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Fla. Pastor Willy Rice to be nominated for SBC president, says 'faith family' is all he's ever known

Willy Rice
Willy Rice, the pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater, Florida, speaks at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. |

A day after Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton announced he would break tradition and not seek reelection following his first year in office, Florida Pastor Willy Rice is set to be nominated for the position at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting this June in Anaheim, California.

Rice, the pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater who delivered the convention sermon at the 2021 annual meeting last June, is expected to be nominated by his friend Clint Pressley, pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist in North Carolina.  

Pressley made his intention known to Baptist Press, SBC’s official news service, which publicized his plan in a report Wednesday.

“Willy Rice represents who Southern Baptists are at their best,” Pressley told Baptist Press. “He loves Southern Baptists, believes in Southern Baptists, and has demonstrated at every level of our convention his ability to lead Southern Baptists.”

In addition to his role as pastor of the multi-campus Calvary Church, Rice is a trustee for SBC’s North American Mission Board and served as president of the Florida Baptist Convention from 2006 to 2008. He also served as president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference in 2015 and other leadership roles.

In a statement to The Christian Post Thursday, Rice said he is making himself available to messengers to be considered for the role after much prayer and a keen awareness of the multiple challenges facing America’s largest Protestant denomination.

As the current SBC president, Litton was elected last June after defeating Georgia Pastor Mike Stone in a runoff vote. He had vowed to “build bridges, not walls.” Since his election, the SBC continued to wrestle fiercely with many issues, including racism and sexual abuse. Less than two weeks into his presidency, Litton was accused of plagiarism.

“Our Southern Baptist Convention faces a pivotal period with numerous challenges from within and without. This moment calls for grace and truth, for convictional leadership rooted in Christ-like character,” Rice told CP.

“Whether that description can be applied to me is a verdict that will be left to God and others. I am at peace with that. Yet, sensing the need of this moment, after the encouragement of respected friends and possessing a settled peace, I intend to allow my name to be nominated by my friend Clint Pressley.”

Rice, who is a married father of three with several grandchildren, said that while the SBC's unity is facing “very real threats,” it can't be maintained at the “expense of doctrinal conviction.” He also made it clear that if he is elected, he intends to properly address the sexual abuse crisis roiling the denomination.

“We must respond with transparency, courage, and, as necessary, deep contrition to the sexual abuse crisis. God is watching and so is our mission field,” he said. “We cannot dodge or obfuscate our responsibilities at this moment. We are all awaiting the Guidepost report and the report of the Sexual Abuse Task Force. I am hopeful that it will provide us a way forward, but it will be important that our leaders accept this challenge head-on in a way that restores trust and confidence and treats people everywhere with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Rice said he doesn’t view the SBC through its “global apparatus” but the thousands of churches whose work in the field holds up the denomination.

“I was born into a Southern Baptist family, and this ‘faith family’ is all I have ever known. I love it. For me, it was never about conventions and entities, famous pastors, and brilliant academicians; it was always about my local church,” he wrote in the statement. “It was about the ordinary people who discipled me in the faith and lived out before me what it meant to be a Christ-follower. Only later did I learn about the global apparatus of our convention, and later still did I come to love and appreciate all of our cooperative ministries. I still do.”

“For me, the Southern Baptist Convention is and has always been about thousands of churches, most of whom you have never heard of, who minister faithfully in their contexts,” he added.

“It is about thousands of pastors and tens of thousands of congregational leaders and volunteers, most of whom labor in relative obscurity but do so faithfully as unto the Lord,” he continued. “It is for them that I pray our convention can return to a place of health. I pray for a time to heal, and for that reason, I consent to this step of faith wholly trusting God with the outcome and will be satisfied in Him regardless of what that outcome may be.”

Read Willy Rice’s full statement below:

In light of President Ed Litton’s decision to not seek re-election and after prayer and consultation with several friends and Southern Baptist leaders, I am announcing my intention to allow my name to be placed in nomination for the office of President of the Southern Baptist Convention this summer in Anaheim. 

