NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At the
news conference after messengers elected him to lead the Southern Baptist
Convention (SBC) in 2008, Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in
Woodstock, Ga., stated that key points of focus for his presidency would be “to
keep … our hearts on what united us” and “inspiring the next generation with
a vision for the Southern Baptist Convention.”
In many ways, the annual meeting in Orlando will define the success of these
Last year, messengers overwhelmingly voted to authorize Hunt to appoint a task
force to study how Southern Baptists can work “more faithfully and effectively
together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.” However, a consensus
is not yet clear about the task force’s report and seven recommendations as
public statements from Southern Baptists seem equally divided between praise
and concern or caution.
As for reaching and inspiring the next generation, Hunt already had a 14-year
track record of mentoring young pastors through his Timothy+Barnabas Ministry.
But during the last two years he also has made an extra effort to reach out to
young men affiliated with Baptist21 and the Acts 29 church planting network,
Reformed or Calvinist-leaning seminarians, pastors and church planters. They
have a sizeable presence at Southern and Southeastern seminaries and were
present in noticeable numbers in Louisville for the 2009 annual meeting, and
likely will play a role in the vote about the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR)
Task Force report and recommendations in Orlando.
Hunt invited Baptist Press (BP) to provide questions for an interview about his
presidency the past two years, and the following questions and answers were
exchanged by e-mail exclusively for Baptist Press readers:
BP: During the news conference after your initial election, you said you “want
to see as many people as possible come to embrace Jesus Christ as personal Lord
and Savior and then help as many people as possible become fully devoted
followers of Jesus Christ and to see churches become personally involved in
taking the gospel down the street and around the world.” What kind of progress
do you see after your two years as president?
JH: I think that with the GCR we have made a significant movement in the right
direction. Of course, I would always like to see us do more, but I think that
with the passing of the Great Commission Task Force report in Orlando, we will
begin turning this aircraft carrier called the SBC in a new and better
direction, and the local churches and the pastors are the key. I think that a
renewed emphasis on the local church as the headquarters of the SBC has also
been a very positive outcome of the past two years of my presidency. The word
is out now that we have seen an increase in baptisms this past year for the
first time in a number of years. I certainly do not desire for the Task Force
to take credit for that, but we are calling Southern Baptists back to why Jesus
died in the first place, and that is to make a way for sinners to have a
relationship with the Lord Jesus.
BP: At that same news conference, when asked about “narrowing parameters of
participation within the SBC,” you said, “I would hope to unite our hearts
around the things we believe Christ was most committed to.” What kind of
progress have you seen?
JH: The final marching orders of Jesus is the Great Commission, found in
Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. Penetrating and conquering lostness with the gospel
is why He came and why we exist as a church. I believe that we have made
progress in being passionate about what our Savior is passionate about, still,
our baptism numbers and membership numbers clearly reveal that we are not where
we need to be. We need a mighty movement of God’s Spirit among our people if a
true, genuine GCR is to take place. We can suggest and implement some good and
helpful constructive changes; but, even if we came up with a nearly perfect
plan, apart from the work of God in each of us, we will not see a mighty work
of God among the people called Southern Baptists. That is why our GCRTF report
calls for repentance, brokenness, and humility before God as our first and
foremost need. Our hearts must be changed so that we love Him more than our
comforts and positions, and that we love Him more than the American dream.
BP: In retrospect, what has been the greatest area of insight or learning about
Southern Baptists since you became president? What did you learn that surprised
you the most?
JH: We are an incredibly diverse people, yet united around the inerrant word of
God and the gospel. The days of methodological uniformity are gone, however,
the lordship of Jesus Christ, global missions, aggressive church planting,
theological education, and consensus built upon the Baptist Faith and Message
2000 is more than enough to unite us for the great task that God has given us.
BP: What have you found to be the greatest challenge you faced in serving as
president? What challenges does a president face in his personal, spiritual or
professional life? What have the benefits been?
