The Southern Baptist Convention is scheduled for June 15-16 in Nashville. To help Kentucky Baptists get to know the four known candidates for SBC president, Kentucky Today reached out to Randy Adams, Ed Litton, Albert Mohler, and Mike Stone.
We asked each of them to submit a 1,200-word essay addressing the following questions:
- Why is the Cooperative Program important?
- Why is evangelism important to Southern Baptists?
- What is the value of the local church?
- What are the key issues you would focus on if elected?
We are publishing the unedited essays by the last name in alphabetical order on May 16-19.
This is the essay from Mike Stone.
The last few months have been a time of great encouragement. Traveling throughout the country and meeting with pastors and lay leaders, I am more convinced than ever before of the great potential of our Southern Baptist Convention. Although my highest calling in ministry is to be a husband, a dad, and a pastor, it would be a humbling privilege to serve as president of the Convention I so deeply love.
The two primary things that drew me to a life of ministry among Southern Baptists were our convictions and our cooperation. I came to Christ under the ministry of a faithful bivocational pastor in a different denomination. But by choice and conviction, I joined a Southern Baptist church as a young college student in my hometown of Valdosta, Georgia.
I have had the blessing to serve in practically every area of our cooperative work. As a local church pastor, I have held numerous positions in my local Piedmont-Okefenokee Baptist Association. Georgia Baptists elected me as their president in 2017-2018 and I have chaired both the Georgia Baptist and Southern Baptist Executive Committees.
When I vacated the chairmanship of the SBC Executive Committee, I had no intention of receiving a nomination to the presidency. But the Lord burdened my heart in prayer as I considered the challenges we face in today’s SBC. If the Lord wills and the messengers agree, there are three emphases I would have as the president of the SBC.
First, I would challenge our churches in the area of evangelism. The local church I pastor is in a very rural area of Southeast Georgia. There are 4,000 people in our town and 17,000 in the county. We are surrounded by areas of similar size. Yet the Lord, in His grace, has grown a wonderful soul-winning, evangelistic church. During my nearly 25 years here, we have averaged 63 baptisms per year. I would like to help put that emphasis on display across our 47,000 churches.
I am so thankful for the “Who’s Your One?” initiative led by Pastor Johnny Hunt. That has been a help to so many. But the reality is, we have seen a sharp and dangerous decline in baptisms across the SBC. Our numbers are as low as they were in the days preceding WWII. While we have labeled many things as “gospel issues,” we have seen less and less fruitfulness from our evangelistic efforts.
The SBC needs a move of God to repentance, revival, and awakening that will lead us to brokenness, faithfulness and effectiveness. We need this move of God for more than mere organizational growth and stability. We need it for the sake of the Great Commission and the glory of our Savior. Our God does not need the Southern Baptist Convention but we desperately need Him.
Second, I will use the president’s office to help champion the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. In many respects, Southern Baptists have won the battle for the inerrancy of the Bible. At the same time, we have had the adoption of Resolution 9 at the Birmingham convention, the introduction of so-called “soft complementarianism” and female pastors in our churches. Unscriptural ideologies, philosophies, and practices are making their way into the conversation of the SBC. And some of our leaders have been silent when their voices could have mattered most.
As your SBC president, I commit to champion our doctrinal positions clearly and compassionately. While some will argue that we should merely focus on the essentials of our faith, I will remind Southern Baptists that we are not ecumenical Christians. We are Baptists. And conventions of churches like ours exist because we have agreed to agree on far more than just the rudimentary essentials of Christian doctrine.
Dr. B. H. Carroll once said, “The more Divine doctrines a church can agree on, the greater its power and the wider its usefulness. The fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness.” For a Biblically-bound people, the pursuit of doctrinal agreement ultimately leads to unity, not division.
Third, I will seek to foster greater involvement from Southern Baptists in the work of our convention. In recent years, the SBC has seemed to become too “top-down” and hierarchical in its relationships. While we are grateful for our entity leadership, our Convention needs to be directed by more messengers from its local churches. I believe the SBC needs to be more, not less, responsive to the average Southern Baptist who sits in the pews and chairs of our churches.
Therefore, the time has come for the SBC to take a serious look at multi-site participation in our annual meetings. The costs and challenges of attending an annual meeting of the SBC in a single location make participation much harder for our laypeople, volunteer and bivocational pastors, and leaders from churches with smaller budgets. Most balloted items at an annual meeting have a maximum of around 7,000 ballots cast. That means with 14.5 million Southern Baptists in 47,000 churches, a little over 3,500 people can make nearly all the decisions for our convention of churches.
The headquarters of the SBC is the local church. And there are over 47,000 of them. We are not a convention of entities, agencies, or state conventions. We are a convention of local New Testament churches. That means the headquarters of the SBC is not in Nashville, Louisville, Alpharetta, or any other SBC entity office. Therefore, the SBC will be best guided by a local church pastor with deep roots and strong ties to the local association, the state convention, and the national convention.
Finally, I am deeply concerned about the future of our Cooperative Program. Our congregation has a strong commitment to the CP, averaging just over 9% for the 25 years of my tenure. Meanwhile, in the last 12-13 years the annual CP receipts have declined nationwide by tens of millions of dollars. This is not a short-term phenomenon caused by COVID-19. It is a long-range decline that is not easily reversed.
The Cooperative Program is on a downward trend that is simply unsustainable. As of this writing, YTD receipts (October-April) to the national budget are approximately 3% behind last year’s receipts. Despite the occasional encouraging headline, that amounts to an additional decline of millions of dollars again this year.
A staggering 40% of our churches did not participate in the Cooperative Program in 2019. Further, from 2007-2019, the number of churches giving zero through the Cooperative Program has increased by nearly 5,300 churches. Total participation rate in the CP has dropped from 75% to 60%. This indicates that many Southern Baptists feel unengaged and are becoming increasingly uninvolved in the work of our SBC.
By focusing on evangelism, Biblical sufficiency, accountability and participation, I believe we can see a dramatic reversal of these trends. But the next SBC president needs to be a pastor whose local church ministry is more in touch with the average Southern Baptist.
Your voice matters no matter where you live. But your vote only counts if you come to the annual meeting. If you share these commitments, I would be grateful for your prayerful support on June 15 in Nashville.
Mike Stone is the senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, GA.