By Grace Thornton
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — Love each other, love Birmingham well, and be ready to ask tough questions — that was J.D. Greear’s challenge to the thousands of Southern Baptists planning to gather in Alabama for their annual meeting June 11-12.
Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, shared his thoughts on the upcoming event in a Facebook Live video posted Tuesday (June 4). In the video, he talked about the meeting’s focus on sharing the Gospel, using your profession for missions, and addressing sexual abuse in the church.
He also challenged messengers to tip 20 percent or more in Birmingham restaurants as a way of showing Christ’s love to the city — #tip20, as he is calling it — and be kind to any protestors who may be present outside the meeting venue.
“For Southern Baptists, we know that the reason we come together is … the purposes of the Gospel,” said Greear, who also serves as pastor of The Summit Church in the Durham-Raleigh, N.C., area. “Our unity is in the Gospel. Our mission is defined by the Gospel.”
That’s why this year’s meeting theme is “Gospel Above All,” he noted. Greear hopes that in Birmingham and elsewhere people will know Southern Baptists by their love and their unity around the central message of Christ, even if they disagree on secondary matters.
“We want to come with hearts that are bent toward unity [and] charity toward each other,” Greear said as he talked with interviewer Todd Unzicker, who also serves in pastoral leadership at The Summit Church.
One way Greear hopes Southern Baptists will rise to the challenge is through “Who’s Your One?,” an effort encouraging each individual to focus on one relationship with Gospel intentionality.
“Ordinary people are the tip of the Gospel spear,” Greear said, noting that the decline of Southern Baptist churches will only turn around if individual members embrace the challenge.
He also mentioned Go 2, a challenge for college students and young professionals to spend the first two years after they graduate at a Southern Baptist church plant. The idea is that they would support a new church planter by getting a professional job in that city and serving alongside them in ministry.
Greear, along with the presidents of the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, will roll out more details on Go 2 at the annual meeting.
“You’ve got to get a job somewhere,” he said. “Why not get a job where God is doing something amazing?”
Greear also shared his hopes for how messengers would discuss the topic of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches.
“We need to have a posture of lament,” he said. “Whether or not it’s happened to me, to somebody I know or somebody in my church, it’s happened to churches that bear the name Southern Baptist, and we need to lament that, lament the pain of victims and grieve with them. Lament that it happened on our watch.”
In addition to a right heart, Greear said Southern Baptists need to have the right training and resources on the issue. He recommended “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused,” a new curriculum available at churchcares.com.
At the annual meeting, Greear and other leaders will challenge churches with a unified call to action involving a several-step process.
“We’re going to have a statement, but a statement is not enough,” he told listeners. “You’re going to see some changes … of just making explicit how we feel about sexual abuse, and not only how we feel about it but what we’re going to do about it.”
The process is “not onerous” but will provide churches with vital first steps to show the community they mean business and that they want their churches to be a safe place.
“This (topic) is not a distraction from our mission — this is a Gospel issue,” Greear said. “It tells the world what we believe about God’s care for the vulnerable and also takes out an obstacle that many people have in hearing about Christ.”
In the days leading up to the annual meeting, Greear will be participating in Crossover Birmingham events, preaching at the local Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, and touring the city’s civil rights sites with Mayor Randall Woodfin. As soon as the meeting is over, he and his wife Veronica and four children will head to Southeast Asia for an International Mission Board meeting and then spend several weeks engaging in hands-on missions.
To watch the full video, visit facebook.com/pastorgreear.
Grace Thornton is a writer based in Birmingham, Ala.