JH: I have found that the greatest challenge that I have faced in serving as president
of the SBC is balance. Being focused on such a worthy cause of leading the
wonderful Southern Baptist Convention, I find much of my time is taken away
from being a local church pastor and from my wonderful, godly, precious family,
and lots of friends that I enjoy spending time with. It becomes taxing on your
personal, spiritual, and professional life and just making sure that you honor
the Lord in each of these areas. I believe with all of my heart that my church
has so fervently prayed for me because they have seen the benefits of being
able to influence the largest evangelical body in North America that has the
potential to touch this nation more deeply and the nations of the world more
BP: When you appointed the GCR task force, you expressed great optimism about
inspiring Southern Baptists to mobilize more effectively for the Great
Commission. What about the GCRTF process has encouraged you about the future of
Southern Baptists? Has there been anything you found discouraging?
JH: I have been tremendously encouraged by how God brought such a diverse group
of Task Force members to a oneness of heart and mind which is reflected in the
unanimous report that we will bring to the Convention. I am also excited about
the grass-roots support we have received across the Convention. My greatest
discouragement has been how badly some have either misunderstood or
misrepresented the report. Some have unnecessarily run to a worst-case scenario
reading, which I think is unfortunate. I am optimistic that the Task Force has
sought the mind of God and that He has led us to bring this report at this
particular time in the history of our Convention. We do not see this as the
last word. Hopefully, by God’s grace, it will be the start of something great,
for the glory of God. It has been said that great opportunities swing on mighty
tiny hinges. I pray that we will see this as an opportunity for a new day as
Southern Baptists in making the greatest impact in these latter days.
BP: Regarding the GCRTF report:
— The report seems to draw strong reactions at both ends of the spectrum
(support and opposition). Why do you think it has become a point of contention
with some people, rather than a rallying point?
JH: Any change is controversial when it happens, and that is a sign of life.
Southern Baptists are a passionate people and I fully expect a good debate on
this report. I also expect that once Southern Baptists understand it, they will
embrace it wholeheartedly and with great enthusiasm as well as expectation. I
think that change is always a challenge for God’s people. Change makes all of
us uncomfortable, however, it sometimes is absolutely necessary. I believe that
we now face such a time. Fear, I think, has been a root of much of the passion
expressed by some. I cannot use the word “contention” for the simple reason that
everyone is talking about the Great Commission — maybe a different approach, or
maybe different thoughts that if they were on the Committee they would have
dealt with differently. Just the fact that we are all talking about the Great
Commission is enough to thrill my soul! I pray that between now and our time in
Orlando we can continue to get our message out, clarify misunderstandings,
alleviate concerns, and bring our folks together in great unity. Our most
passionate desire is for all of us to be together for the gospel and doing the
— If the report is adopted in Orlando, how do Southern Baptists move forward to
making a Great Commission Resurgence a reality? If the report is not adopted,
what do you see as the potential fallout?
JH: I believe the report is going to be enthusiastically adopted, so I do not
fear any fallout from its defeat. I believe an adoption of the report also is
just the first step. My prayer is that our folks, individuals in the local
church and all the way to our national entities, will study the report and seek
its implementation as it applies to them. I think the report charts a hopeful
and positive future, however, following Orlando, the time for talk will need to
dissipate and the time for action will need to take center stage. Southern
Baptists must not turn their backs on a new generation of passionate and
committed Great Commission leaders. What would it say if Southern Baptists vote
down a report that is all about how to do more for the Great Commission?
— How do you evaluate the concerns some are expressing about the impact of “Great
Commission Giving” on giving through the Cooperative Program?
JH: I think the area of Great Commission Giving is the area of greatest
misunderstanding. Any day now, you will see more and more written for greater
clarity in this area. I believe that the best thing folks can do is to read the
report and not read into the report. Second, read the superb treatment by Bob
White, State Executive of Georgia, who does an excellent job in explaining what
Great Commission Giving is all about. Bob, as well as his father, has been
considered through the years as “Mr. Cooperative Program.” If anyone is for
helping, encouraging, and keeping the Cooperative Program at the forefront of
Southern Baptist giving, it is Mr. Bob White. The last thing we want to do is
to weaken the Cooperative Program in any way. I would argue that leaving things
as they are now is actually the most likely way to weaken the Cooperative
Program. We must all remember that we have been declining in percentages of CP
giving for many years now. We need to energize our churches by making clear
that missions giving is Great Commission giving and celebrate every church’s
participation in our Southern Baptist work. The Cooperative Program remains
central with the entire Task Force. We want to encourage giving, not putting up
barriers to investments in missions.
