Jimmy Jackson: Change should come from the bottom-up, not top-down
EDITOR'S NOTE: Baptist Press invited the four announced candidates for SBC president to take part in an email interview based on a set of common questions, allowing each to speak directly to Southern Baptists about key issues being discussed leading up the annual meeting in Orlando. The following is the second article in the four-part series.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Change initiatives should develop bottom-up and not top-down, and there should be greater leadership representation from small and medium size churches as well as ethnic congregations, according to Jimmy E. Jackson, pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala.
Jackson is one of four announced candidates for Southern Baptist Convention president.
He is completing his second year of service as president of the Alabama Baptist Convention and has been the first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has served as an assistant parliamentarian at the SBC's annual meetings for nearly 25 years and is a trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former member of the SBC Executive Committee. He holds a divinity degree and Ph.D. in Hebrew and Old Testament from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is a graduate of Mississippi College. Under his leadership, Whitesburg Baptist Church has grown from less than 3,000 members in 1978 to more than 7,000 today and nearly 6,000 baptisms have taken place at the church since he became pastor.
Jackson indicated that his greatest concern was for spiritual revival among Southern Baptists and that he would work to bring Southern Baptists together for a convention-wide effort of "prayer and fasting, Bible study and spiritual focus."
"Until we individually and corporately humble ourselves before God, we cannot expect Him to bless us with greater fruitfulness and effectiveness as a Convention," he wrote to Baptist Press.
Regarding the current Great Commission Resurgence initiative, Jackson said he "heartily" supported the need to "come together for spiritual revival resulting in a major turnaround in reaching people" with the Gospel. But he expressed concerns about the process and the structure of the GCRTF.
"I am in favor of change where it is needed," he said, "but change in the SBC should come up from our churches not down from a select few.
"A plan that has shown signs of recommendation born out of anger and creating discord should not be imposed upon the vast majority of churches and pastors -- the bill payers."
Jackson emphasized that the catalyst for change should arise from the churches "that are doing the bulk of the work to support the whole of the work."
"It is their Cooperative Program, and they should have the majority say in what it should look like. They should not be brought in at the end and asked to give an up or down vote to someone else's plan."
Jackson also expressed this point in terms of leadership representation.
"While I applaud our megachurches and their very capable leadership, most of whom are longtime friends and acquaintances of mine, I do believe that we need a more representative balance of input and leadership from all of the churches in the Convention."
Jackson said his greatest concern with the GCRTF report has to do with CP giving.
"Although the GCRTF report calls for a renewed emphasis in the giving to the CP," he said, "it also places it under the heading 'Great Commission Giving.' The CP becomes a way to give, not 'the' way. Such a change is risky at best."
Jackson said the move to further "celebrate" designated giving would be at the expense of the Cooperative Program and that in the past he, too, was concerned that the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong contributions by his church were not given the same attention that his church's CP giving received.
"What has been convicting to me is that our Lord taught us not to give for recognition anyway," he said. "He is well aware of what we do and honors us in His own way."
The full text of Jackson's replies follows:
BP: What is the most critical issue facing the SBC?
JACKSON: Our greatest need is for spiritual revival in the lives of all of our people. True revival will not come from wrapping biblical language around a change initiative, no matter who crafts it. We need the convicting power of the Holy Spirit to cause each of us to deal with personal sin and to lead us to confession and brokenness before God. In such an environment, relationships will be restored, forgiveness will be sought and granted, and a fresh love for Jesus, His church, and His calling will move us to live and proclaim the good news of our Savior's grace.
BP: What is your plan to address this?
JACKSON: I would work at getting our churches to join together for a season of prayer and fasting, of Bible study and spiritual focus. We need to sound the trumpet for assembly and consecration. Until we individually and corporately humble ourselves before God, we cannot expect Him to bless us with greater fruitfulness and effectiveness as a Convention.
BP: Appointing leaders is a critical function for the SBC president. How would you name leaders to committees and other positions of responsibility?
JACKSON: There are only 164 megachurches in the SBC (those with 2000 or more worshippers on a Sunday morning), and they have a disproportionate amount of representation and influence for their numbers and for their support of the Cooperative Program. In fact, despite impressive looking amounts of giving for some, the 27 largest churches (more than 5000 in worship attendance) gave less than 1 percent combined of gifts through the Cooperative Program in 2008.
