DALLAS (BP)–Jack Graham intends to complete his presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention with the same focus in Indianapolis as it began in St. Louis in 2002 — exhorting Baptists to be salt and light through a renewed sense of evangelism and missions to America and a lost world.
Graham not only had support for the challenging role from Southern Baptist leaders and pastors but also the Dallas-area church where he is pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.
“I will never forget coming back from the convention when I was elected in St. Louis and there was a special time of dedication and prayer and I sensed their affirmation and encouragement,” Graham told the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “Our congregation viewed this as sending me out and expanding the work of the church.”
Prestonwood prayed, encouraged and applauded as Graham met the cultural and ethical issues during his presidency head-on.
“I’m first and foremost a pastor of this church before [being] president of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Graham said. “I look at my presidency as a cooperative effort, a fusion, between my life as pastor and the extension of the ministry of our church.”
Graham said he has grown as a person and pastor as a result of numerous service opportunities stemming from the SBC presidency, as if gaining a lifetime of experience in just two years. “When you get around the country and see Southern Baptists at work, it expands your vision; it enlarges your heart for what we’re doing together in cooperative evangelism,” he told the Texan.
Graham entered the presidency at a time of heightened turmoil in America involving global terrorism, human cloning, same-sex “marriage” and the Federal Marriage Amendment, and the ongoing tide of abortion.
“This has been a difficult time in America and around the world … with the post-9/11 generation,” Graham said.
Southern Baptists, he added, have lost eight missionaries in the last two years to terrorist attacks. “It is a different world and a different time,” he said.
Graham said he is leaving his presidency with a renewed sense of passion for what he’s been called to do — Kingdom expansion.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest evangelical denomination in the world and we have so many wonderful opportunities,” he told the Texan. “What we do with the opportunities we have will be critical for the coming generations.”
Concerning missions and evangelism, a topic about which Graham is passionate, he noted a recent decline in baptisms in the United States alongside the record 500,000 baptisms reported by the International Mission Board and its overseas partners during the last two years.
“Our missionaries are excelling and fulfilling the Great Commission worldwide,” he told the Texan. “But in America, we are flat-lining. Though we’ve shown a small amount of growth in the denomination, our baptisms are down, which tells me that our passion for evangelism is still not where it needs to be.”
Too many Southern Baptist churches are averse to change, Graham reflected. A renewal of passion, he said, starts with vision from pastors and church leaders for their congregations to reach their communities. “It disturbs me that too many of our churches are unwilling to take risks to believe for great things in their congregations and communities,” Graham told the Texan. “It begins within the congregation … to get back on our knees and ask God to give us a passion … and to show us ways we can creatively and courageously, by being salt and light in our communities and by sharing our faith relationally and aggressively, get about the business of fulfilling the Great Commission.”
Graham’s call for “Kingdom schools” increased awareness among Southern Baptists for the work of LifeWay Christian Resources, for example, in providing resources and training for Christian education. Graham said he would like to see more resourcing and staffing devoted to communicating the role of Christian education in Southern Baptist churches.
“Parents should pray about the choice of schools for their children, and that would include Christian schools as well as public schools and homeschooling,” he said.
“I believe we’re going to see a renewed movement of Christian schools in America and I’m praying that Southern Baptists will be a part of that.”
At the same time, he said, “There are many wonderful public school teachers, administrators and coaches in many of our towns and cities across America. Some of the most effective witnesses we have are in the public schools serving courageously for Christ and they are making a difference.”
Graham said he has spent much of his second year as SBC president encouraging young pastors to become active in Southern Baptist life, connecting them to various SBC boards, committees and other points of involvement.
“I’ve made a point to meet with young leaders to get their input and to ask [for] their involvement in Southern Baptist life,” Graham told the Texan. “I believe that is the next big thing for Southern Baptists … making the transfer, passing the baton to those who are coming alongside of us.”
Graham, in issuing a “last focus” to Southern Baptists before passing the gavel on to the next president, noted that 2004 is a crucial decision year for America. This November’s national election, he said, presents Christians with a clear choice as to what kind of nation America will be — secular or one that continues to enjoy religious freedom based upon a biblical worldview and Christian foundations.
“It has been my privilege to know George W. Bush since the late 1980s,” Graham said. “Now that he is president, one of my privileges has been to go to the White House a number of times to pray with [him]. There are incredible anti-Christian forces that are at work in America, so I want to challenge Southern Baptist pastors and leaders to help their congregations understand the importance of our elected leadership, to get out and vote [their] convictions and to vote principles.”
With the 25th anniversary of the conservative resurgence to be marked at this year’s convention in Indianapolis, Graham said if it were not for an about-face from liberalism in 1979, Southern Baptists would be facing some of the same issues other denominations are struggling with stemming from liberalism and secularization.
“We are now positioned as a denomination to do great things in the 21st century if we will cooperate, work together, maintain our focus on missions and evangelism and be willing to make necessary changes to go about 21st-century ministry,” Graham told the Texan. “It’s ready, set, go right now. And we need a greater vision than we’ve ever had to reach the world for Christ.”
He petitioned pastors, directors of missions, state and national Baptist leaders to demonstrate servant leadership and to work cooperatively and prayerfully in the SBC’s unfolding “Empowering Kingdom Growth” emphasis.
“We need to be on our faces before God and pray that He will revive us again and renew our hearts and that we would seize the opportunity that we have until Jesus comes. I want us to get on with the job that God has called us to do, finish the Great Commission and look forward to the day of our Lord’s return.”
Kaylan Christopher is a writer with the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, on the Web at www.sbtexas.com/texan/issues/. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JACK GRAHAM.