— What do you say to those who are wondering why the report had no
recommendations for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the six
JH: Concerning our seminaries, I would point out first that there are a number
of challenges to them in the final section that I believe they will take very
seriously and respond to. Secondly, the Executive Committee just completed an
in-depth, multi-year study of the six seminaries, so we did not see the need
for redundancy. Finally, the general feeling of the Task Force was that we were
pleased overall with our seminaries. Following the CR (Conservative Resurgence),
there has been a radical transformation in our seminaries (that is only 10-15
years old) in the area of theology, preaching, missions, evangelism, and church
planting. Now, can our seminaries do better? Of course, but as you know, two of
the Task Force members are seminary presidents, and both Danny Akin and Al
Mohler were receptive to any and all suggestions the Task Force raised and then
included in the final section of the report.
— Was there an assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of the IMB?
JH: There was an assessment of the efficiency and effectiveness of the IMB, but
not in great detail. Time, of course, was a major limitation given our one year
assignment. And, it was felt by the Task Force that it was not in need of the
same careful analysis as say NAMB. We talked about merging the boards, but
concluded that was not the best way to go at this time. We did agree to free
the IMB to work with unreached people groups in the USA, which we think is a
major step forward. But just like NAMB, the IMB is looking for a new leader who
will bring his vision to the mission board. That is why, in part, the final
report also backed off on details when it comes to NAMB. We have raised, we
believe, some good questions and made what we hope are some good recommendations,
but ultimately it will be up to the new president and board of trustees of both
entities to chart their futures and implement their strategies.
— Why the selection of the Executive Committee to contribute the whole of the “symbolic
and substantial” amount to reach 51 percent of CP at the national level for
JH: With the primary promotion of the Cooperative Program being placed in the
hands of the states, it was natural and logical for the Executive Committee to
make a reallocation adjustment.
— Would it have been more meaningful as a symbolic move (in terms of “actions
speak louder than words”) if all SBC entities had contributed of equal
sacrifice toward a reallocation to achieve 51 percent for IMB, especially given
there were two entity heads represented on the task force?
JH: There was a unanimous sentiment by the Task Force that the Executive
Committee could be streamlined and continue to do what Southern Baptists want
it to do, even with this reallocation of funding. The Executive Committee is an
essential part of our Southern Baptist work, but it exists in order that the
actual work of the Convention may be done with integrity and strategic vision
through the entities like the mission boards, LifeWay, the ERLC, GuideStone,
and the seminaries. In all honesty, it seems that the best signal we can send
is to reduce the costs of our facilitating ministries in order to strengthen
our Great Commission focus. There was much discussion and Dr. Danny Akin and
Dr. Al Mohler, both entity heads who serve on the Task Force Committee, offered
support for such a decision if that is what the task Force chose to do.
Basically, they sat out on that conversation for the most part.
— If the 51 percent amount is “symbolic,” what is the ideal percentage the IMB
should be allocated of Cooperative Program gifts received at the SBC level?
JH: In answer to a great question of what percentage the IMB should be
allocated of Cooperative Program gifts received at the SBC level, I think it
might be possible to make minor adjustments to the current Cooperative Program
allocations, but the best way to get more funds to the IMB is for Lottie Moon
to grow toward the $200 million goal we have set by 2015, and for our people to
put in their wills and estate planning Baptist entities like the IMB. More of
us, no, all of us, should leave something behind of what Jesus has given us for
the work of the Kingdom after we have died and passed on to be with our Lord.
BP: What words of advice do you have for your successor?
JH: I would advise my successor to be a man of prayer and one who loves and
listens to the people. I would advise him to seek God’s face daily as he seeks
to determine the vision He would have him cast for Southern Baptists. However,
at the end of the day, just remember this: all that really matters is that I
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hall is executive editor of Baptist Press.)