Editor’s Note: The day prior to his election as SBC president at the 2016 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, Steve Gaines was interviewed at the Cooperative Program booth in the exhibit hall about his vision for the Convention should he be elected president. The following is excerpted from that interview. The entire interview can be seen at talkCP.com.
What are some things you would like to see take place in the Southern Baptist Convention?
I really appreciate what we’ve done the last two years and I would like to build on the foundation that Ronnie Floyd has given us.
When Jesus was asked, what’s the greatest commandment, He said, quoting from the Shema, love the Lord your God and love people (Deuteronomy 6:4–6). That is the essence of what happens when God sends a spiritual awakening. There’s an enhanced love for God which always results in a love for people. Whenever you love the Lord you’re going to love the people that He created in His image. And so I want a spiritual awakening.
I have been studying spiritual awakening since I graded for Dr. Roy Fish at Southwestern Seminary in the 1980s. I really believe what he was saying is true: unless the Spirit of God falls upon our churches, we really don’t have a chance. A lot of people say, you’re just putting off what we ought to do and putting it all on God.
It’s a lot like farming. Farmers understand that there are some things only God can do, and there are some things that He will not do because He wants us to do them. He won’t plant the seed for us, but He’s the only one that can germinate the seed. He won’t till the ground, but He will send the rain. And so we’re co-laborers with the Lord.
So I’m praying that God would pour out His Spirit upon our churches. That’s what I think we need. I think that is the reason we are not baptizing. The baptisms are just the evidence of the fact that we’re not as much in love with Jesus and in love with people as we need to be. So spiritual awakening is a big thing.
Soul-winning is another big thing to me. I like to call it that because in 1 Corinthians 9, six times Paul talks about winning people—run in such a way that you may win—so I think that’s good terminology.
I love the description of evangelism in Acts 8:35, where Phillip opened his mouth and, beginning from that Scripture, shared Jesus with the lost man. That’s pretty much it. You have to be verbal. I’m all for having Gospel conversations, but sometimes I’m afraid there’s more conversation than Gospel. We need to be telling people about Jesus Christ, what the Bible says about Him, in order to persuade them. The Bible says knowing then, the fear of the Lord, we persuade people (2 Corinthians 5:11). We must persuade them and give them the opportunity to be saved.
We have not baptized below three hundred thousand people since 1947, if I’m not mistaken. Well, that’s sixty-nine years. I’m just telling you, we’ve got an issue with soul-winning. It starts with the pastor. It starts with me, it starts with you. As pastors, we’ve got to lead our people to tell people about Jesus Christ and then to seek to lead them to faith in Christ. And when we preach, we have not preached the Gospel unless we give people right then and there the opportunity to respond, yes or no, to the Gospel.
We tell them what the Gospel is, we tell them how to get saved, and then give them the opportunity—however you do it, if it’s a come-forward invitation, if it’s back in a room somewhere, if it’s meeting with somebody after it’s over with. But somehow we’ve got to be more intentional and more passionate about our preaching evangelistically at the end of our service like Spurgeon did—any sermon you get of his, at the end of it there’s an invitation. And we need to be more intentional and proactive about our evangelism.
Every Wednesday night at our church we go out, we share the Gospel with people, and what that does for me is, all week long it makes me more interested in telling people about Jesus.
One more thing. I’ve really been stuck on Luke 10:2, where Jesus said, the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few. And what’s the solution? Beseech, it’s the Greek word deomai—it means to pray, to ask, literally to beg—beg the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.
So I do believe it’s okay to pray for spiritual awakening. You know, the church was birthed in a prayer meeting, not a business meeting. And missions was birthed when they were ministering to the Lord and praying to the Lord. God called out to them, Paul and Barnabas, to do the work of the ministry! So if we will pray, if we will love the Lord, then we will love people enough to tell them about Jesus.
Stewardship has become a lost word, almost. But what it means to me is that we don’t own anything, God owns everything.
At the end of the day, like a Monopoly game, it all goes back in the box. We don’t take anything out of this world with us except what we have invested in the Kingdom of God. I believe that we have to teach people [about stewardship], and pastors need to lead the way.
I believe in tithing. Some people don’t. I don’t want the Old Testament guys to outdo me. And I’ve long since quit tithing; I more than tithe. We talk about tithing at our church. We’ve carried four thousand people through Financial Peace University in the last year and a half, and that’s in order to help them.
So many people nowadays, when you talk to them about giving and tithing, they can’t, because they’re in financial bondage. And what I tell pastors is, you’re not just trying to get them to give more money to the church, you’re trying to get them set free in the area of their finances so they can be the givers that God wants them to be.
People have excessive debt. The average American spends $1.25 for every dollar that he earns. We’ve got to change that as Christians. So I believe that if you’ll set a budget, if you’ll live within your means, save for future needs, give to people as God prompts you, tithe to your local church, those are the things that help us develop better stewardship in our local churches.
What do you wish people knew about you that they don’t necessarily know?
I think sometimes, when you’re a pastor of a church like Bellevue, they don’t think you were ever anything else. When I was at Lake Dallas, Texas, I was the only full-time staff member there. We ran about 150, we grew to about 200. But we baptized thirty people every year for five years while I was pastor there.
I know what it’s like to have a perpetual staff meeting. I was the only full-time staff. I’d talk to the staff all the time, I’d talk to myself, “where do you want to go, staff, let’s go eat, staff,” you know. So I know what that’s like.
I know what it’s like to pastor a church running five or six hundred, like at West Jackson in Tennessee. And when I went to Gardendale in Alabama we had about 1,500. We really had a movement of God there; we led the state convention in baptisms for years.
Then God brought me to Bellevue. I was at a great place [in Gardendale]; but the Lord led me. I don’t make any apologies for being at a big church because that’s where the Lord led me. I think that we need larger churches and smaller churches. I think we need older pastors and younger pastors. We need to be multi-ethnic but we also need to be multi-generational. I think we need all of the above.
Looking back on your term in a few years, what do you want to see happen and what would you wish people would say about you?
I would like to see more pastors committed to prayer. I mean real prayer. I’m talking about paying the price and leading their churches to be houses of prayer. I think that is a crucial thing.
I would like to see more churches have a plan for prayer, but also have a plan for training people to share the Gospel. I believe we need to be more evangelistic, and again I think the pastor is the key.
It’s an old saying, but it’s true: everything rises and falls on leadership. And if the pastor is not leading people to Christ, the people are not going to be leading anybody to Christ. And if the pastor’s not praying, the people are not going to be praying. And if the pastor’s not a giver, the people are not going to be giving. So I think that we’ve got to get our pastors to where they need to be in those three areas. And I feel like if you do that, you’re going to make a big contribution.
I’m praying for a real, bona fide spiritual awakening like we’ve had six times in this country. That’s what I want to see.
And I’d like to be a catalyst for spiritual awakening, not just in Memphis but in the United States. I pray for the United States every day across the nation. I pray for the leaders in our Southern Baptist Convention every day by name, with the institutions.
I’m just telling you, we’ve got to cry out to God and plead with the God of heaven because we’re in trouble. And we’re beyond a political solution, we’re beyond just having another method. We need an outpouring from Almighty God. We need for God to come down in our churches. And so that’s what my life’s about.
I’m giving the rest of my life—if it’s five minutes or thirty more years—I’m giving my life to God pouring out His Spirit on His churches and upon the Southern Baptist Convention. I would like to see the Southern Baptist Convention be the leader in revival instead of somebody else doing it. I think that we need to be the catalyst for spiritual awakening in America, and that’s what I hope for, where I want to lead our Convention.