BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) -- Southern Baptists are at a crossroads, not regarding their doctrine or mission but regarding "what kind of Gospel witnesses we will be in an age like ours," said J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
During his president's address Tuesday morning in Birmingham, Ala., Greear gave three defining values he believes should shape the future of the SBC.
1. Prioritize the Gospel above all.
The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15 that the Gospel is of "first importance." That implies that other things can be important, but they shouldn't be a barrier to the main thing, said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area.
"The power to 'do' in the Christian life comes only from being soaked in the fuel of what has been done," Greear said. "That's why [the Gospel] has to be above all," he said, referencing the annual meeting's theme. "A church without the Gospel at the center is a church without power."
Social justice ministries, for example, are powerless without the hope of Jesus -- they're just making people more comfortable on their way to hell, Greear said.
And that's why Christians must show restraint when it comes to their political fervor, he said. "Political affiliations have a way of obscuring the Gospel. In our political climate, if we are known as the stooge for one party, we lose all audience with the other."
That means forfeiting half of the U.S. mission field, Greear said. If an International Mission Board missionary wrote off half of his or her mission field, Southern Baptists wouldn't be happy about that, so why do it at home?
He emphasized that he wasn't saying Southern Baptists should back down from preaching the truth. On the contrary -- they should be unapologetic on their views on the sanctity of life, the importance of religious freedom and their responsibility to the vulnerable and poor.
"But we also have to realize conscientious Christians can disagree about the best applications of those things, and where Scripture does not draw a line between a virtue and a policy, neither should we," Greear said. "Every activity we engage in should be evaluated on whether or not it helps us in our proclamation of the Gospel."
That's also why convention leadership had sought to pay "such careful attention" to the sexual abuse crisis -- at its core, it's a Gospel issue, Greear said.
The church should be a safe place for the vulnerable, yet it's an issue that is affecting the next generation of churchgoers, he said. One in 10 people under 35 who have left a Southern Baptist church left on the reason that this situation wasn't being handled rightly, according to a LifeWay study Greear quoted.
"We should be the place the hurting and vulnerable know they can come for refuge, but our failure in this only drives them away," he said.
Be willing to do whatever it takes to reach all people.
When it comes to sharing the Gospel, Southern Baptists should do whatever they can to reach lovingly into the lives of people who don't know Jesus, Greear said -- even if that process is uncomfortable.
Jesus left the 99 sheep to go after the one who was lost. Greear said that means the church should prioritize the one.
Becoming "Gospel above all" churches means laying down "every preference on the altar of what it takes to reach their community," he said. It also means taking into account that America is growing more diverse by the day.
Greear also urged Southern Baptists to get involved with the "Who's Your One?" effort by identifying a specific person in their life to pray for and share the Gospel with. More than 20,000 churches have received an implementation kit so far, and more than 100,000 prayer guides have been downloaded from whosyourone.com, Greear said.
Commit to sending every member.
"Every believer is called to leverage his or her life for the Great Commission," Greear said.
That means it isn't a question of if you're called -- it's a question of where and how, he said.
Greear, along with the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, is challenging students to give the first two years of their career working in a place where they can assist with a new church plant.
"If we encourage all our college students and young professionals to put the Kingdom of God first in where they pursue their careers and give these first two years to the mission, we would experience a mission revolution in our world like we've never seen," he said.
The effort -- called Go2 -- is for young adults, but Greear said he wants the concept to expand to every believer.
That's what happens when the Gospel is above all, he said. "Soak in the fuel of what's been done so we burst into flames for what we do."
Grace Thornton is a writer based in Birmingham, Ala.