Dave Miller is getting incredibly forgetful these days! I set this interview yesterday and then consulted Alan Cross about how we should format it, then just forgot. Alan Cross did the legwork, in coordination with the group of guys who have been discussing SBC Issues together (not sure any of us really like the name “Voices for a New Baptist Future” – but till we come up with something new that’s it). We worked together on the questions and so Alan felt we should present this as a group interview, even though he did all of the work. After reaching that decision, I promptly forgot to format that.
I apologize for leaving the impression that I did this interview. That was not intentional, just forgetful.
1. Why do you want to be SBC president? What do you hope to bring to the SBC over your tenure?
JD: It’s all about the Great Commission. The entities and mission boards of the SBC have been such wonderful partners with us in planting churches, training leaders, and sending out missionaries. By God’s grace, we’ve sent out a lot of our people into mission through the entitities of the SBC. Many of them serve in dangerous places. With that sending comes the responsibility to do all we can to take care of the sending mechanism.
Serving in the office of the president was not something I was looking for—it definitely was not on my “5 year plan.” But several older leaders in the SBC approached me and asked that I prayerfully consider it, telling me that they believed the Holy Spirit had put it on their heart to ask. The times in my life God has led me the most clearly, it has involved him speaking through members of his church (Acts 13:2) in a way that resonates with what God is doing in my own heart (Acts 15:28).
As my wife, our church leaders, and I took these things before God, we knew that God had enlarged our passion to see a new generation of churches engage in the Great Commission. We believe it is time for a new generation to take responsibility for the entities and mission boards of the SBC, joining with the faithful men and women who have gone before us. Furthermore, I believe the Convention needs to ask how we can get more resources into the work. There are still more than 6,000 unreached people groups in the world, and we have missionaries coming home for financial reasons. The number of unchurched people in our own country is increasing. We can’t be okay with these things. This has to break our hearts, and we have to do something.
2. What do you want to see change in the SBC? What do you hope stays the same?
There are four things God has placed most on my heart:
1. I want to see us continue and deepen our focus on gospel-centeredness, both in theology and in mission.
2. I want to see us engage our culture with both truth and grace.
3. I want to see a new era of engagement, as Southern Baptists step up to “own” the entities and boards of the SBC.
4. I want to see us platform and equip non-Anglo pastors and members to positions of prominence and influence.
God has given us wonderful entities with clear mission purposes and tremendous leadership. Our sense of mission and our doctrinal unity around the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BFM 2000) needs to stay the same. We need the next generation of Southern Baptists to take personal responsibility for the entities of the SBC, and to increase their giving to cooperative efforts. This involves increases in both Cooperative Program (CP) and Great Commission Giving. I believe we in the Convention need to recognize that God is doing new things in our generation, and we need to create new pathways for new generations of Southern Baptists to get engaged. We need more giving to the work, not less, and we need to celebrate all that God is doing. I’ll spell that out a little more below, but I hope our church has been a model in increasing both CP and Great Commission giving.
3. What can you bring from your experience at Summit Church, particularly in the area of missions, to the rest of the SBC?
A while back we decided that we would measure our success by “sending” capacity rather than seating capacity. My own call to the ministry began as a call to the mission field, and I served as a missionary with the International Mission Board (IMB) for two years. God never relinquished that call to the field. He showed me that my role in the Great Commission was to be as a sending pastor.
Our experience at the Summit has been more like riding a roller coaster than piloting a ship. I feel like the Holy Spirit has led us into an incredible series of opportunities, and we’ve mainly been watching as he does the work.
We’ve sent out more than 350 of our people to plant 26 churches here in the United States, as well as more than 200 of our members on international church planting teams, who have planted 162 churches internationally, 72 of which were birthed in the past year. Every year, we send out dozens of our people on new church plants—key members, volunteers, leaders, even our own pastors.
I believe we need a generation of Southern Baptists who value kingdom growth more than simply a big attendance, and that means sending out some of our best people and giving away precious resources. Sacrificial, risky, faith-filled giving is not simply something we should ask our people to do; it is something we as churches should model with our people and resources, too.
4. One of the most important things that an SBC President does is make appointments. What will be the primary considerations in that process for you? What role will Baptist Confessionalism play regarding the BFM2000?
