By Tammi Reed Ledbetter
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–“Getting serious doesn’t mean you adopt something,” Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt said in his presidential message June 23 at the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, Ky.
Anticipating discussion on his call for a task force to study how Southern Baptists can more effectively serve Christ through the Great Commission, Hunt asked pastors to recognize “there’s gold in them there pews,” and to gain a vision for what God’s people can do if yielded to Him.
“Talk is cheap. So we’re not here to get anything adopted,” Hunt insisted during the SBC’s opening session. Instead, he said, “It’s about all of us starting with the local church, taking a look to see if we’re doing the best we’ve ever done in our lifetime to fulfill the Great Commission.”
Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Church in Woodstock, expressed gratitude to God for “men of wisdom” who offered advice following his April 27 release of a Great Commission Resurgence document. “I take to heart so much you shared with me,” he said, referring to input from seminary presidents, the SBC Executive Committee president, state convention executive directors and leading pastors.
“When it comes right down to it, you have to get on your face before Almighty God and ask, ‘What in the world am I doing in attempting to lead this convention for such a time as this? Is there an assignment from heaven that God has placed me here ?'” Hunt said.
With that mandate in mind, Hunt delivered an exposition of 2 Chronicles 7, weaving into his address key questions he said pastors and laymen should ask themselves about their ministries and mission.
Hunt pled for a Great Commission resurgence that begins in the pulpits of more than 44,000 local Southern Baptist churches and filters through local associations, state conventions and national entities to reach the world for Christ.
“We will have to give an account for what we have done with what God has given us,” Hunt said in laying out the challenge for every Christian.
Reminding messengers of God’s promise to hear the prayers of believers as noted in verse 12, Hunt appealed for perception that moves Christian believers to compassion.
“God uses external events to bring His own dear people to the point of humility and remind us that He has sovereign control over our lives,” Hunt added, citing verse 13 as an example.
Convinced God can use economic turmoil to get the attention of Christians, Hunt asked, “Have the financial surpluses of yesteryear caused us to act unfaithfully? Has the declining health in America become an indication that we have lost self-control and that we have been given over to greed and gluttony?”
Hunt, recounting God’s provision when believers humble themselves and call upon His name, acknowledged he must keep his own temper in check.
“I flat need Jesus, every hour, every moment. The only thing worse than pride is being prideful and not knowing it,” Hunt said.
Citing the 13-year-old who won the National Spelling Bee when given the word “Laodicean,” Hunt said much of America could not define a word drawn from the biblical context of Revelation 3:15 to describe someone who is lukewarm and indifferent. “America has not heard of the word Laodicean, but I’m afraid the church has not perceived . There’s a vision problem.”
When asked how First Woodstock is doing, Hunt said he might be tempted to compare his church to others in the local Baptist association. “That’s not the standard. How’s the SBC? Well, compared to other denominations ‘we’re rich, we have increase, we have need of nothing,'” he answered, parroting the excuse of Laodiceans cited in Revelation 3:17.
Proper perception must be discovered by way of Jesus’ depiction of the “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked,” Hunt said, rather than merely comparing one’s condition with that of others who appear to be in worse shape.
“You can walk to the pulpit, you can lead music, you can teach a Sunday School class and the attitude is, ‘I have been there and done that.’ There’s no tear in your eye, no fire in your soul, no anticipation after delivery. We don’t preach intentionally. We challenge the people, and go home and forget what we preached just as quickly as they do,” Hunt said.
“I’m of a deep conviction that one of the greatest needs in the pulpits of America is more emulation of the truth of Almighty God to match the exhortation and proclamation of the Almighty God’s Word,” Hunt continued. “One of the greatest statements that can be made about someone who is in a place of leadership is that they are the same out of the pulpit as they are in the pulpit.”
Hunt reminded the audience of Jesus’ provision of “gold refined in the fire,” recognizing God may use suffering to cause His people to examine their position and priorities. Once that responsibility has been recovered, God expects a response, Hunt said, returning to the appeal of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to pray, seek God and turn from wicked ways before rejoicing in revival.
“I really do believe we need revival in the Southern Baptist Convention, in our churches, in the hearts of our leaders, starting with your president. It’s what I’ve been praying for,” Hunt said, having joined with other friends by fasting in order to seek God’s will.
“If God were to break the hearts of us, the pastors, and we were to stand behind the sacred desk and realize there’s gold in them there pews, it’s amazing God’s people will rise up and take a challenge,” Hunt said. Instead of seeking a program to follow, Southern Baptists long for a vision to embrace that will draw all of the nations to honor God, he said.
Sharing his view that urges a movement beginning with believers in the local church and moving to SBC entities and reaching full potential in the Kingdom of God, Hunt urged Southern Baptists to answer four questions:
— “What if every individual took a close look to see if we are doing the best we can do with all He has given us?
— “What if every pastor, regardless of the size of his church, saw his church as a missionary-sending unit?
— “What if every pastor saw his church as a church-planting church?
— “What if we all did our best to reach the ‘lostness’ of our world?”
Hunt said his own church had increased Cooperative Program giving 13 percent in two years at a time when their budget remained flat. “It’s the right thing to do and all of us ought to do more,” Hunt said, describing Southern Baptists as having “a vision problem” rather than “a money problem.”
“If we commit greater amounts to reaching the nations, church planting in America and intentional evangelism in this nation, the Cooperative Program will rise in such a way that we will think it was a Cooperative Program resurgence instead of a Great Commission Resurgence,” Hunt said.
Tammi Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.