ST. LOUIS (BP) — Steve Gaines, elected president by acclamation at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, recounted in a press conference afterward how God led the candidates to that “special moment” of unity.
After a runoff didn’t produce a majority winner between Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., and J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Greear withdrew his name and urged messengers to vote for Gaines.
Gaines, Greear and New Orleans pastor David Crosby originally were nominated for convention president.
In the first ballot cast by 5,784 messengers, Crosby received 583 votes or 10.08 percent; Gaines received 2,551 votes, or 44.1 percent of the votes; and Greear received 2,601 votes, or 44.97 percent. None of the candidates received 50 percent or more of the votes, forcing a runoff.
Then in the runoff ballot, with 7,230 messengers registered, 4,824 ballots were cast. Gaines received 2,410 votes or 49.96 percent while Greear received 2,306 votes or 47.80 percent. However, 108 votes were considered illegal because the wrong ballot was used or an indistinguishable mark was made.
Roberts Rules of Order require that the 108 illegal votes be counted to determine a majority. To be declared a winner, Gaines or Greear needed to win 50 percent plus 1 of ballots cast, or 2,413 or more votes.
Had the second runoff election taken place, it would have been the first time in SBC history that a second ballot for the same two candidates in the presidential election would have been necessary, said chief parliamentarian Barry McCarty.
The display of unity began the night before the vote when the two men talked.
“He and I both were sensing the Holy Spirit moving in the same direction, and we had a good time talking last night,” Gaines told reporters. “We talked to the Lord, and we talked about the situation, and I really feel like what just happened was really a blessing from God, and I pray God would use it to help us go forward and tell people about Jesus Christ.”
As president, Gaines hopes to emphasize spiritual awakening, soul-winning and stewardship, among other issues.
“We need to be more intentional and proactive about sharing Christ with people,” Gaines said, adding that good stewardship would enable Southern Baptists to send missionaries back to the field rather than bringing more home.
During his private talk with Greear, the Scripture passage that came to his mind, Gaines said, was Psalm 133: How good and how pleasant it is to dwell together in unity. The psalmist gives a couple of examples: the oil coming down Aaron’s beard and the dew from Mount Hermon.
Gaines explained that water flowing down from Mount Hermon watered all of Israel. “What it’s saying is this: The anointing of God brings unity. It starts at the top and it flows down,” he said.
“I think what you just saw is when the leaders are unified in the Lord Jesus Christ, it brings unity to the body. That’s what we need in our churches. That’s what we preach all the time at Bellevue,” Gaines said. “We don’t have to unify everybody. If we can just unify the leaders, that will definitely flow down just like the anointing oil, just like the dew from Hermon. We see it in our church, and I believe we’re going to see it in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Gaines and Greear both had the same impulse from the Holy Spirit the night before the vote, Gaines said.
“It’s supernatural that the Spirit of God lives within us. Jesus said, ‘My sheep hear my voice.’ Anything you hear from the Lord is going to be in keeping with Scripture, but God was prompting both me and J.D. to be willing to pull out at the same time.
“And at the same time He was prompting the president of the Southern Baptist Convention to pray for that,” Gaines said. “That’s not coincidental. That is the sovereign God ordaining something. So I believe with all my heart it was a special moment when both J.D. and I realized God said the same thing to both of us.”
Recounting the conversation, Gaines said, “I looked at him and said, ‘You can have it.’ He said, ‘No, I want you to have it.’ It was more like that. I said, ‘Let’s just don’t vote on it because if we have another vote it’s going to be another tie.’ It couldn’t have gone better. He was just very gracious. He’s the J.D. I know him to be.”
Gaines said Greear has preached in his church, and he doesn’t invite people to preach in his church if he doesn’t believe they really love the Lord.
“I know J.D. does. He hears from God, and I believe it was exactly what should be done,” Gaines said. “I just appreciate it so much, and I think he appreciated the whole conversation, me willing to do the same thing.”
When the messengers stood to vote in unison, Gaines said it was a moment when he felt unworthy.
“I think about that guy, I think it’s in Luke 17 where he says, ‘We’re unworthy servants. We’ve done only that which we ought to have done.’ I don’t even know if I’ve done everything I ought to have done,” Gaines said.
“Last night when I was really surrendering to the Lord, I kept praying the prayer of Mary when the angel of the Lord came to her and she said, ‘Behold, the bondservant of the Lord. Be it done to me according to Thy Word.’
“That’s where I was. I was totally surrendered. I’m not trying to sound spiritual. I’m just telling you that’s where I was,” Gaines said.
Regarding the notion that Greear had vast support from younger Southern Baptists and Gaines was the candidate for the older crowd, Gaines said he believes the convention needs all ages.
“People under 40 need the people over 40 for some wisdom — not that the younger people don’t have any wisdom, but some things you learn the older you get, hopefully,” Gaines said. “Then, the people that are over 40 need the fire and the energy and the new ideas of younger people. It’s not a competition. We need each other.”
Gaines has attended SBC annual meetings since he was a Ph.D. student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His first meeting was in Dallas in 1985 when more than 45,000 messengers were registered. W.A. Criswell, Herschel Hobbs and Adrian Rogers were his heroes.
“We revered those guys. I’m not saying worshiped them. I’m saying we respected them in a good way, and the good thing about it is they respected us when we were young,” Gaines said. “I think that’s what we have to have.”
Gaines said he would rather hear his 33-year-old son preach than most anyone he knows “because he’s so fresh. He’s in the Word. He’s got great ideas. I love to hear him preach.”
What Southern Baptists saw in this year’s presidential election, Gaines said, is that “if the devil was trying to divide us, he failed and failed miserably.”
“The Lord Jesus Christ gave us unity today in a great way.”
During the 11 years Gaines has pastored Memphis-area Bellevue, the congregation has averaged 481 baptisms per year, according to the SBC’s Annual Church Profile database. Previously, he pastored churches in Alabama, Tennessee and Texas.
Bellevue voted to give $1 million during its 2016-17 church year through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified channel for funding state- and SBC-level missions and ministries. That will total approximately 4.6 percent of undesignated receipts, the church told Baptist Press.
Gaines was nominated by former SBC President Johnny Hunt, who emphasized the church’s baptismal record. “During the past 11 years, Gaines has led Bellevue Church to baptize thousands of new converts, Hunt emphasized. “It is in light of our overwhelming need to get back to evangelism, personal soul-winning in our SBC,” that he nominated Gaines to lead the denomination, he said.
“For such a time as this, when baptisms are at a 15-year low, we need Steve to lead us in a great soul-winning resurgence,” Hunt said. “It’s time to make soul-winning a major priority.”
Among his denominational service, Gaines has been a member of the Committee on Nominations, a trustee of LifeWay Christian Resources, a member of the committee that proposed a revision of the Baptist Faith and Message in 2000, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, and president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference, Hunt noted.
Calling Gaines “a great prayer warrior,” Hunt said, “He is one that knows the only hope for our nation, and for this denomination, is a great movement of God. He has a real passion for stewardship — his church giving $1 million this year to the Cooperative Program.”
In winning the election, Gaines is the fourth president from Bellevue Baptist Church, following Southern Baptist legends R.G. Lee, Ramsey Pollard and Adrian Rogers.
Erin Roach and Barbara Denman