A Conversation with Ronnie Floyd about the SBC Presidency*

Dr. Allen: It is a joy to welcome to the Spurgeon Room today Dr. Ronnie Floyd. Dr. Floyd, you are a friend, a colleague, a gospel laborer, and it is a joy to have you here today visiting about the Southern Baptist Convention. Welcome to the Spurgeon Room.

Dr. Floyd: Thank you, Jason. It is great to be with you. I am so excited about all that God is doing at Midwestern, so it is a real privilege to be able to sit down and talk “Southern Baptist” with you and the future of the SBC.

Dr. Allen: Periodically, we have in the Spurgeon Room pastors, theologians, and other leaders. We engage a whole range of topics. Today, it is indeed fun to talk about a topic that is of great interest to you and to me and to many: that is the Southern Baptist Convention. We will be in Baltimore together in just a few weeks. We will be having a presidential election, and your name will be on the ballot. You are being nominated by Al Mohler, our friend and one of my great mentors in life. I want to have a conversation with you about the Southern Baptist Convention and how you perceive things leading up to Baltimore.

Dr. Floyd: Thank you, Jason. First of all, I want to let you know—I think you know this personally, but to let those who are listening to know—I have lived the SBC for years, and I have served in churches. I have served in many of the institutions, agencies, etc., in relationship to where we have been in SBC life. I believe in what we do. Through the course of time, especially in the past year or so, I have had a lot of people from all walks of SBC life—from smaller membership churches to larger membership churches, and entity leaders of the SBC, as well as many state convention leaders—really appeal to me to permit my name to be nominated. When Dr. Mohler called me in February, telling me he felt led of the Lord to do this, we prayed through it and talked about it. I could not be more excited about who is going to place my name in nomination. If the Lord lets me do this, it would be a joy to serve the churches of our convention and to work with them toward fulfilling the Great Commission in whatever way we can.

Dr. Allen: Amen. You think about the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in America with some 16 million members in about 46,000 churches, and we meet a couple days a year. We elect a president who typically serves two-year terms. All the way back from 1845 onward, there have been so many historic names. Some household names—especially since 1979 with the intentional election of conservative presidents—beginning with Adrian Rogers and electing heroes of yours and mine like Jerry Vines, Tom Elliff, and so many others.

Now here we are in the year 2014. The presidency of the SBC has formal responsibilities, of course, and appointive powers within the committees, making it the lynchpin office in the convention. Of course, there is no question about where you are and what you believe. Everyone knows you are a conservative and an inerrantist. You have been that your whole public ministry, and you have so led and served that way. Beyond that formal appointive power, the feature aspect of the presidency is the power of influence: to rally Southern Baptists, to speak to Southern Baptists, and to speak for Southern Baptists. As you begin to think about the presidency and what that would mean to you if the Lord would have you serve, I immediately contrast that with Fred Luter, a friend of ours as well, who has so effectively led, preached, and served, and been a bleeding heart in a sweet season for Southern Baptists.

We move toward Baltimore with this next stage and transition with your name in nomination. Talk specifically about the presidency. If the Lord has you elected, how would you like to encourage Southern Baptists? What is in your heart to convey to Southern Baptists in June of 2014 and over the course of the next 24 months?

Dr. Floyd: I really believe, Dr. Allen, that I want to do my best to go throughout this convention and to give hope toward our future. I am very encouraged about a lot of things today. I know sometimes we hear the dismal reports here and there. I understand those reports. I have been in those meetings, and I hear those reports. Some of that, if not all of that, is accurate. But I believe we need to believe that Jesus is Lord, the gospel is the power unto salvation, the Holy Spirit is our power in sharing that gospel, and we have the greatest message that this world needs to hear. To me, it is a great time of hope and a great time in our future.

