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Pressley thankful for ‘expansiveness’ of SBC’s reach

Editor’s note: Baptist Press will be releasing interviews with all six known SBC presidential candidates in the coming days.

NASHVILLE (BP) – Clint Pressley feels indebted to the Southern Baptist Convention. The North Carolina pastor told Baptist Press he’s willing to be nominated to serve as SBC president because he wants to see the Convention healthy and strong as it moves forward doing the things Southern Baptists love to do.

Pressley, 55, was the first announced candidate for the office to be decided at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting. While the official announcement came in January, Pressley had said he would be willing to serve back in October 2023 at the Baptist Convention of North Carolina’s Pastors’ Conference.

Originally from Charlotte, N.C., he began serving as senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte in 2011. Pressley was first a member of the church when he was 16 years old. He became a Christian while at a summer camp when he was 11, though he was attending a different church at that time.

He said it was just a few years later that he attended his first Southern Baptist church while his family was on a trip to Virginia and the Lord began calling him to a life of ministry.

“It was First Baptist Church in Roanoke, Va., and I have never in my life been in a Baptist church. I had never heard anything like that, with a guy standing up there and preaching from the Bible,” Pressley said.

“I thought, ‘That’s what I want to be right there.’”

He played college football at Wofford College, a Methodist college in Spartanburg, S.C. It was there he had to come to terms with what he believed about “the Bible, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the sufficiency of Christ.” The experience led him to be secure in his own faith, he said.

From Wofford he went to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he met his wife Connie. He ended up getting married and leaving Southwestern before graduating.

Six weeks later, he began pastoring churches, but he said it didn’t take long for him to realize, “I love Jesus, I love people, but I don’t know how to get them all together.”

That led him back to the classroom. This time he enrolled at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, which was closer to where he was serving in Mississippi. He completed his M.Div. work there.

The ‘expansive’ work of the Cooperative Program

Pressley remembers the help Southern Baptists provided through the Cooperative Program during his seminary education and said he marvels at receiving a high quality education that was so inexpensive compared to similar programs at other schools.

That’s one of the reasons CP is a priority at Hickory Grove, Pressley said. Other reasons are the “expansiveness” of missions, church planting and disaster relief accomplished by Southern Baptists.

At Hickory Grove, church members are asked to give “plus one” for missions giving. Basically, to consider what they plan to give during the year and add 1 percent for missions.

In addition, the church highlights missions each month during a prayer time.

It’s also busy sending people on short-term mission trips to partner with “IMB missionaries or, if it’s in-state, then it’ll be connected in the state (convention),” Pressley said.

The responsibilities of being SBC president

Pressley believes the primary responsibilities of the SBC president are presiding over the annual meeting, appointing people to serve on committees and being a person of influence across the Convention.

In leading the annual meeting, he said he would want to conduct the meeting “with fairness, joy, patience and reminding the Convention that we really are a joyful group of people that love the Gospel and mission.”

As for choosing people to serve on committees, he believes the many relationships he’s built across the Convention would help him appoint people from a “broad spectrum from all walks, all kinds of churches.”

He would be looking for people that “have the best interest of the SBC and the mission in mind.”

Pressley said in using the influence of the office he would “love to pull down or cool off some of the rhetoric that we hear. I’d like to remind us that even though we do have some housekeeping to do, we’ve got a great house.”

Pressing issues in the SBC

He believes the SBC “should be joyfully complementarian” and that the stance has been settled since the Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s and the passage of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

While he says he is in favor of the so-called Law Amendment, which would insert language precluding women from pastoral roles into the SBC Constitution, he believes the debate in the SBC is a “disagreement [among] complementarians as to how we express that – how tight to draw the circle.”

He says no matter how messengers vote on the amendment in June, “we’re going to have to be OK … and keep moving forward with the mission and what we do as a complementarian Convention.”

Looking back to what he called a “bomb” related to calling Southern Baptists’ attention to sexual abuse in 2019, he said it “scared a lot of us to death.”

He believes the raised awareness of sexual abuse in local churches good and said the last few years have given pastors an opportunity to see “how easy it might be for a predator to be in your church.”

He applauded the work of the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force in creating the ministry toolkit to help churches know what to do in terms of sexual abuse response and prevention, adding that his own church has used the curriculum to train leaders.

Pressley is a trustee of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and said he understands the call for transparency among the Convention’s entities.

“I think we all want transparency,” he said. He believes the debate surrounding transparency is probably about how it is “laid out.”

“One of the great things about our Convention is that there is a Business and Financial Plan that gives you clear steps toward transparency,” Pressley said.

While he knows there are many reports available through the SBC’s Book of Reports, he believes “it would be helpful if we had our information better systematized and more easily accessible and readable.”

He believes in the trustee system and is grateful for it. “Those trustees are to provide oversight, maintain transparency, to make sure they (the entities) are audited, to keep them with the accrediting agencies,” he said.

Leadership and representation

Pressley said if he’s given the opportunity to serve as SBC president, he would like to see if there are ways he can help rural churches to raise up pastors from within. The shortage of pastors in rural churches is a “crisis that is going to sneak up on us,” he said.

“I’d like to for us to press for more people in the pastorate to actually intentionally call young men to this great occupation of serving the Lord through serving the church.”

When it comes to being a point of contact to the secular world, Pressley said he would do his best to “represent the truth … in kindness … and keep from embarrassing the SBC.”

The 2024 presidential election is scheduled for Tuesday night, June 11, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Candidates can be nominated to serve as SBC president until the time of the vote.

    About the Author

  • Brandon Porter

    Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee

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