Our Southern Baptist Convention faces a pivotal period with numerous challenges from within and without. This moment calls for grace and truth, for convictional leadership rooted in Christ-like character. Whether that description can be applied to me is a verdict that will be left to God and others. I am at peace with that. Yet, sensing the need of this moment, after the encouragement of respected friends and possessing a settled peace, I intend to allow my name to be nominated by my friend Clint Pressley.

I approach this opportunity with fear and trembling and yet a confident resolve that God is directing my steps. I view this as an opportunity to obey God and serve His people.

Our Convention is facing many challenges. As in every age, faithful adherence to biblical convictions requires wisdom, grace, and courage. Our past has taught us that a doctrinal drift is an ever-present threat and vigilance throughout our days is required to remain grounded in the faith once and for all delivered.

There are also very real threats to the unity of our fellowship. Unity must not come at the expense of doctrinal conviction, but it is a calling Jesus gives his church that we must earnestly contend for. We need leaders who understand how to model charity and demonstrate grace without sacrificing truth or compromising conviction. We need a time of healing. 

We must respond with transparency, courage, and, as necessary, deep contrition to the sexual abuse crisis. God is watching and so is our mission field. We cannot dodge or obfuscate our responsibilities at this moment. We are all awaiting the Guidepost report and the report of the Sexual Abuse Task Force. I am hopeful that it will provide us a way forward, but it will be important that our leaders accept this challenge head-on in a way that restores trust and confidence and treats people everywhere with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Other debates create the pressure to retreat into tribes often defined by secular forces and unspiritual voices. We should be able to debate nuanced issues with temperance, civility, and charity. 

We should be able to disagree on peripheral matters without every single issue becoming a defining test for our fellowship. No fellowship can long survive if every issue is as important as any other issue. No fellowship can long survive if we assign the worst of motives to others and possess no forbearance to those with whom we disagree on debatable matters. 

I am for strong and unyielding convictions in historic Baptist principles rooted in the inerrant and authoritative Word of God. I am also for kind, gracious, and Christ-like character in all our interpersonal dealings. It was Jesus who said, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) What a glorious day it would be if Southern Baptists were known by all as Jesus’s disciples because of our love for one another!

I was born into a Southern Baptist family, and this “faith family” is all I have ever known. I love it. For me, it was never about conventions and entities, famous pastors, and brilliant academicians; it was always about my local church. It was about the ordinary people who discipled me in the faith and lived out before me what it meant to be a Christ-follower. Only later did I learn about the global apparatus of our convention, and later still did I come to love and appreciate all of our cooperative ministries. I still do. But for me, the Southern Baptist Convention is and has always been about thousands of churches, most of whom you have never heard of, who minister faithfully in their contexts. It is about thousands of pastors and tens of thousands of congregational leaders and volunteers, most of whom labor in relative obscurity but do so faithfully as unto the Lord. It is for them that I pray our convention can return to a place of health. I pray for a time to heal, and for that reason, I consent to this step of faith wholly trusting God with the outcome and will be satisfied in Him regardless of what that outcome may be.

I look forward to getting to know even more of my Southern Baptist family in the months ahead. I look forward to many conversations, hearing questions, and sharing ideas about what a healthy Southern Baptist Convention looks like. I trust the Lord and Southern Baptists with this process, and if someone other than me is chosen for this role, I will look forward to continuing our cooperative work together.

As a means of allowing Southern Baptists who may not know me well to hear my heart, I am providing the link to the 2021 SBC Convention Sermon in Nashville that I was honored to preach. Of course, I had no idea then that I would be taking this step now, but I think this message does share my thoughts and my heart for where we are and where we need to go. 

I covet your prayers and will join you in prayer that God will work in our midst to give Southern Baptists a time to heal.

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