Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, called for a "Great Commission resurgence," a renewed zeal for proclaiming the Gospel similar to the fervor that went into the fight for biblical orthodoxy in recent decades.
During his first presidential address to the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 22, Hunt quoted Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said, "When there was a theological drift, we corrected it. We must now correct our Great Commission drift."
"When you win less people to Jesus, you're drifting from the Great Commission," Hunt said, referring to the mandate Jesus gave His disciples at the end of Matthew 28 and to Southern Baptists' less than ideal baptism numbers.
Hunt also quoted Chuck Lawless, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, who said, "We have stood faithfully for a message that we have chosen to keep to ourselves."
As pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock for twenty-two years, Hunt said he has learned that whatever is important to the leader is important to the people. As the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, he has set his sights on motivating the multitude to take as many people to heaven with them as possible.
"The Lord has greatly blessed Southern Baptists and our commitment to Him and to His Word and to His mission through the years," Hunt said. "However, we'd love to believe that the best is yet to come. The truth is the best must be yet to come. If not, we have so far missed the major emphasis of what we're all about."
In order to generate a Great Commission resurgence, Hunt said Southern Baptists must have a greater confidence in their message.
"We have flat got a great message. Thank God for the Gospel and what the Gospel has done in our lives. I am indebted to Jesus and to the Gospel," he said.
Hunt read 1 Thessalonians 1:5-8 and noted the Gospel's connection, meaning the Gospel did not come in word only but with the early Christians' actions to support it.
"The message they shared was a personal possession and a personal reality. We cannot proclaim a truth with confidence until we've experienced that truth," he said.
Also, there was the Gospel's confirmation, he said, noting that the Gospel came in power.
"The Word of God faithfully proclaimed is the most powerful force in the world. One thing we Baptists have always been known for is we're people of the Book. We're people who believe in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Hunt said.
The passage also speaks of the Gospel's companion, which is the Holy Spirit, he said, and of the Gospel's conviction in that Christ's followers were sure of the truth and relevance of the message they proclaimed. Hunt also pointed to the Gospel's complement, which was that people were able to look at believers' lives and conclude that they actually believed what they taught.
"When we behave the Bible, it gives us an incredible platform to preach what we believe. If our witness is to be believable, it must be the testimony of a life that is credible and a life that is believable," he said.
In addition to a greater confidence in the message, Southern Baptists need a greater clarity in their mission if they are to experience a Great Commission resurgence, Hunt said. He noted that Southern Baptists have about 5,500 missionaries serving overseas through the International Mission Board, but they only account for one missionary for every 1.6 million people in the world. Southern Baptists need to realize that if they're saved, they're individual missionaries, and most of them live in the third largest lost nation on earth, Hunt said.
Southern Baptists also need greater camaraderie in their Baptist family, he said. A former SBC president, Adrian Rogers, called for unity in diversity during the midst of the Conservative Resurgence years ago, and Hunt said it's time to sound the call again, this time to include those of a younger generation who may not dress, think, or worship like those who make up the majority of the SBC.
"Some would say the younger generation is our problem. I'll say this: If they're our problem, we don't have a future. I say they are our future," Hunt told Executive Committee members.
While embracing the younger generation, Southern Baptists also must unify with those who hold different theological stances on secondary issues that have tended to cause heated discussions within the Baptist family in recent years.
"The real enemy is Satan, the world, and the flesh," Hunt said. "What we need to do is get back on the battlefield and engage once again our real opponent and adversary. Dr. Rogers was right. We need to be shoulder to shoulder back on the battlefield with the sword of the Spirit and the incomparable Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"... I'm ready to say let's rally together for the express purpose of the Great Commission. Let's all get under that banner. Let's let every entity speak into it and say, 'Here's what we're going to do to bring more people to faith in Jesus Christ,'" Hunt said. "There is a bottom line, and the bottom line is when you draw your last breath, we believers only have one question to ask around the coffin or at the cemetery: Did he know Jesus?"
Missions and evangelism are not taught, they're caught, Hunt said, and Southern Baptists are in dire need of as much emulation as they are exhortation.
"I pray He'll bring us together, and that we'll be able to start saying, 'We came together for the common cause of the Great Commission and the glory of God, and when we did, we began to win more people to Jesus, we began to give more money to missions, we began to go more, and now we see it as our task to see the nations worship Him.'"
Erin Roach is a member of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and a staff writer for Baptist Press.