In my view, the BFM 2000 is an ideal doctrinal statement. It is narrow enough to keep unity and broad enough to allow for variance on non-essentials. It is a wonderful guide and rallying point for our Convention.
It behooves us to make sure that those we appoint to lead and influence our Convention stand in line with it.
In looking for nominees for specific appointments, I would look for people who sincerely support the BFM 2000, though I would hope for much more than that as well. Those who serve our Convention should also display a love for the Great Commission, a passion for local churches, a habit of evangelism, and a disposition toward a “wide tent” of SBC life.
5. What is your perspective on the ongoing Calvinist/Non-Calvinist debate in SBC life? Will that affect your thought process in making appointments?
Ha! Well, a few years ago I was asked by Danny Akin to speak at an SBC conference on Calvinism that they were hosting at Ridgecrest. I asked him (sincerely), “OK… which side am I supposed to represent?”
I know it sounds cliché, but I’ve never been comfortable with the neat and tidy “Calvinist” or “non-Calvinist” labels. I certainly believe that God’s work in salvation is always prior, and that no man can say that “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. But I also see so much in Scripture about “whosoever will may come,” that we are to spread the gospel promiscuously, and that our prayers and evangelistic efforts have real effect. In fact, Scripture even indicates that if we don’t share the gospel, we will be guilty of the blood of those who might have been saved had we preached to them (Ezek 33:8).
I am pretty confident that if you asked the average person at the Summit whether we were “Calvinist” or “non-Calvinist,” they wouldn’t know what to tell you. I prefer the balance of the BFM 2000 here. We are committed to preaching the Bible, doing the work of evangelism, and giving God all the credit.
We have some people on our staff who lean more reformed, and others who lean the other way. I always tell them, “Calvinism isn’t an issue to me until it becomes one to you. But when it becomes one to you, that will be an issue to me.” While we may not be able to settle each of the “five points” to our satisfaction, we know that the Bible is clear in condemning a divisive and uncharitable spirit on things that are not essential.
We only have so much “bandwidth” as a Convention, so I would rather be known for the gospel and the Great Commission than for a particular stance regarding Calvinism. I’ve heard it said that “heresy” can relate not only to what you believe, but the weight that you give to certain issues. We certainly want to explore and believe all that God has said to us, but we want to unite around the essentials of the gospel. The majority of Southern Baptists just want to love Jesus, believe and teach the Bible, and see people saved. That—and the doctrinal confession of the BFM 2000—should be our point of unity and our evaluative tool for leadership.
6. How do you plan to help facilitate the ethnic diversification of SBC leadership? In a nation that is growing increasingly ethnically diverse and with immigration being a major issue, how can a diverse SBC help give leadership to our nation in these areas?
My primary experience in this is in our church. About five years ago God laid on our hearts that we should be a church that declares the diversity of heaven and reflects the diversity of its community. Our journey toward this hasn’t been easy—true diversification never is. We’ve learned that it’s more about living multi-cultural lives than simply hosting multi-cultural events. We’ve realized that multi-culturalism isn’t a niche “project,” but is part of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ. It’s an application of the gospel of reconciliation.
For us, this process has meant doing more listening and less talking. We’ve discovered that we have a lot of blind spots. We’ve had to push ourselves into uncomfortable conversations and situations. Like my friend Vance Pitman, whose Southern Baptist church models multi-culturalism, says, “The way to know you are part of a multi-cultural movement is that you feel uncomfortable sometimes. If you always feel comfortable in your church, then you’re probably not part of a multi-cultural movement.”
God has, by his grace, given us real progress in this area. Nearly 20% of our church attenders on the weekend are non-Anglo (up from less than 5% five years ago). About 50% of our campus pastors and worship leaders are non-Anglo. Our church still has a long way to go, but we are proof that diversification is possible.
I imagine the path to diversity in the SBC will look similar. We have to be intentional about inviting other brothers and sisters into conversation and leadership. By God’s grace, I know we can get there. What I’ve seen happen in our midst at The Summit Church proves to me that we can.
While we will never fully reflect the diversity of heaven, we should aim to show the world a uniquely united fellowship. As believers who have been united in Christ, we aren’t pursuing sameness, but a covenant community of oneness. As it was in the days of the Apostle Paul, this oneness can be one of our most powerful testimonies to the world around us (Eph 3:10–11). There is one race of man; one Creator of all; one problem—sin; one solution—the blood of Jesus; and one hope—his glorious return.
