In 2016 I was at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting in St. Louis when I first encountered J.D. Greear. The first place I encountered Pastor J.D. was at a luncheon held by my seminary, Southeastern Baptist. I saw a younger pastor built like he might be a former outside linebacker. When he began to speak I heard a guy who spoke my language, but he did it in a way that was incredibly Jesus focused and not self-serving. The guy was clearly gifted and yet simultaneously humble. When he spoke at the luncheon he put everyone at ease while also dropping some important truths. He spoke of serious content in a laid-back manner.
The next time I saw this J.D. Greear was later in the annual meeting when the convention was to choose their new president. The vote was between three men, but when the results came back none of the three had a majority of the vote, and according to convention rules this meant there needed to be a re-vote. Pastor J.D. was essentially in a tie with an older pastor named Steve Gaines. I have never been to the Southern Baptist Convention and I knew very little of the process of elections for convention leadership, so I geared myself up for an epic political showdown. What happened next was positively striking. Before the re-vote could be held, the sitting SBC president announced Pastor J.D. would like to make an announcement. J.D. walked to the platform and said (my paraphrase), “Due to the close nature of this election I cannot go forward in good conscience knowing there could possibly be division in our convention when we really need unity. I officially withdraw my name from consideration, so that my older brother, and a very godly man and friend of mine, Steve Gaines can become the President of our convention.” It was a lesson in humility and honor for an older brother in Christ, and I think all of the 12,000 or so attendees took notice on that day.
When I left the convention and got back to my home in Cleveland I didn’t allow a day to pass before I figured out more about who this J.D. Greear guy was. I learned that J.D. was the pastor of a church in Durham, North Carolina called Summit Church, but before that he worked for the SBC’s International Mission Board. I learned that this guy who spoke more like a football coach than a preacher actually holds a PHD in philosophy with a concentration on Christian and Islamic theology. I even learned that J.D. was the real deal as evidenced by the time he was overseas and his life was put at risk to the point he needed to be put on mandatory house arrest to protect him. J.D. admits that was probably the toughest time of his life, but I learned that is when he fully committed himself to a life of serving Christ no matter the cost.
Since I first learned of who J.D. Greear is he has gone on to become more prominent in the American Evangelical landscape. He is currently serving as the President of the Southern baptist Convention, which is significant for two reasons: 1. He is a relatively young president (45 years old) and 2. He is a Calvinist (historically SBC presidents were from the Arminian persuasion). I want to point out in this post something remarkable about J.D. which is the reason why I wish everyone knew about him, J.D. has had “success” in church planting by planting dozens of churches throughout the nation, he has had success in growing the church he pastors to astronomical numbers, he has had success in raising up missionaries as his church has sent out more missionaries than any other SBC church… All this success and yet the remarkable thing about J.D. which is not as common as we would hope is that J.D. seems to have a grasp on the reality that it isn’t his success, and it isn’t about him. There could be a great temptation for J.D. Greear and Summit Church to pat themselves on the back and give themselves a round of applause for all they’ve accomplished, and yet we don’t see that-why?
In 2015, J.D. published a book which highlights the answer to the above question. The book is called “Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send.” I highly suggest everybody reads this book. If you’re only going to read one book this year outside of your Bible then this one would be a candidate for you to read. Ed Stetzer originally highlighted “20 Truths from Gaining by Losing,” and I don’t want to re-invent the wheel so if you want the original article you can find it at this link:
Here are some of the highlights Stetzer points out that I think are important.
- “Jesus did not say come and grow, but come and die.” Why would I want everyone to know about J.D. if he writes stuff like this? Well, because we need more people, both christian and non-Christian to hear the actual call of following Christ is not to come and make some gains- any old person with some discipline and work ethic can do that, but we are actually called to die to ourselves and follow Christ and that requires God’s grace, faith, and the power of the Holy Spirit. We need more Christians who will proclaim the truth of the necessity for a complete death to self rather than a simple Christian makeover.
