiritual renewal is the emphasis native Texan Ronnie Floyd will bring to the Southern Baptist Convention if elected president at the June 13-14 annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. The pastor of First Baptist Church of Springdale, Ark., spoke with the Southern Baptist TEXAN after Georgia pastor Johnny Hunt announced that he would nominate Floyd for the top SBC office.

“It was a little over 10 years ago when the Lord really moved in a profound way in our church. That spiritual encounter with God that came as a result of days of fasting and prayer literally took the entire church ministry to a brand new level,” stated Floyd, the pastor of the largest Southern Baptist Church in Arkansas. As a result, the church became even more mission driven and evangelistic, ultimately planting churches in cooperation with Southern Baptist ministries on every continent and in key U.S. cities.

If elected as president of the SBC, Floyd said, “My heart is to passionately lead a desperate call to a spiritual movement in this denomination that is Bible based, Jesus centered and Holy Spirit controlled. That’s my heart and that’s who I am personally and that’s what I try to lead our church to do successfully as God would so lead and permit and endow,” Floyd stated.

“We’re people of the book,” he said, calling on Southern Baptists to operate by the book–“encountering God to the point where we have some lifestyle change going on.” While individual believers should seek to win people to Christ, one by one, Floyd reminded, “We don’t have a chance if God doesn’t get in on this thing. There are thousands of people that drive by my church every day. They don’t even notice us. We’re in a lost and pagan culture. We need God to stand up through our churches to make a major difference.”

He believes that type of renewal is the answer to issues surfacing within the denomination as well.

“We’ve got a lot more people talking about each other than we have talking to each other,” he stated. “We need to get before the Father. We need to ground our personal preferences, our attitudes in some areas, and we need to lift up the kind of things that Jesus has on his heart and the way he wants us to treat one another.”

Spiritual renewal would continue current SBC President Bobby Welch’s call for increased witnessing that yields more baptisms. “Everything we do should be moving us toward the fulfillment of the mission of taking the good news of Christ around the world, beginning right here in our backyards,” Floyd said. “I’m talking about the kind of spiritual movement that brings alive the church with a heartbeat for God and the way we relate to God and to one another. That is critical,” he insisted.

“We have so many issues out here that are raging within the fellowship of Southern Baptists that are only going to be solved when we start really placing a strong, deep abiding belief in the right things that bring about spiritual movement–the importance of prayer at a deeper level in our churches, the mentioning at least of a nod at the significance of fasting along the way if a church would ever feel led to do that, or whatever it may be—those things that god loves.”

Every church and every individual must encounter God personally, he added. “If we want to finish the task, which is what we’ve been challenged to do over the last two years, how much more tremendous a message is there?”

Floyd insists a “Bible-driven, Bible-based body of people” need not add anything to the Word of God. We need to let the Word of God stand on its own. “Consequently, in relation to spiritual revival, Floyd said, “It’s got to be within the parameters of Scripture.”

Furthermore, he added, “We’ve got to come out of the minutia of thinking that God has called Scripture and the Lord himself to judge us and we’ve got to put down some of those things and come back to what the Word of God says and practice matters by the Word of God.”

Theological differences ought to be tested to see whether the view ignites a greater passion for the Word and reaching the world for Christ, he said. He points to Acts 1:8 as the best expression of the heartbeat of Jesus. Asked specifically about what some perceive as the threat of Calvinism, Floyd encouraged recognizing “the good that exists in whatever people believe and try our best to come together to discuss what we can do together and believe together. The more we split hairs on various matters, the less effective we’re going to be in carrying forth our mission,” he added.

“Whatever our persuasions are theologically, they have to result in a great passion to reach the lost and the unchurched with the gospel of Jesus Christ. If it does not then that does not represent the heart of the redemptive story and the Great Commission that Jesus gave us before he ascended to be with the Father.”

