Floyd: Nomination unexpected, would seek spiritual renewal

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is based on a joint interview conducted by Baptist Press and the Southern Baptist Texan by conference call with Ronnie Floyd.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Drawing on his experience with a church-wide spiritual renewal that took place in his congregation 10 years ago, Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., says his desire is to lead a similar denomination-wide transformation for the Southern Baptist Convention.

Floyd will be nominated for Southern Baptist Convention president during the SBC annual meeting June 13-14 in Greensboro, N.C., with Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., giving the nominating speech.

The announcement of Floyd’s pending nomination came after months of speculation that Hunt would get the nod. Hunt, however, denied the rumors, saying “it’s not time” and that his church was “in its greatest days in building for the kingdom."

Saying that his nomination came as a surprise, Floyd underscored that if entrusted with the responsibility of convention president, he would “passionately lead a desperate call to a spiritual movement in this denomination, a spiritual movement that is biblically based, Jesus-centered and Holy Spirit-controlled.”

“That’s got to happen personally,” Floyd said. “That’s got to happen in our churches. I would pray that somehow God would put it so much on the hearts of pastors that they go back and talk about the need for that one day in their churches more than we’ve talked about it in recent years, and we need to talk about it in our denomination.”

Floyd stressed that he would work to re-establish the centrality of the local church within the convention. He was on the committee that formulated the Covenant for a New Century, an effort in the 1990s that restructured entities and streamlined programs and mission assignments for the national convention.

“What I want us to understand always is the heartbeat ... the center of this denomination, is always the local church and the purpose of the denomination is to serve those local churches for the purpose of helping them carry out the Gospel of Christ together across the world," he said. “So in that whole process I do know that there are many who feel that that has gotten out of balance in recent years, and there may be all kind of reasons why it’s gotten out of balance if indeed it is out of balance.

"... I was on the restructuring committee back when all that was done. In that whole process we tried to always keep central the local church, because we’re well aware that any institutional system will always move towards itself rather than towards those that serve.”

CONTROVERSIES AND CONVERSIONS

The next SBC president will take office during a time of multiple controversies at the national level that may compete with new initiatives for the attention of churches and the media:

-- The International Mission Board recently rescinded its action to remove a trustee for issues involving “broken trust” and “resistance to accountability." That trustee, Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor and two-time president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, posted a weblog, or blog, that was critical of IMB trustee actions that established policies that would exclude missionary candidates not baptized in a church that holds to eternal security, or who practice a private prayer language. Burleson also has been critical of caucus groups allegedly meeting to set an agenda outside of the whole body of the trustee board.

-- Bob Reccord recently resigned as president of the North American Mission Board after trustees voted to initiate “executive level controls” following an investigation. That investigation initiated after a report by the Christian Index (the state paper of the Georgia Baptist Convention) raised questions about his management and leadership.

Also, the next president will enter office after a two-year national emphasis by the incumbent, Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., on winning and baptizing the lost. The results from his efforts will not be known until April 2007, but data released for Oct. 1, 2004 through Sept. 30, 2005, revealed that convention-wide baptisms had dropped 4.15 percent from the previous year's baptism total.

Floyd stressed that his emphasis on spiritual renewal would continue Welch’s emphasis “to a degree, because everything we do should be moving us towards the fulfillment of the mission of taking the Good News of Christ around the world beginning right here in our back yards of our local churches.” But he added, “[W]hat I’m talking about is the kind of spiritual movement that brings alive the church with a heartbeat for God and a heartbeat for the way we relate to God and the way we relate to one another. That is critical.”

Addressing the national entity imbroglios, Floyd stressed the need to trust the trustee system.

“I’m a firm believer in the trustee system,” Floyd said. “I served as a member of the Executive Committee for 10 years. I’m on the board at GuideStone presently. I believe that’s the way churches are represented. Obviously that’s been the system. It’s worked throughout the course of time I would say pretty successfully.”

“I think in relationship to the matters at these entities,” he continued, “number one I don’t know the inside so it’s a little harder for me to judge, and number two it’s really not a Southern Baptist Convention issue until it’s brought forward to the Southern Baptist Convention itself. We have to let the trustee system work, and number two we have to pray for the leadership of God on those serving as trustees on those various agencies and boards."

Floyd said there is a connection between the controversies embroiling Southern Baptist life, including stagnant baptism numbers, and the need for spiritual renewal.

“(W)e have so many issues out here that are raging within the fellowship of Southern Baptists that are only going to be solved when we start really placing a strong, strong, deep abiding belief in the right things that bring about spiritual movement, which would be the importance of prayer at a deeper level in our churches, the mentioning at least of a nod of the significance of fasting along the way if a church would ever feel led to do that, or whatever it may be -- those things that God loves.”

“We’re people of the Book,” he said. “We need to operate by the Book, and part of operating by the Book is encountering God to the point where we have some lifestyle change going on. You know, that’s our hope for our culture.

