A diversity of hundreds of Southern Baptist leaders interacted with SBC Executive Committee President and CEO-elect Ronnie Floyd in conference video sessions and calls he hosted on April 2–3 in Dallas immediately following his election.
“One of the things I talked about strategically was that if I was elected, that we would spend that first many hours . . . to try to touch base with as many leaders as we can, to let them know that they’re important to us accomplishing this mission,” Floyd said.
“My heart is to just equip them and encourage people to know they’re valuable to us,” he said. “We need them on the team. It’s a time to get engaged. Let’s do it.”
Two video conferences and six conference calls engaged groups ranging in size from a dozen to more than one hundred invitees, including associational mission strategists and PrayerLink prayer leaders, bivocational and small-church pastors, members of the SBC’s Great Commission Council, the Large Church Roundtable, the Mega-Metro pastors fellowship, the EC’s Convention Advancement Advisory Council (CAAC), ethnic fellowship leaders, state convention executive directors and presidents, and younger pastors active with the Baptist 21 (B21) organization.
Each group has unique gifts that are valuable and essential to Southern Baptist work, Floyd said, uplifting all groups and closing each session with prayer led by a conference participant.
Floyd presented himself as a pastor committed to helping churches and not governing them.
Prevalent in the conversations were four initial core values Floyd told the SBC Executive Committee in executive session and later shared with Baptist Press: (1) Upholding that people need Jesus; (2) Assisting all churches, generations, ethnicities, and languages in cooperative relationships; (3) Sharing the many compelling stories of Southern Baptists working at home and globally; and (4) Mobilizing and sharing resources among Southern Baptists.
Floyd otherwise expressed his values, to the EC and subsequently to BP, in five priorities:
- Fulfilling the Great Commission;
- Promoting a biblically-based, Christ-centered, and Holy Spirit-led Southern Baptist culture anchored in John 13:34;
- Communicating “compelling stories of what God is doing” through Southern Baptist ministries;
- Positioning the SBC for “an era of exponential growth and advancement” including all ethnicities, generations, women, church membership, and technology, and;
- Encouraging concerted giving to the SBC Cooperative Program of supporting ministry locally, nationally, and globally.
“We’re just really trying to do everything we can to instill confidence and unity in as many areas that we can” is the way Floyd communicated his goal to the Great Commission Council composed of SBC entity presidents and Woman’s Missionary Union executive director. “We know we have challenges, but we also have great things.”
Popular culture is not the only problem Southern Baptists face, Floyd said on many of the calls, but the culture promulgated among Southern Baptists needs to be corrected to exemplify the love Jesus commanded.
“I am highly concerned about our own culture within our Southern Baptist Convention,” Floyd told fellow Southern Baptists. “We need to learn to love one another again. We need to learn that we’re a family.
“We need to learn that people need each other again,” Floyd said. “And we need to help control our minds, control our thoughts, control our words, control our actions towards one another. Our enemy is the enemy called Satan, and our enemy is not each other.”
The SBC’s stand against sexual abuse was prevalent in the discussions as well, with Floyd and other leaders emphasizing the importance of a wise and unified effort to prevent such crime as the SBC prepares for its 2019 annual meeting June 11–12 in Birmingham, Alabama.
“It’s ungodly, it’s sinful, it’s criminal, and obviously we would be against it,” Floyd said. “But how we get to the common path of what we do, that has become the issue.”
Floyd’s response to a question on the conference call with the CAAC and ethnic fellowship leaders summed his game plan in preventing and addressing sexual abuse.
“Before Birmingham it will be our goal to get in a room [with SBC leaders] and come to a common solution we can all agree upon,” Floyd said.
When Southern Baptists leave Birmingham, Floyd said, there should be no doubt about where the SBC stands on the issue of sex abuse “and everything we’re going to try to do to help the churches, everything we’re going to try to do to have safe environments for our children and the vulnerable, and to do everything we can to extend repentance of any of our actions, and move forward in relationship with . . . a clear convictional, compelling, and compassionate commitment and declaration.”
SBC PrayerLink Leaders
Floyd assured SBC PrayerLink that he would prioritize prayer ministry, hoping to reverse what some described as a decade-long trend of declining budget resources for prayer.
“If we will lift up prayer from the beginning, then hopefully we can see this trend reversed eventually,” Floyd said. “I think that if we could just heighten prayer from the office of president and CEO of the Executive Committee, some of that would help it.”
SBC PrayerLink includes the newly launched Pray SBC Facebook group for church-authorized prayer leaders (see related story).
Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders
The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders leadership team, composed of associational mission strategists with Baptist associations across the US, expressed various concerns including promoting evangelism, strengthening small churches, reaching younger generations, energizing corporate prayer, and helping churches prevent sex abuse.
Local churches and associations have a role to play regarding the issues addressed, Floyd said, particularly the prevention of sex abuse.
“It’s got to start with training people and resourcing churches,” Floyd said, “and hopefully that’s going to go to a new level at the state convention and national level.”
