We were encouraged to be able to interview Dr. Steve Gaines. For this interview, Todd Benkert did the legwork, in coordination with the group of guys who have been discussing SBC Issues together. The first 10 questions are identical to our previous interview, with a bonus question at the end. As before, though Todd corresponded with Dr. Gaines, we present this as a group interview. We thank Dr. Gaines for willing to be interviewed here.
- Why do you want to be SBC president? What do you hope to bring to the SBC over your tenure?
I’ve been a Southern Baptist all my life. I was saved, licensed and ordained in a SBC church. I was married in a SBC church. I am a graduate of a Southern Baptist College and I hold a M.Div. and Ph.D. from a SBC seminary (SWBTS). I’ve served on staff for 37 years in SBC churches. For the past 33 years, I’ve served as the senior pastor of four different SBC churches – one that averaged 150-200 in attendance, one that averaged 550, one that averaged 1,500 when I went there but grew in 14 years to over 3,000 in worship attendance, and now I serve at Bellevue.
Over the years I’ve been asked by my fellow Baptists to serve in various capacities in the SBC. I had the privilege of serving twice on the SBC Nominating Committee. I served as a trustee for LifeWay. I served on the Baptist Faith & Message Committee in 1999-2000. In 2004 I was asked to preach the annual Convention Sermon at the SBC meeting in Indianapolis. In 2005, I served as the President of the SBC Pastor’s Conference in Nashville. Last year in 2015, I served as chairman of the SBC Resolutions Committee. I was also asked to serve as the President of the Alabama Baptist State Convention Pastors’ Conference (1999) as well as the President of the Tennessee Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference (2015). I have also preached in revivals and Bible conferences at numerous Baptist churches of all sizes, as well as associational meetings, state convention meetings, and SBC meetings.
My wife, Donna Gaines, has also served for many years in our Southern Baptist Convention. She is the Founder and Chairman of the Board of the Wives’ Session of the SBC Pastors’ Conference that meets on Monday mornings during the annual SBC Pastors’ Conference. She was asked also to serve as the President of the SBC Pastors’ Wives’ Luncheon in 2004. She served also on the Great Commission Resurgence Committee (2009), and is currently serving this year on the SBC Nominating Committee.
Thus, I am deeply invested in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Donna and I have never asked for any of these opportunities to serve our fellow Southern Baptists. Instead, others have asked us to serve and we have been more than willing to do so.
That’s the way it has been regarding the SBC presidency. I have not sought to be nominated to be president of the SBC. Instead, for over a year I have been inundated with encouragement from other Southern Baptists, many of whom hold significant positions of leadership in SBC life, to allow my name to be placed in nomination for this position. I believe what my predecessor at Bellevue, Dr. Adrian Rogers (a 3-time SBC president) said regarding the SBC presidency: “No man should seek this office; rather, the office should seek him.”
I can honestly say that I have never sought this office. Yet, in recent months and weeks God has made it crystal clear to me and to my wife that He does indeed want me to allow my name to be nominated as president of the SBC in St. Louis on June 14th.
If my fellow SBC messengers elect me to serve in that role, I will seek to bring a humble, prayerful heart and spirit, a desire to work with all Southern Baptists, and a desire to provide leadership from a vantage point of seasoned experience.
- What do you want to see change in the SBC? What do you hope stays the same?
I want to see Southern Baptists emphasize evangelism again. For the past fifteen years our SBC has been on a discouraging, downward trajectory in baptisms. We are baptizing approximately 100,000 fewer people per year than we were fifteen years ago. Our number of churches, including new church plants, has steadily increased during those years. But even though we have more SBC churches than ever, our salvations and baptisms are in a nosedive. We are seeing fewer and fewer people get saved and baptized.
Each of us must own this, including myself. I must share Jesus with more lost people. I must not just be “Gospel-focused.” I must be more intentional about opening my mouth and telling people what the Bible says about Jesus (cf. Acts 8:35) in order to win them to faith in Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-24).
