In June, J.D. Greear became the 62nd pastor of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country. At age 45, he is the youngest SBC president in nearly 40 years and the first from Generation X. The husband and father of four also serves as pastor of The Summit Church, a regional, multisite church near Raleigh, North Carolina. The church has a congregation of more than 10,000 people with a strong reputation for rolling up their sleeves to serve the community. Prior to joining the staff at The Summit as college pastor and eventually head pastor, Greear was a missionary overseas with the International Mission Board, an arm of the SBC.
In your words, what is the purpose of the SBC?
The SBC is, at its core, a sending organization that exists to help churches reach the neighbors and the nations.
What is your first goal or action step as president of the SBC?
My first goal is galvanizing Southern Baptists in fulfilling the Great Commission. I have asked our primary sending agencies—the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board—to work with me in coming up with a plan that makes it easy for every SBC church, of whatever size, to get involved in planting domestically and internationally. We are also putting forward a ‘Who is your one?’ campaign to challenge every Southern Baptist to have at least one person they are intentionally sharing Christ with. We are challenging state conventions and local associations to come up with ways to assist churches. Secondarily, I am starting conversations and exploring options on how to see greater diversity in SBC leadership.
Another pressing need of the hour in the SBC is to get our house in order when it comes to the issue of abuse. Our entire society is talking about the #MeToo movement, and that movement is just as relevant in the church as it is elsewhere. I recognized that we have a unique opportunity to equip the pastors and churches of the SBC to take significant steps forward so our churches are havens of safety for the oppressed. The abuse task force I put together is the first step on this road, but we will need many others.
What is the single most important responsibility of your role as president?
My role, I believe, is first to model commitment to the Great Commission; second, to work with our agencies to better facilitate the churches’ mission; and third, to call Southern Baptists to greater commitment to the Great Commission by raising up and sending members and sacrificial giving to cooperative Southern Baptist missions.
What impact do you think a younger leader such as yourself will have on the SBC?
If I’m going to represent the ‘young’ generation in the SBC, my hope is that it motivates the upcoming generation to engage in the mission and vision of the SBC. I owe an incredible debt to the older generation, as we all do. They taught me to cherish my Bible and to share my faith with the confidence that God is still saving people today. We in the younger generation need to pick up that mantle and continue the legacy they’ve given us, honoring their leadership while being flexible to fit our strategy to an ever-changing society.
If it were solely up to you, how would future SBC conventions look different?
I’m hoping to see them more streamlined and more mission-focused. Business needs to be done, but it needs to be done efficiently. And, because we are group of churches that cooperate for the purpose of mission, that should be what defines our gatherings, not political discourse or squabbling about more secondary theological differences. I also think it is worth exploring whether the conventions could be done every couple of years.
Can you share a particularly momentous, memorable or game-changing moment for you in your ministry?
Several years ago, as I was preaching through the book of Acts, the leaders of my church and I became convicted about the way we were approaching our own ministry. We read of people like Lydia, who was so beloved that the community came and wept at her funeral, and of Philip, who brought great joy to his entire city. We began to ask ourselves, ‘Does our community view us like that? Are we a source of great joy to them, and if we died, would they weep?’ We didn’t like the answers.
It was at that moment that we turned a corner as a church. No longer did we want to be a church merely in our city. We wanted to be a church for our city. We wanted to serve the most broken areas of our city so that Raleigh-Durham would have great joy because of our presence. So, we began a ministry we call ServeRDU, immersing ourselves in some of the neediest areas of the city and asking God to apply the healing of the gospel.
The response we’ve seen in the years since has been overwhelming. At one point, a couple years in, I was invited to speak at the Martin Luther King Jr. rally in Durham. This was a big deal, and I was incredibly nervous. I wasn’t even entirely sure why they had asked me to come. But backstage, just before I went on, one of the organizers noticed how nervous I was. And he said, ‘You know why we asked you here today? Because wherever we find a need in our community, we find someone from your church. They don’t always know exactly what they’re doing, but they’re always there.’
What do you wish the rest of the world knew about Southern Baptists?
At our core, we are not a political force with an agenda—we are just a group of people in churches who are trying to believe what God’s word says, love Jesus and pursue his mission. We didn’t come up with the word of God; we are only trying to represent it.
Breakfast food A peanut butter protein shake or a waffle—depending on how responsible I’m feeling
Movies “Braveheart”; “Chariots of Fire”; “Dumb and Dumber”
Song you can't get enough of “Livin’ on a Prayer”
Vacation destination Outer Banks, North Carolina
Quote “Only one life, ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Form of exercise CrossFit: the exercise that starts in the gym and ends on your Facebook page
Household chore Assigning kids the household chores
Travel must-have If I have an iPad with Kindle on it, I feel like even if I get delayed or stranded I’ve got great resources to take advantage of the time.