Past presidents say SBC must refocus on evangelism, missions and prayer

By: Timothy Cockes- Baptist Press

NASHVILLE (BP) – The SBC’s future hinges on a reemphasis on evangelism and missions, four former presidents agreed during a panel discussion before the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting.

Former SBC presidents Steve Gaines, Johnny Hunt, James Merritt and Fred Luter, who gathered for a session on the Vision Stage in the exhibit hall of the Music City Center on June 14, one day before the annual meeting opened, found agreement on the convention’s greatest needs.

Merritt, pastor at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., who served as SBC president from 2000-2002, said evangelism is “for the most part not on our radar on a day-to-day basis.”

“How often do we pray, ‘God put someone in my path today that I can talk to about Jesus?”’ Merritt said. “The two most embarrassing questions you can ask a Christian is when is the last time you led a person to Christ, and when was the last time you tried?”

Gaines, pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, said prayer is the key to the ministry and cooperation of the SBC. Gaines served as president from 2016-2018.

“If you love someone, you talk with them and you talk about them,” Gaines said. “If you love Jesus, I believe you will talk with Him in prayer, and I believe you’re going to talk about Him to other people. What good is a prayerless pastor, denomination, seminary or church?

“I have heard it said all of us is better than any of us, and when we work together there is a spiritual synergy that compels us.”

Hunt, senior vice president of evangelism and leadership with the North American Mission Board, agreed evangelism “is still the greatest need in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Hunt, who was president of the SBC from 2008-2010, said missions is what Southern Baptists have been great at throughout their history, and it is worth sticking together for.

“No one is planting more Gospel-centered churches than Southern Baptists, no one has ever in the history of humanity sent more supported missionaries than the IMB,” Hunt said. “We have the largest seminaries in the world. There has never been a denomination in the history of North America that has done more to save civilization than the Southern Baptist Convention.

“We’ve got so much more that we agree on than these few things that we need to get right. Anybody can quit, but it takes a real man of God to endure and be able to come together with others.”

Merritt, who also served as chairman of the 2021 Committee on Resolutions, said concerns over the SBC are sometimes misplaced.

“I’ve been reading about some people in the SBC saying we need to drain the swamp,” Merritt said. “We don’t need to drain the swamp, we need to fill the tub with evangelism, the Gospel, soul-winning and kindness.”

Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, who served as SBC president from 2012-14, closed the panel with a call aimed at younger Southern Baptists.

“Are we a perfect convention? No we’re not, but I believe that we’re doing all that we can to reach the generation according to the Word of God to share the Good News,” Luter said. “… This convention has proven this through the years. We’ve got to continue keeping the main thing the main thing.

“If you make the main thing biblical authority, standing on the Word of God, loving people and reaching the lost, then this is the convention for you.

“I’m in it, and I hope you’re in it, too.”

This article was written by Timothy Cockes and was published by

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