We need to train our pastors and our people how to share Jesus one-on-one with lost people. The SBC needs a “Great Evangelism Resurgence”!
I am also very concerned about the fact that we are bringing 1,000 IMB missionaries off the foreign fields, primarily due to lack of funds to support them. Again, all Southern Baptists, including me, must own this horrible thing. Not only do we have a soul-winning crisis in the SBC, we also have a stewardship crisis. We must teach our church members to handle money God’s way. We must teach them to tithe to their churches, set reasonable budgets and live within them, pay off debt, save for future needs, and give generously to those in need as the Lord leads. We must also encourage our churches to give more than ever to SBC causes through our Cooperative Program. All of us can and must do more than ever in giving financially to the SBC. We must raise more money so we can put an additional 1,000 missionaries back on the field instead of bringing them home.
Regarding what I hope stays the same, I will continue the emphasis our current SBC president, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, has stressed for the past two years regarding the SBC’s need for revival and spiritual awakening. We need to pray fervently and ask God to open the windows of heaven and come down in power and glory. We need for the glory of God to fill the houses of God. We need the manifest presence of God in our lives and in our local churches.
- What can you bring from your experience at Bellevue Baptist Church, particularly in the area of missions, to the rest of the SBC?
Bellevue Baptist Church is deeply involved in missions at home in Memphis, across the nation, and also around the world.
At home in Memphis, we began a ministry in 2007-08 called Bellevue Loves Memphis (BLM). BLM is a ministry through which we find ways to meet the needs of people in our community through quarterly workdays. We strategically partner with sister churches, para-church organizations, and civic organizations, such as schools and community groups to meet the needs hurting people throughout Memphis and the Mid-South. Since our first Bellevue Loves Memphis Workday in February 2008, we’ve had 33 workdays, 945+ projects, and 106,505+ volunteer man-hours. We’ve partnered with over 50 churches, 30 schools, 3 hospitals, and 20 para-church organizations. We’ve used these service projects to provide platforms to share the Gospel. Through BLM, we’ve seen hundreds of people come to faith in Jesus.
In February 2009, Bellevue also purchased a Christian Mobile Dental Clinic. Using volunteer dentists and dental workers, Bellevue has been able to provide over $2.8 million worth of free dental care to some of the poorest people in the Memphis area. Every person seen by our dentists has had the Gospel shared with him. Through this ministry, we have seen 1,276 professions of faith in Christ.
Bellevue serves in eight prisons seven days a week creating 30,000 touches per year that minister to these men and women who are incarcerated. We serve in eleven senior facilities on a weekly basis through Bible studies and other ministry activities. Our church also leads five fire station Bible studies, as well as two apartment ministries that minister to men, women, and children through Bible studies and children’s activities.
Bellevue has opened our facilities to our community for high school graduations, teacher in-service training, local non-profit fundraising banquets, dental missions, and early voting. We are involved in a car care ministry that ministers to widows, single moms, and wives of deployed service men. We engage in a truck stop ministry through which volunteers minister to truckers at truck stops in and around Memphis, TN through church services and evangelism.
Donna Gaines is the founder and president of Arise2Read, a ministry that originated at Bellevue to recruit churches to adopt inner city schools with the focus on 3rd Grade literacy. They are seeking to break the poverty cycle with the Gospel and education, teaching young children to read. They have trained over 1,000 volunteers and serve in over 20 schools, partnering with over 50 other churches in the Memphis area.
Bellevue is also involved in national missions in the U.S. We are presently involved with NAMB and the Send North America church planting effort in the northwest region of Seattle, Washington. We are also involved in other church planting efforts in New York, Massachusetts, and Las Vegas, as well as Native American church planting in New Mexico, South Dakota, and Montana.
Internationally, Bellevue has collaborated with the IMB and Pioneer Missions to lead Pioneer Evangelism training in 34 countries with the help of 100 trained instructors.
