Traditionalist pastor challenges 'younger' pastor for SBC president

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |

ST. LOUIS (Christian Examiner) – A week after a Florida pastor announced 42-year-old J.D. Greear would be nominated as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Johnny Hunt, a former SBC president, announced he would nominate Steve Gaines, 59, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, to the post during the denomination's June meeting.

The second nomination earlier this month for the position marks the first time in six years — since the election of Marietta, Georgia Pastor Bryant Wright in Orlando in 2010 — there has been at least three nominees. Baptist Press announced March 24 that New Orleans pastor David Crosby would be nominated for president by former SBC president Fred Luter.

If Greear is elected, it marks only the second time in the history of the 170-year-old denomination that a 42-year-old will be elected to serve. The youngest was evangelist Bailey Eugene Smith who was elected in 1980 at age 41, and who was reelected in 1982 when he was 42.

Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and Gaines are said to represent both different leadership styles and theological mindsets in how the mega-denomination should move forward and even if the funding mechanism it has relied on to fund missions and ministries for the past 91 years remains effective and relevant.

In separate forums, each indicated a willingness to serve after being asked.

"If my fellow SBC messengers elect me to serve in that role, I will seek to bring a humble, prayerful heart and spirit, a desire to work with all Southern Baptists, and a desire to provide leadership from a vantage point of seasoned experience," Gaines said, in an interview published on a blog.

Greear said he was approached by "older leaders" who asked him to serve and with his wife and church leaders, made the decision.

"We believe it is time for a new generation to take responsibility for the entities and mission boards of the SBC, joining with the faithful men and women who have gone before us," he said.


In his blog post "Why I'm running for president of the Southern Baptist Convention," Greear wrote, in part, he will call for a "new era" in how Southern Baptists engage the agencies and boards of the denomination – and promised to elevate the legitimacy of Great Commission Giving, a category separate from the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists' primary and traditional way of supporting missions and ministries.

Great Commission Giving was a key component of 2010 Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report approved by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.

Some observers warned the new method of counting gifts would not bring more financial support to SBC causes, but would, instead, "dilute" that which was already given through the Cooperative Program.

Churches have indicated there might be confusion over reporting on the Annual Church Profile (ACP) Cooperative Program gifts they send straight to the SBC Executive Committee rather than by the traditional routing through their state conventions; and on just what items they may include in the category of Great Commission Giving.

Greear said it is "time for the next generation of Southern Baptists to take personal responsibility for the agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention," noting budgeting woes he said led to the reduction of more than 1,000 SBC international missionaries from the field.

"[W]e want to encourage the Convention to continue to create more efficient structures for sourcing and sending missionaries, adapting to the needs and opportunities of a new generation of churches," he wrote. "The Spirit of God is doing new things in our generation and we need a Convention that responds to that."

Gaines, in an interview published on a blog, said he believes the Cooperative Program is "the financial lifeline of the SBC" – although he said it "might need tweaking."

In what could be a response to the answer to the same question posed to Greear and published on the same blog, Gaines added: "I agree that state conventions should seek to send as much money as possible to support our IMB missionaries. But just as we must not impose on our churches a specific percentage to give to the CP as the ideal, neither should we impose on our state conventions a certain percentage as the ideal to forward to the SBC.

Greear had said in his response to a question on the role of the Cooperative Program, "[W]e applaud" state conventions for sending "more money to the field."

Pointing to the Florida Baptist (State) Convention and its new executive director/treasurer Tommy Green, Greear said it had achieved a 51-49 split of Cooperative Program funds, to keep less money in the state and send more to the SBC Executive Committee for distribution; and also mentioned North Carolina as "striving" to do more.

Gaines, in his response, said: "There must be no competition between Baptist state conventions and SBC entities."


Baptist Press reported on both of the nominations and noted a number of statistics related to each candidate, drawing on church's self-reporting through the Annual Church Profile, claims made by those nominating the candidates, and other reports.

Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, told Baptist Press worship attendance has grown at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, where Greear is pastor, from 350 to nearly 10,000 in the past 14 years.

Summit Church reported through the ACP in 2014 (the last year for which a survey shows), it had a weekly worship attendance of 7,186, with 2,477 participating in missions projects, 929 baptisms and 5,315 total church members. Its undesignated giving was listed as $14,841,916, and Cooperative Program Giving as $150,000. Great Commission Giving is listed as $1,953,123 and Total Mission Expenditures at $3,206,542.

Bellevue Baptist reported through the ACP in 2014 it had a weekly worship attendance of 6,801, with 29,936 participating in missions projects, 518 baptisms and 29,936 total church members. The undesignated giving was listed as $21,337,401, and Cooperative Program Giving as $814,580. Great Commission Giving is listed as $4,871,442, and Total Missions Expenditures at $5,013,862.

Baptist Press stated although The Summit Church self-reported CP giving as $150,000 in 2014, they forwarded some funds it regarded as CP gifts through the SBC Executive Committee and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina reported CP receipts of $54,000 from The Summit Church.

Bellevue Baptist, according to Hunt in the Baptist Press article, had a total of approximately $2.5 million in Great Commission Giving over the past two years.

The Baptist Press story contains statistics from the ACP and from various other sources.

Historically, the yardstick of a Southern Baptist church's cooperation is said to be measured by its Cooperative Program giving. Bellevue gave 3.8 percent to CP in 2014, while The Summit Church gave less than 1 percent (including self-reported CP dollars sent to the SBC Executive Committee).


J.D. Greear

In a news release about Greear's nomination, Scroggins said the 42-year-old pastor "is leading his generation to live out a passion for the SBC, missions and the local church."

