By Lonnie Wilkey
GALVESTON, Texas — The next president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board needs to be someone who is in love and in tune with Jesus and “has a love for the world,” said Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, addressed editors of Baptist state publications during their annual meeting held Feb. 12-15 in Galveston.
IMB President David Platt announced plans Feb. 12 to vacate his position to be the full-time teaching pastor at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., just outside Washington, D.C.
Platt addressed editors in the morning session before Gaines spoke. Platt told the editors that the IMB is “financially healthy, physically strong, and practically ready.”
Platt based his decision to leave “because I believe this is what God is leading me to do.”
He noted he is committed to leading the IMB until a successor is found. “The IMB leadership has expressed full support in me. They don’t want there to be a pause in our work. … The last thing the unreached people groups of our world need is a pause.”
Gaines praised Platt for his passion. “You can’t have anyone more passionate than Dr. Platt,” he said.
The Memphis-area pastor noted the IMB has a history in recent years of strong leadership. “Each had a different primary emphasis but shared the same love for lost people,” Gaines said.
He said his hope is that “we get someone who prays and hears from the Lord” and one who can “bring as much harmony as possible” to the position. He encouraged Southern Baptists to pray that God will lead the search committee to the person He has in mind to lead the IMB.
Gaines addressed a variety of topics during his address and a question and answer session with the editors. Among them:
• His presidency. Gaines will step down after two years as president following the 2018 annual meeting in Dallas in June. “I never intended to be president,” he said. The experience served as a reminder that “you don’t tell God what you’re going to do or not do.” Gaines said the last two years have left him “more impressed with the SBC than ever before,” citing Kingdom work being accomplished at all levels of Southern Baptist life.
• State conventions. Gaines spent a lot of time visiting state conventions during the past two years, speaking at annual conventions and evangelism conferences. “State conventions are the backbone of the convention,” he asserted. “I love the men who lead these state conventions.” Gaines praised his own state convention executive director Randy C. Davis. “He’s done a fantastic job in Tennessee.”
• Evangelism. Gaines said he is praying that Southern Baptists will be more evangelistic. He noted baptisms have “nosedived” over the past two decades. “I don’t know all the reasons,” he acknowledged. He exhorted Southern Baptists “to work on personal soul winning. You pray for lost people by name that they will repent and call on the Lord to be saved.” Gaines stressed the need to issue an invitation to accept Christ. “It’s not a real gospel conversation if it doesn’t end with a gospel invitation,” he said.
• Upcoming SBC presidential election. Gaines was asked if he was prepared for what could be a “contentious” presidential election in June. Currently two men have been nominated to serve as SBC president: J.D. Greear, a pastor from North Carolina, and Ken Hemphill, an educator from North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C. Gaines said he would handle the election as “fairly and neutral” as possible. “I pray it won’t be contentious. I believe God will give us good leadership in the days to come.”
• His personal walk. Gaines was asked how he has changed and evolved over the years in his ministry. He cited an experience while serving as a pastor in Alabama. He developed an autoimmune disease that left him extremely weak. “I could not even comb my hair.” Acknowledging that he was a bit “aggressive” in his early ministry, Gaines said God used that illness to make him “kinder.” He added that a friend has told him that he even preaches differently than he did 20 years ago. “I am not as hard as I used to be,” he said, adding that it depends on how you see the people you are preaching to. “I see people who are hurting, who need to be helped and people who are in prison who need to be set free.”
• Praying for the president. When asked about praying for the president, Gaines said he prays for President Trump and his family every day and did the same when President Obama was in office. He said he prays Psalm 21:1 for the president and all elected officials. He noted that if people would “do more praying and less criticizing we would have a better nation and better churches.” B&R