“I mean, listen, we can win ‘em one at a time -- and that’s what it’s going to take is winning them one at a time -- but the bottom line is we don’t have a chance if God doesn’t get on this thing, on my church to begin with.”

CALVINISM AND PRIVATE PRAYER LANGUAGE

Floyd responded to other issues that have infused the conversations of Southern Baptists in recent months -- increased sensitivity to the presence of Calvinism among Southern Baptists and the practice of private prayer language, which many equate to speaking in tongues. He offered that whatever the theological issue, “If it does not help ignite a greater passion for the Word and the greater passion to reach the world, then we have to evaluate the positions we hold.”

Floyd said some Southern Baptists may hold Calvinist beliefs, but that the threat was a “hyper” form of Calvinism that has a spirit of condemnation.

“My whole thought processes on that will be ... we know it’s an issue,” he said. “How big of an issue? I have no way to know. I do think it’s important that somehow, some way, that we recognize the good that exists in whatever people believe and try our very best to come together to discuss what we can do together and believe together. The more we split hairs on various matters, the less effective we’re going to be in carrying forth our mission.”

DIVERSITY IN LEADERSHIP

Floyd also touched on the issue of a “good ol’ boy system” in Southern Baptist life and generational frustration that may cause distancing from the denomination.

In part, the trustee controversy at the IMB began with the exposure by blogs about a caucus of trustees who were alleged to be setting an agenda for the board in private. But, prior to that eruption, SBC leaders already had begun reaching out to younger leaders, trying to engage them in denominational life and giving them a chance to voice concerns and criticisms openly. The most notable of these initiatives likely was the series of young leader meetings held around the country by Jimmy Draper, former president of the SBC's LifeWay Christian Resources.

In 2004, Draper challenged the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis to "pull a chair to the table" for younger leaders. He then spent the next year encouraging cross-generational interaction through various personal appearances and commentaries circulated SBC-wide, culminating in the Younger Leaders Summit in Nashville. A follow-up summit is scheduled as an event related to the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. Draper will be one of the key speakers.

In context of trustee appointments, Floyd emphasized his desire that the process be fair but that the best people be appointed. However, he said the process in large part is outside the direct influence of the convention president.

"(P)ast the initial presidential appointments, the president has no control because it goes straight from the committee on committees ... [and] that committee on committees appoints the committee on nominations,” he said. “But it all begins with the basic appointments and I understand that. So what will I do? I will do what is right. I will do what is fair. I will do what is best for this convention, and that’s what I will do. Whatever is best that’s what I will do.”

He positioned the situation as less an issue relating to just a younger generation as much as it crosses all generations, but that he understands at the core some people do not feel that they have a voice in the convention.

Floyd was adamant that the answer is to create venues for people to feel like they are being heard.

“Until we do that, you know, they are not going to engage in what we want them to do. We can cry loyalty, loyalty, all in the name of loyalty, but listen, those of us that are pastors out here ... where Southern Baptists really exist, in the pastorates of our churches, let me just tell you that speech for crying loyalty to the church ended about 10 years ago for each one of us if we had any sense because they’re not listening.

“What they will listen to is, 'Tell me about what you want to do for God. Tell me about how you want to reach this region, and I’m going to listen,' and they’re going to choose what they participate in based off of that.

“So somehow we have to understand the importance of missional relevance in this, rather than institutional loyalty. The old speech is no longer going to work because we’re working with a very complex generation today, and I’m not talking about a young generation. I’m talking about all the generations."

COOPERATIVE PROGRAM GIVING AND LEADERSHIP

One of the most discussed issues regarding elections this year surrounds candidates’ example in leading their churches to give generously through the Cooperative Program to support cooperative missions, ministries and theological education. In February 2006, state convention executive directors released a report, initiated by the Ad Hoc CP Committee, with nine recommendations that also gained approval by the SBC Executive Committee. One of the nine recommendations encourages the election of state and national convention officers whose churches give at least 10 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.

According to the 2005 Annual Church Profile survey of SBC churches, FBC Springdale gave $32,000 through the Cooperative Program and another $189,000 to SBC causes distributed through the SBC allocation budget, 0.27 and 1.58 percent, respectively, of its undesignated receipts of $11,952,137. The church’s chief administrative officer, Ben Mayes, told Baptist Press that the church gave over $489,000 to SBC causes and spent about $2,648,000 in total support of missions and evangelism during the budget year, Oct. 1, 2004 through Sept. 30, 2005.

Floyd said that the Cooperative Program can be relevant only to the point of the convention re-imaging and reinventing itself to meet the needs of SBC churches and help them propagate the Gospel around the world.

“I think in relationship to the Cooperative Program the number one issue people need to always understand is that it is a tool, it is a vehicle and that’s what it is,” Floyd said. “It’s for churches to join together in our world missionary enterprise.”

He added that churches can and should do better. However, he cautioned against making cooperation anything other than voluntary.

“There was never mandated cooperation,” he said, adding that there is no scriptural basis for tithing to a denomination. “I don’t believe that’s what anybody’s saying, but we need to be careful.”

