SNELLVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Atlanta-area pastor James Merritt has agreed to be nominated as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and if elected he would be the first baby-boomer to lead the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Merritt, 47, pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., also would become the seventh Georgian to hold the position, the most recent being Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church, Atlanta.
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, said he will nominate Merritt to the SBC’s top post. “I feel very confident and enthusiastic about the prospect of James being the first president elected in the 21st century,” Graham said. “I believe he is the unilateral choice of conservatives across the convention.”
Graham said Merritt’s age played a factor in his nomination. “I would say, first of all, that he is going to bridge the centuries. He is a baby boomer and I believe generationally he is going to build on the past strengths of the convention and move us from the 20th century and launch us into the 21st century,” Graham said.
Merritt said he is flattered by the nomination, and if elected he said bridging the generations will be an important part of his ministry. “We should seek ways to involve more of our younger generation, my generation and the next generation, into the life of the convention,” Merritt said. “It’s an issue we need to address — how we can continue to bring the denomination to the level of the grassroots, to get our laypeople to understand who we are and what we are about.”
Graham said his nomination of Merritt came following conversations with pastors and leaders throughout the convention. “It becomes obvious who God is raising up to lead us. To me, I believe God’s hand is on him [Merritt],” Graham said. “I believe his ability to preach and to communicate will be incredibly effective in inspiring churches and committees and programs with the convention.”
Merritt is known throughout the convention through his ministry at First Baptist, Snellville. Since his call there in 1985, the church has grown from 2,000 members to more than 11,000 members.
His national teaching ministry, “Touching Lives,” is broadcast on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, FamilyNet and the local Fox affiliate in Atlanta.
Merritt has an undergraduate degree from Stetson University, Deland, Fla., and a master of divinity and doctor of philosophy from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
He is the immediate past chairman of the SBC Executive Committee and a former president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference. In 1998, he preached the convention’s keynote sermon.
Merritt and his wife, Teresa, have three sons, James Jr., Jonathan and Joshua.