With explosive growth in a church that has grown from 1,145 members in 2002 (ACP), to 5,315 members with 7,186 in attendance in 2014 – Greear seems to have found a sweet spot among the 18-29 year olds who represent most of those whom the church has baptized in a 14-year time period.

In 2006 Daniel L. Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, nominated Greear for second vice president of the SBC, citing his ability to communicate the Gospel to a "post-Christian" culture. Greear lost the election to California pastor Wiley Drake.

A Baptist Press story noted The Summit had sold its property and re-launched to reach the university community and growing Research Triangle area.

Greear, who served with the International Mission Board as a journeyman after graduating from Southeastern Seminary, first served the church as a college pastor when it was called Homestead Heights Baptist Church. The Summit currently has 149 people with the International Mission Board in various capacities, according to Baptist Press.

The Summit Church is a member of the Acts 29 church-planting network, and Greear said his vision is for the church to plant one thousand new churches by 2050.

Steve Gaines

Gaines followed powerhouse Adrian Rogers at the Memphis-area church after pastoring churches in Alabama, Tennessee and Texas.

Calling Gaines "a man of deep intense prayer," Hunt said the pastor has a "passionate desire for spiritual revival in our churches and nation."

With Gaines' leadership, Bellevue had lead evangelism training in 34 countries since 2007 and has planted 10 churches, including work in the Northwest and with Native Americans.

A unique outreach, Bellevue Loves Memphis demonstrates the church's love for its city and meeting needs while sharing the Gospel, Hunt told Baptist Press. In 33 workdays, 30,000 volunteers have served 106,505 hours to complete 945 projects, resulting in 510 professions of faith.

Leading in service to the SBC, Gaines preached the SBC convention sermon in 2004 and served as president of the SBC Pastors' Conference in 2005. He has served as as a member of the SBC Committee on Nominations, a trustee of LifeWay Christian Resources, a member of the committee that proposed a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000, and chairman of the SBC Resolutions Committee.

Gaines told Baptist Press he wishes to put a priority on the same focus as the current SBC president, Ronnie Floyd, whose emphasis has been on "seeking god for a spiritual awakening and revival."


Greear is the author of about 10 books – including Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved, a book in which he discusses conversion and eternal security, and baptism.

In a chapter discussion on "re-baptism," Greear asks, "What do you do about baptism if you think that you might have been 'born again' after your first one?"

Greear suggests that an individual baptized "after an initial conversion experience," who consequently suspects their "regeneration" occurred later, be baptized again.

The pastor and author told participants at the 2013 Jacksonville Pastors' Conference his book came about as a result of his own personal struggle for assurance of salvation.

"We have to get this right," he said. ""We have to make the way of salvation clear; that is what God charged us with. We have to be clear and precise."

Faith, he said, is not a prayer, but it is "a posture" that endures to the end.

The thought is that only by persevering will one enter the Kingdom of God, Greear said, and there is "no break between the foreknowing and the glorification"—conversion then means "only those who endure to the end will be true."

Assurance then comes from having a posture of "repentance towards God," Greear said, reminding listeners of the first of Martin Luther's 95 Theses. "All of the Christian's life is repentance," Greear said, paraphrasing Luther.

"It is true, once saved, always saved," he said, and added, "but once saved, always following."

Gaines, in a 2013 conference addressing Calvinism in the SBC, expressed appreciation for concerns about "mindless repetition of a prayer," but surmised that poor discipleship could be blamed for doubts about salvation and should not lead to a rejection of the sinner's prayer.

His remarks, reported in Baptist Press, discussed the biblical nature of the sinner's prayer, but said he also wished to emphasize common understanding, and not differences. Calvinists "are not my enemy," he said.

In 2012 Gaines had spoke in favor of a statement affirming the traditional Southern Baptist understanding of God's plan of salvation.

"I think that it is a very biblical concept to ask Jesus to come into your heart," said Gaines, according to a story in The Christian Post.

"Salvation comes as a response from repentance and faith. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God regenerates you, and then you repent and believe," he said. "It's always repentance and faith are prerequisites – not the products of regeneration – but prerequisites for regeneration."


Noting Memphis is diverse as far as race and ethnicity, Gaines noted in a blog interview Bellevue welcomes and encourages all people – and that he has made it a priority in his time t the church to reach out to all Gospel-centered pastors.

"By the grace of God, at Bellevue we are experiencing the fact that people form all ethnic backgrounds can worship, serve, and live together in harmony in Christ," he said. "Bellevue is a Jesus church and a people's church. We believe there is only one race – the human race.

"[W]e focus on Jesus-centered racial reconciliation," he said.

Greear said at The Summit Church about half of the campus pastors and worship leaders are "non-white" and about 20 percent of the church is "non-white" and that he believes what has taken place at his church can take place in the SBC.

In his blog, in discussing how to "platform and equip non-Anglo pastors and members," Greear claims "the SBC is not yet know for being a diverse group."

Ironically, a March 31, 2015 article released by Baptist Press, covered a leadership summit where SBC leaders discussed efforts made within the convention to become more diverse.

Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said in the meeting that even while racial representation is not seen at every level of SBC life, Southern Baptists are "the most ethnically diverse denominational convention in this continent with nobody even coming close."

Some churches are "extremely multi-ethnic," Page told leaders gathered for the meeting, with one in five Southern Baptist congregations predominantly African American or otherwise ethnic in its makeup. That includes about 3,000 black churches, more than 2,000 Hispanic churches, and more than 2,000 Asian churches, Page said. More than 100 language groups are represented each Sunday in SBC churches, he said.

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention willl vote for a new president during its annual meeting June 14-15 at the America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri.