Georgia Pastor Mike Stone is a candidate to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention, according to Florida Pastor Tom Ascol, who believes it is vital the denomination be led by a pastor.
"We're going to have a faithful Baptist pastor who will be nominated to help lead us as the next SBC president," Ascol, president of Founders Ministries, told The Christian Post in a phone interview Tuesday.
The nation's largest Protestant denomination is comprised of churches and the pastors who are called to shepherd those congregations, he explained, underscoring that it's time for the SBC to "get back to the basics" and that all of the entities and agencies within it belong to the churches.
"At this critical juncture where we have so many challenges in the culture that have come into the denomination and in our local churches, we need a man on the ground [as president]."
Although Ascol is among the Reformed wing of the denomination and Stone represents the traditionalist SBC view — which has been a source of contention in the SBC in recent years — the Florida pastor speaks warmly of the Georgia minister. Their theological differences have not been a barrier to friendship, Ascol said.
"And that's the way it should be in the Southern Baptist Convention, and right now we need all who are committed to the inerrancy and sufficiency, the full authority, of Scripture to unite together. And I think [Mike Stone] will do that. I've not sensed anything from him except just recognition that we are all brothers and these are fraternal discussions we can have but right now we have a bigger concern with what is going on in the culture and the division that has come into our Convention which needs to be addressed by good, clear, simple pastoral leadership."
Stone, who is the pastor of Emanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia, confirmed Tuesday in a CP interview that indeed he is in the running for the job, though it was something that he felt prompted by the Holy Spirit while praying during a recent season where the SBC presidency was the farthest thing from his mind. He sensed God say to him: "Would you be willing to be nominated if that were My will for you?"
For the Lord to confirm this, Stone prayed that his wife would be in full support of it and for her to initiate it. Stone recounted that his wife is not into Convention affairs at all or the inner workings of the denomination and it would thus be unusual for her to initiate a conversation on the subject.
"The very next day, without me breathing a word of it to her, she initiated this conversation and she asked if she could share with me why she thought God may be moving in that direction," Stone said.
His staff and lay leadership of his church also began to speak positively about the prospect.
"I cannot say that God has called me to be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I can say that God has led me to allow my name to be put in nomination. And my response is not as much a call to be elected but it's a call to be obedient."
Stone plans to emphasize a renewed focus on evangelism as he speaks to SBC leaders about his candidacy — which the denomination has historically called our "one sacred effort" — as well as the importance of the sufficiency of Scripture and greater grassroots involvement in the denomination.
While most Southern Baptists will say they believe that the headquarters of the Convention is the local church given their strong belief of autonomy of every congregation, in practice, the denomination has become top-down management in their approach to the denomination's cooperative efforts.
"In order for the Cooperative Program to work it has to be cooperative. What we're seeing, and there is specific evidence of this, is local churches sending cooperative program dollars through their state and regional conventions and then on to the national conventions and entities and the entities are making decisions that hinder the ministries of the supporting state conventions. And you have decisions made on the ground in local areas in local churches that are being dictated by and driven by national entity headquarters," Stone said.
"Increasingly, Southern Baptists on the ground have less and less influence and impact over what is happening with their own Cooperative Program dollars."
He stressed: "I do think that the Southern Baptist Convention will be best led by someone who has a direct tie to the local church."
Stone is also a previous chair of the SBC Executive Committee.