DALLAS — Pastor J.D. Greear, the Southern Baptist Convention's newly elected president, says God placed six priorities on his heart that he'll focus on over the next two years as leader of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
On Tuesday, Greear, lead pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, won the election against Ken Hemphill, an administrator at North Greenville University and a former Southern Baptist Convention seminary president, by a vote of 69 percent to 31 percent.
Speaking of Hemphill, Greear described him as a "godly man."
"He is a guy that for as long has I've known him has invested in younger leaders, and I think he would've been a fine leader of the SBC, but God's decision and the decision of the messengers, this is where we sit. And we'll see what the future brings."
Of the 9,467 messengers at the convention, 7,884 cast ballots in the presidential election. Hemphill got 2,459 votes to Greear's 5,410 votes.
"From the very beginning of this there were six things that I believe God put on my heart as areas of concern [for] the Southern Baptist Convention and reasons to run," Greear said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon following his election.
Above all, he said, is the Gospel message.
While the SBC is a network of diverse churches that are not identical in style, age, cultural background or political alliance, "we come together united by a common Gospel confession and also by a common Gospel mission, "Greear explained.
"For as long as there has been a convention you've had things that threatened to challenge that unity of the Gospel. [I'm] just wanting to see the Gospel be what we unify around and not be divided on secondary and tertiary issues."
Second, is the elevation of cultural diversity in leadership.
"By God's grace there are a number of people of color who are part of the SBC. Our leadership, when you look at it, just doesn't really reflect that yet," he said. "As we all know, the United States is changing, and because of that, in order for us to be able to meet the questions and challenges that we are presented with in our society, we need perspective and wisdom that our members of color are bringing to us."
Third, Greear said he will continue to focus on evangelism.
Evangelism was a major focus of outgoing President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and Greear said he plans to continue that work.
He also stressed that fulfilling Jesus' Great Commission and making disciples in all nations is the job of individuals, not leaders, and he wants members to reassume the responsibility of evangelism.
"Evangelism simply means that it is our core responsibility to declare the Gospel to all peoples of the world. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Christ died in our place so that we wouldn't have to pay a punishment for our sin, and that all people can be born again through faith in Him."
Greear said that at his church, members are encouraged to pray for one person God has put in their life to reach out to. "That's something immediately I want to begin to champion, and say, 'What does it look like for 15 million Southern Baptists to all be praying about one person they can share the hope of Jesus Christ with."
The fourth area Greear will focus on is church planting, which his church has long set as a priority.
"Our church has taken on the mission of planting 1,000 churches in our generation and helping people see that they've been given skills that can be helpful, and see the Gospel go into different nations and also right here and other places in the United States," he said.
"We always tell people that the question is no longer 'if you're called to the mission of God,' the question's only 'where and how.'"
Greear said he wants to help every Southern Baptist church take on the responsibility of church planting to reproduce itself, and to work in partnership with the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.
The fifth priority will be the mobilization of college students.
The Raleigh/Durham area where Greear's church is located is known for having a large population of college-age adults and the church he pastors has a large number of college students who attend services. His goal, he said, is to mobilize them and help them cultivate their spiritual gifts.
"I'd love to see a generation of Southern Baptist students that began to think of the Kingdom of God first in where they choose to live their lives and pursue their careers."
Greear's sixth priority will be engagement.
The newly elected SBC president said he wants younger generations to feel that the convention is just as much theirs as it is their grandfather's and father's, and get them more involved on cooperative giving and missions.
"Our church has grown in diversity and we believe that the SBC is a mission and Gospel organization for all peoples of the U.S., and not just a certain cultural or political kind or a certain age."
During a Q&A, Greear was asked about the role of women in Southern Baptist churches and what he, as SBC president, could do to help women feel more comfortable in the church, especially those who have been victims of abuse.
"We have to be very clear that some things are not only immoral, they're also illegal," he stressed. "And because they are illegal and we, as Southern Baptists who believe in the Bible, believe God gave government authority for our protection ... that means we have to be safe places for women to report abuse, and be immediate in reporting things to the proper authorities."
He added that there is also an "education problem" in some Southern Baptist churches that incorrectly believe that cases of abuse should be handled internally and authorities either don't need to be contacted or shouldn't be contacted.
"We have to make clear that these things cannot be handled internally, or turn a deaf ear toward abuse, or for us to minimize it or shield the abuser and be complicit in the abuse itself," Greear said. "We have to be committed to being a safe place for the vulnerable, which means we listen and take the proper steps that are necessary."