He has grown his congregation from 300 to 10,000 members, and now Durham minister J.D. Greear could grow the ranks of Southern Baptists, already the nation's second largest denomination after the Catholic Church.
Greear, the 45-year-old pastor at The Summit Church in Durham, easily defeated former seminary president Ken Hemphill, 70, on Tuesday to become the next president of Southern Baptist Convention. Greear won 69 percent of the vote.
“The basic passions that God laid on my heart haven’t changed from 2016, and I feel more committed to them than ever,” Greear wrote in a January blog post after being nominated.
Greear, who could be reached for comment after his victory, was first nominated for the presidency in 2016, when he ran against Steve Gaines, a pastor in Memphis, Tennessee. Neither won a majority of the vote, and Greear withdrew his candidacy in favor of promoting denominational unity, giving Gaines the presidency.
The Southern Baptist Convention has no binding authority over Baptist churches, as Baptist teachings emphasize the autonomy of local churches. The volunteer position of president is largely honorific but does give its holder a pulpit to speak to Baptist churches nationwide. SBC presidents are elected to a one-year term with a two- term limit.
From Homestead Heights to Summit
Greear became the pastor at Summit Church, then called Homestead Heights Baptist Church, in 2001. He had been serving as the church's college pastor at the time. He relaunched the church and changed its name. Since then, Summit has expanded to 11 campuses, including in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and men’s and women’s prison ministries.
Hemphill is the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville. He is currently an administrator at North Greenville University in South Carolina, which is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Summit Church, one of the largest churches in the Triangle, is one of the fastest-growing in the country, according to its website. The church also has a focus on planting, or starting, churches, with a goal to plant 1,000 new churches by 2050. Summit has already planted 250 churches.
Marc Francis, pastor at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Durham and president of the board of directors of the N.C. Baptist State Convention, said denominations are changing across the country and many churches are embracing technology to spread their message.
“Summit Church is at the forefront of that,” said Francis. “They do hold on the biblical truth, and they’re reaching the relevancy people are looking for.”
A difference in methods
Many credit Greear’s casual dynamism — he often preaches in jeans and a polo shirt — with Summit Church's success. He emphasizes biblical teachings, and says increasing cultural and racial diversity, planting churches, and mobilizing college students would be among his focuses if elected president.
In an article on the 2016 election for SBC president, Christian Today said the then candidates, including Greear, might differ in tone but not belief.
"This means, for instance, no women in ministry, (probably) young-earth creationism, biblical inerrancy and absolutely no tolerance of homosexuality or acceptance of transgender behaviour. In strictly theological terms, there's probably no difference between them on social issues," the article said.
in an interview with The Gospel Coalition, Greear said the church needs to include women in top leadership posts but not in the pulpit.
"I affirm, without reservation, the complementarian view of gender found in Scripture — that women are equal in essence, equal in value, and equal in spiritual giftings, while not being equivalent to men," he said in the interview. "Women and men are created differently and serve distinct roles in the family and in the church, where (for instance) only men can serve in the office of pastor. Complementarianism is not a box to be checked, but a beautiful truth to be celebrated."
Curtis Freeman, research professor of theology and Baptist studies at Duke University, said Greear and Hemphill represented the same basic theological outlook. "They are both conservatives," he said.
But unlike Hemphill, who would have prioritized the Cooperative Program, the convention's primary source of funding, Greear will likely emphasize local churches' contributions in the community.
Andrew Ivester, pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Durham, is attending the convention and said Southern Baptists should be reaching "lost people" over maintaining old traditions.
“I think J.D. is going to do wonders connecting the new guys with the older guys in the convention, mainly because he values mission over preference and opinion,” Ivester said.
After the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention represents the largest denomination in the United States.
Over 5 million Baptists attend church weekly around the country, and there are over 15 million current members of the Southern Baptist Convention.
But the Southern Baptist Convention is wrestling with a number of concerns, including a 9 percent decline in the number of baptisms, according to its 2017 annual church profile.
Perhaps its most pressing issue is the downfall of Paige Patterson, who stepped down from the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in May after the Washington Post published an article alleging he told a woman who said she had been raped in 2003 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to not report the assault to the police. Patterson had been president of the seminary at the time, before becoming president of Southwestern.
Over 3,000 Southern Baptist women wrote a letter to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Trustees after a video of Patterson making inappropriate comments about a 16-year-old girl and an audio recording of him telling abuse victims to submit to their husbands emerged. A discussion on the role of women in the church has since begun, prompting a #MeToo movement within the Southern Baptist Convention.
Patterson was scheduled to give a major sermon at this week's convention, but announced his decision to skip the convention last week.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported, delegates to the convention adopted resolutions condemning any sexual misconduct by SBC ministers and encouraging abuse victims to report incidents to law enforcement.
Greear graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Ph.D. in theology, studying there when Patterson was president. Although Greear views him as a mentor, he did tweet after Patterson stepped down that abuse can never be tolerated.