In 2007, the IMB asked Bellevue to be a strategy church for Jinotega, Nicaragua. Since that time, we have sent 27 volunteer teams that have been involved in church planting, construction, evangelism, VBS, discipleship & pastor training, Pioneer Evangelism, medical, dental, and sports ministry. Eight new churches have been established. We have also been involved in discipleship and pastor training in fourteen churches in the capital city of Managua and led in the complete renovation and financial support of the Baptist Seminary in Nicaragua.
Since 2010, Bellevue has also sent hundreds of volunteers to Haiti, helping with school construction, home construction, planting and building churches, well digging, women’s conferences, medical missions, and orphanages.
Bellevue also planted Impacto Church in Tegucigalpa, Honduras that averages over 1000 people in weekly attendance, making it one of the largest Baptist churches in Central America. Impacto has also planted two other churches.
Bellevue also has a group of volunteers that goes throughout the world to build playgrounds. They have completed playgrounds in Cambodia (2), Guatemala, Tanzania, Haiti, India, and Uganda.
Bellevue has also served in India over the last 10 years ministering in church planting, church construction, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, medical and dental care, and pastor training.
Bellevue serves in Northern Uganda, ministering to the Madi unreached people group. Ministries include church planting, evangelism, discipleship, Pioneer Evangelism, education, and microbusiness development.
Bellevue has served in Guatemala for 15 years. In 2014, we partnered with the Tennessee Baptist Convention to reach Jalapa, in Southeast Guatemala. Ministries there included pastors’ & men’s conferences, womens’ conferences, VBS, playground construction and discipleship training.
In the Ukraine, Bellevue has ministered in the capital of Kiev through the Baptist Seminary and also new church plants. Ministries included church planting, pastor training, sports outreach, and children’s ministry.
Through these ministries and other mission emphases, I hope to encourage all of our SBC members and churches to 1) pray for missions, 2) give financially to support missions, and 3) go on a mission trip.
- 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?
I will appoint people to committees using the same standards I’ve used in selecting people for leadership and service in the churches I have pastored. I will simply look diligently for the most qualified people – those who are actively involved in the life of a SBC church that is itself involved in and committed to the various levels of SBC life. I will also look at each person’s church track record regarding their financial giving through the Cooperative Program.
Since I was a member of the Baptist Faith & Message Committee 2,000, I will make sure that each person appointed is committed to the doctrinal beliefs set forth in BF&M.
- What is your perspective on the ongoing Calvinist/Non-Calvinist debate in SBC life? Will that affect your thought process in making appointments?
I believe when we talk about salvation, we should do so with humility and grace. I believe in the sovereignty of God and also in the free will of man. I am not a Calvinist, but I have good friends who are. I can fellowship with any Christian who believes that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone and in Christ alone. I can stand with any believer that says the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I can walk with any Christian that believes that in order to be saved, one must repent of sin, believe savingly in Jesus, and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. As long as a man believes these biblical doctrines and is an avid soul-winner, I can work with him.
I have read been blessed richly by the writings of both Whitefield and Spurgeon (Calvinists), and also John and Charles Wesley (non-Calvinists). We must love all Bible believing, Gospel preaching Christians, even those who are not Southern Baptists.
Regarding appointments, as I said above, I will select the people who are most qualified for the position.
- 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?
Memphis is a very diverse city when it comes to race and ethnicity. I have made it a priority over the past 10½ years in Memphis to reach out and make friends with Gospel-centered pastors and churches of all ethnic and denominational backgrounds. I believe that God created everyone in His image, God loves everyone, Jesus died for everyone, and anyone can be saved. All people of all ethnic backgrounds are welcome and encouraged to attend Bellevue. By the grace of God, at Bellevue we are experiencing the fact that people from all ethnic backgrounds can worship, serve, and live together in harmony in Christ. We have people of different ethnic backgrounds get saved, baptized, and join Bellevue every week. Every week Bellevue looks more and more like Memphis and like heaven. Bellevue is not a white church. Bellevue is a Jesus church and a people’s church. We believe there is only one race – the human race. At Bellevue, we don’t just talk about racial reconciliation – we actually experience it and live in it as a reality. It works in our church because we focus on Jesus-centered racial reconciliation.