7. With the recent downsizing of the IMB overseas missions force, what can local churches do to both engage in mission themselves and help strengthen our collective work through the IMB?
There are two sides to the current struggle we’re seeing when it comes to Cooperative Program giving and the IMB downsizing. The first is directed toward the churches. (I’ll look at the other side in the next question.)
To the churches, I would say that it’s time for the next generation of Southern Baptists to take personal responsibility for the entities of the SBC, joining with the generations who have faithfully gone before us. The budgeting shortfalls that have led to more than 1,000 missionaries coming off the field are not “the SBC’s problem.” They are our problem. It is time for us to step up and own this mission, and the vehicles God has given us for accomplishing it, as our own. The next generation needs to sacrificially give, support, and serve in these entities, boards, and institutions. God has given us tremendous leaders in them. It’s time for us to step up and engage.
Southern Baptist churches need to ask what they can do to get more resources to the field. C. S. Lewis once said, “The only safe rule when it comes to generosity is to give away more than we can spare.” Churches ought to give away more money to mission than they feel like they can spare, trusting that when we seek the kingdom of God first, he’ll supply to us the rest of what we need (Matt 6:33).
8. What role do you think the Cooperative Program and denominational giving should play in SBC life and our work together?
From the perspective of the SBC as a whole, I want to encourage the Convention to continue to create more efficient structures for resourcing and sending missionaries, adapting to the needs and opportunities of the present hour. The Spirit of God is doing new things in our generation, and we need a Convention that responds to that. By no means does that mean we scrap the old. The Cooperative Program continues to be our primary way to resource our efforts in the Great Commission. At the same time, the SBC has recognized the category of “Great Commission Giving” as a legitimate way to support Southern Baptist mission. We need to respect the autonomy of churches in deciding where and how to allocate their resources between these, and to celebrate both as faithful service to the Kingdom of God. We need increases in both. Let’s celebrate churches that sacrificially give more to the CP, and let’s celebrate churches that sacrificially give more to Lottie, Annie, and other cooperative SBC causes!
The Summit Church has tried to demonstrate the kind of sacrificial giving that we are calling for. Three years ago, our church voted to increase our Cooperative Program giving by 230% over the course of five years. By God’s grace, we were able to complete that this year, two years ahead of schedule. On January 1, we took our 2016 giving to $390,000 for the year (2.4% of undesignated receipts), making us the leading CP contributing church in North Carolina. Our “Great Commission Giving” has remained consistent at 10% now for four years, and our total missions giving has stayed between 15–20% of our undesignated receipts. By God’s grace, we will continue to do more.
The responsibility of getting more money to the field lies on all of us. Churches will have to make difficult calls. The IMB has had to make difficult calls. And all of our other institutions and Conventions need to make difficult decisions for the sake of the Great Commission.
We applaud those State Conventions that have taken such great strides in this. Many have asked hard questions and made tremendous sacrifices. As one example, Tommy Green of the Florida Baptist Convention has been a wonderful inspiration—leading his convention to a 51-49 split (i.e. 51% passed on to the Executive Committee, which distributes it toward NAMB, the IMB, the seminaries, and other entities, with 49% kept in the state). And he has indicated that he wants to do more. My own state convention here in NC, under the leadership of Milton Hollifield, Jr., is striving to get more money to the field. We want to see those efforts continue. We need to be willing to ask uncomfortable questions. For the sake of the Great Commission, we have to ask what we most need to accomplish the task the Lord Jesus has given us and direct the lion’s share of our resources to that.
We believe the Spirit of God is leading us to take radical measures in response to the pressing needs of the hour, and that if we put his kingdom first in all things, he will take care of us (Matt 6:33). As Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”
9. The vast majority of SBC churches have under 200 people in attendance. What role do they play in SBC life? How can you help increase the involvement of smaller churches and their pastors in denominational leadership?
Smaller churches have always been the heart of the SBC. We are a convention of local churches reaching our communities. Our desire to reach other communities—both nationally and abroad—is what brings us together in cooperative mission.
