By Will Hall, Message Editor
MEMPHIS – Describing what his presidential priorities might mean for the Southern Baptist Convention, Steve Gaines emphasized during an exclusive interview the need to pray for revival in our churches and a spiritual awakening in our country, and an equally critical need to train to be soul winners again.
Moreover, Gaines said there is a stewardship problem among Southern Baptists – starting with personal budgeting, and he made the point that “the Cooperative Program is by far the very best way to support Southern Baptist missions,” not societal giving. In that regard, Gaines said there needs to be greater emphasis on the value of local associations and state conventions in order to have healthy and growing national programs and entities.
Finally, on the issue of Calvinism, Gaines said he believes “anybody can be saved” and that although there is room in the SBC tent for different beliefs, “I do not believe that Calvinism should be taught as the optimal exclusive theological position in our schools, whether our seminaries or our colleges.”
DELIBERATE SOUL WINNING
“We’ve got to win souls,” Gaines, pastor of the historic Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, told the Louisiana Baptist Message. “We’ve got to be soul winners.”
Referencing a presentation by New Orleans Baptist Theological President Chuck Kelley, Gaines said the denomination is experiencing a “nosedive trajectory in baptisms.”
“Chuck has a graphic that shows we are baptizing 100,000 fewer people per year than we did 16 years ago, even though the number of SBC churches is going up,” he said.
“We have more Southern Baptist churches than we’ve ever had,” Gaines reiterated. “We are planting churches, but we are winning 100,000 fewer souls a year than we were 16 years ago, and we’ve got to do something about that.”
Pointing out that any “evangelism resurgence” has to begin with the people, Gaines underscored Southern Baptists’ need to be trained “to share Jesus one on one” and that pastors are the key.
“We’ve got to lead the way, and I’ve got to own that myself,” Gaines said. “I’ve got to share Jesus with lost people more – tell people what the Bible says about Jesus in order to win them to faith in Christ.”
Regarding outreach efforts during Crossover prior to Southern Baptists’ annual meeting, Gaines said he believes in compassion ministries to the lost, but “that you’ve got to keep the ‘evangelism’ in ‘service evangelism.’ “
“I think when you go to cities it is very good to be able to create platforms by reaching out through service projects,” he conceded, “but the service projects, in and of themselves, are simply the tools to get you to the real purpose of it, and that is to win souls, to share Christ with lost people.”
“I think you could do the service projects, get students involved, get them out there working and everything,” he offered. “But then, also, I think you can do just what Preston [Nix, NOBTS professor of evangelism and evangelistic preaching] and so many people did for years, and that is just door-to-door visitation, door-to-door soul-winning. And, that’s why they saw so many people saved.”
Gaines also emphasized the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 commands three actions: win the lost, baptize them and teach them.
“I graded for Roy Fish for several years at Southwestern Seminary,” he said. “Dr. Fish said, ‘Sometimes we’re great at spiritual obstetrics, but we’re not too good at spiritual pediatrics.’ He said, ‘We need to get them born, but then we need to help them grow.’
“So I believe that making disciples is winning people to Christ, and then we baptize them, Jesus said, and then we teach everything that Christ has commanded us.
“I think that every leader we’ve got needs to be a soul winner,” Gaines submitted, “and if a person is a soul winner, he will be conservative, he’ll have a heart for God, he’ll be a worshiper, he’ll be a prayer warrior, he’ll be in the Word, he’ll be living a clean life.
“You can’t be a soul winner and be a poor Christian,” he finished. “You just can’t do it. It’s solves a multitude of issues.”
During the interview, Gaines stressed that renewal for the SBC and the country has to start with prayer, and he would continue “what our current president, Ronnie Floyd, has emphasized so well for the past two years, and that’s spiritual awakening and revival.”
“We need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “We need that in our denomination. We need that across the nation with all Christians as well.
“We need help from Heaven,” Gaines declared. “I think that things in America are so beyond our help that we need … we really need … the Lord to open to the windows of Heaven and come down in His power and His glory.”
