This past Sunday morning I shared with our Cross Church family, “I return as your pastor, but I am not the same man I was two years ago.” Unquestionably, my life and leadership has changed and grown while serving as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
After traveling 200,000 miles in the air, many miles on the ground, experiencing too many moments to share in this space, and writing at least 116 unique articles about the work of Southern Baptists to the tune of 90,000-plus words, make no mistake about it, I have invested myself in our convention and believe in the work of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Before I was elected … now after I have served
Before I was elected, I wrote articles consistently about leadership, ministry, church and the Southern Baptist Convention. Now after I have served two years as president, I will continue to do the same.
Obviously, I will not be writing as president, but I will be writing as a Southern Baptist pastor and leader who also happens to be the immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Congratulations to Steve Gaines
Last Wednesday afternoon, when the gavel came down upon the pulpit in St. Louis’ America’s Center, my SBC presidency concluded. The moment this occurred, Steve Gaines became the president of our convention. Steve and Donna have been personal friends of ours for years. I rejoice with this entrustment given to him by our Lord.
Beginning almost three years ago, even before I was elected, I felt God was beginning to raise Steve up for leadership in our convention. I had no idea what God was preparing to do, but I felt our convention needed his voice and heart in some way.
There is a time and a season for everything. In God’s timing and by God’s sovereign, divine will, Steve Gaines has been raised up for this time in our Southern Baptist Convention. He is not like me and I am not like him. Yet, we love one another and accept one another and the gifts God has given to each of us. I will be here to serve as his cheerleader and will be available to assist in whatever way he desires.
Here is what I know: Steve Gaines is a man of God. He will seek the Lord. He will work toward unity with intentionality. He will have my daily prayer support. He deserves your support in prayer and encouragement.
A conference call with candidates and prayer together
On the Wednesday before the Southern Baptist Convention, I convened a 40-minute conference call with J.D. Greear, David Crosby and Steve Gaines. I opened our call with prayer. After this initial prayer, I gave them a broad view of what I was seeing in our convention at this time. I encouraged them to be committed to leading in unity, as well as called upon each of them to help us address the present deplorable evangelism crisis in our convention. I was able to forward our Cooperative Program with them and again, forward the desperate need for unity as well as drive home our most urgent need for spiritual awakening.
I answered their questions and prayed for each of them specifically. I shared with them that whoever won, I would be there for them, praying for our new president. I told them I know what is like to lose and knowing that two of them would, it would not be easy, but God would see them through, verifying to them His plan for the future.
I closed in prayer for each of these men specifically. Each of these men asked to pray for me. We said goodbye and shared our commitment to one another and to the will of God. These three men are godly and spiritual leaders I love and appreciate. Unity is intentional.
The Resolutions Committee and the Confederate flag
Chairman Stephen Rummage and the Resolutions Committee were bold in their commitment to address the resolution on the Confederate flag. It was incumbent upon them to do so in some way; therefore, the issue was how to do it most effectively. They knew they needed to do so in a way that Southern Baptists would support it. The last thing any of us wanted was to see this resolution be rejected by the messengers.
Some said the resolution was weak, however, I disagree completely. The Resolutions Committee did what they needed to do initially: Find a way for Southern Baptists to take a step forward in this discussion.
I firmly believe that if the Resolutions Committee had initially brought this resolution in its adopted as amended status from the committee to the messengers, it would have failed. This would have been both divisive and disastrous. While what occurred in its amendment was not surprising to me personally, it could not have been scripted any better.
When the messenger brought the amendment, it was interesting to see the response of Chairman Rummage when he was asked to speak to the amendment. In his discerning and wise leadership, he did not speak for or against it, giving it back to the messengers, which is right where this decision needed to be.
Therefore, the messengers embraced the amendment wholeheartedly, and did exactly what the convention needed to do. They not only adopted the amendment, but the resolution as amended. It was adopted by no less than 90 percent of the messengers.
This was highly celebrated, for it comes in the moments following the incredible steps Southern Baptists have been making in racial unity. Following the Presidential Address, where I spoke to the issue of racial unity for at least five minutes and our racial unity panel, I believed the messengers would rise in support.
The significance of the Racial Unity Panel in our convention is just as historic as our convention speaking out concerning the Confederate flag. This 55-minute conversation on racial unity was absolutely dynamic and needs to be seen nationally from churches to colleges to seminaries to all kinds of settings. Southern Baptists have moved from the back of the pack to the front of the line in working toward racial unity in our nation.
As I stated in my Presidential Address regarding the racial crisis in America, “It is with deep regret that I can do nothing about this stained past against our African-American brothers and sisters; but with all I am and with all I can, I join you in creating a future together that binds up the nation’s wounds and always marches ahead knowing we will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'” (Amos 5:24)