J. D. Greear was elected on the first ballot today to be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina, was elected with 68 percent of the vote. Former seminary head Ken Hemphill received 31 percent.
Greear’s presidential platform had six points: Gospel above all, cultural and racial diversity, intentional, personal evangelism, church planting and revitalization, college mobilization and engaging the next generation in cooperative mission.
Although the position is mostly symbolic, the SBC’s 15 million members hope Greear’s strategy can reverse 11 years of membership declines.
The SBC has lost 1.3 million members since 2006, according to the denomination’s Annual Church Profile and baptisms have also dropped by over a quarter in the past decade, down to 254,000 last year.
Delegates hope Greear’s focus on renewing church planting and personal evangelism will bring growth or at least slow down the decline.
Greear also faces a public relations challenge after weeks of intense scrutiny of the SBC over the role of women in the church and abuse allegations.
Greear, who describes himself as a complementarian, a belief that men and women are equal in God’s eyes but have different gifting and church roles, also will be presiding over increasing tension with egalitarians, the view that women can be pastors.
There were calls at this convention for author and speaker Beth Moore to be nominated as SBC president. Meanwhile, the Tennessean reports that a motion may be proposed during the meeting to change SBC bylaws to explicitly bar women from the presidency.
There is also the continuing saga over Dr. Paige Patterson, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who was fired earlier this month over alleged instances of covering up abuse.
Greear studied at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary under Patterson and recently released a statement condemning abuse and addressing the backlash against his mentor.
Another challenge for the youngest SBC president in 37 years is a growing generational divide in the SBC. Many believe he can be a bridge-builder between younger, reformed and Calvinist leaders and “traditionalists” who believe in an Arminian view of salvation.
In addition to salvation, the schism can also be seen in denominational politics and practices. Dr. Jeremy Roberts, lead pastor of Brushy Creek Baptist Church in Taylors, SC and a seminary professor, told ChurchLeaders.com that the older generation frowns upon the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission because it has highlighted social justice issues over evangelism.
While at the same time the North American Missions Board (NAMB) has shrunk their evangelism department significantly resulting in the precipitous decline in baptisms and a lack of emphasis on evangelism from state conventions and NAMB.
During Greear’s 16 years at the helm of Summit Church, worship attendance has grown from 610 in 2002 to just under 10,000, according to the SBC. Total baptisms increased from 19 in 2002 to 631 in 2017 at the church’s nine campuses.
Summit has planted 248 churches to date, including 208 outside the U.S., with a goal of starting 1,000 churches in 50 years, according to North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder newsjournal.