In practical terms, Gaines said with regard to spiritual revival and awakening, he would urge pastors and denominational leaders to train people to pray.
“I would emphasize [prayer training] with all of our seminaries and also with all of our state conventions. I believe the leaders in those areas are critical, and I would call them together and just tell them that we need to focus on prayer and talk to them about teaching people about prayer.
“People want to pray. I don’t think that’s the problem,” Gaines suggested. “I just don’t think people know how to pray.”
Gaines pointed out that in Luke 11, the disciples observed Christ praying and they asked Him to teach them how to pray, too.
“They didn’t say, ‘Teach us to build great churches, or, teach us to build great denominations,’” he observed. “They said, “Lord, teach us to pray.
“So, I think at the heart of pushing people toward spiritual awakening and experiencing the manifest presence of God is to have a huge emphasis on teaching people how to pray.”
STEWARDSHIP & GIVING
Gaines also pointed to the need to emphasize stewardship among Southern Baptists, calling it a critical biblical concept “that we need to bring back.”
Moreover, he emphasized the importance of cooperative missions over independent works.
Gaines said his congregation has placed “a big emphasis on Financial Peace University, which is Dave Ramsey’s outstanding stewardship program.”
“It has really helped our people to participate in not only tithing to the church but setting reasonable budgets and living within them, paying off debt, saving for future needs, and giving generously to other people in need as the Lord leads, he emphasized. “So, if we can get our people to do that, then our churches can give more and then our state conventions can give more and then the Southern Baptist Convention overall, and I think all the levels are important.
“I think that we can do better,” he said. “We can put 1,000 missionaries back on the field instead of bringing them home,” referring to the International Mission Board’s recent termination of 1,132 personnel.
He also expressed concern about the trend among some pastors to emphasize Great Commission Giving at the expense of the unified giving plan of the Cooperative Program.
He said when the issue was first debated, he understood that the new category allowed groups like the IMB to “come to a church and say, ‘Hey we appreciate what you’re giving to the Cooperative Program, but we’ve also got a specific project in this area of the world or this area of the country and we need some help.”
Great Commission Giving gave a church a way to account for giving that went to Southern Baptist causes outside Cooperative Program giving, he said.
“Nowadays it seems to include just about anything anybody does and what they include or they consider missions, Gaines said. “And I don’t believe that’s the way to go.”
He also expressed misgivings at the overemphasis on Great Commission Giving, in essence societal giving and independent effort, above the cooperative work among Southern Baptists.
“To put it plainly,” Gaines stressed, “I think the Cooperative Program is by far the very best way to support Southern Baptist missions, and it has served us well since 1925.”
Gaines shared insights about his views on overseas missions strategies, in particular the focus since 1997 on “people groups” which sometimes leads to investing many resources to reach a few individuals among predominately unreceptive people in restricted countries at the expense of reaching larger numbers among responsive populations in countries friendly to the Gospel.
He said his seminary classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary “taught that missions should penetrate lostness, but somewhat similar to what is taught in ‘Experiencing God.’”
“You go where God is moving, and wherever the harvest is the greatest is where you focus, not all, but your primary attention,” Gaines disclosed. “In no way does that mean that we don’t go to unreached people groups. But I can tell you here at Bellevue, we try to spend our mission dollars on where the harvest is fruitful.
“That means that we go to different places,” he clarified. “But I would encourage our mission agencies to find out where God is moving and to move in there with the Gospel and go full-force in that area and reap the harvest.
“I am from West Tennessee — that is farm land,” he stated. “I do think part of farming is breaking up hard ground. If you never break up the hard ground, then there’s never going to be a harvest there; there’s never going to be anything planted there.
“So I’m for doing that, but I’m also for going in where the harvest is great and really multiplying the harvest there.”
LOCAL & STATE EMPHASES
Gaines also praised local associations and state conventions which he indicated are underappreciated by some who prefer more emphasis on national entities and efforts.
“If you want to see the Southern Baptist Convention, just go out to our local associations, go to our state conventions,” Gaines underscored.