Greater than 93 percent of CP giving comes from churches with 1,999 or fewer people in the pews on the Lord's Day. A bulk of the total (about 63 percent) comes from churches of 499 or fewer on Sundays. More than a third of all gifts through the CP comes from churches running 199 or fewer; yet most of these churches are given almost no voice.
While I applaud our megachurches and their very capable leadership, most of whom are longtime friends and acquaintances of mine, I do believe that we need a more representative balance of input and leadership from all of the churches in the Convention.
Always, my priority will be to identify men and women whose lives are defined by the fruit of the Spirit, and I will strive to ensure leadership is representative of all Southern Baptists.
Another note of concern is the lack of ethnic representation in leadership. Our ethnic membership has risen from 4.2 percent in 1998 to more than 8 percent in 2007, and almost 70 percent of our membership growth during that time (659,000 of 928,000) was from ethnic churches.
Everyone deserves a voice.
BP: Do you support or oppose the GCRTF? Why?
JACKSON: Although I support heartily the need to come together for spiritual revival resulting in a major turnaround in reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ, I do not support the recommendations of the GCRTF.
I am in favor of change where it is needed, but change in the SBC should come up from our churches not down from a select few. A plan that has shown signs of recommendation born out of anger and creating discord should not be imposed upon the vast majority of churches and pastors -- the bill payers.
The catalyst for change should arise from the churches that are doing the bulk of the work to support the whole of the work. It is their Cooperative Program, and they should have the majority say in what it should look like. They should not be brought in at the end and asked to give an up or down vote to someone else's plan.
If we are going to do change properly, we need to start the process by really asking for input rather than holding "listening sessions" after the recommendations already have been formed. The medium and smaller church pastors from across our Convention, along with those from our largest churches, should drive the process from start to finish.
One of my major concerns is that the GCRTF is making recommendations as to how NAMB and the State Conventions are to function. Would not the trustee system have worked much better with input from the leadership in our convention concerning any questions about ministry objectives and operations? This system has served us well for many years without need for a task force.
BP: What is your position about the issues relating to the Cooperative Program and Great Commission Giving?
My greatest concern about the report has to do with CP giving. Our church has not been stellar in this area, but we are committed to improve systematically. In my current service as President of the Alabama Baptist Convention, I have come to realize as never before the genius and necessity of the Cooperative Program.
The men who put this plan together 85 years ago worked for ten years to frame it in such a way that all of our churches could come together to do more than any of us could do in small clusters or individually. The CP is our "day job." It funds our multiple entities and ministries.
Although the GCRTF report calls for a renewed emphasis in the giving to the CP, it also places it under the heading "Great Commission Giving." The CP becomes a way to give, not "the" way. Such a change is risky at best.
I have been concerned in the past that the 6 percent of our church budget that goes to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong are not recognized because these offerings are not CP. What has been convicting to me is that our Lord taught us not to give for recognition anyway. He is well aware of what we do and honors us in His own way.
Some people already have buildings named after them on our seminary campuses for large gifts that were given through their churches or by them personally; they are honored by the missions entities for their congregation's generous special offerings. Our church receives those recognitions every year. The move to further "celebrate" designated giving will be so at the expense of the Cooperative Program, the cooperation that defines us as Southern Baptists and our effectiveness in all of our ministry endeavors.
BP: What will Southern Baptists be deciding with their vote for SBC president?
JACKSON: They will be deciding whether we will continue along the track laid out by the GCRTF or whether we will pause, take time to come together before the Lord and work carefully and prayerfully to seek the Lord for revival and a fresh commitment to carry out the work of Christ.
BP: What do you want Southern Baptists to know about you?
JACKSON: My wife Bobbi and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary this year (June 19). God has blessed us with three children -- Randy (deceased), Rhonda, and Russell, four granddaughters and two grandsons. And we have a dog named Rocco.
I will have been the Senior Pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala. for 32 years as of June 1, 2010. Other pastorates include churches in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida ranging in size from 30 in Sunday School to 2000.
In our denomination, I have served on the associational, state and SBC levels as committee member, moderator, state convention pastors' conference president, president of the Alabama Baptist Convention, first vice president of the SBC, Executive Committee of the SBC, trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the parliamentarians of the SBC for 23-24 years.
My earnest prayer before God in the SBC meeting in Orlando, June 15-16, 2010, is "Your will be done, not mine."
Compiled by Baptist Press Executive Editor Will Hall.