Q & A with SBC presidential candidate J.D. Greear

Editor’s Note: After speaking at the Empower Conference in Irving on Feb. 26, J. D. Greear granted a few minutes for an interview with TEXAN writer Jane Rodgers. The North Carolina pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, is one of two candidates for the office of president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The annual meeting will be held in Dallas this summer with the vote taking place June 12. 

DALLAS—SBC presidential candidate J.D. Greear was interviewed by the TEXAN and SB Voices two years ago, before he withdrew from the 2016 race. The TEXAN recently asked Greear to update his positions for 2018.

The IMB, NAMB & the Great Commission

TEXAN: In 2016, you said your priorities as SBC president would focus on fulfilling the Great Commission. As president, will you encourage this through agencies or churches or a combination?

GREEAR: It’s got to be a combination of both. The SBC exists to facilitate local churches in the execution of the mission. In church planting, evangelism … the tip of the spear [must] be the local church. As a pastor, I want our pastoral team to get behind members in ministry and I think our agencies ought to get behind local churches, enabling them to do ministry. I don’t mean churches need to take over theological education. That’s why we have seminaries.

The IMB does a great job equipping and sending people overseas. They can do that in such a way that leads the local church instead of doing it for the local church. I always say good parachurch—that’s what the denomination is—works through the local church; bad parachurch takes ministry from the local church.

I’ve been encouraged with the directions the IMB and NAMB are going. It’s been [their] priority to engage local churches. Specifically with the IMB, there are far too many local churches that aren’t engaged [meaningfully] in church planting. The IMB wants to raise the level of church planting engagement in all of the churches, something we should all want.

TEXAN: Your church—The Summit—plans to plant 1,000 churches?

GREEAR: By 2050. Each of the churches we’ve planted thus far has been Southern Baptist. We have gone through NAMB for domestic church plants in SEND Cities. NAMB [is] our preferred training partner because the training and networks are excellent.

Ethnic and Generational Diversity

TEXAN: Do you still see a need for ethnic and racial diversity in the SBC and the increased involvement of a “new generation”?

GREEAR: Preferably we have leaders who lead everyone and not just part of the convention. Many of my mentors and [staff persons] are from the older generation. I value them. We need to move forward together. We need to see younger people stepping up into leadership, and if I can trigger … those guys getting engaged, that is my desire. Some of this younger generation are involved in the SBC, but too many are sitting on the sidelines.

As for ethnic and racial diversity, almost half of the campus pastors and worship leaders at The Summit are non-Anglo: mostly black, also Latino and Asian.

There needs to be a sensitivity in tone in the diversity conversation. Sometimes I feel like a lot of our efforts at diversity are done for minorities rather than with them. God has placed [many] ethnic leaders in our midst …. God has already raised them up. We just need to give them opportunities to lead.

The SBC president has the power to make appointments and establish the platform…. Minorities are not represented in leadership the same way they are represented in the [SBC’s] constituency. Rome was not built in a day, but we want to move in that direction because, especially now … we need their wisdom and leadership with the diversification of America.

The Wide Tent

TEXAN: In 2016, you affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 while cautioning against in-fighting. About what non-essentials do Baptists argue?

GREEAR: For one, the finer points of Calvinism. There are evangelistic, gospel-loving, non-reformed people in the SBC and they need to feel at home here. There are evangelistic, gospel-loving, reformed people in the SBC, and they need to feel at home here. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is broad enough to give us freedom on areas that are non-essential but narrow enough to keep us united on the essentials. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in it.

[The “eschatology war”] once separated a lot of people. Fifteen years ago there were worship wars…. All doctrinal discussions are important, but the BFM 2000 is what we must agree on to go forth in mission.

Religious Liberty

TEXAN: How do you balance the constitutional right of freedom of religion with the church’s response to LGBTs?

GREEAR: At The Summit, we try to be clear. We signed the Nashville Statement [https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement] on what the Bible teaches about gender. If churches are not clear, they’re not doing anyone any favors, but we also know that gender issues aren’t necessarily something you lead with. Let’s deal with the lordship of Christ first. If [certain positions] define us, we’ll never get to have the conversation about Jesus with any of our gay or transgender friends. So it doesn’t mean we deny those ethical issues or put them away, but we try not to make them the first thing.

[Greear offered an example of a gay couple attending The Summit who became Christians: “Bottom line, we told them they could not become members until the marriage was dissolved, but we embraced them as part of the community while they were working through it.”]

The LGBT debate is a microcosm of the whole religious liberty issue. CEOs of companies at our church are unsure how to lead. Many have gay [employees] and have no problem with that. There’s a difference between having gay employees and being actively involved in the promotion of that lifestyle. Some threats to religious liberty are governmental, some societal.

It is more difficult to live out the Christian confession consistently in the public square today. I don’t want to compare that persecution to what our brothers and sisters are going through around the world because it’s not the same …. but Christians are no longer seen in our society as having the moral high ground.

Funding the Mission

TEXAN: Do you support the Cooperative Program?

GREEAR: Absolutely. One of my goals is to increase the Cooperative Program level of giving in the SBC. There are several ways this can happen. First, churches ought to be giving more to the Cooperative Program. Second, we want to encourage our state conventions to give more of the money, to be more efficient with the money to get it overseas [Greear expressed gratitude for state conventions that give large percentages through CP].

A third category we must recognize is that some churches will choose to give cooperatively but not through traditional CP structures. We need to give them the freedom to do that and recognize that is their prerogative.

It wouldn’t be good to go back to what is called societal giving— which is where everybody picks their favorite entity. We don’t want that.

If your church is not involved in a state convention, it may be wisest to give separate from a state convention. Ultimately, I believe a rising tide raises all ships; the more we celebrate all of the Great Commission giving we see in the SBC, the more we’ll see CP giving rise.

TEXAN: Are state conventions important?

GREEAR: Our church is involved in our state convention. Of the churches we have planted in North Carolina, one of the pastors is on the state board of directors, and yes, such involvement is great. I would encourage it. I also recognize there are some that may choose to get involved in other things.

TEXAN: Any comments on the influence of Calvinism?

GREEAR: The Bible teaches about God’s priorities in salvation, that he draws people to him. There are also things we do in evangelism that make a real difference. The Bible teaches that, also. These are tensions to be managed, not contradictions to be resolved. Some of these reformed doctrines are in that category. God is sovereign in the salvation process, but what we do really does make a difference. That’s the tension.

TEXAN: Lastly, what is your stance on alcohol use?

GREEAR: I choose not to use alcohol. To me, it’s not an issue. I choose not to drink for reasons of wisdom and witness. I have Christian friends who don’t hold that conviction. I consider them full brothers and sisters in Christ.

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