- 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?
Regarding missions, at Bellevue we encourage 1) praying, 2) giving, and 3) going. We need more people to pray for the specific needs of our SBC missionaries. We also need to encourage church members to have a personal stewardship revival and get their own financial house in order so they can give more to their churches, and enable their churches to give more to missions. We also need to encourage more of our people to go on short-term mission trips. That will be used by the Holy Spirit to call some of them to full-time mission service, or to go to the mission field in a bi-vocational manner whereby they can work a secular job to support their mission efforts in their place of service.
- What role do you think the Cooperative Program and denominational giving should play in SBC life and our work together?
I believe the Cooperative Program is the financial lifeline of the SBC. It has served us well for decades. While it might need tweaking, it does not need to be tossed. We do not need to abandon it and digress to an independent form of supporting missions. I agree that state conventions should seek to send as much money as possible to support our IMB missionaries. But just as we must not impose on our churches a specific percentage to give to the CP as the ideal, neither should we impose on our state conventions a certain percentage as the ideal to forward to the SBC. We must come together at every level, pray together, strategize together, make good decisions together and go forward together. There must be no competition between Baptist state conventions and SBC entities.
- 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?
I have served as the pastor of a SBC church that averaged less than 200 people in weekly attendance. It was a glorious experience. I’ve also preached for almost 40 years in churches of that size. I’m convinced there is no such thing as a “small” church. All churches, regardless of how many people attend them, are heavenly, Gospel outposts on earth. Pastors and church members from churches that are smaller in attendance must be included and have a seat at the table regarding all SBC matters. They are the very backbone of our convention.
- When you talk to young people and particularly young church planters, how would you encourage them to participate in the SBC?
They need to get involved just like I did when I was a young pastor. I started attending the SBC annual meeting in the summer of 1985 when we met in Dallas. Believe it or not, there were over 40,000 messengers that year! I was entering the Ph.D. program that fall at Southwestern Seminary, so I was taking a summer linguistic course in German. I remember taking my German theological articles along with my huge German dictionary into those sessions. I also remember being mesmerized by the preaching of such “spiritual generals” as W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, Jimmy Draper, Charles Stanley, and Jerry Vines. I knew I was part of something wonderful and much larger than my church and myself. I was part of a denomination that was about reaching the world for Christ. It became a spiritual home to me.
I want that for the young men who are pastoring and planting churches today. I want the SBC to be “home” to them. I want them to get involved at the associational level, the state level, and the national level. I want them to live and minister with a desire to cooperate and unite with others, being assured that we really can do more for Christ when we’re united than we can when we’re doing our own thing.
I long for our SBC to be united. People over 40 need the fire and the fresh ideas of the people under 40. And people under 40 need the veteran wisdom and life-experience of those of us over 40. We really can do more together than we can independently.
- Does anyone ever ask about your time with Lynyrd Skynyrd?
You’re obviously talking about Steven Earl Gaines, guitar player for the 1970s rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd. That Steve Gaines was killed in a tragic plane crash in Gillsburg, Mississippi, along with several other band members.
At the time, my brother was a graduate student at the University of Florida. I was actually part of a Christian band in Tennessee when Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashed. My brother saw on television that Steve Gaines and some of the band members he played with had been killed in a plane crash. He immediately called my mother in Tennessee and asked her if I had been killed. Mom and I had talked on the phone just before he called, so she was able to tell him confidently that it must have been another Steve Gaines.
I must admit, especially since I’m a big University of Alabama football fan, that I still like the opening guitar lick on “Sweet Home Alabama.” 🙂
We appreciate Todd Benkert doing the work on putting this interview together.