Floyd cited two examples where thresholds of expectations of cooperation might cause harm: keeping like-minded churches from joining the convention, and excluding needed leadership.

“We don’t want to give off a signal, in my mind, ‘Oh yes by the way we’d love to have you, but remember if you come to be a part of us we ask our churches to give 10 percent to this,” he said, noting that churches do not have to unite with the SBC.

“Again, I don’t think that’s what anybody wants to give off or to say or represent, but when we start carving certain things and we’re not really thinking through how that’s going to fly down there in the local churches of America, then that’s a different ballgame.”

“We need to be very, very careful,” Floyd cautioned. “If the overall intent was to say hey, we’re just going to encourage churches to do more then hey, I want to do more. I’ve done more. We’ve been doing more and we will continue to do more.

“But I think that the last time I remembered, it’s real difficult to spend percentages. You spend dollars and cents, and in relationship to that I don’t think we need to be judging a church in relationship to what it gives percentile wise.

“I think that’s very unfair,” Floyd added. “I think it has no historical precedence whatsoever at all and we need to be very, very careful because it violates the whole essence of the Cooperative Program, which is voluntary cooperation. It’s called the Cooperative Program for that reason.”

He pointed to the Conservative Resurgence as an example where a threshold expectation of CP giving might have worked against the convention’s interests.

"If we would have followed that principle, the very men who turned this denomination back to biblical inerrancy would not have been qualified to have served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention or anything else in any leadership position whatsoever at all."

Floyd offered that “if we want people to give more money to the Cooperative Program, and we do ... then we have to give them a vision that is so attractive that dollars and cents and resources and passion and personnel will only escalate it and elevate it to a brand new level continually. I think to some degree that’s what we’ve done and that’s why the giving has gone on.”

The Arkansas pastor was enthusiastic about how he has benefited from being part of the Southern Baptist Convention, noting that it opened doors for reaching the world in ways not otherwise possible and providing him with personal accountability to keep his ministry biblically focused.

“The strong conviction in my heart [is that the SBC is] the only way my church can help fund missionaries around the world and help churches of all sizes in America and around the world and educate our students to be preachers, proclaimers of biblical truth and many other matters of ministry life as well as training up other types of professions in our schools."

“That’s what motivates me,” he added. “That’s the heartbeat of knowing that I have someone in Washington D.C. that is standing for the cause of the family, that I know is going to be biblically sound and consistent with what we believe, and I’ve got to have the accountability of the denomination.

“Personally I like that accountability,” he emphasized. “I like that accountability. I’m not threatened by that accountability, the accountability of what I would do in relationship to Scripture, the relationship of what I’d do even in relationship to drive me to do more around the world.”

Floyd cited the International Mission Board as both an example of value-added benefit from being a Southern Baptist and a way that his church shows support for SBC causes that does not get credit as CP giving.

“(I)n relationship to missions and the relevance of all that in our culture, what we have to understand is in this day and time so much personalization of missions is so critical to engage the people in anything. And personalization, that’s one thing that the International Mission Board has really assisted the local churches in doing.... That’s what we’re doing with them.”

“We have started 17 churches ... since 1999,” he noted, “on every inhabited continent of the world. “You know, that doesn’t show up in CP giving.... At the same time we’re taking a mission trip at least once a month, or 12 a year. That doesn’t show up in CP giving.”

FBC Springdale is involved in discussions about being a flagship sponsor of the North American Mission Board's strategic city initiative in San Diego. The church also offers to fund every graduate from the church's sponsored school who want to go on the mission field.

RACE FOR THE PRESIDENCY

Hunt’s decision to bow out is only one of the several dynamics that have added interest to the SBC presidential race. There also have been speculations about possible opposition candidates.

Burleson, a central figure in the IMB trustee controversy and a principal among the young leaders network that has grown in the last few years, has fueled the guessing about whether another nomination is in the works.

Writing in his blog, posted May 11, Burleson said: “Recently I was introduced to a man who had been approached by several individuals, none of whom was me, to allow his name into nomination. This morning I had a lengthy conversation with this man and left quite impressed with his grasp of the issues, his desire to address them with both a firm resolution and gentlemanly grace, and his pledge to open up the doors of cooperation and participation to include all evangelical conservatives in the SBC and not just a select few. He is a great supporter of the Cooperative Program, a rock solid conservative, and pastor of a very strategic church. Though we might not see eye to eye soteriologically, he has pledged not to denigrate anyone in the SBC who holds to 'reformed' theology, believing the SBC and the BF&M is broad enough for us all.

“If this man decides to allow his name into nomination for the presidency, I will not allow mine. He will make a decision by the first of next week, and because I believe he would make a great president of the SBC and address the issues that concern us, I will give him my full support.”

However, although Burleson might support the candidate, others who embrace variations of Calvinism might not, which could lead to a third candidate -- adding another dimension to the race.


With reporting from Tammi Ledbetter of the Southern Baptist Texan.

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