When I think about what the needs are in the SBC—which, obviously, many of us have prayed through and talked though—our greatest need is spiritual. When you look at the status of churches, so many churches really are plateaued or declining. Some of that is demographic-related; it is not a matter of total ineffectiveness by any means. Personal evangelism is way off in the SBC life. Somehow, we have got to come again with a strong commitment to win people to Christ personally, which will bring about a greater number of disciples and that entry point, which will be baptism in our Christian faith.

Then, when you think about the health of our churches, many churches are filled with divisions and strife. You see that personified in SBC life, and you see it in our own convention with the fragmentation and segmentation.

Also, you look at our nation. We all know where our nation is. My soul! It is obvious to me that we need a mighty, fresh manifestation of God’s presence in our lives personally, which I would call personal spiritual revival. Our churches need that mighty manifestation of God’s presence through the life of the church—revival, revitalization, whatever you want to call it, refreshing winds of the Spirit. There is no question, Dr. Allen, that the greatest need in American life is a spiritual awakening. We must get to a point and a posture as a convention where the churches say, “What if God could use us as a catalyst to see the next great spiritual awakening in our nation?”

Think about it this way—we have had the great Conservative Resurgence. What a resurgence it was! I was a boy preacher when a lot of that began. I was present in 1979 as a seminary student at Southwestern Seminary. That was my entry point into the formality of the SBC. Just think about this: we have had the great Conservative Resurgence, and we are now in the beginning stages of the great Commission Resurgence. I was so fortunate to lead that strategic group of 21 other people, but that is just the beginning stages. You think of how long it has taken for the Great Commission Resurgence to be realized, and now we are conscious in seeing it sustained. Now, we are seeing that those matters are happening. They are beginning to happen in greater force. To me, what is needed is to energize and empower, spiritually, both of those. It is past time, I think. We need a Great Awakening spiritually.

Dr. Allen: I could not agree more, and I do not think Southern Baptists could agree more. Anyone who thinks we are at optimal pace spiritually needs to have their eyes checked. Along those lines, in recent weeks I have been on a reading project about the Great Awakening, which you just referenced. I have been re-reading biographies of Whitefield and Arnold Dallimore, and one that will soon come out by Thomas Kidd. To see a man who showed up in the 1740s in a town or church to say, “I have come here today to talk to you about your soul;” to see the masses converted; to see a wind of revival swell throughout the colonies; and to see the nation founded in the aftermath of that, on a Christian footing, made me long for revival, evaluate and reevaluate my personal evangelism and the focal point of my gospel preaching. I believe—and I sense among the Southern Baptist Convention—a ground-swell desire for renewal, revival, and an increased focus on the Great Commission. So, I commend you for stating that.

You mention your hope toward the future. I would love for you to unpack the prayer meetings you have held over the past year and what you are sensing there. What is on the heart of those pastors and how that may or may not inform your desire and perceived need for a true spiritual renewal?

Dr. Floyd: Less than a year ago, some pastor friends of ours and we believed this was the time when we needed to come back together to return to the basics, mainly to get together and pray together with pastors and leaders, to seek the Lord about what His future was. So, we had a national gathering of pastors in Dallas/Fort Worth. We had 26 states represented. Less than a couple hundred pastors flew in for that. It was a powerful meeting. It was four hours on Monday night, four hours on Tuesday morning, and it was great. Then, we came back to Atlanta. We left Dallas not knowing if we would ever do another one; and when we came back to Atlanta, we had over 400 people in January and 28 or 29 states represented. Then, just two weeks ago—the week after Easter—Jason, I led one of those for the Arkansas State Convention. We had 304 pastors from the state of Arkansas. What a powerful thing it was to do that in our state. Two nights ago, I was with Jack Graham and his entire full-time staff team and a few spouses, and we had somewhere around 600 people at that gathering. The whole purpose of it was four hours of intense prayer. All of that to say this, I have been with some 1,500 pastors, from all across America, and I believe the reason why this is happening—I believe they know we are able to do this, this, and this, but they also know we are not penetrating the culture. Our best cannot get it done. This is wearing me out. We have got to approach the God of heaven to do something in our generation that literally takes the gospel and ascends it to a level unknown to any of us, all because of the power of God and his ability. So, they are coming with desperation. They want to see God do this. I really believe that the key to this—and I am willing to unpack this if you want—is a fresh, new commitment to what Jonathan Edwards called “extraordinary prayer.” Because to me, that is the key.

