Messengers to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention stand at the threshold of two watershed days in our denomination’s history this week as the annual meeting convenes in Dallas. More importantly, these representatives from our network of churches play a central role in the outcomes that lie ahead.
There has been much in the news about Southern Baptists coming into this convention, and unfortunately little of it has been positive. Messengers have many decisions to make, and in my opinion one of the most important responsibilities is to prayerfully elect our next SBC president. But as we look beyond this convention, I want to look backward and express sincere gratitude to God and to the messengers who twice elected Tennessee’s own Dr. Steve Gaines as president of the SBC.
Dr. Gaines has been a steady hand for a denominational ship navigating troubled waters. He is a godly man daily walking under the Holy Spirit’s influence. I know this not only from my own observation, but from an insider’s first-hand observation. Donna Gaines, Steve’s amazing wife, recently shared this with me:
“I have observed my husband over the past two years, humble himself and pray and seek the face of the Father as he has sought to lead. He has spent more time talking to the Lord than talking to man, and I am grateful for his dedication to the Lord, His Word and prayer. As he has said so often, when you love someone, you talk with them — prayer — and about them — evangelism.”
I know that if you asked Dr. Gaines for his perspective, he would simply say he is man undeserving of Christ’s salvation, undeserving of Bellevue’s pastorate, and undeserving of the SBC’s presidency.
His genuine humility and intense awareness of God’s grace in his life are two reasons I deeply love and respect this dear brother.
Another reason is because Dr. Gaines is immovable in his commitment to see people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
I was with Dr. Gaines one morning at a fast-food place in Memphis near Bellevue when he graciously greeted everyone around him. As naturally as discussing the weather or last night’s ball game, he eased into conversations with a fellow customer and then the lady working behind the counter. Both heard a clear presentation of the gospel delivered with love and compassion for their eternal souls.
Dr. Gaines walks the evangelism walk and leads others to it as well. Bellevue Baptist has seen more than 7,000 people saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship during his tenure as pastor with these past two years being the most fruitful.
Dr. Gaines is also generous with his encouragement. About eight years ago he called to tell me that he believed in the direction of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and because of that, Bellevue would be increasing its Cooperative Program giving. Since then Bellevue’s Cooperative Program giving has tripled and its giving percentage has quadrupled. Bellevue became the first Tennessee Baptist church to give $1 million in a single year through the Cooperative Program, and I believe they’ll be the first church in our network to reach $2 million in a year.
Dr. Gaines may pastor a large church but he loves churches of all sizes and their pastors. He distinctly remembers his humble beginnings and joyfully preaches wherever God’s Spirit leads regardless of a church’s size.
Dr. Gaines, weeps with those who weep like grieving with the members of Sunderland Springs (Texas) Baptist Church following that tragic church shooting or while looking over the widespread devastation caused by hurricanes like Harvey.
But I am reminded of a single incident that personifies Dr. Gaines. He spoke at our annual state convention meeting two years ago and afterwards was in a hurry to get to the airport. However, he spotted a young couple with a newborn. He engaged them as if he had all day to visit, encouraged them as new parents, and prayed a blessing over them and their child. Then he said, “Just remember, the days are long, but the years are short.”
Friends, the SBC has seen some long days recently, but our years to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dying world are short. I thank God that He appointed Steve Gaines to lead Southern Baptists and Bellevue Baptist Church for such a time as this.
To Dr. Gaines I say, Steve, I love you. You have served Southern Baptists well, represented Tennessee Baptists with distinction, and most importantly, honored the Lord in your leadership.
It truly has been my joy to be on this journey with you.