Smaller Churches and Bivocational Pastors and Leaders
The perceived value of small churches to the SBC, making the SBC accessible to bivocational pastors, and the capability of small-church and bivocational pastors holding national leadership positions were concerns pastors and leaders expressed.
“Don’t underestimate your value, pastors,” Floyd said. “All of you, you have gifts in certain ways. . . . You’re used by the Lord 24/7 in the workplace. There’s no greater opportunity than the university campus and the marketplace.
“To manage what you manage, working full time, weekends, never giving up,” Floyd told bivocational pastors, “that takes discipline, that takes commitment, that takes faithfulness, and you all have proven it.”
More than two-thirds of Southern Baptist churches have one hundred people or fewer in Sunday morning worship, according to a 2015 study conducted by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Floyd himself grew up in a church of about forty Sunday worshippers, he said during the conference call, and he also led small congregations in his early pastorates.
Great Commission Council
Floyd assured the Great Commission Council he would be “totally committed to what we do as Southern Baptists.” Floyd has dialogued with SBC President J. D. Greear, he said, and will work in unity to accomplish shared goals.
“One of the greatest things I think all of us can do,” he told the council, “is to unify around, really, a compelling vision to reach this world with the Gospel. And if we can do that . . . we can really make a difference.”
Large Church Roundtable
Proactive marketing including advertising campaigns, better use of technology, educating pastors on proper background checks and employment protocol to address sexual abuse, encouraging the involvement of Southern Baptist pastors in cooperative ministry, and making the SBC attractive to young pastors were among key concerns pastors expressed.
Within the past decade the SBC has seen an increase in young pastors, Floyd said, encouraging pastors to reach out to their younger counterparts.
“I really hope that whatever time I have . . . in doing this,” Floyd said, “that when I put it down, we have taken care of removing the stuff that doesn’t need to go forward, and we will hand [the SBC] to a generation that wants it and believes in it all the way.
“If we just move the dial some, we can move it forward,” Floyd said. “We’ve got to rise up and make a difference.”
Mega-Metro Pastors Fellowship
Focusing on the local church, creating new paths for church involvement in Southern Baptist life beyond church planting, a renewed focus on the Gospel, and mobilizing Southern Baptists in prayer were raised by megachurch leaders.
“We need to find paths that people can become a part of us,” Floyd said, “that may be a little bit different paths” to church cooperation.
“I agree completely that there [are] many, many churches across this Convention, or outside of this Convention, that would want to be a part of who we are because they love what we do,” Floyd said. “How we get there, I don’t know, but I’m going to start working on it.”
Floyd encouraged diversity in Southern Baptist life.
“We need to become known for being the most multigenerational, multiethnic, multilingual denomination in the United States that is advancing the Gospel of Christ,” Floyd said, “planting Gospel churches, advancing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
CAAC and Ethnic Fellowship Leaders
Reengaging communication with the National Baptist Convention USA (NBC USA) that rose during Floyd’s SBC presidency, respecting diversity by closing the floor of the SBC to political leaders and partisan politics, achieving greater diversity among Southern Baptist leaders, and intentionally involving women at all levels of the SBC were among concerns the council and ethnic leaders raised.
Leaders also expressed a desire for congregations to be included in daily Southern Baptist life, and for technologically engaging ethnic pastors who are largely bivocational with limited funds and time.
At the center of adhering to a culture of loving every ethnicity is the fact that everyone is created in the image of Christ, Floyd told pastors.
Women are worthy of inclusion in Southern Baptist leadership, Floyd said, while adhering to gender roles affirmed in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.
“Our heart would be to do everything we can to not hold back just because of what we know Scripture says,” he said, “but let godly women flourish and be recognized, and let them help us navigate the future in this challenging day.”
State Convention Leaders
Developing a unified Great Commission strategy, energizing Cooperative Program giving, cooperating with likeminded denominations in Kingdom building, improving communication between state conventions and national Southern Baptist leadership, and energizing prayer ministries were concerns state executive directors and presidents voiced.
Floyd has encouraged pastors to evaluate, elevate and prioritize their Cooperative Program giving, he told state leaders, pledging to remain a faithful encourager of CP giving.
Southern Baptists can work with other denominations in spreading the Gospel, Floyd said, committing to renew his relationship with the NBC USA in particular for Kingdom building.
B21 Younger Pastors
Ethnic diversity in leadership, cultural awareness, attracting young pastors to Southern Baptist life, unity, promoting the Cooperative Program, and incorporating women in leadership were among concerns B21 Young Leaders raised.
Floyd expressed optimism in all areas.
“I want to see us grow, obviously, ethnically,” Floyd said. “I want to see us grow generationally. I want us to grow in relation to what women can do to help us move forward the Great Commission around the world.”
Diversity in leadership will help Southern Baptists advance the Great Commission, he said.
“We have to trust the Lord in that,” Floyd said, “. . . but I know there also has to be intentionality. And I think that’s where our heart needs to be, is intentionality.”
Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press and is a member of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. This article was previously published in Baptist Press.