Dr. Allen: Amen to that. I hear you saying, if given the opportunity to lead, you are going to champion, from day one, a call to spiritual renewal, to personal revival, to prayer, and to seeking the Lord. You know the old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”—I think that is the case. The pastors I know, the students on my campus, the ministers I interact with on a daily basis, they perceive our backs—as believers and gospel ministers—are against the wall culturally. We wake up, and we have a Bible in one hand and in the other we have a call to prayer, with the Word and the Spirit, seeking to be faithful. As I look to our convention, I see that is my desire, that is your desire, and I think, collectively, we agree that is our great urgency.

I want to shift gears for a moment. I was visiting with Tom Elliff on the phone the other day, and he mentioned something by way of analogy as he was talking about his impending transition from the IMB. He said, “Jason, if you go into a restaurant with your family, and you see that the seats at the table are taken, you do not have a place to sit. So, you go to another part of the restaurant or you go to a different restaurant altogether.” The expression Tom gave was to express the need for there to be generational inclusion and intentionally, strategically handing off leadership roles and involving and giving the opportunity to participate to the next generation. Talk about your heart for the next generation, and especially to keep Southern Baptists who are my age and younger at the table, engaged, seeking to be a part of God’s work through the SBC.

Dr. Floyd: I think one of the greatest things in SBC life is to remember that we are a cross-generational convention of churches. We have a disconnect at times—not only with the younger generation but the older generation and the other generations in-between. Somehow, we have to heighten the vision in relation to what we are doing around the world with the gospel and for the Great Commission so that all generations want to climb on board. We have a strong commitment to doing that within our own staff, within our own church, and within our own realm of church planting. We now have the Cross Church School of Ministry that is developing young men and women in the realm of ministry that God is calling them. We have had a long-term commitment.

The SBC must think constantly about that next generation. That does not mean we leave behind the other generations. What that means is that we have got to always think, “How are we going to hand this off?” “How is all of this going to be done?” “What is the vision going to do?” Really, even right now, we must be asking that question and strategizing in relation to it. That is, we have got to be able to have something that is so exciting, creative, powerful, and engaging biblically—for our churches and for the future of the Great Commission—that this generation behind me and the generations behind me want to come on board and say, “Man, this is one of the most exciting things in the world.”

We (the SBC) have 16,000 seminary students right now. We have the largest mission-sending force in American life. We have great representation in Washington D.C., speaking to those cultural and ethical issues for us and with us as Southern Baptists. We have the greatest national relief center, next to only the Red Cross and Salvation Army, in America. There are so many wonderful things we are doing through church planting and our Send North America conferences. Listen, there is not a greater time in the world for all of us to be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. We need to engage in an annual time of meeting together that is so fresh and so exciting that it literally makes people want to come, and sends people out with a real belief and a real commitment to who we are and mainly, what we do, as Southern Baptists.

Dr. Allen: I was visiting with someone the other day, and they were talking about Midwestern Seminary. They were reflecting very positively on what we are doing, and I said, “I wake up every morning and go to bed every night seeking to honor the Lord in my stewardship. My second desire,” I smiled and said, “perhaps it is an inappropriately close second desire, is to make Southern Baptists proud.” From knowing you and getting to know you, especially in the past year and a half since I have been in Kansas City, I sense that you are a man who desires to honor the Lord, and to a second degree—perhaps to an inappropriate second—a desire to serve, lead, honor, and make proud Southern Baptists, if entrusted with this leadership.

