University administrator and former seminary president Ken Hemphill, one of two candidates to be nominated for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president in June, responded to six questions from Baptist Press (BP) and Baptist state editors.
A coalition of Southern Baptists announced the nomination Feb. 1 via a Baptist state paper.
Hemphill was president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1994-2003 and national strategist from 2003-11 for the SBC’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis, an initiative launched in 2002 calling Southern Baptists to renewed passion for God’s Kingdom. Hemphill now serves as special assistant to the president for denominational relations at North Greenville University. Hemphill has also pastored churches in Kentucky and Virginia and led the Home Mission Board’s (now the North American Mission Board) Southern Baptist Center for Church Growth in the early 1990s.
See related report.
The new SBC president will succeed Memphis-area pastor Steve Gaines, who was elected to the first of two one-year presidential terms in 2016.
A separate question-and-answer session with the other candidate – J.D. Greear – also appears today. BP requested each candidate to respond within 150 words to questions submitted by Baptist state editors and BP.
See Ken Hemphill’s answers to questions below.
Q: What are some specific ways you would like to help bridge possible theological and generational differences in the SBC that Southern Baptists have expressed concerns about in recent years?
A: In order to bridge any “potential” barriers to fellowship and mutual cooperation, we must restore trust and civility in our conversations about each other. Social media gives everyone instant access to unfettered means of sharing opinions on everything.
The internet is an effective tool of communications, but it must be self-monitored by biblical standards such as “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and avoiding unwholesome words and speaking for edification (Ephesians 4:29).
Second, we must provide opportunities for listening and discussing theological, racial or generational differences. Local associations and state conventions can play a vital role in bringing together diverse groups of people for fellowship, respectful discussion and prayer. We must avoid labeling faithful Southern Baptists.
Third, our structure at every level of our convention must reflect and celebrate our racial and generational diversity while maintaining our core spiritual and theological convictions.
Q: Please describe why you believe support for the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is vital to Southern Baptists’ mission and vision.
A: This is a key issue that motivated me to become a candidate.
First, establishing the budget requires cooperation at every level of SBC life. It is fine-tuned by the Executive Committee and approved by messengers at the annual convention. A church’s non-restricted gift through the Cooperative Program (CP) should be the norm for the sake of budgeting and planning.
Second, cooperative giving is a biblical approach to funding missions by churches who work together for kingdom-sized goals. As a funding mechanism for supporting missions, it has absolutely no peer in Christian history.
Third, CP giving and our mission offerings allow every church of every size to be an equal partner in the ministries of the state and national convention. Percentage giving is not measured by the size of the gift but the size of the sacrifice. We must celebrate percentage giving rather than actual dollars given by a particular church.
Q: What are some lessons Southern Baptist churches in the South can learn – and possibly apply to their ministries – from congregations outside of that region in more pioneer or unreached areas of the country?
A: I have been privileged to speak in many new-work areas and have learned far more than I have ever imparted.
First, we can learn the importance of working together on those things that facilitate gospel encounters. In this same vein, they teach us how to build relationships and share the story of Jesus with persons with little exposure to the gospel or Southern Baptists. Also, we can learn from them how to do much with so little. Few of these churches have full-time or multiple staff members and many of our smaller state conventions no longer have the equipping resources they once had, therefore they teach us to rely upon the Lord and to work with others. Because they understand the crucial nature of working together, these new-work churches are often very generous in their cooperative giving. They teach us percentage giving has greater value than flat-lined dollar amounts.
Q: What would you suggest should be changed across the convention within the next two to three years to ensure growth?
A: Let’s be clear! The Lord builds His church (Matthew 16:18). He uses human instruments and expects all of us to engage in the singular mandate of the Great Commission – to make disciples. This requires going (evangelizing), baptizing (congregationalizing) and teaching (disciple-making). History shows that when our convention loses its laser-like focus on the Great Commission, we lose ground.
We must regain our kingdom focus. We are called to be a royal priesthood (Exodus 19:4-6), representing the King and advancing His kingdom to all peoples before His triumphal return. Our goal is far larger than growing our church or even our convention. We must regain the high ground of being a people on mission with God. That means that some of our personal preferences must be put aside as we renew our minds – a kingdom mindset through churches, associations, state conventions and SBC missions and ministries. We need to revitalize the role of state convention evangelism director, invest more in campus ministries, utilize gifted evangelists and restore a passion for soul-winning.
Q: What are some ways relationships between SBC entities can be improved or strengthened?
A: There is a “hermeneutic of suspicion” in our culture today and it impacts the Christian community and our ability to cooperate. We must repent of critical attitudes and rhetoric that damage our ability to work together for the Kingdom. We must learn again to operate based on the principle of love which chooses to believe the best and refuses to judge motives.
When you have a valid criticism, express it with kindness with a view to finding helpful solutions. We must restore “trust,” because cooperation is impossible without trust. Trust and mutual care can only happen when we sit down together, discuss issues, pray and work for a solution. We must relearn the art of “pulling for each other.” We need to work to establish situations that produce “win/win” outcomes. As scripture indicates, when one member suffers, we all suffer together and when one succeeds we all succeed. SBC entities must be transparent and responsive to its constituents.
Q: In the wake of the #Metoo movement and numerous sex-related scandals that have impacted our nation, including Southern Baptist churches and leaders, what are some ways congregations can better respond to these issues and minister to those affected?
A: We must first teach biblical holiness as a positive alternative to the world’s obsession with sexual permissiveness. We must provide biblical teaching that the body belongs to the Lord and is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
We must train church leaders concerning the importance of safety and security. Such measures include adopting strong policies, properly reporting and taking seriously the claims of those indicating abuse. Churches should create accountability groups where a mentor or a mature friend has permission to ask the hard questions about what we are listening to, reading and watching.
The sexual abuse of women and children should never be tolerated or left unpunished. When church leaders/members are guilty, action needs to be swift and decisive. If someone experiences moral failure, the church must respond with biblical discipline that has as its ultimate goal the restoration to fellowship of the repentant offender (2 Corinthians 2:7-8).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Shawn Hendricks, editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by David Roach, chief national correspondent.)