Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Brief Foray into Southern Baptist Convention Politics

Anyone who knows me, knows that I deplore "denominational politics." In fact, I deplore "church politics" of any kind. It all looks like the process of sausage making behind the scenes. After my long experiences with the SBC back in my College days during the heat of the "Conservative Resurgence," and then for 17 years among two different Free Will Baptist denominations, I've had my fill of any kind of politics in the name of religion. Believe me, if Free Will Baptists can't break you of the lust for popularity and position, nothing will -- and you might even fit in perfectly there.

But enough about that. This isn't about Free Will Baptists, it's about the Southern Baptist Convention. Specifically, it's about this year's SBC Presidential election. As a member of an SBC Church, I suppose I have an interest in who becomes the Convention President. Normally, it wouldn't make that much of a difference to me. After all, Southern Baptists affirm local church autonomy (thank God), and nobody can tell a local church what to do -- at least theoretically.

This year, however, I have a keen interest in the outcome of the SBC Presidential election. Not for "political reasons," but for personal. Among the candidates will be a man I have been acqauinted with since 1985, when I was a College newspaper columnist covering the North Carolina Baptist State Convention in Charlotte. It was then that I first heard Dr. Johnny Hunt speak, and briefly met him. You might remember some had considered nominating Dr. Hunt for SBC President before. Lat year, he withdrew his name. This year, however, I understand he has consented to run.

I include the following article from Baptist Press announcing Hunt's candidacy. Following that, I'd like to share a little about what I know personally about the man and ministry of Dr. Johnny Hunt.

Johnny Hunt to be SBC president nominee

Posted on May 6, 2008 by J. Gerald Harris

WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP)--Johnny M. Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention during the SBC's June 10-11 annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., announced May 6.

Hunt is among four announced nominees for the post, joining Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro Baptist Church, Lawrenceville, Ga.; William L. (Bill) Wagner, a former Southern Baptist missionary and seminary professor and current president of Olivet University International in San Francisco; and former International Mission Board missionary Avery Willis.

A native of North Carolina, Hunt has been pastor of the Woodstock church since December 1986. During his first year as pastor, the church baptized 318 people and had 268 additions by statement and letter. Since he arrived, the church has seen average Sunday school attendance grow from 275 to 4,705, according to the 2007 Annual Church Profile.

In the 21 years of Hunt's pastorate, church membership has increased from 1,027 to 16,495. Current average church worship attendance is 6,180.

In 1980, while attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Hunt served as pastor of Falls (N.C.) Baptist Church, which led North Carolina Baptists in Sunday school growth. During his pastorate, Longleaf Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C., also led the Baptist state convention in baptisms for three consecutive years beginning in 1983.

FBC Woodstock relocated to an 82-acre site in the fall of 2004. The $54 million sanctuary, which seats 7,500, hosts two morning worship services.

Since 1987, the congregation has sent out more than 135 missionaries and started more than 78 churches. The congregation has developed ministries such as the "City of Refuge," which provides an environment that enables hurting pastors and their families to find hope and healing.

Traylor said his "deep concern about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention" led him to want to nominate Hunt.

"I just believe the Lord's raised him up to do it," Traylor told Baptist Press. "I believe he's a man to do it for our future. I don't know of a greater Acts 1:8 church in all of our convention than First Woodstock."

"Some of us have been thinking about this [nominating Hunt] for 12 to 15 years," Traylor told Georgia's Christian Index newspaper. "I don't think he has given any thought to this until recently, but the last time I discussed it with him, I saw a flicker in his eyes, and I believe God sparked a flame in his soul for this."

Traylor listed three reasons that prompted him to announce his intention to nominate Hunt:

1) "Hunt has led First Baptist Woodstock to become a great, exemplary Acts 1:8 church in terms of missions giving and missions going.

2) "He has given evidence of a great interest and concern for the next generation of young pastors and for the millennial generation in general. No one has a better pastoral link to young ministers than Johnny Hunt, as evidenced through Woodstock's Barnabas-Timothy Conferences.

3) "I believe Southern Baptists are looking for a future that is marked by unity, not division. Johnny Hunt has one fight in him and that is the good fight of faith. He is a leader who can forge a hopeful future that is centered around the Gospel and connected to the local church."

Hunt is a graduate of Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs, N.C., where he was voted ministerial student of the year in 1979. He earned a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Seminary in 1981. The Chair of Church Growth at Southeastern was named for Hunt in 1997.

Hunt is married to the former Janet Allen of Wilmington, N.C. The couple has two daughters and four grandchildren.

Information from the 2007 Annual Church Profile for First Baptist Woodstock lists 462 baptisms and primary worship service attendance of 6,180. The congregation gave $393,798, or 2.2 percent, through the Cooperative Program from total undesignated receipts of $17,807,317. According to the ACP, the church's total mission expenditures were $3,304,608, with $175,000 given for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The ACP did not record the amount the church gave for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

My View:

I first met Dr. Johnny Hunt when he was Pastor of Long Leaf Baptist Church in Wilmington, NC, in 1985. They had led the state in baptism’s two straight years, and he spoke for only five minutes from the convention platform. I was a journalism student at Wingate College (now University) at the time, and I knew I had to meet this man! He was indeed on fire!

I followed his ministry as he moved to Woodstock in 1986, and as his church has exploded over the past two decades. I’ve visited his church on several ocassions, attended several conferences there, and I’ve benefitted greatly from the Timothy-Barnabas Pastor’s school I attended in 2001.

I often listen to his messages. They are always exegetically sound, never boring, and with the ultimate priority of winning souls and equipping the saints for the work of ministry. The most impressive thing about Johnny Hunt, however, is that he’s never gotten over being saved.

I once heard him say, “I’m glad I’m saved, and I never got over it!” That characteristic is sorely lacking in so many Christian lives today, replaced by cynicism and doubt — even, and perhaps especially, in our pulpits.

I’ve no doubt that God’s hand is on Dr. Johnny Hunt. I’m glad he has been my friend — as he has been to so many others in ministry throughout the years. I can say without reservation that Johnny will be an anointed and humble leader of the SBC, should he be chosen for the task.

I respect the other candidates for President. I don't know them so I will refrain from speaking about their various views, theological or methodological. I DO know Johnny Hunt. And I whole heartedly endorse his candidacy for President of the SBC. that and a $5 bill will get you a coffee at Starbucks, but for what it's worth... :-)


J. Dale Weaver, M. Div.

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