By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
CORDOVA — After what may have been one of the most unusual presidential elections in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, reality has sunk in for Steve Gaines.
Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in June during the annual meeting in St. Louis. After two elections failed to produce a winning candidate, both Gaines and J.D. Greear made the decision to withdraw from the race.
Gaines noted he decided soon after the second vote he was going to withdraw his candidacy. “I did not want to be divisive.” Greear had decided the same thing — he would yield to Gaines.
After a meeting between the two men and mutual friends, Gaines noted that Greear insisted he would be the one to pull out. “That’s what we went with. When we walked out on the platform, it was a sweet time,” he recalled.
In the past few weeks, Gaines has been extremely busy. He already has attended a meeting of the trustees of the International Mission Board in Richmond, participated in a panel discussion for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville, and has had several other speaking engagements.
All this has happened while “I’m still pastoring a church in Memphis,” he laughed. Though demands on his time “have stepped up a notch,” Gaines said he is enjoying his new role as SBC president. He noted his increased involvement in SBC life has been made easier by a supportive church and staff at Bellevue and his family, especially his wife, Donna, who frequently travels with him on speaking engagements.
In an interview with the Baptist and Reflector in April, Gaines shared three goals he had for the convention should he be elected president. “Nothing has changed,” Gaines told the B&R on Sept. 9.
His three primary emphases this year will be spiritual awakening, soul winning, and stewardship.
Regarding spiritual awakening: “We need to ask God to open the windows of heaven and let the glory of God fill the house of God,” Gaines said. “That’s what happened in the Old Testament.”
Soul winning is imperative, Gaines stressed. “I believe we are going to have to emphasize personal evangelism where we try to persuade lost people to be saved. We need to share the gospel and encourage people to repent, believe in Jesus, and call upon His name right then and there for salvation.”
Gaines stressed the need for invitations following the preaching of God’s Word. “If you don’t give people the opportunity to repent and accept Jesus on the spot, you are not preaching the gospel,” Gaines said.
Finally, stewardship is imperative, he added. The biblical directive to tithe did not cease in the Old Testament, Gaines said. Citing Matthew 23:23, the Bellevue pastor noted that Jesus affirmed tithing. “It is biblical to give and to tithe and as I lead this year, I will emphasize that,” he pledged.
“We’ve got to get our people to tithe today,” Gaines continued. “That will solve a multitude of problems as they relate to giving through the Cooperative Program, keeping missionaries on the mission field, and reaching a lost world for Christ.”
One of Gaines’ roles as SBC president is to appoint members of the Committee on Committees, who in turn, nominate those who will serve as trustees of the various SBC entities. “I am only going to nominate people who are characterized by spiritual awakening, soul winning, and biblical stewardship, both individually and in the churches they serve,” Gaines pledged.
The Bellevue pastor knows there will be challenges along the way. He especially is aware of the growing number of Calvinists in the convention. He believes there is room for everyone and that “loving dialogue” is needed. “There are good, godly people on both sides of this issue,” Gaines said. “We will have to have dialogue and not just say ‘let’s live together’ without discussing it.”
The SBC leader, who calls himself a “traditionalist,” observed that “rank and file Southern Baptists are not Calvinists.” They believe God loves everybody and Jesus died for everyone and that God has not predestined anyone to go to hell, he added.
Gaines observed that some SBC seminaries are teaching Calvinistic doctrines as the optimal view. “Our seminaries need to teach what the people in the pews believe,” he maintained.
“As we go forward, we are going to have to lovingly deal with these issues. We have more in common than we do to divide us,” Gaines said.
What’s more, he added, “we don’t have the luxury to be divided. Our culture is so anti-God and anti-Bible, we need each other.”