EDITOR’S NOTE: Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., delivered the following message at the SBC Executive Committee’s Feb. 22 meeting in Nashville.
NASHVILLE (BP) — It is with great joy in a spirit of humility that I come to you tonight after serving as your president for the past 20 months. Thank you Southern Baptists for this blessed but overwhelming entrustment of leadership.
To God first, thank You. To my dear friend of over two decades, Dr. Albert Mohler, for believing in me and nominating me to serve as president, thank you. To Dr. Frank Page and his entire team who have been with me in an extraordinary way in this assignment, one thousand thank yous. To [Colorado pastor and EC chairman] Mike Routt and the Executive Committee, thank you for letting me speak each time we get together. To all of you who have prayed for and encouraged me, I am most grateful. Finally, to my wife of 39 years, Jeana, I will always love you and thank you for your incredible sacrifice for these past twenty months.
In reality, this will be my final time to address you in this setting. I have spoken to this committee many times before many of you were ever here to serve. I spoke on numerous occasions as a committee member for 10 years, two of which I served as chairman. Additionally, I spoke on special occasions in various areas in which I have served the Lord and the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. While the number of people may have never been above maximum capacity in this room, it is not the number that ever impressed me. It is the influence that has overwhelmed me each time I have spoken before the Executive Committee.
From my perspective, speaking here is like speaking to a small Southern Baptist Convention. Perspective is all in the eyes of the beholder, is it not? For example, from my perspective, I am a great driver. Yet, from the perspectives of my wife, family, my entire staff team and friends who have ever ridden with me or followed me, they do not share my perspective. They believe I am a horrible driver. It really is about one’s perspective, their point of view, and the way they see it.
Tonight, I am going to share with you a few things, not only from my perspective, but also from the perspective of God who always sees and leads us into Truth.
This past summer in my presidential address at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, I challenged our Southern Baptist family and beyond from Revelation 3:7-13, that “Now is the Time to Lead.”
That message or segments of it ended up in all kinds of places around the world. Tonight, I want to speak to you on the subject of “Now is the Time to Lead … But Where?” Will we lead? Since we are always leading somewhere, where will we lead? I submit to you tonight that Now is the Time to Lead … But Where? Where?
A friend in California sent me an intriguing op-ed last Monday that was published in the Sunday, Feb. 14, edition of The Orange County Register. The article was entitled, “The Religious Right Is Being Left Behind.” He did not send me the article due to its mention of various candidates nor was I drawn to it because of that. Those are plentiful in today’s world.
However, what intrigued me was the writer’s evaluation of the situation occurring in America today. He stated, “Overall, notes Pew, 68 percent of Americans now believe religion is losing influence in society. In contrast, momentum is shifting to the religiously unaffiliated, whose numbers are rising rapidly, from 37.6 million in 2007 to 57 million in 2014.”
Toward his closing remarks, the author goes on to write, “Religion’s future opportunity will lie with focusing on those very things — such as the raising of children, the maintenance of marriage and confronting aging and death — for which secular society has few adequate answers.” Undeniably, this article is about politics, but it is also about our leadership, or lack of it, as evangelicals in America.
Some of us grew up in Southern Baptist life and were influenced by the remarkable man and preacher, Dr. Adrian Rogers, senior pastor of Bellevue Church in Memphis and a two-time president of the Southern Baptist Convention. There was no one like him. When I read that op-ed from The Orange County Register, I immediately thought of a statement I heard Dr. Rogers make numerous times. He said it to me personally, in private settings, in public celebrations, and from the pulpit.
In the 2002 Pastors’ Conference in St. Louis, Dr. Rogers stated, “The future of this nation is in this room and in houses of worship all around America. As the West goes, so goes the world. As America goes, so goes the West. As Christianity goes, so goes America. As evangelicals go, so goes Christianity. As Southern Baptists go, so go evangelicals.” While some of this statement may be questioned by a few, there is one part of the statement that inspired what I want to talk to you about tonight.
