ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright wants to see Southern Baptists return to their first love, radically reprioritize their lives, funding and ministries to fulfill the Great Commission and directly participate in overseas mission work.
Speaking to reporters less than an hour after his election on the first day of the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., Wright shared his dream of seeing every Southern Baptist pastor and church take at least one mission trip. “The pastor needs to experience what it’s like to be out there in another culture sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ,” Wright told reporters June 15 at the Orange County Convention Center.
Wright commended the Atlanta-area congregation he pastors, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, for having sent more than 1,500 people on 70 mission trips to 27 nations last year. “What that does in the life of a church is incredible,” Wright said.
In the midst of Kingdom-focused work like developing partnerships with Southern Baptist missionaries, Wright said Johnson Ferry’s leaders began to question why so much of their Cooperative Program contributions remained in the United States. That led to a decision to reduce CP giving in order to designate more to the International Mission Board.
“We realized it does cause the church to appear not to be as supportive of the main approach to missions in the Cooperative Program, and yet, at the same time, we continue to give very heavily to the Cooperative Program,” Wright said, noting that Johnson Ferry contributed the second-highest Cooperative Program amount in the Georgia Baptist Convention last year.
“We would very much prefer that all those funds go straight through CP,” Wright said, “but there needs to be a radical reprioritization of that money.”
He said state conventions as the place where change must occur and regards Cooperative Program allocations at the national level as generally healthy.
Asked about a column he wrote urging state conventions to retain only 25 percent to 30 percent of undesignated CP gifts from churches, Wright said, “I’d love to see states move in that direction, knowing it will be a long, long process.” Even a goal of splitting receipts 50/50 between state and SBC causes would allow funding for many more missionaries, he said.
Wright said state convention leaders “can be the real heroes in carrying out the Great Commission” since they control budgets and decide how much goes out of state for distribution to Southern Baptist causes. If more Cooperative Program dollars were sent to the international mission field, Wright said he believes Southern Baptists would see an increased passion for CP giving, especially among younger pastors, the group from whom he has received the greatest support for his stand.
He commended “the radical commitment of the Millenials and Generation X,” with seminary students expressing a desire to go to “the toughest areas to take the Gospel.”
Asked to reflect on the passage of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations during the annual meeting immediately prior to his election, Wright said: “We have been a people that have been united on missions and evangelism and reaching our world with the Good News of Jesus Christ and yet we are not moving ahead in that area as we have done a lot of our years.” He praised SBC President Johnny Hunt’s courage in raising the issue and to messengers for engaging in a healthy discussion.
“The task force leadership has led the convention in taking a very courageous step, but it is really just a beginning,” Wright said. “If we’re going to be radically serious about reaching this world for Christ, we as individuals and we as churches are going to have to really be prayerfully committed to fulfilling what God has called us to do with the Great Commission.”
In America, local church members need to repent of materialism, hedonism and other idols that distract them from their first love and inhibit their love of lost people, Wright added. “The beginning point for all of us is to renew our hearts. Jesus Christ could not be clearer, as politically incorrect as it is in our contemporary culture, that He is the only way to God,” he said.
Asked where he stood in his convictions regarding Calvinism, Wright described himself as “a follower of Jesus Christ that believes the Bible.” He added: “I really don’t believe that human beings are ever going to completely reconcile the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. To have a neat theological system is great for human beings, but it sure makes for a small God. We can have a greater awe about the majesty and wonder of God when we believe in both.”
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.