Editor’s note: The May print edition of the TEXAN will include an interview of the fourth announced SBC presidential candidate, Ed Litton.
BLACKSHEAR, Ga.—Mike Stone envisions evangelism, the sufficiency of Scripture and broadened involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention if he is elected as SBC president during the June 15-16 annual meeting in Nashville.
One of four announced nominees for SBC president, Stone served as chairman of the SBC Executive Committee from 2018-2020. He has served at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., since 1996 and was elected as pastor in 2002.
Stone was president of the Georgia Baptist Convention from 2017-2018, having earlier served as chairman of the Georgia convention’s Executive Committee. Online at www.pastormikestone.com, he also is a member of the steering council of the Conservative Baptist Network formed in February 2020.
Stone addressed the priorities he would set forth as SBC president in answer to questions from the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
1) Four proponents of biblical inerrancy have declared their willingness to serve as SBC president. What is distinctive about your vision for this role?
I am an evangelistic pastor and an expository preacher who has just finished preaching verse-by-verse through my 34th book of the Bible. I have been actively involved in every aspect of SBC life from my local association to the chair of the SBC Executive Committee. My threefold vision is born out of ministry in my local church.
First, I want to call our churches to an evangelistic emphasis. Our baptismal numbers are the lowest since before World War II. Evangelism must become, once again, our top priority. I will challenge our churches to two separate wave revivals. We should pick two eight-week periods and call on every congregation to have an evangelistic event. The plan would be easily customizable to fit the schedule and methodology of participating churches. Two separate periods would allow for a “Host One, Help One” emphasis. Established churches can assist church plants. Stronger churches can assist those in need of revitalization. Larger conventions can partner with smaller conventions. I envision teams traveling across the state, region and nation to help our sister churches.
Second, I will champion the sufficiency of Scripture. Nearly every Southern Baptist pastor affirms this but we need an honest conversation about flawed ideologies entering the SBC bloodstream. The sufficiency of Scripture means that any believer of any ethnicity, living in any time and any place, with any experiences or none of those experiences, can open the Bible and get an accurate word from God. We have many challenges but the Bible is sufficient to address them all, such as our lack of agreement over Resolution 9 and the seminary presidents’ response as well as “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” (which I affirm) and the “Justice, Repentance, and the SBC” statement. We do not need Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality or some identity-based approach to hermeneutics. My rejection of these approaches is because I care deeply about ethnic reconciliation. I think these approaches lead to greater division and not unity.
Third, I want to encourage greater involvement in the SBC. The convention has become too top-down in its leadership. Powerful national entities and high-profile figures seem to make the majority of decisions. I believe there is a conflict of interest in denominational employees or their spouses serving as SBC president. I am an “organizational insider but a relational outsider.” Georgia is one of our largest state conventions. I served as its president (2017-2018) and chairman of its Executive Committee (2015-2017). I am the immediate past chairman of the SBC Executive Committee. Yet I have never been part of the “who’s who” of the SBC. I will soon celebrate my 25th anniversary at Emmanuel. We are in a very small town in a rural part of the state. Yet the Lord has planted a vibrant church here. Although Emmanuel is not a small church, it is not a megachurch. It would encourage involvement to have a more normative pastor serving as SBC president.
2) How would you hope to use the SBC president’s influence/bully pulpit to impact these challenges?
The SBC was birthed on the wrong side of the slavery issue, a vile sin for which we rightly repented in 1995. We have made tremendous progress in recent decades but we have much further to go. With tens of millions of Hispanic, Asian and African Americans in our nation, we must continue to diversify in membership and leadership. Not for the sake of the SBC but for the sake of the harvest. As president, I will do what I did in Georgia. Through presidential appointments, I included Baptists from diverse backgrounds. I increased the involvement of Asian and Hispanic leaders. Georgia will soon have its first Hispanic president because of the great leaders we recruited. In June 2020, I became the first Anglo leader in the SBC to step aside to allow a non-Anglo leader to serve. Due to the cancellation of the annual meeting, a bylaw revision was needed to allow officer elections. I led that effort, making way for our first-ever African-American chairman.
The decline in the Cooperative Program is a real and present danger. CP giving has declined by tens of millions of dollars in recent years. Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s address as EC president in February put a national spotlight on this. Part of his challenge in Vision 2025 is to reverse that decline. Our church has averaged just over 9 percent CP giving. That is over $2.5 million CP dollars over my tenure. Our “Great Commission Giving” would be significantly more. That would be the highest percentage of any SBC president since 2006 and one of the highest since the Conservative Resurgence.
The challenges we face in entity accountability are real. We have many examples of boards that seem to operate in the interests of the entity heads or the trustees themselves and not the interests of the entity and the SBC. We have had trustees receive direct/indirect financial benefit from the entity in apparent violation of SBC bylaws. Sponsored church plants have not all adhered to the Baptist Faith and Message. One entity was left in financial distress while its CEO departed with a seven-figure agreement. Too many of our boards are filled by close friends and supporters of the entity heads. That does not foster accountability. I am not accusing anyone of personal wrongdoing. I am saying the trustee system needs immediate attention. As president, I would begin by appointing a Committee on Committees that shares these concerns. Through the trustee election process, we can immediately and graciously begin addressing this in a healthy but intentional way.
3) Has the COVID pandemic amplified or accelerated these challenges?
The biggest impact was the cancellation of the 2020 annual meeting. Major concerns are on hold because they can only be addressed at the annual meeting. The discussion of Critical Race Theory is one example. I would like to see us reverse the statement made in Birmingham. Others desire a reaffirmation of Resolution 9. In either case, that matter cannot be resolved until the annual meeting.
4) What would you say to those, particularly Black pastors, who are considering leaving the SBC because of discouragement over racial tensions?
I would say the same things I would say to any pastor considering leaving for any other reason. The SBC is a diverse group of imperfect people serving a perfect Lord. We are a biblically-based, gospel-centered, missions-focused convention of churches that desires to reach people. The SBC is a family. And sometimes family can be messy, crazy and even hurtful. But the family needs to stay together to accomplish our common goal. Our unified mission to take the gospel to the world must be stronger than the tensions that would seek to divide us.
5) Why should any pastor or church remain with the SBC, or join it—what is good and strong about our convention right now?
With the blessing of the Cooperative Program, our seminaries and our mission entities, the SBC is the greatest collective tool to propel the gospel to the ends of the earth. Every Baptist body will have its unique challenges. But the SBC is, with all of its warts and flaws, overwhelmingly committed to working together in gospel ministry. One of the most important things we will do this June is affirm Vision 2025. It is a bold plan to take the gospel to every town, every city, every state and every nation throughout the world. That’s the mission that God is on. And I want to be a part of that effort.