Dr. Floyd: I believe, Jason, that the Lord has permitted me to serve in so many ways in Southern Baptist life. I am so blessed. If there is nothing else that I am ever asked to do or am requested to do, I have been so blessed with serving on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee for 10 years; chairman of it two of those years. I have served on it numerous times as an officer during that time. I’ve served as president of the Pastors’ Conference. I’ve served on the Guidestone board for eight years. I’ve served by leading the Great Commission Resurgence. I was on the program and restructure subcommittee of seven members who restructured the SBC in the mid-90s.

The Lord has blessed so much and given so many opportunities that I would take all of that and I would try my very best to lead, not just from my perspective, but also by listening to the people. What are the people saying? What is the Spirit of God saying to the church of America? What is the Spirit of God saying to the churches called Southern Baptist?

I do not know totally where everyone is on this issue, but I will say this: I really believe that the Southern Baptist Convention has decided its path. Our path is that we are a Great Commission people. Really, since1845 we have been that. We have gotten in the fog a little bit and lost our way some, sure. We do that at church some; we do that personally some. But I really believe a few years ago we said, “We know what our path is. Now, let’s get back on the path.” Now, the problem is not our path; the problem is our pace, Jason. We have got to accelerate our pace. We cannot accelerate the pace being fragmented, segmented, where everybody is skeptical, critical, and half-way cynical. No, no, no, no, no. We have got to be able to get beyond that.

I want to build a culture and try to lead in a culture of the SBC that is not prone toward what I would call 1 Corinthians 3 tendencies of that kind of activity. Let’s come to high trust; let’s come to a deep belief in the future of who we are, a deeper commitment to doing this. We have got to find a way long-term as well, Jason. As you well know, we have got to make sure that we are going to fund, financially, a long-term future, the work of the Southern Baptist Convention and all relating to that; not what we do, but the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It is all about who we are as Great Commission people and what we can do to see the Great Commission accelerated. I even believe, [we can see it] completed in our generation. It is going to be completed with or without us, but I want to be a part of it. I want us to be a part of it, and I want to do what I can to help us get there.

Dr. Allen: Well said. A wise pastor once told me, “Jason, when you are looking for leadership in your church, do not give leadership roles to people who may become leaders. Give leadership roles to people who are already leading in the context of your church.” You have kindly reminded me, even in the course of this conversation, of the many roles the Lord has used you in the past several decades in the SBC—leading publically and behind the scenes—and what you and your church have done even in the past five or six years through the Corporative Program, by leaps and bounds ratcheting up your generosity to the Southern Baptist Convention, supporting the seminaries, missionaries, and all the rest. You are leading, and I commend you for that.

Our time is passing quickly. Ronnie, I want to give you the last word. Is there anything else you would like to say to me or to our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters who may read or listen to this conversation?

Dr. Floyd: I would say it this way: I really believe that we need to call the churches, pastors, leaders, associations, state conventions, entities of the SBC—we need to call everyone—to a major season, and that season is only going to be defined by the Father alone, a season of extraordinary prayer for the purpose of seeing personal revival, revival in the church, and awakening in America so that the Great Commission can be escalated to its rightful priority in our lives and be accelerated to its completion in our generation. We need to remember what great men have said. There is no doubt about it. It is written all over the awakenings, “There is no great movement of God that ever occurs that is not preceded by extraordinary prayer.”

Somehow, we have got to get so fed up with who we are, realizing our own weakness of what we have and who we are, even with the great things we have been blessed with, to know that now is the time for the world to see what God can do with a people who really want to be his people and who really want to see our own nation and the world won to faith in Jesus Christ and him alone.

Dr. Allen: Amen. May God bring it. May God give his people, Southern Baptists, a revival, renewed urgency in prayer, and a great Great Commission impulse that we have never known before. If it be his will, may He use you to that end and the will of Southern Baptists.

Brother, it has been a joy to have this conversation. Ronnie, I appreciate you, and I look forward to seeing you in Baltimore. God’s blessings on you, your church, and all that you do for Jesus’ sake.

Dr. Floyd: Thank you for the opportunity to converse today.

*Recorded 8 May 2014

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