Greear reflects on SBC’s past, present and future in interview with BP
By SCOTT BARKLEY, Baptist Press
NASHVILLE (BP) – Twenty years from now, historians will call the next annual meeting a watershed moment for the Southern Baptist Convention. It will determine whether the SBC chooses to let the Great Commission and the Gospel define its mission or whether it will be seen as a geographic, cultural and political voting bloc. It will determine the basis of the SBC unit.
At least that’s the position of James David Greear as he completes his third year as president of SBC. Greear’s association with the SBC presidency began in 2016 when he withdrew his candidacy after neither he nor Memphis pastor Steve Gaines crossed the 50% threshold when they were the only two candidates. . Add an unexpected third year as president due to the cancellation of the 2020 annual meeting amid COVID-19, and Greear – better known as JD – is a leading figure in Southern Baptist life for half a decade.
“We have to leave St. Louis united,” Greear told Messengers five years ago before bringing forward the motion to elect Gaines by acclamation. Despite the current divisions within the SBC, unity is a hope he not only clings to, but sees enormous proof of.
“I’ve spoken at most state conventions across the country, and I see Southern Baptists who just want to be about the Great Commission and reach out to our neighbors who aren’t like us,” Greear said. . “Yes, we all have our political opinions and have them differently. But our differences on side issues should not be the defining reality of the church.
This observation came from his time with “base Southern Baptists across America, whether in big cities or small rural towns.” The emphasis, he observed, is on evangelism and missions and not on “tertiary and secondary issues”.
“They want the essentials to be the essentials,” he said. “They recognize that our society is changing and diversifying. If we are to reach our society, our leadership will have to change with it.
Greear cited the North American Mission Board report that said 63 percent of its church plants are run by people of color. Fifty-one percent of the appointments he has made to SBC committees are also people of color.
“When you see people come forward to lead, it’s a demonstration that God is doing something,” he said. “He pursues a unity of diversity and unity of cause in the SBC as it prepares to take us into the future to reach our whole country with the Gospel, not just people of one ethnicity and geographic area. . “
According to Greear, the volume level of criticism during his presidency does not match his experience in actual criticism. But it has attracted unexpected attention in other areas.
“You have a noisy and vitriolic small minority who want our Convention to aim to preserve the status quo or to divide on side issues,” he said. “I joke that it’s like when Toto pulls the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. That big booming voice actually belongs to this little man. This experience was actually a pleasant surprise and gave me hope.
“However, I was not prepared for some of the cheap blows that came against me, especially my church. The people at the Summit couldn’t understand why everything we do is suddenly controversial. We have had other people who have put out Facebook ads targeting church members and trying to smear my reputation.
The SBC’s biggest challenges going forward are going to start with the basics, Greear said. It begins with how Southern Baptists see themselves and their mission.
“It will depend on whether or not we are a people of the Great Commission, whether we base our unity on that or whether we are going to be the stewards of a geographic or cultural heritage,” he said. “I’m not talking about compromises on things like the sanctity of marriage, religious freedom, or the sanctity of life. These things are political, and we will always be clear about these things.
“God did not call the SBC, first and foremost, to save America politically. He called us to bear witness to the gospel to all people. The rules of engagement are different as to your primary goal, and that is going to be a challenge in the future. Are we going to rally around the Great Commission? Are we going to reach them in all parts of the country, not just in the red or blue areas? “
The goal, said Greear, should be to present and live the gospel for a younger generation. Greear pointed to the NAMB projection that by 2030, more than a third of Southern Baptist churches will be no more than 20 years old.
“I speak all the time with younger pastors, black pastors, Hispanic pastors who wonder why they should be a part of this Convention when there is so much slander, distortion and exaggeration,” said Greear. “It’s going to be a challenge. If we want to position ourselves in a spirit of the Pharisees who treat the traditions of men as if they are the commandments of God and preserve the status quo, then at that time Jesus said that you are like a whitewashed tomb. . The outside is nice but you are full of bones.
“If we don’t say we’re a Great Commission gospel people, we’re not just going to lose our [pastors of color], but the next generation of Southern Baptists.
It is “absolutely” possible to address issues such as racial reconciliation and sexual abuse without placing the gospel in a secondary position, he said.
“Racial reconciliation is one of the fruits of the transformation of the gospel,” said Greear. “We always say that vertical reconciliation leads to horizontal transformation. It is also evangelism for us. Are we just going to be a church for southern Republicans? Or are we going to be a Convention that touches everyone? Churches seeking to fulfill the Great Commission should reflect the diversity of their communities and proclaim the diversity of the kingdom.
“Sexual abuse is the same thing. What kind of gospel do we preach that does not lead us to protect the most vulnerable in our congregation? “
He added that it is always possible to place a fruit of the Gospel above the preaching of the Gospel, and this is something to be wary of. But “today we need to focus on those areas where the gospel transforms us. It means how we relate to the people around us who are not like us and how we protect the most vulnerable. “
Greear said that this type of testimony in no way included a compromise on biblical faithfulness, but the desirability of providing a living example of it. An SBC who “loves Baptist doctrine, the Word of God, and the Great Commission” does not bow to pro-life positions, religious freedom or issues related to the sanctity of marriage or God’s design for gender , said Greear.
He further confirmed that “without warning” Summit Church, all SBC entity heads, state convention leaders, SBC officers and other leaders affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message , the exclusivity of Christ and the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures. These standards and following Christ’s example are crucial to how the SBC will progress.
“Jesus taught us this when he went on the cross, although in the form of God he saw himself as a servant,” said Greear. “This is the mission.”