“I don’t think that it’s a false analogy here: We’ve got three levels of government in the United States, local, state, and national,” he explained. “Personally, I am for local government telling people what to do primarily. I don’t think that the national government needs to be in our business all the time — I don’t think that’s the best way to do it.
“And I believe we’ve got three levels that churches connect with the Southern Baptist Convention: one is the association; one is the state; one is the national. I know that there are some things that the association can do better,” he offered for comparison in his analogy.
“It’s a saying that is old, but it is very true: ‘The light that shines the farthest abroad is the light that shines the brightest at home,” he continued. “I think that if we don’t have a well-funded base of local churches, local associations, and state conventions, then we’re not going to have the superstructure on which we can do Southern Baptist foreign missions.
“If we regress to a societal model of supporting our entities and our missionaries where every entity and every individual missionary is raising his or her own support — that is going to be a backward move. It’s going to promote undesirable competition among the various agencies, and we’re not going to have the harmonious cooperation that I believe better serves the Kingdom of God and Southern Baptists.”
In response to a quote by Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock Georgia — “I have never seen a generation so focused on defining the Gospel but so uninterested in sharing it” [from a message Hunt presented during a 2014 chapel service at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary] – Gaines recalled the preaching of three well-known pastors in Southern Baptist life.
“You know, we used to hear Dr. Criswell, we used to hear Dr. Rogers, we used to hear Dr. Vines, and all these people talked about soul-winning,” Gaines declared. “I think we need to talk more about it in our state conventions. I think we need to talk more about it in our Southern Baptist Convention, in our meetings. We need to talk about ways that we can implement soul-winning.”
Transitioning to the topic of Calvinism, Gaines talked about the obvious “differences of opinion theologically in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“Some identify more with what I believe has been rightfully referred to as the Charleston tradition, the Calvanistic tradition,” he remarked. “All others like me have adhered to what many have called the Sandy Creek tradition, the non-Calvinistic tradition, the revivalistic tradition.”
With a nod to Richard Land, the former president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Gaines recounted, “He said the Sandy Creek tradition has always been the majority position of the Southern Baptist Convention. It provides the melody to our song, if you will, and the Charleston tradition, which had always been the minority opinion, provides the harmony. I like that. I like the way that flows and the way that communicates.”
Gaines said the Baptist Faith and Message is broad enough for both groups, but because the majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists, Calvinism should not be taught as the principal theological position of any SBC entity.
“I do believe that our students need to know about Calvinism. I don’t mind our seminaries teaching about Calvinism, but it should not be the exclusive theological position taught in any of our schools,” he said.
PERSONAL SOUL WINNING
The Message concluded the interview by inviting Gaines to share about the last time he personally led someone to saving knowledge and faith in Christ.
He immediately shared about an encounter with “Devon” whom Gaines met during the most recent evangelistic outreach his church had made — at the time of the interview — in downtown Memphis.
“We go to Beale Street every month and we wear these t-shirts that say ‘How can I pray for you?’” he detailed. “There’ll be anywhere from 20 to 40 of us, and we’ve done this now for about two or three years.
“Now, Beale Street is probably not as raucous as Bourbon Street in New Orleans,” Gaines observed, “but it’s out of that same mold anyway — you know, it’s got jazz and all that stuff. So we go down there for about two or three hours, we walk up and down the street. It is amazing how many people will come up to you — some holding a drink in their hand — and they’ll say, ‘Would you pray for me, I lost my job?’ Or, ‘Would you pray for me, I’m not living for the Lord?’”
“And so we were thinking about going on home,” he recalled. “We started about 9 o’clock on a Friday night and it was almost midnight and we had been walking up and down Beale Street between 2nd and 4th Avenue, I believe. We were just about to go home, and I said ‘You know, I haven’t led anybody to the Lord tonight. Let’s just make one more lap,’ and I made one more lap, and this young man ran out of a restaurant with his apron on, and he said, ‘What are you guys doing?’
“His name is Devon, and I got to lead him to Christ right there on Beale Street.”
The 2016 SBC Annual Meeting will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, June 14-15, and the election of a new president will take place the afternoon of the first day.