Floyd said he has been innovative in his approach to ministry while “never one time sacrificing biblical truth.” He asserted, “Orthodoxy is not threatened by innovation. Real truth can stand through the test of time.” He urged churches and the denomination “to really put forth without argument that we have a truth in the Word of God and in Jesus Christ,” adding “that it can be packaged in a way that can be appealing to a 21st century generation. If we do not do that then we can share truth all day long, but it may not be heard by the masses who need to hear it.”

Floyd said he was surprised by the request from his friend Johnny Hunt who asked to nominate the Arkansas pastor for the leadership position. “It caused me to move into a radical evaluation—of prayer, of our church, of the denomination of which I’m a part of and I’m engaged in.” After a month-long consideration, Floyd consented to the nomination and began what he called an enormous learning curve to review the state of Southern Baptists and an “expedited” spiritual journey to perceive God’s direction.

One of the priorities Floyd believes should be emphasized was just as important to him a decade ago when he served on the committee that restructured the SBC. The mission statement adopted by messengers when implementing the Covenant for a New Century led with “the conviction that the churches, and not the agencies and institutions, are central to the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Even within each local congregation, pastors are challenged to keep the attention of their own people on the priority of the church, Floyd reminded. “What I want us to understand always is the heartbeat at the center of this denomination is always the local church,” he reminded, emphasizing the SBC’s role in helping churches carry out the Great Commission.

Pastors will not respond to empty appeals for denominational loyalty, he said. “Tell me about what you want to do for God. Tell me about how you want to reach this region, and I’m going to listen. They’re going to choose what they participate in based on that. We have to understand the importance of missional relevance rather than institutional loyalty,” he insisted, noting the complexity of pastoring today.

Floyd upheld the autonomy of every local church to decide how much should be given to the Cooperative Program, the 80-year-old mechanism for funding Southern Baptist causes. “It is a tool, a vehicle for churches to join together in our world missionary enterprise.” From his conversations with others, Floyd believes there is not a pastor that does not know his church can do better in CP giving.

“there was never mandated cooperation,” he said, refuting any concept that giving a tithe to the denomination is scriptural. “I don’t believe that’s what anybody’s saying, but we need to be careful.” He said such expectations might dampen continued interest from independent churches affiliating with the SBC after finding their beliefs compatible.

“We don’t want to give off a signal … that we’d love to have you, but remember, if you come to be a part of us, we ask our churches to give 10 percent to this. I don’t think that’s what anybody wants to give off or to say or represent, but when we start carving certain things and we’re not really thinking through how that’s going to fly down here in the local churches of America, then that’s a different ballgame.”

Instead, Floyd affirms encouraging churches to give more to the Cooperative Program, pledging that response for his own congregation. “Our commitment is to do more,” he said of their level of giving. In 2004, Floyd said the church increased its Cooperative Program giving by 21.1 percent over the prior year and in 2005 the CP allocation increased by 4.2 percent over the 2004 total. “Our Financial Team has made that commitment and we are making it towards the future,” he said.

It’s real difficult to spend percentages,” Floyd emphasized. “You spend dollars and cents. I don’t think we need to be judging a church in relationship to what it gives percentile-wise. It violates the whole essence of the Cooperative Program which it voluntary cooperation.”

Responding to a recent Executive Committee study encouraging the election of SBC officers from among churches that give at least 10 percent to the Cooperative Program, Floyd said, “The very men who turned this denomination back to biblical inerrancy would not have been qualified. We would have eliminated so many great people who now are giving large sums to the Cooperative Program.”

Instead, Floyd reasoned, “If we want people to give more money to CP—and they will—we have to give them a vision that is so attractive that dollars, cents, resources, persons and personnel will be elevated to a brand new level.”

He praised the International Mission Board for assisting local churches in personalization of missions. “That’s what we’re doing with them,” Floyd stated, referring to the 17 churches that the Arkansas congregation has planted since 1999, impacting every continent of the world. Through discussion with the North American Mission Board, Floyd anticipates the church will sponsor church planting efforts in Cleveland and San Diego. “At the same time we are taking a mission trip at least once a month. Every graduating student from our school who wants to go [on mission] we fund to send them around the world,” he added.

