"Near the end of 2009, some pastors from different parts of the country contacted me about the possibility of being nominated for President of the Southern Baptist Convention this June in Orlando, FL. This had not been on my radar and yet when it came out of the blue from more than one pastor, I realized I needed to pray seriously for God's will in this matter. For a couple of months in early 2010 Anne and I were praying diligently, and I kept coming up with one reason after another before the Lord on why I was reluctant to do this. I love pastoring Johnson Ferry and leading Right From the Heart. The time demands are already intense, and being Southern Baptist Convention President on top of that would move the intensity of time pressures to a new level. Plus, through the years I have preferred to focus on the local church at Johnson Ferry over denominational matters. Yet more and more as we prayed, Anne and I both began to sense this was clearly God's leading. I began to feel that if I didn't respond to a sense of calling in this matter, it would be pure selfishness on my part and I would be disobedient to the Lord.
Being nominated does not mean you'll be elected. It just means a willingness to serve if so chosen. There is no way to know what decision Southern Baptist messengers will make at the annual convention each June. There is no campaign. I will set up a blog to share how God has led in this call and answer questions as they come our way (yeah, I know you are chuckling at this since I don't use a computer; as a matter of fact, I'm writing this note to you on my trusty yellow legal pad). The state Baptist papers and the Baptist Press news agency will run articles about those who will be nominated, but many messengers will decide whom to vote for based on a three-minute speech made by the pastor who nominates you. David Uth, Senior Pastor of Orlando First Baptist Church, will be nominating me. We share a similar heart for the Lord and church and missions.
This is a very important time in the life of our denomination.
1. Historically, our greatest strength has been in evangelism and missions. Yet in recent years our impact in that area has diminished greatly from a national perspective. Baptisms are flat, although the population has grown. It also greatly saddens me that we have people appointed and ready to go onto the international mission field but are unable to go for lack of funds.
For a good number of years, as God began to work powerfully in Johnson Ferry through Global Ministries, we have focused on getting a higher percentage of our mission dollars to international missions. Our missions leadership at Johnson Ferry began to realize that over 60 percent of the dollars given to the Southern Baptist missions fund (called the Cooperative Program) stayed in the state and that only 16 percent of each dollar given through the convention's Cooperative Program wound up on the international mission field. The Cooperative Program began in 1925 with the belief that we can do more for missions together than any one church can do alone. That idea is just as valid today as it was in 1925. This fund goes to support state missions, national missions, international missions, and our six Southern Baptist seminaries. But we became greatly concerned about the very high percentage of this fund focusing on state missions and the very low percentage of this fund going to international missions. As a result, we began to give half of our Southern Baptist mission gifts straight to the International Mission Board in what is called the Lottie Moon Offering. We'd rather give the bulk of our Southern Baptist mission dollars through the Cooperative Program, but until a radical reprioritization of mission funds occurs and more of the funds make it to the international mission field, we will continue to give a big percentage directly to international missions. Even though the President of the Southern Baptist Convention has no authority to change the percentage formulas of our state conventions (only the states can do that), he is a voice and hopefully, a positive influence in seeing that more of our denominational mission dollars go to international missions.
2. It is an important time in our denomination when three key leaders of denominational agencies will be appointed over the next year: President of the Executive Committee; President of the International Mission Board; and President of the North American Mission Board. These three leaders will have a huge influence in the fruitfulness of Southern Baptists reaching our world for Christ over the next 15-25 years. The President of the Southern Baptist Convention doesn't make these decisions, as there is a search committee for each position, but he is a part of that process.
3. Johnny Hunt, the current President of the Southern Baptist Convention and Senior Pastor of nearby Woodstock First Baptist Church, has led our convention in setting up a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force to study how our convention needs to reprioritize and restructure in the years ahead to better reach our world. That task force has provided a tremendous service to our denomination, and their recommendations will be voted on at this year's convention. Whoever serves as president will need to be diligent in carrying out that work in the years ahead.
I realize this has been the longest letter or email you have ever gotten from your pastor, but I wanted to share with you how God led in this decision, as well as some of the challenges before our denomination. Johnson Ferry has always been a church with a "Kingdom vision" - more about the Kingdom of God than just focusing on our local church in reaching our world for Christ. Should I be elected Southern Baptist Convention President this June, it will be another way Johnson Ferry has an opportunity to build up the Kingdom of Christ beyond our local church.
Most of all, please pray for God's will to be done. And pray for Anne and me to continue to walk closely with the Lord as faithful and fruitful witnesses for Christ day by day."