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Tell me about your current ministry and church. How long have you been in this ministry?
I was ordained at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., by Adrian Rogers and have been in the ministry for 42 years. This includes six years as a senior pastor, 18 years as an IMB missionary, and 18 years as a professor of missions. I now serve as the senior professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Kansas City, Mo.). After an 18-year residential career as their residential professor of missions, I now teach online masters courses and on-campus doctoral seminars.
One year ago, my wife and I moved to Oceanside, Calif., (North San Diego County) where we joined New Song Community Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-racial Southern Baptist congregation. I preach once a month at my first pastorate, First Southern Baptist Church of Monterey Park, Calif., (Los Angeles County) and teach Bible classes at my local church. I teach missiology to masters students 45 weeks a year.
Why are you willing to be SBC president this year?
Remember the mission.
After graduating from Southwestern Seminary, Kathy and I left for the pioneer West where I spent six years as a senior pastor. We then spent 18 years as missionaries with the IMB in Africa and Brazil. Due to our fourth child’s disability, we returned from the mission field to become the professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For 18 years I trained students to love and appreciate Southern Baptist cooperative missions. I have been employed by Southern Baptists as a missionary and missions professor for over 36 years. I have a nationwide and global view of the Southern Baptist Convention and her people and mission outreach.
As the IMB Regional Leader for Eastern South America, I supervised over 300 missionaries and their families from a budget derived from the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. I attended three IMB trustee meetings annually and implemented IMB policies on the field. While interim president of Midwestern Seminary, I guided the institution through a financial crisis. For the next five years, I served on the MBTS president’s cabinet and attended every SBC Executive Committee meeting. Additionally, I served on the 2000 SBC Committee on Committees and the 2006 and 2007 SBC Resolutions Committee. I know how the SBC works and more importantly, how it does not work. In agreeing to be nominated for SBC president, I am offering my experience, wisdom, and vision to the messengers at the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim this June.
My vision is to see 500 new churches started in North America; to see 2,000 new churches planted overseas; to see thousands sent out as home and foreign missionaries; to see 1,000 new WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union) chapters started nationwide to support our missionaries; to “call out the called;” and see thousands of Southern Baptist men and women appointed as home and foreign missionaries.
What do you consider to be the significant challenges Southern Baptists face as we endeavor to cooperate for worldwide missions?
There are always challenges in any era of missions. The year Adoniram and Anne Judson, the first Baptist missionaries, departed America for India and Burma in 1812, the British burned Washington, D.C. Southern Baptist missions survived the American Civil War of the 1860s, World War I, the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, the civil unrest of the 1960s, and the Cold War. A number of our missionaries were martyred in the service of Christ and on behalf of Southern Baptists. Brazilian Baptist missionaries took secular jobs on the field because the Foreign Mission Board could not pay them during the Great Depression.
The last chapter of my recent book, “A Survey of World Missions” (B&H Academic, 2020, p. 281-283) attempts to envision the challenges of the church in the first part of this century:
Although nuclear bombs were last detonated in 1945, there is no assurance this could not happen again. Furthermore, globalization has increased the possibility of another great plague sweeping the earth. The earth’s interdependency could spawn an economic crisis to rival the Great Depression of the 1930s. The rise of cryptocurrencies might spell disaster for financial markets… Despite its unlikeliness, a direct hit on the planet by a large meteor might occur… Into this bleak narrative, Christ offers hope. Missions and missionaries both overseas and in North America will always be needed.
I do not know what the future holds, but whatever Satan throws at us, with Jesus’ help Southern Baptists can overcome the world. As I John 5:4-5 says, “because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world; our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
Are important doctrinal issues dividing our Southern Baptist fellowship?
During the 1980s all our seminaries had problems with neo-orthodox, moderate, and some liberal professors. The Christian Life Commission (precursor to the ERLC) supported abortion. Although there were conservatives serving with our mission entities, many within those agencies followed a “look the other way” policy when it came to theological drift within SBC institutions. Very, very slowly what came to be known as the Conservative Resurgence installed conservative trustees in every SBC entity. Each SBC agency, as openings occurred, began to choose conservative presidents who would, in turn, employ conservative staff, missionaries, professors.
