By Kyle B. Gulledge, Editor SBCToday
A few weeks ago I reached out to Dr. Steve Gaines about the possibility of doing a question and answer blog with SBCToday. Due to us both being busy, I suggested sending these questions in the form of an email so that he could answer them as his schedule permitted. He graciously agreed to do so.
With the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting less than a month away we are now running this “conversation” and hope, if nothing else, it will encourage you to pray for our President and for our Southern Baptist Convention.
We greatly appreciate Dr. Gaines taking the time to speak to our readers. Below are our questions and his answers.
What has been your biggest surprise about being President of the Southern Baptist Convention?
Dr. Gaines: I am surprised that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) can be so large and effective even though it is not a hierarchical, top-down organization. No national or state entity can tell any churches what to do. Yet we voluntarily choose to work together. That is amazing to me, and I am more convinced than ever that the Lord has His hand on Southern Baptists and that He has a great future for us in the years to come.
What has been your biggest blessing as President of the Southern Baptist Convention?
Dr. Gaines: My biggest blessing has been to see firsthand how vastly the Lord is working through Southern Baptists at multiple venues and levels. God is using Southern Baptists at the local church, association, state, and national levels.
I have focused on preaching. I’ve had the privilege to preach at five of our six seminaries. I have attended the board meetings of both the International Mission Board (IMB) and the North American Mission Board (NAMB). I preached to the NAMB trustees. I also attended the board meeting for GuideStone and preached to their staff, their trustees, and wives. I preached to the SBC Executive Board in Nashville. I have also preached at numerous state convention meetings and several other SBC meetings. I had the privilege of preaching several times to the State Executives at their annual meeting.
I am overwhelmed with all that the Lord is doing in and through Southern Baptists. Through NAMB, we are seeking to plant one hundred new churches every month in our largest cities across North America. The Gospel will change countless lives as those new works are launched. I am also grateful that the IMB has become stronger fiscally, and that we are once again beginning to add to the number of full time missionaries that we are sending oversees.
Though we have challenges, it is still a wonderful time to be a Southern Baptist. I believe we are poised to take the Gospel of Jesus to the world.
What is your greatest concern facing the Southern Baptist Convention?
Dr. Gaines: My concern is that we need to make prayer and soul winning greater priorities. If you love someone, you talk with them and about them. If you love Jesus, you will talk with Him (prayer) and about Him (soul winning). Sometimes I think Christians in general in America are much more focused horizontally than vertically. We are often more focused on emails, texts, phone calls, and social media than we are on reading our Bible and talking with God in prayer.
Prayer is the key to the Christian life. God blesses our lives and ministries in proportion to our prayers. While I do think most all Southern Baptists believe in the need for prayer, I am convinced that most Southern Baptists, as well as most Christians in general, do not pray as we should.
What good is a prayerless pastor, deacon, seminary president, seminary faculty member, seminary student, evangelist, or worship leader? What good is a prayerless conservative? You can be as straight as a gun barrel in your theology and just as empty as a gun barrel if you do not pray as you should.
If Southern Baptists would pray more, God would work in and through us more than He is currently.
Relating to the Calvinist/Traditionalist issue, do you think that the division will ever be bridged?
Dr. Gaines: Without question, Calvinism is increasing in the SBC. How will that affect the SBC in the years to come? I don’t know. I am not a Calvinist. I believe God loves everybody the same, Jesus died for everybody the same, and that anyone can be saved. All people will not be saved because not all will repent of their sins, believe savingly in Jesus, and call on His name by receiving Him as Lord and Savior. If someone hears the Gospel and is not saved, it is because they chose to reject Christ, not because God chose not elect them to salvation.
Many Calvinists would have a problem with what I just said. Yet, I am convinced that what I just said represents the prevailing theological beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptist laypeople. Most Southern Baptists believe that Jesus died for all people and that anyone can choose to receive or reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
It certainly appears that the SBC will become more Calvinistic in the years ahead, but how long that trend will last is uncertain. My prayer is that we will have both Calvinists and Traditionalists serving together to take the Gospel to the nations. But if Calvinistic soteriological becomes the predominant view taught at all of our seminaries would be a tragedy resulting in major division.
There seems to be a real issue with regard to SBC entity/agency heads not responding or be held accountable to the grass-roots, mom and pop Southern Baptist members. How can that be fixed?
Dr. Gaines: The SBC is built on the trustee system, which is a good and fair system. The trustees run our SBC boards and entities. The trustees do not answer to the presidents or employees of our SBC boards and entities. Rather, the trustees answer to the churches of the SBC. The presidents and all the employees of our SBC boards and entities answer to the trustees.
SBC trustees are appointed by the SBC Committee on Nominations. The Committee on Nominations is appointed by the Committee on Committees. And guess who appoints the members of the Committee on Committees? The SBC President.
That means that the SBC President has a great deal of influence over what kind of leadership we will have at all of our SBC entities and agencies. If “the grass-roots, mom and pop Southern Baptist members” want their voice to be heard, they need to elect SBC Presidents that will appoint SBC Committee on Committee members who will appoint people who share their convictions. They should attend every SBC annual meeting and vote for the SBC President who will best represent their views.
That is the best way the common folk can be heard. Complaining after the fact regarding various Convention matters might resonate with some and stir a few emotions. But real change occurs only by electing an SBC President that represents a person’s theological viewpoint.
There seems to be a desire to get younger pastors more involved in the SBC as there are obviously fewer and fewer involved. Do you think that “para-convention” organizations (TGC, 9 Marks, Text-Driven Preaching Conference, etc.) holding their own conferences/conventions hurt that effort?
Dr. Gaines: Organizations outside the SBC that influence people in the SBC are popular and they are not going away. My prayer is that all SBC pastors, regardless of age, will make the annual SBC meeting a priority.
At the end of the day, we have something that no para-church organization has. We have 6 of the largest, most influential seminaries in the world, the largest international missions organization in the world, the largest church planting organization in the world, 42 state conventions, and 46,000+ cooperating local churches. No para-church organization comes close to having what we already have. Younger pastors need to understand the great gift we have with our SBC and get involved at every level.
What is the one thing you would like for Southern Baptist Historians to remember about you 100 years from now?
Dr. Gaines: The primary call of my life is prayer. I desire that the SBC will become a house of prayer. I pray that when people say “Southern Baptists,” the first thing that comes to their mind will be: “Those are the people that pray fervently, frequently, and in faith.” If we will pray, God will bless exponentially. But if we choose not to pray, God might move on to another group that makes prayer their priority.