president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP)–In his first 75 days as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Johnny Hunt has met with more than 500 Southern Baptist leaders, discussing ways to tackle challenges facing the SBC — issues such as baptism-less churches, declining membership and a generation of pastors disconnected from the broader fellowship of churches.
“I have been with about 540 convention leaders — state missions personnel, seminary evangelism professors, state executive directors, state evangelism directors,” Hunt told Baptist Press Aug. 26. “There seems to be a major consensus on where we are. Every leader has basically said we need to stop the bleeding in terms declining membership. They’ve all agreed we’re doing less than a good job of leading people to Christ.”
Southern Baptists have been given a wakeup call and a strategy must be hammered out to meet the challenges, Hunt said.
“I feel like in the last few years God’s really kind of shaken us to the core. He’s knocked a little bit of the strut out of us,” said Hunt, who is senior pastor of the 16,000-member First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga. “We can think, ‘We’re the largest. We’re this. We’re that,’ but when you read major articles that say things like ‘We have joined the mainline denominations,’ I don’t like that. I don’t like that being said about the group I belong to.”
One of Hunt’s priorities in the early days of his presidency has been to consult with leadership at the North American Mission Board about ways to help pastors whose churches haven’t been reporting any baptisms.
“I’ve been meeting some of NAMB’s guys in the area of evangelism about what we can do to help 11,000 churches that post no baptisms. What are we doing? Are we reaching out and connecting with these guys to see what we can do?” Hunt said. “We have had some very creative thinking as to what we can do to help those guys and at the same time challenge our own lives, our own churches: Are we being very intentional evangelistically?”
After Hunt has met with International Mission Board leadership in early September, he hopes to have a clear strategy for helping Southern Baptists share the gospel with all of North America and every people group in the world.
“We are trying to make a difference with our neighbors, but we also must be faithful to keep our eyes on the nations,” he said. “When you have hundreds and hundreds of unengaged people groups, you’ve got to have a plan to get someone there. I believe we can get our arms around how we really can in our lifetime take the Gospel to every person. That’s pretty exciting. If we’ve got something to aim at, we’ve got a far better chance of hitting it.”
“In dire need of a fresh encounter”
All the talking and planning in the world won’t make a difference, however, if it’s not driven by a passion for God and His Kingdom, Hunt said.
“Every meeting I have been in, we still go back to the core, the lowest common denominator, and that is Southern Baptists are in dire need of a fresh encounter with God,” he said. No matter what the next evangelism initiative may be, “I can’t do anything with it if I’m not personally revived or touched by God and renewed in my own personal walk.”
Hunt said he thought it was “perfect timing” that the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and North American Mission Board are sponsoring “The 40/40 Prayer Vigil,” a call to Southern Baptists to pray for spiritual revival and national renewal from Sept. 24 to Nov. 2.
“I really like the 40/40 Prayer Vigil because, even though ultimately it will get to reflecting on the nation, it begins with personal revival. I’m going to lead my church through it, and starting with myself,” Hunt said. “I need personal revival, then we need church revival. We need revival among our church leadership. And then it continues to move farther out to where it begins to make a difference in our nation.”
Hunt said his heart is heavy that attendance at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting is so low, compared to attendances during the years conservatives were campaigning to pull SBC entities back to their doctrinal roots.
“When there are six candidates being nominated as president of the convention and 20 percent of the messengers that had registered didn’t vote for the presidency, we have almost gotten where the majority don’t care,” Hunt said. “I’m just not impressed if we spend years talking about the victory we won in the ‘conservative resurgence’ if every time we talk about it we have to turn around and look at our numbers and say, ‘Wow, why will so many gather to talk about what we believe and not rally around a united cause of what we’re going to do as a result of what we believe?’
“I plan to do a major challenge for us to trust God for a Great Commission resurgence,” Hunt added. “We’ve got to do something with what we claim we won or what we claim we have or what we claim we confess.”
Cooperative Missions in Action
Another top priority is to connect with a younger generation of pastors and help them catch a vision for what Southern Baptist cooperative missions is all about, Hunt said.
“I’m really stressing that seminary presidents entertain the idea of giving credit for seminary students to be at the convention,” Hunt said. “If we hope to get the next generation there, we better get them now. Why are we waiting until they get a church and they can send them?
One strategy for accomplishing that is to find low-cost accommodations for seminarians and young pastors whose budgets can’t pay for expensive hotel rooms in the city, Hunt explained. Toward that end, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., will open its campus housing to those groups when the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Louisville in 2009.
Hunt said he also wants to create an annual meeting program that will appeal more to church leaders who want to be part of something that makes a real difference in people’s lives.
Hunt said he is asking convention leaders to prepare dynamic multimedia packages that tell great stories about how Cooperative Program ministries are making a difference in people’s lives.
“I want us to do something that shows the Cooperative Program in action, not just say that it funds something,” Hunt said. “I want to say, ‘There it is working for the Lord again, for His Kingdom. I want people to leave saying, ‘Man, I am thrilled to be a part of that. I can’t wait to tell our people.'”
‘Bring them with you.’
Hunt’s concern for engaging young pastors who are disconnected from the broad fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention is reflected in his own ministry through his annual “Timothy Barnabas Conference,” which he has used to mentor young leaders for 16 years.
“Younger pastors with a heart to make a difference want to get to guys who are making a difference,” he said. “So many young pastors were calling Woodstock that I began to think, ‘We have got to come up with a platform that can accommodate these young men so we can speak into their lives.’
Hunt said he was motivated to start the Timothy Barnabas ministry by some advice given him by longtime Southern Baptist leader Jimmy Draper. It’s advice Hunt thinks more Southern Baptist pastors need to take to heart.
“Jimmy Draper challenged me, ‘There’s a generation out there, watching you, listening,'” Hunt recalled. “He said, ‘Bring them with you.'”