“That doesn’t show up in CP giving,” Floyd said of each effort by his church to spread the gospel in partnership with Southern Baptist efforts.

“When we equate being missional—that you’ve got to do it with us, then we’re going to eliminate the vast majority of churches in the 21st century.” Instead, by appealing for partnering relationships, churches and their pastors will want to engage in missions and get their people personally involved, Floyd predicted.

“Some churches God assigns to certain tasks and some he doesn’t,” Floyd said, asking pastors to find a way to get their people personally involved in missions. “Let’s just make the vision so attractive that all of us want to be a part of it,” he recommended.

“My whole perspective changed to so many things around the world,” he said in recalling a mission trip he took over a decade ago. “That was the beginning of much more.”

Floyd said he finds encouragement and accountability in being part of the Southern Baptist Convention. “It is the strong conviction in my heart that it is the only way my church can help fund missionaries around the world, help churches of all sized in American and around the world, educate our students to be preachers, proclaimers of biblical truth, as well as training up other types of professions in our schools. It’s knowing that I have someone in Washington, D.C. that is standing up for the cause of the family that I know is going to be biblically sound and consistent with what we believe.”

And while the restructuring he helped develop was implemented a decade ago, Floyd said Southern Baptists must remain forward-looking, seeking ways to simplify the structure even more. “Is it relevant? That’s what they’re asking?” Floyd said of young pastors that came out of his church wondering whether to be engaged in the denomination.

“That’s a provocative question for a guy like me who saw the denomination go through the challenges and come out on the winning side for biblical truth.” Southern Baptists must call on pastors to help the denomination think strategically about the future, he said. “We’ve got to assure them that we can be relevant, constantly rethink, look at, evaluate … and communicate to them we are doing that.”

Such a forward-looking mindset is critical for local churches as they seek to understand the culture and somehow package truth in a way that will be heard, Floyd explained. “The stronger the church today, the more futuristic they are in their thought processes.”

Careful not to categorize all expressions of concern as coming from younger Southern Baptists, Floyd said he sees a need for cross-generational participation. “I would want to hear from those people, create venues somehow whereby generations are talking to each other about the right things.”

He encourages those who feel left out of leadership to remember “the Lord is the one who exalts in due season,” quoting 1 Peter 5:6. “I didn’t ask for where I am right now, and you know what? It hasn’t been proven to be true yet that I will be placed in that position.” Floyd said he has never asked to preach at any convention, pastor’s conference or to serve on any committee. “We have to live on our faith and live before the Lord and trust the Lord with what he wants to do with us.”

He described himself as a firm believer in the trustee system, having served for 10 years on the SBC Executive Committee and currently as a trustee for GuideStone Financial Resources. “I believe that’s the way churches are represented. It’s worked throughout the course of time pretty successfully,” he added, describing Southern Baptists as “a lot further along the track of advancing the gospel around the world and accomplishing more as a denomination in many areas of life.”

He refused to evaluate recent decisions of either of the SBC mission boards as they have faced challenges to leadership. “I don’t know the inside so it’s a little harder for me to judge, and it’s really not a Southern Baptist Convention issue until it’s brought forward to the Southern Baptist Convention itself.” Encouraging Southern Baptists to let the trustee system work, he urged prayer for the leadership of God on those entities and trustee boards.

As much as trustee boards need to hear representative views from each generation, Floyd said there might be a greater need for generations to appreciate each other. He added that the diverse ages of members and varied sizes of churches add strength to the denomination.

“If we’re going to be great for God it is because we have involved all generations to carry forth. We need to be able to hand over various matters to those that might be younger than those who are empowered presently.”

If given responsibility to serve as president, Floyd said, “I would want to be fair, but would want to appoint the very best people—whatever that means for that particular season and that particular responsibility.”

Floyd said Southern Baptists “believe the Bible as the Word of God, infallible truth, without any mixture of error. That’s who we are and with that we launch to do one major thing together—take the gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth.”


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