Posted on Feb 6, 2012 | by Karen L. Willoughby
NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Two weeks into a church-wide 21-day session of prayer and fasting, Fred Luter came to the conclusion that God wanted him to allow his nomination for the Southern Baptist Convention's presidency.
After 30 years as a follower of Jesus Christ and 25 years as pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, Luter said he became convinced that God had brought him to such a juncture in his Christian life.
"I wanted to make sure this was not something I was doing out of the flesh, something I was doing out just of popularity, notoriety," Luter said. "I wanted it to be of God. I prayed about it, and my wife -- her relationship with God is just one I truly admire and respect -- was praying for me, and others in the church.
"It was last Friday, [Jan. 27] the week before the fast was ended. My wife and I were talking and I said, 'Baby, I think God wants me to do this,' and the only thing she asked me was, 'Are you sure?' It was really clear to me this is what God was leading me to do."
Baptist Press spoke with Luter about his reasons for allowing his name to be placed in nomination, about his leadership of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, and about his thoughts on the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as the possibility of his presidency. The following questions and answers are adapted from the interview.
BP: Did any special word from the Lord confirm this?
Luter: A passage of Scripture that my wife shared with me from Isaiah 66 and verse 2 really spoke to me about this situation. 'Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?' declares the LORD. 'This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.' And I saw 'wow.' And she said, 'That's you, sir; that's you, Fred.' That's the one. She gave me that from the Lord and when I read it I said, 'Wow, that's a blessing.'
BP: If you are elected, what do you envision as your key emphases or key messages to Southern Baptists? What do you see as greatest challenge to the SBC in the short-term?
Luter: This convention has been one of the top conventions in the world as far as our primary mission of evangelism and discipleship. My goal and vision is that we would get back to being that convention we're known for. Through the years we've kind of gone off-track with some things and that has allowed us to not make evangelism and discipleship our main focus. My prayer is just that we get going back in the right direction, depending on God to help us fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. That's what He's called us to do and that's what I hope to lead this convention to do during my time as our president.
BP: Even with just your nomination, what message do you hope it sends to the SBC and to the nation?
Luter: The thing I hope it sends to the SBC is that if you're faithful to God and faithful to God's Word, that God will be faithful to you. That's what's happened here. I'm from the Lower Ninth Ward, and Mom and Dad were divorced when I was a kid. But through the 30-some years I've been a believer and the 25 years I've been a pastor, I have been faithful to God, faithful to the Word of God, and faithful to my wife. I just believe God has allowed this [nomination] to happen for such a time as this. It is nothing I was looking for. It was not on my bucket list, so to speak, but I think God ordained this because of the fact that what we're dealing with right now through the convention is trying to make the convention diverse. I think this will speak not only to our convention but to our country and throughout the world that this convention is serious about reaching all people.
BP: Since news broke at last year's meeting that you would consider allowing your nomination as SBC president, what comments by fellow SBC leaders and by friends have been most significant or most encouraging to you?
Luter: They've been saying, 'Fred, it's time. Many of them feel God has just raised me up for this time to speak not only a message of the Word of God to our convention, but to the folk who are not part of our convention about the direction this convention wants to go as far as reaching all peoples. I think this will say to a lot of young preachers across America who are Asian, African American, Hispanic that hey, this convention is not just saying this. They're putting their money to their mouth. This convention is truly open to all people.
BP: Describe the rise in awareness of you by SBC leaders. How did it come to pass that you preached the annual sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2001 when it was last in New Orleans?
Luter: It happened as a result of our baptism record. We started growing as a church and as a result leading our association in baptisms, and from there our Louisiana Baptist Convention. Wayne Jenkins [LBC evangelism director] called one year in the early 1990s. I didn't know him when he called, but I will never forget it. He said Franklin Avenue was first in the state in baptisms and he'd like me to come up and receive an award at the evangelism conference, 'and I'd like you to preach,' he said. After that, Wayne would give my name to different ones and before you know it I would be preaching at different evangelism conferences and state conventions across the country.
BP: Did you always sense God had such things in store for you, or did all this 'just happen?'
Luter: I think all of this just kind of happened. I had no idea. I'd never pastored before, never preached before. I've been faithful to God, faithful to the Word of God, faithful to my wife, faithful to my church and I believe God rewards faithfulness. Why me out of all the thousands and thousands of preachers in this city and state and nation? I just believe it's not because I've accomplished so much; I just believe it's because of the faithfulness of God, and that He has honored me because of my faithfulness.
BP: That's the second time you've mentioned that. How did you learn to be faithful? How did you become faithful?
Luter: When God saved me He drastically saved me. When I got saved and gave my life to the Lord, it was such an impact on my life that I wanted to share this with everybody I knew. That's how I started doing street ministry in the Lower Ninth Ward. I wanted all my partners and friends to get saved and to know the Jesus that I knew and how, if God could change my life, God could change their life, and because I was out there on the street corners, out there in front of people, I knew I had to do more than just talk the talk. I had to walk the walk. I would have to be faithful. When you're in the 'hood, people know when you're fake. Then when I came to the church, I said, God, if You can do this in my life, I figure You can do this in the life of this church. That's why I wasn't really concerned when they told me the history of the church: dying, on its last leg. I said, 'If God could resurrect my life, He could resurrect the life of this church.' So I went there just being faithful to God, faithful to preaching and teaching and living His word.
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and a correspondent for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email(baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).