DALLAS Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President J. D. Greear doesn’t think his new assignment represents a repudiation of the past, but rather a sign of new things happening. He told reporters on June 12, “I hope you’ve heard no change in Southern Baptist beliefs, no change in our focus and mission.”
He anticipates a gospel culture more reflective of what Southern Baptists profess, “manifested in transparency, humility, charity and generosity.” With that “new face of unity,” Greear pledged to lead Southern Baptists to present an unchanging gospel.
“What I don’t think is accurate is that this represents some kind of official passing of the baton where now the older generation fades off into the sunset and now the new, young generation is in charge. We walk over together.”
Greear said he wants to be a president that goes forward together with them. “They [the older generation] are a necessary part of the body of Christ.”
Asked how he plans to help women feel welcomed, heard, valued and safe in Southern Baptist churches, Greear said churches must be safe places for women to report abuse. He called for immediate reporting of abuse to government authorities, adding, “To turn a deaf ear toward abuse, minimize or shield the abuser is to be complicit in the abuse itself.”
Local churches must also be places where women sit in seats of influence, Greear said. He stipulated that complementarianism is the recognition that God created men and women differently, as equals made in the image of God, with men given leadership roles in the home, and the church as pastors and elders.
“All the gifts God gives to the body of Christ are given freely to women,” he stated. “For us to not bring them to the table to exercise influence and to lead out is to deprive ourselves of one of the greatest gifts God has given.”
Greear clarified that women serve on his church staff and bear the title “minister,” but they do not carry the same authority as the role of a pastor-elder. “You would not find a woman at our church that bears the title of ‘pastor.’”
Asked how he perceives the role of Baptist state conventions, Greear called them one of the first lines in cooperation. “Every few years we have to ask, what’s the best way to cooperate? What are things we did 100 years ago or 50 years ago that are no longer as effective? Is the state convention doing exactly what it needs to be doing?”
Greear said the question should not be considered hostile toward any convention or association, but compared it to asking the same thing of his own church in deciding whether its money is being spent effectively. “It may have been that 50 years ago people just said, ‘Show me where I should give my money and I’ll give it there.’ Today people say, ‘You show me why you deserve this money.’”
He sees that as a good opportunity for state conventions to make their case. “As I’ve gotten involved I’ve encountered how they guide in church planting, children’s homes and disaster relief – a lot that makes it a great partner,” Greear said.
Asked about a declining number of baptisms among Southern Baptist churches, Greear said, “The fact that these numbers are not going the right direction shows that there are a lot of unhealthy and sick churches.” It’s a problem that has to be fixed at the local church level, he said. “The more we reflect Jesus, 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 Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., where he pastors, Greear said he believes there is a correlation between their average 600 to 700 baptisms per year and the preaching of both truth and grace.
“Truth without grace is fundamentalism. Grace without truth is liberalism,” he said. “Neither of them attracts people, but when you preach with grace and truth you have the same effect Jesus had in that he was attractive to people on the outside.”
Greear added, “We’re praying for pastors and members–for the spirit of God to move them to be the church that we need to be in our generation.”
Reiterating the six areas of concern God had put on his heart, Greear said he believes Southern Baptists need to:
- keep the gospel above all as the basis of unity and focus of their mission;
- elevate cultural and racial diversity in leadership;
- continue to focus on intentional evangelism by individual members;
- help every Southern Baptist church take on the responsibility of church planting to reproduce itself;
- mobilize college students to think of the kingdom of God first as they consider where to live their lives and pursue their careers; and
- engage the next generation in cooperative giving and cooperative missions.
“The president should see himself as the chief servant of everybody,” Greear said. “I’m there to serve the pastors who are serving the members who are on the front lines of ministry.”