On Tuesday, June 12th of next week, the Southern Baptist Convention will convene for the 2007 annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. It promises to be an awesome event. Indeed what could better describe a meeting of 10,000+ Southern Baptists--one of the greatest expressions of historic Christianity on the globe--than awesome?
One particular slice of business that is surely noteworthy is the election of the First Vice President. Thus far, there are two candidates: Jim Richards, Executive Director, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the other, Southern Baptist missionary and Internet blogger, David Rogers serving and writing in Madrid, Spain.
As I have conversed with many people and gathered some information for myself, one characteristic appears evident as I've attempted to distinguish these two Baptist men:
Jim Richards broadly represents all Southern Baptists who are committed to accelerated church planting, evangelism and unwavering commitment to both who Southern Baptists are and who Southern Baptists desire to be.
On the other hand, David Rogers represents, within our convention, those who, in many ways, dissent from historic Southern Baptist identity, advocating, among other things, charismatic practices within our Convention and seeking to establish Churches that little resemble our Southern Baptist heritage. For me, that is the most crucial distinction that can be made. But a much better opinion than mine awaits!
By God's grace, I recently had communication with Dr. Mac Brunson, Pastor of the historic First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fl and asked him to share his heart about precisely why he wanted to nominate Jim Richards. What follows contains the content of that conversation:
Dr Brunson, it is a pleasure to meet and talk with you. And while I know we want to get right into the nomination, I just wanted to offer the readers an opportunity to hear your heart personally as a framework for your nominating Jim Richards for First Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
I'd like to begin, if I may, Dr. Brunson, with your present position. You serve as Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL. And prior to that, you served as Pastor of the historic First Baptist Church, Dallas, TX. Both Churches, Dr. Brunson, had legendary Pastors and Pulpiteers--the late Dr. Criswell in Dallas and of course, Dr. Vines, who presently is Pastor Emeritus at First, Jacksonville. The question, Dr. Brunson, is, how can one follow not one but two eminent Baptists like Drs. Criswell and Vines?
That is a question I am often asked but really have no answer for. I do know this, I cannot fill their shoes but I can be who God called me to be.
Speaking of Baptist leaders, how is it that you came to know Jim Richards and what struck you about him as you grew to know him?
I met Jim the first Sunday I preached at First Church, Dallas. He came to welcome me, and we built a friendship over these past 8 years. I also served on the board of the SBOTC.
You've seen much change through the years, Dr. Brunson, perhaps even much change in Baptist life. How have you seen Jim Richards change?
Jim is a man of God with unparalleled organizational gifts and abilities. He is a conservative and yet reaches out to those who seriously want to do kingdom work. In that sense, I have seen Jim grow personally and spiritually.
There is a swelling concern, Dr. Brunson, that the SBC is so big, it does not appreciate the small Church or the small Church Pastor. Does Jim possess a heart for Churches of all size and influence and, if so, could you offer the readers an example?
Jim was a "small church" pastor if there is such a thing as a small Church. I don't like the term "small church" The first Church I pastored had 12. The building may not have been large, or vast in numbers, but it was no small work. Unfortunately, we use these terms to designate the size of a church, but they sadly and wrongly have become a sign of significance. Jim sees every church as a significant church and every work is important to the kingdom.
There's a rising concern about the significance of the Cooperative Program, Dr. Brunson. From what you know of Jim Richards, tell us how he is committed to the CP.
Jim Richards is the only Executive Director of a State Convention who has led that entire convention to give 54% of their undesignated gifts to the CP. That speaks volumes about where the man's heart is, his passion for missions, and his vision for our convention.
If you could describe Jim's heartbeat for ministry and Kingdom work around the globe for all Southern Baptists, what would you say?
Just look at how many church plants there have been in the past 8 years. This Texas state convention is just 8 years old and they have planted over 350 new churches. Beyond that Jim is on the field over seas on a regular basis and encourages the staff of the SBOTC to do the same. I know that when we went to Lebanon, we had several of the SBOTC staff with as we worked in that city for two weeks planting a church there.
How does Jim Richards relate to cooperating with those with whom he might personally disagree? In other words, while Baptists possess much unity particularly around the Faith once for all given to the saints, and the Baptist Faith and Message in general, does Jim Richards' leadership approach lend itself to a "reaching across the aisle" so to speak, when Baptists disagree?
I know Jim has personally passed along names of pastors in the BGCT to be nominated for boards and agencies because they were good, conservative men who would add to the work. If that is not reaching out across the aisle and beyond to the other row I don't know what would constitute reaching out! He is concerned about building the church and building churches. Any Texas Baptist who knows him knows that.
Not to give away your nomination speech, Dr. Brunson, but if you could describe Jim Richards in summary fashion and state precisely why you think, under God, he would be God's man to serve all Southern Baptists at this critical hour, what would you say?
Jim Richards is a missions minded, pastor supporting, church building, caring conservative who could strengthen the hands of our President, Dr. Frank Page. He does not bring a bureaucratic mind-set to the table, but a solid record of building up pastors and churches.
Dr. Brunson, thank you for taking time to speak your heart about Jim Richards. I trust, under our Lord, He sees fit to bring Jim Richards to the task of this hour serving all Southern Baptists.
With that, I am...