Here it is: “As Southern Baptists go, so goes evangelicals.” While this statement may be questionable regarding our influence presently, it should serve as a compelling call to us as Southern Baptists.
Will Southern Baptists be leaders in the future of evangelicalism? If so, where are we leading other evangelicals? In the maze of the American culture today, is there any word from the Lord?
There was a time in King David’s life when he felt the threat of his enemies. In his quest for deliverance, he determined there was ultimately only one place to go. He needed to be in the presence of God.
Would you look with me tonight to the Word of the Lord as given to us in Psalm 43. I want to read it tonight. Join me now in the text and follow along with me. Psalm 43 says:
Vindicate me, God, and defend my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from the deceitful and unjust man. For You are the God of my refuge. Why have You rejected me? Why must I go about in sorrow because of the enemy’s oppression? Send Your light and Your truth; let them lead me. Let them bring me to Your holy mountain, to Your dwelling place. Then I will come to the altar of God, to God, my greatest joy. I will praise You with the lyre, God, my God. Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God.
* Verse 1: “deceitful and unjust man” — Charles Spurgeon called these “two devils” that none can deliver from except God.
* Verse 3: “Light” — for guidance. The Holy Spirit is our guide … leading us to truth.
* “truth” — which is in the Word of God and in Christ Jesus alone.
* “lead me” — It is the Spirit of God and the Word of God that guides us and brings us into the presence of God. Why? Spurgeon said that it is these, the light and the truth that are always “elevating, sanctifying, perfecting; and hence their virtue in leading us to the glorious presence of God.”
* Verse 4: “altar” — the place to meet God in order to give myself and sacrifice myself to God.
* Verse 5: “Put your hope in God” — God’s Word and God Himself are our hope; we wait in Him and in His presence.
Soon my season of concern will be a season of praise to God!
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, in this dark hour in America, when we wrestle within ourselves not to become downcast or discouraged with all that is happening, we need to respond in obedience to what the Lord is saying to us in Psalm 43. We need the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all the truth found in Christ and in His Word.
The Scriptures will always usher us into the presence of God to offer ourselves daily and completely to God alone. It is the Church and the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention that need to rise up in this dark hour in America and declare that we must put our hope in God, for He is our only Savior and our God!
This leads me back to the question of the evening: Now is the Time to Lead … But Where?
Thirty-seven years ago this June, in Houston, Texas, the mantle fell upon Southern Baptists to rise up and bring definite and clear direction about what we believe and stand for relating to the Bible, the Word of God. We had pastors and leaders rise up from our churches, many of which paid a heavy price for doing so. But for the first time ever in history, a major denomination that was moving swiftly to the left made a 180-degree turn and affirmed not only in belief, but also in practice, that the Bible is the authoritative, infallible, inerrant and sufficient Word of God.
Therefore, 37 years later, we have six seminaries that are robust in their belief in the Bible and the Gospel, committed to their mission, equipping an estimated 20,000 men and women for Gospel ministry throughout the world. In that dark day 37 years ago when that biblical and theological maze was happening, leaders led by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the truth of the Word of God.
Yet, these leaders did not pay this high price for us to bring home hundreds of missionaries from the international mission field, to see evangelism be forgotten in our churches, to see the selfishness that distorts our stewardship of life and the Gospel, or to see us consume one another with skepticism, criticism and cynicism that creates a culture of schisms and division rather than a culture that thrives on Gospel advance through partnership and cooperation.
Furthermore, this price was not paid for Southern Baptists to become like some exclusive club that is so narrow we cannot cooperate with other evangelicals and even beyond. Our own Baptist Faith and Message 2000 calls us to cooperation, stating we should cooperate with others “when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament.”
Moreover, this price was not paid for us to ever neglect widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor. Nor was this price paid to see us give leadership that succumbs to the culture in which we live. And certainly this price was not paid for us to see our annual Southern Baptist gatherings become so small we are unable to mobilize thousands upon thousands of pastors and laypeople to our mission annually.
Southern Baptist leaders, Now is the Time to Lead … But Where? My heart is grieved about areas we used to lead in and now we are no longer leading positively. Permit me to address a few.
