Although every major numerical indicator of success for the Southern Baptist Convention is trending downward, you would never know it from the tone in J.D. Greear's voice. From the moment the exclusive interview with Christian Headlines started, J.D. Greear, who is the youngest ever Southern Baptist Convention president, had a tone of excitement and encouragement for the denomination that has weathered a series of tough terrain during his first year as its head. It is something that Greear does not shy away from addressing.
"It's been challenging and difficult at times, but inspiring to see what God is doing within the 48,000 Southern Baptist Churches," the SBC president told CH. During his first year as president, it was uncovered by the Houston Chronicle that a number of Southern Baptist churches and pastors had concealed sexual abuse issues.
According to Greear, "We do not want to create a safe place within our churches for anyone who is not there for the right reasons." There have been some within the denomination who have not agreed with Greear and the policies that he has developed in handling the sexual abuse cases. Greear, however, believes that he did the right thing, and a vast majority of Southern Baptists agree with him. “Handling this issue was a gospel issue for me,” Greear shared.
One thing that many notice about the SBC president is that he is a man who leads with comfort and ease, even in areas such as race. This year, there were six convention agencies that were vacant. There were some within the denomination who thought the convention should find people of color to fill these spots. The convention president has no authority in how agency heads are chosen. Instead, it is left up to the trustees of those agencies.
Ultimately, people of color were not chosen to fill the vacant spots. In response to this, Greear said, "I can understand where some of that discouragement comes from, and I feel it too." Greear, who is responsible for the placement of denominational committee members, made it his mission to bring about racial and gender inclusion. This year, the convention will be filled by the largest ethnic diversity make up ever, as 48 percent of the members will be people of color and women.
Pastor of Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, Greear is quick to give praise to the team around him when asked how he keeps up with being both the pastor of a church that averages 10,000 in weekly attendance and being the president of the largest Protestant denomination in the country. "I've got a good team around me that helps share the load and responsibility," the forty-six-year-old proclaimed.
Carrying the responsibility for a denomination that is dealing with the 12th consecutive year of decline would exhaust many leaders, but Greear believes that putting the gospel above anything else is what the convention needs to do.
Author of the book Gospel Above All, Greear believes that the body of Christ needs to put anything that is prohibiting the gospel aside and focus on carrying out the Great Commission. "Our unity as believers should be that of the gospel," he stated.
When asked why he felt a need to cover what could be controversial issues such as politics and race, Greear is quick to point out that our model for racial diversity is Jesus. Jesus brought together a diverse group of disciples, and yet they still had a common unity.
This is what Greear—who is hoping to be elected to another one year and final term of convention presidency—is hoping to do in this year’s Southern Baptist Convention. While the task may seem daunting, you can tell by Greear's demeanor that he believes nothing is impossible when God is on your side.
Photo Courtesy: unsplash/mitchell-hollander