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Gaines reflects on IMB search, SBC presidency

GALVESTON, Texas (BP) — The next president of the International Mission Board needs to be someone who is in love with and in tune with Jesus and “has a love for the world,” said Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Tennessee, addressed editors of Baptist state publications during their Feb. 12-15 annual meeting in Galveston, Texas.

IMB President David Platt announced plans Feb. 12 to vacate his position to be the full-time teaching pastor at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., just outside Washington, D.C.

Platt addressed editors in the morning session before Gaines spoke, noted that the IMB is “financially healthy, physically strong and practically ready.”

His decision to leave the IMB, he said, is “because I believe this is what God is leading me to do.”

Platt said he is committed to leading the IMB until a successor is found. “The IMB leadership has expressed full support in me. They don’t want there to be a pause in our work…. The last thing the unreached people groups of our world need is a pause.”

Gaines praised Platt for his passion, saying, “You can’t have anyone more passionate than Dr. Platt.”

The IMB has a history in recent years of strong leadership, Gaines said, with each president having “a different primary emphasis but shared the same love for lost people.”

Gaines said he hopes “we get someone who prays and hears from the Lord” and can “bring as much harmony as possible” to the position. He encouraged Southern Baptists to pray that God will lead the search committee to the person He has in mind to lead the IMB.

Gaines addressed a variety of topics during his address and a question-and-answer session with the editors. Among them:

— His presidency. Gaines will step down after two years as SBC president following the 2018 annual meeting in Dallas in June. “I never intended to be president,” he said. The experience served as a reminder that “you don’t tell God what you’re going to do or not do.” The last two years have left him “more impressed with the SBC than ever before,” he said, citing Kingdom work being accomplished at all levels of Southern Baptist life.

— State conventions. Gaines said he has spent considerable time visiting state conventions during the past two years, speaking at annual meetings and evangelism conferences. “State conventions are the backbone of the convention,” he stated. “I love the men who lead these state conventions.” Gaines praised his own state convention executive director Randy C. Davis. “He’s done a fantastic job in Tennessee.”

— Evangelism. Gaines said he is praying that Southern Baptists will be more evangelistic, in light of baptisms having “nosedived” over the past two decades. “I don’t know all the reasons,” he acknowledged. He exhorted Southern Baptists “to work on personal soul winning. You pray for lost people by name that they will repent and call on the Lord to be saved.” Gaines underscored the need to issue an invitation to accept Christ. “It’s not a real Gospel conversation if it doesn’t end with a Gospel invitation,” he said.

— Upcoming SBC presidential election. Gaines was asked if he was prepared for what could be a “contentious” presidential election in June. Currently two men have announced their intention to be nominated to serve as SBC president: former nominee J.D. Greear, a pastor from North Carolina, and Ken Hemphill, an educator from North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C., and a former SBC seminary president. Gaines said he would handle the election as “fairly and neutral” as possible. “I pray it won’t be contentious. I believe God will give us good leadership in the days to come.”

— His personal walk. Gaines was asked how he has changed and evolved over the years in his ministry. He cited an experience while serving as a pastor in Alabama when he developed an autoimmune disease that left him extremely weak. “I could not even comb my hair.” Acknowledging that he was a bit “aggressive” in his early ministry, Gaines said God used the illness to make him more kind. He added that a friend has told him that he even preaches differently than 20 years ago. “I am not as hard as I used to be,” Gaines said, adding that it depends on how you see the people you are preaching to. “I see people who are hurting, who need to be helped and people who are in prison who need to be set free.”

— Praying for the president. Asked about praying for the president, Gaines said he prays for President Trump and his family every day and did the same when President Obama was in office. He said he prays Psalm 21:1 for the president and all elected officials. If people would “do more praying and less criticizing,” Gaines said, “we would have a better nation and better churches.”

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  • Lonnie Wilkey/Baptist and Reflector