By Aaron Earls
After bowing out of a tight race two years ago, J.D. Greear has been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
On Tuesday (June 12), messengers—voting delegates from local SBC churches—chose Greear, a 45-year-old North Carolina megachurch pastor, as the leader of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
Greear garnered 5,410 votes (68.62 percent). Ken Hemphill, a former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, received 2,459 votes (31.19 percent).
Hemphill tweeted his congratulations to Greear and said his fellow candidate “will be a fine president.” For his part, Greear praised Hemphill as a friend, a godly man, one who is constantly investing in younger leaders, and someone who would’ve been a great leader for the convention.
In 2016, two rounds of voting failed to yield a candidate with a majority of votes between Greear and Steve Gaines, a Memphis, Tennessee, pastor. Before an additional runoff vote could take place, Greear withdrew his candidacy, telling the convention he had prayed the night before and believed “we need to leave St. Louis unified.”
After the 2018 election, Greear will have the opportunity to lead the denomination toward unity after an annual meeting that exposed generational and methodological fault lines.
Greear, 45, said he does not believe his election is an “official passing of the baton” from one generation to the next. Despite being the youngest SBC president in almost four decades, Greear said, “We walk forward together.
He said the denomination can be unified when leaders and members place the gospel above all other concerns.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is a network of churches that are not identical on everything—on style, age, cultural background, or even political alliance,” he said, “but we come together united by a common gospel confession and a common gospel mission.”
Greear noted that many things could divide the SBC in recent years and since the founding of the denomination, but it could “rally around the gospel and not be divided over secondary or tertiary issues.”
He also said the SBC has ethnic minority members, but denominational leadership doesn’t always reflect the diversity within the church pews. Elevating minority voices is needed, he said.
“Culture is changing, and to meet the needs and challenges of today, we need the wisdom and perspective of people of color,” Greear said.
As if affirming his stance, the SBC elected A.B. Vines, an African-American pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego, California, as first vice president and Felix Cabera, a Hispanic pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, as second vice president.
Greear said the denomination could also do more to elevate women to positions of influence. While he maintained that men are specifically called to lead in the church and home, he said women bring needed perspectives to the conversation.
Other emphases Greear says he has for the SBC are a continued focus on evangelism and church planting, a mobilization of the college generation, and an engagement of the next generation to become involved in the denomination.
Those have been at the core of what Greear has done at The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.
A former international missionary, Greear became lead pastor of then-Homestead Heights Baptist Church in 2001. In 2002, around 600 people attended each week and 19 people were baptized.
Today, nearly 10,000 attend services at nine campuses and 631 were baptized at The Summit last year.
To date, the church has planted almost 250 churches—including more than 200 outside the United States—with a goal to plant 1,000 in 50 years.
Greear said much of this comes from developing a specific culture within his church that he hopes to bring to the SBC as a whole.
“The question is not if you are called to the mission of God,” he said, “but where and how.”
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AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.