This process took about 20 years. In some ways it never ends. I only spent eight months as the head of an SBC entity (2012), but during that time I personally scrutinized every prospective adjunct MBTS professor to ensure they adhered to the BF&M 2000, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (the Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality did not yet exist).
The doctrinal issues of the 80s and 90s included, but are not limited to, the historicity of the Old Testament, the reality of the miracles of Jesus, and the inerrancy of Scripture. The issues of today, however, are less about orthodoxy and more about orthopraxy. The latter involves the implementation of one’s interpretation of Bible doctrine.
At the 2000 SBC Annual Meeting, the messengers approved an updated Baptist Faith and Message. The members of this committee, chaired by my former pastor, Adrian Rogers, carefully constructed a document that Southern Baptists could affirm that was biblical, conservative, and evangelistic. I believe the BF&M should be the document that guides our faith, doctrine, and practice.
Of course, the BF&M 2000 does not cover every base regarding faith and practice. For instance, abstinence from alcoholic beverages, illicit drugs, and gambling are not mentioned. Baptist seminaries and colleges are advised as follows in the BF&M 2000: “In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute.” Entity staff, professors, and missionaries have the right to express their opinions but are accountable to their agency’s administration and trustees.
Furthermore, the BF&M 2000 states:
Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.
The BF&M 2000 was never intended to cross every “t” and dot every “i” regarding every matter of faith and practice. Rather, it was written by those holding differing views on many topics, but the committee members found places of agreement where Southern Baptists could cooperate in missions, education, and benevolent ministries.
Cultural, political, and theological flashpoints will continue to arise. They are important in our day. Past generations of Southern Baptists dealt with women receiving the right to vote (1920), as well as “mixed bathing” and dancing in the 1950s and 1960s. Yes, today’s cultural issues are much more challenging, but Southern Baptists will overcome as the they cooperate together.
How would you use the prominence of the SBC presidency to address the challenges you see?
The SBC president has no power, no pay, and only a fraction of Southern Baptists even know who he is. The prominent person in the SBC is the local pastor of each independent cooperating Southern Baptist church—and that’s as it should be.
But the SBC president does have some influence. He starts the committee process in the SBC by appointing the Committee on Committees. This committee fills the members of the Committee on Nominations which recommends new members for the various trustee boards for the many SBC entities. Also, the SBC president sets the tone and emphasis for the annual meetings of his presidency and in the SBC Executive Committee meetings where he speaks. I would use my presidency to remind Southern Baptists to “Remember the mission” as described in Acts 1:6-11:
So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, at this time are You restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.”
Why should a church affiliate or remain with Southern Baptists?
My church, New Song Community Church, was planted by another Baptist denomination 29 years ago. Our pastor, Hal Seed, tells me that New Song joined Southern Baptists 10 years ago because they were head and shoulders above anyone else in church planting and evangelism. Churches in the USA should affiliate and/or remain Southern Baptist because our denomination excels in home and foreign missions. What’s good about our fellowship? Our mission boards are filled with outstanding missionaries who start strong, biblical churches. My wife and I served as missionaries, and I have trained many of them since becoming a mission professor. Furthermore, our seminaries are filled with godly professors who believe the Bible and teach according to the BF&M 2000. These professors are my colleagues and friends.
Any final comment?
I heard Adrian Rogers say once, “Southern Baptists, we are many, but we’re not much.” Indeed, in 2020, Southern Baptists numbered about 14 million persons worshipping in a little over 47,500 churches. It took all of us to send and maintain a little less than 4,000 missionaries overseas. Interestingly, when a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier leaves port they carry just a few more sailors on board than that to accomplish their mission. In other words, it takes 14 million of us to send enough people to almost fill one aircraft carrier. We need to do better. I plan to herald the need for more Southern Baptists to drop what they are doing, listen to God’s call on their lives and surrender to a career in home missions, foreign missions and church planting. Remember the mission.