Listen very carefully: We have criticized evangelism right out of the Southern Baptist Convention. Years ago, something happened where pastors and churches that reached and baptized people effectively came under the microscope of other Baptists who oftentimes did not have a heart for evangelism themselves. A culture of skepticism about evangelism began to creep into our convention. Evangelism began to die.
Years ago, one would never preach a Pastors’ Conference, a convention program, or be given the privilege of leadership in our convention unless they were strong, evangelistic preachers and reached lost people for Christ effectively. Today, it is rare that this is ever considered, as we deem other things more important than the main thing.
We pride ourselves now with our deep theological convictions, yet we have a glaring theological challenge that is often overlooked or ignored and it contributes to our lame commitment to evangelism: We don’t believe in lostness anymore. We don’t believe Jesus is coming anymore. We don’t believe in urgency anymore.
I declare to you tonight that Southern Baptist pastors and churches are not leading in the right direction relating to evangelism. I am prayerful and hopeful that soon a turnaround will occur. I have worked and led accordingly, but I want to remind you: Hope is not a strategy. We must inject in the pastors and leaders of our churches the vision to reach their village, town and city for Christ strategically.
REACHING THE WORLD
Thousands of Southern Baptist pastors and churches are brokenhearted that hundreds of our missionaries are coming home from the field. Even Baptists who are away from God know it is not right for this to occur. While our Baptist family is somewhat understanding of this moment, even though they do not like it, they are trusting that our convention is not losing its heart for reaching the world with the Gospel.
They are trusting that this reset is not regress nor retreat. I have assured them that we will rise up greater than ever in our commitment to reaching the world and sending missionaries globally.
Yet, the future will record the reality of our commitment to this. I am absolutely confident that with whatever leadership is afforded me as a Southern Baptist, I will be consumed with a vision and a passion for reaching the world for Jesus Christ. I cannot control what Southern Baptists do, but as far as it depends on me and the church I presently lead, we will exhaust ourselves and expend the needed resources to reach the world for Christ.
FELLOWSHIP IN GOSPEL PARTNERSHIP
I do not understand why various groups within our Southern Baptist family do not place value on other groups. I am not sure why we do not want everyone to win in our Southern Baptist family. As president, I have been very committed to doing all I can to try to help build a healthy culture of love, fellowship and Gospel partnership. I have placed people in the same room together so they would stop talking about each other and begin talking to each other.
Tomorrow evening and Wednesday morning, I have asked our state convention executives, state presidents, SBC entity leaders and several pastors to come together to talk through our doctrine, our fellowship together, our Cooperative Program, our crisis in evangelism, and our nation that we love, conversing about where it is spiritually, culturally and politically. An estimated 90 leaders will be meeting with me, so pray for us. I say to you again and will say to them, Now is the Time to Lead … But Where? Where will we lead this generation of Baptists?
Southern Baptists, we must come together. We need to refuse to let the negative people in our churches and the negative people in our convention set the agenda any longer. If we do not, we will become paralyzed and eventually forfeit our leadership with everyone. We need hundreds of Southern Baptist statesmen to rise up courageously as leaders and lead so big and so high, they will not settle for anything in this convention that does not help us build a Christ-centered culture that leads to our fellowship in Gospel partnership. We need these kinds of leaders to rise up who value, respect, relate to, and communicate effectively with all generations and ethnicities in our convention, not just people that are in their own generation or who look like they do.
I have been committed to helping our financial future as a convention privately and publicly. I have held strategic meetings about it, spoken about it, written about it, and have conducted several conference calls about it, conversing with and asking between 400-500 pastors and churches who are our leaders now in total dollars given through the Cooperative Program to prayerfully and strategically consider increasing their giving. I have challenged them to determine where they ought to be by the end of year 2020 and begin moving now toward that, but to accelerate the pace. Some of our churches can do it now by reallocating their mission dollars that are working outside of our convention and begin to give more through the Cooperative Program now. Many are responding and we are seeing the difference.