- Here is what this book is pointing out that American evangelicalism has gotten wrong, Stetzer words it like this, “We live by losing. We gain by giving away. What we achieve by building our personal platform will never be as great as what God achieves through what we give away in faith.” The rally cry of too many Christian churches has been “If I build it they will come,” but there is a reason why that came from a cheesy baseball movie, because it’s simple, worldly, and any old salesman could trick people into this sort of thing…. We need to realize it is God who is building His church and He does this not by us trying to build our own kingdoms, but actually God’s church builds as His people sacrifice and even suffer and persevere by the power of His Spirit! Oh, how I wish everyone would hear and know this truth!
- J.D. Greear understands missional living, and I know I need help in this area, and if we are honest with ourselves I’m sure many of us would admit the same. Stetzer paraphrases Greear’s comments on this as follows, “The question is no longer if we are called only where and how. The call to follow him is the call to be sent and to send.” Too many times we believe living on mission for Christ is somehow an add-on for the super-spiritual, but that’s a lie fed to us by Satan Himself! If Satan is real (and I believe He is because the Bible is clear on this truth) then Satan hates the work of the Gospel, and so he would want nothing more than a bunch of lazy Christians who won’t go on mission for Jesus, but what if every Christian realized this and instead realized the call to follow Christ INCLUDES the call to be on mission (See Bonhoffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” for more reading)? God could use us to take the Gospel to all the ends of the earth— does that remind anyone else of the book of Acts? I wish everyone would hear this message!
- Here is a startling truth tucked away on page 105 of “Gaining by Losing,” 39 of the 40 miracles recorded in the book of Acts happened outside church walls- that is staggering. God dwells with His people and God works by His Word through His people. If we live on mission in the workplace, in the marketplace, as we go and make disciples of all nations, then we could expect God’s Word to do God’s Work by God’s power and the evidence will be that the miracle of salvation will occur within the lives of those we minister to. In order for us to do this we need to take the Gospel outside the walls of our church buildings. Man, I wish everyone would hear this message!
- I love the point Stetzer words like this, “God calls his leaders, not to a platform to build a great ministry for themselves, but to an altar where they die unto themselves. This means sending out our best with abandon.” The temptation at a church where there has been a lot of apparent success is for that church to continue to build a platform for themselves and their pastor, but what if these churches instead intentionally made themselves smaller by planting new churches in communities with low Gospel presence? What if these churches revitalized dying church bodies? What if these churches sent out their best people, their best resources, their best time, and their best everything? What if I did this in my life? What if you did this in your life? What if we were all-everyone of us-willing to die to ourselves so we could live for Christ? Do you see why I wish everyone could hear this message?
- Pastor J.D. makes a quote that sums up much of his book… “Let me be clear: The church’s primary objective is to preach the gospel, not to beautify the city, care for the poor, or renovate the ghettos. That’s because the gospel testifies to what God has done to save the world, not what we can do. The gospel is an announcement about Christ’s finished work.” Amen! I need this message, you need this message, the whole world and everyone in it NEEDS this message!
So, here is the point where I tell you why I wish everyone knew about J.D. Greear. The reason actually has nothing to do with J.D. at all. The reason is because J.D. is 100% convinced that his church, his vocation, his convention, and everything in his life is NOT about him at all– God’s grace has caused him to realize he is just an ambassador given a platform on behalf of His King who sent Him on His behalf. I wish everyone knew about J.D. because I want everyone to see a pastor who in the eyes of many is “successful,” and yet he continues to confidently proclaim the truth that it isn’t about him at all, but it’s all about Jesus Christ and His perfect life lived in the place of those unable to live perfectly and meet God’s standard of holiness, and yet Jesus died on the cross willingly and shed his own blood for all who would come to faith in Him because He loves us. I wish everyone knew about J.D. Greear, because God has given him an awesome platform and he has used it to exemplify and proclaim the Gospel: a true story which is good news about Jesus saving sinners. I wish everyone knew about Pastor J.D. because of his message and his platform and his Savior who he pushes to the forefront of everything he does. So go read “Gaining by Losing,” and you will see what I mean.