The vast majority of Convention work does not take place on the platform once a year. It happens through regional networks of pastors, on task forces, and through organizations like Baptist Men. And even moreso, through “ordinary” members doing the work of discipleship and evangelism in their local communities. We pastors aren’t the primary instruments of ministry; we’re equippers of those who are—“ordinary” saints (Ephesians 4:12).
Most of the churches in the NT were smaller, but the impact they made for the Great Commission was nothing short of miraculous. I see many parallels among the numerous smaller churches in the SBC today, whose members are making an enormous impact for the gospel.
What happens on the platform is simply a way of better empowering and resourcing what happens in those places.
The Summit Church is a larger church now, but we didn’t start that way. We were planted as the Homestead Heights Baptist Church in 1962 by Sam James, who had been delayed for a year in his appointment to the IMB because of health challenges with his son. Sam wanted to see a church planted in what was then the rural outskirts of the Raleigh-Durham area, a church that would reach not only its local community, but touch the world.
When I came to the Summit in 2002, the church averaged around 350. We’re bigger now, but the initial mission is the same: to reach North Carolina with the gospel, planting churches in cities and rural areas, and to band together to reach the world. Bigger churches and smaller churches are essential partners in one great task.
In fact, one of the dangers of a large church is that people are liable to lose the fire of intentional evangelism. Whether you’re in a church of 50 or 5,000, we need to be personally telling people the good news of the gospel. Smaller churches tend to be leaders for all of us in this.
10. When you talk to young people and particularly young church planters, how would you encourage them to participate in the SBC?
It’s our turn now. We are the recipients of an incredible heritage. As I said above, it’s time for the next generation of Southern Baptists to join previous generations and take personal responsibility for the entities of the SBC. The budgeting shortfalls that have led to more than 1,000 missionaries coming off the field are not “the SBC’s problem.” They are our problem. It is time for us to step up and own this mission, and the vehicles God has given us for accomplishing it, as our own. It’s our turn to sacrificially give, support, and serve in these entities, boards, and institutions. God has given us tremendous leaders in them. It’s time for us to step up and engage.
I also want to tell them that we recognize that God is doing some new things in Southern Baptist churches, and we want to have a Convention that responds to that. That doesn’t mean we jettison the old, but that we respect the autonomy of churches and also celebrate Great Commission Giving as faithful obedience to the Great Commission.
Finally, I tell them that great days are ahead. Throughout Scripture, we see that “past graces” are evidences that God wants to bestow future graces. There can be no doubt that the SBC experienced some unusual grace in the Conservative Resurgence. Why would the Holy Spirit have done that if it were not to give us an unprecedented effectiveness among the nations? God does what he does not to preserve institutions, but for the sake of the Great Commission. It’s all about the Great Commission. That means the best days of the SBC are ahead us. They have to be! There are still over 6,000 unreached people groups in the world, and history cannot end until they have been given a gospel witness. It is time again to expect great things of God, and then attempt great things for God.
God has given us wonderful institutions and mission entities—some of the best in the world. Tim Keller has written on the need that movements and institutions have for each other. We’re used to talking about how institutions need fresh movements—without it they grow cold and lifeless. But movements need institutions, he says, to have staying power. By God’s grace, in the SBC we have both.
All in all, it’s a great time to be in the SBC. In addition to seeing younger Southern Baptist leaders embrace the mission, I expect we’ll see some like-minded leaders joining us. Of the 26 domestic churches that the Summit has planted, all 26 have been Southern Baptist, and we’ve recruited 7 to join the SBC. I would love to see this trend continue nationally.
11. What do you think of Fake JD Greear? Inquiring minds want to know. Is the rumor true that the Twitter account is co-written by Kevin Ezell and David Platt?
I’m always a bit torn by the popularity of @fakejdgreear. At the current pace, one day more people will follow the fake me than the real me. And I’m pretty confident that if @fakejdgreear ran for president against me, I surely would lose. The day my nomination was announced, 2/3 of related Twitter buzz was excitement over a potential 1-2 years of fakejd material.
As to the rumors of who runs the account, that’s a secret far above my pay grade. I’ve heard about 50 different names thrown out there (and have a couple suspicions of my own), but until someone comes forward, your guess is as good as mine.
We appreciate Alan Cross doing the work on putting this interview together.