Additionally, this past year, 23 of our state conventions determined to give more from their states to our national Cooperative Program needs. Both of these efforts are helping us to see an increase in giving. I have operated with one word in this effort – MORE. We can all do more! This has been my plea with these churches. Please pray and go to your churches, extending the same challenge to give more.
OUR SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION IN ST. LOUIS
Beginning today, you can register online for this year’s convention at SBCAnnualMeeting.net. Please begin registering tonight or tomorrow. Use your influence and relationships via social media and networking to challenge pastors and leaders to begin registering now.
Each of us should do all we can to see our numbers build upon last year’s attendance, which was our largest convention since 2012. Our goal should be to have the largest number of Southern Baptists coming together as a family meeting in the city of St. Louis.
Our theme is: “Awaken America, Reach the World.” Our thematic verse is Acts 4:31: “When they had prayed, the place where they assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.” This covers our needs well.
You have been given a list of the Highlights of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention. I will not go through these in detail, yet I want to mention a few things briefly:
A National Conversation on Racial Unity in America
* Dr. Jerry Young, president, National Baptist Convention, USA, “Where We Are Today and Where We Must Go In The Future”
* Marshall Blalock, pastor, First Baptist Church, Charleston, S.C., “The Tragedy and Triumph of Charleston, South Carolina”
Other pastors will be joining us for this conversation.
Executive Committee Reports
Business Session of Reports
Election of the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention
“A National Call to Prayer for Spiritual Leadership, Revived Churches, The Next Great Awakening, and the Future of America.” With the condition of our churches and nation, how in the world could we not join in prayer? Prioritize this evening in your schedule.
This session will be filled with reports from entities.
Convention Sermon, Dr. Ted Traylor, Pensacola, Fla. [pastor of Olive Baptist Church]
Panel Discussion, “A Conversation About the Local Church Pastor and His Church in American Politics Today”
Great Commission Council Question and Answer Time Relating to SBC Entity Individual Reports
Joint Mission Presentation by the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board on Reaching America and the World for Jesus Christ
Let’s make this special and powerful to the Lord’s glory alone. We must see America awakened and reach the world for Christ.
I must say a word about Crossover St. Louis. Jim Breeden and his team informed me this past weekend of the following:
* Need: 2,500 outside volunteers
* Presently: 800 outside volunteers committed
* Projects: 75
* Send Relief of NAMB: Focus on Ferguson, with a medical and dental clinic, and also lead ministry in two of the poorest school districts in greater St. Louis. Please contact the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association or go here to assist.
I also want to thank their leader, Jim Breeden, and his team for all of their work.
One final word about our Southern Baptist Convention meetings that I have mentioned to this committee before and I have been saying these things for the past 20 months and even before publicly: We need to rethink our locations where we are having our annual convention gatherings, and lead strategically to give ourselves the best chance to win in these annual family gatherings of Southern Baptists.
Now is the Time to Lead … But Where?
Please pray with me in these critical days that we will fulfill Psalm 43 and ask the Holy Spirit of God to guide us always by the Word of God, knowing the Light and the Truth will always lead us into the presence of God, resulting in us sacrificing ourselves to Him completely.
I have several favorite books of Bible and one of the books I love so much is the book of Habakkuk. When Habakkuk questioned God, God was not troubled by his questions. Habakkuk was struggling personally and in his leadership to the people of God just as we are today. In fact, I believe God is not troubled by our questions that we may have of Him. But be assured, when we have these questions as Habakkuk did, God will tell us what He told him: The righteous will live by faith and God is on the throne.
In a moment, when I close our time by reading a brief few verses from Habakkuk, please know that when God met Habakkuk at the point of his needs, he declared these that I am going to read to God and as a testimony to the people. These words need to become our declaration tonight and not just where we lead together but how we lead together in this critical and urgent hour in America. The words are found in Habakkuk 3:16-19:
I heard, and I trembled within; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness entered my bones; I trembled where I stood. Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights!
Listen to the declaration and may these words become our conviction as spiritual leaders in America. Now is the time to lead like this!