PIKEVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Kentucky Today editors had the opportunity to do a Q&A with two candidates who are expected to be nominated for president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention at the organization's annual meeting at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville on Nov. 13.
Announced candidates are Tim Searcy, pastor of Allen Baptist Church near Prestonsburg, and Nick Sandefur, pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington.
Kentucky Today: Would you please share with us your conversion experience?
Searcy: My father was Lewis Searcy, a 40-year Kentucky Baptist pastor. I encountered the Gospel at home, in Sunday School, and worship services. I first felt conviction at age 4 at Turner Ridge Baptist Church, Falmouth, Kentucky. My mother shared with me the Gospel and told me that the next time I felt God’s touch on my heart that I should go forward and give my life to Him. On my father’s first sermon at New Bethel Baptist Church, Verona, Kentucky, I once again felt the Spirit’s conviction, convincing me of my sin and need for salvation. I went forward and gave my life to Him and have never turned aside from it. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10: 28-30 CSB)
Sandefur: My childhood Sundays were spent at the lake, visiting family, or watching sports. My parents were loving parents, but our family was not active in a church. Thankfully, an 80-year-old couple asked my parents if they could take me to Cash Creek Baptist Church in Henderson. I started attending at age ten, and week after week, I heard the word of God proclaimed faithfully. When I was twelve, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. By His grace, He saved me; and I was baptized two weeks later. Since that time, both of my parents have become believers and are active members of a local SBC church.
Kentucky Today: What is the single biggest goal you would like to accomplish as KBC president and why is it important to you?
Sandefur: I have two major goals for Kentucky Baptist churches whether God calls me to serve as KBC president or not. 1) I want to see a reverse of the downward trend in baptisms. Baptism is not only a significant moment in the spiritual development of a believer, but churches are also impacted by the celebration of baptism. Churches that are baptizing typically are sharing their faith more and are filled with more spiritual vitality. 2) I want to see a recommitment to the Cooperative Program by churches increasing their giving. I believe we can do more together than we can apart. Through CP giving, every church—large and small—has the opportunity to reach the world.
Searcy: I am appalled at the level of self-promotion within Southern Baptist life. While working on a sermon from John 3 recently I was reminded of his words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” The longer I lead, the more I understand that I should be encouraging people to follow Christ, not me. Only Jesus can save. It is His church, not mine. I am simply the friend of the groom who rejoices when the Bride is faithful. I really have nothing to say except what comes from above as revealed in His Word. People do not need to hear from me, they need a word from Jesus. The “I thinks” and the “I believes” need to change to “God’s Word says.” I know that this sounds strange in an article about my nomination for president of the KBC. I did not seek this nomination. I was asked if would give permission to be nominated and I said yes. If elected, I would hope that I might have some impact for keeping the KBC in line with this truth; it is about Christ promotion and not self-promotion. “If others have this right to receive benefits from you, don’t we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right; instead, we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ.” (1 Cor. 9:12 CSB)
Kentucky Today: One of the responsibilities of the KBC president is to appoint committee chairs. What criteria will you consider in making these appointments?
Searcy: I know this might sound trite and like religious babble, but in my case, it is very serious. I would appoint who God desires. In mission work I have found myself in life threatening situations and have learned that it is not that God is there with you, it is that God is there in you. I have learned by experience that you can trust Him in all things. I understand that this is a big state and that representation of the different areas of the state is important. I also understand that there is great wisdom to be found in the officers of the convention and the convention personnel. I would consult them as well. But ultimately, God knows what is best. So, through prayer and supplication, I would seek His face in all things. “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4: 6-7 CSB)
Sandefur: I would appoint proven leaders of high character. I would appoint people who are in churches that are sacrificially giving to the Cooperative Program. Obviously, sacrifice looks different depending on the context; however, the people who steer the boat should be willing to row.
Kentucky Today: We're living in a time of great social upheaval, and, as a result, long-held Christian principles are under attack. How bold do you think the KBC president and Kentucky Baptists in general should be in engaging the culture on social, ethical and moral issues?
Sandefur: I will speak loudly where the Bible speaks clearly and guard my words with issues where the Bible is silent. I will encourage members to be salt and light in the state by being actively involved in their communities. While I believe churches must speak into social issues and provide solid teaching for their members, evangelism and disciple making are my primary priorities. The best way to change social issues is to see hearts changed by the gospel.
Searcy: When asked, the KBC president should speak the truth. The president should work with the Executive Director of the KBC to support strategies to help the Convention to engage the culture. It is my belief that it is the duty of the local church to be bold in each Kentucky community concerning the social upheaval of our time. I do not believe that a church needs to sacrifice the truth to preach the Gospel. The church has the answer to social, ethical, and moral issues. We must present them in a way that does not compromise the truth about sin, but also presents the good news of God’s forgiveness in Christ. “Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ.” (Eph. 4: 14-15 CSB)
Kentucky Today: The Cooperative Program has proven itself as an incredible evangelistic tool for spreading the gospel around the world. What would you do to encourage churches to increase their giving through CP?
Searcy: Having served as an International Mission Board Missionary in Colombia, the Associate Provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Vice President of Academics at two Baptist Colleges, I have seen firsthand the benefit of the Cooperative Program. One of the most important aspects of creating a greater desire for CP giving is participating in missions and meeting missionaries both from NAMB and the IMB. My passion for missions has been fueled by mission work in Colombia, Costa Rica, Russia, Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar, Cuba, Tanzania, New Orleans, Cincinnati, etc. I would encourage all KBC churches to take advantage of the Vision Tours provided by Doug Williams and the KBC. I am a graduate of Oneida Baptist Institute and Clear Creek Baptist Bible College and love and appreciate their work. I also want people to know of the work of the Baptist Health Care System, Crossings, the Kentucky Baptist Foundation, Kentucky Women’s Missionary Union, Sunrise Children’s Services, the University of the Cumberland’s, and the Western Recorder. This knowledge will produce greater contributions to the CP.
Sandefur: Helping people understand the impact of CP is the best motivator for increased giving. My experience has been that our agencies, missionaries, institutions, and planting partners are more than willing to come and share the story of how CP has impacted the work in which they are involved. There are numerous resources available to help churches see how God is at work through Southern Baptists. I would encourage our pastors to help share that story in their churches.
Kentucky Today: Kentucky Baptists are people of the Bible, and they look for leaders who share their high view of scripture. Would you please tell us about an experience from your past that reflects your commitment to God's word?
Sandefur: I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God. I hope every time I enter the pulpit my preaching serves as an example of my commitment to God’s Word.
Searcy: I have had the opportunity of helping pastors in many different countries to know and teach the Bible. Some of those countries have been majority Hindu or Buddhist. These religions lend themselves to the acceptance of many different religions and therefore, religious books. This came home recently when I was asked to talk to the youth at Allen Baptist Church concerning the differences between these religious books. I brought with me the Koran, The Book of the Dead, The Rig Vida, The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita, The Analects of Confucius, The Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Siddhartha, The Way of Zen, etc. We talked of many things, but the idea that I wanted them to leave with was that all these books are religious books, the Bible, however, is a story book. The true story of how God reached down to us and revealed Himself to us. The religious books are man’s ideas about God, but the Bible is God revealing Himself to us. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3: 16-17 CSB)
Kentucky Today: Most everyone would agree that personal evangelism is crucial to winning the lost. Would you please tell us about one of your greatest successes in the area of personal evangelism?
Sandefur: It is the responsibility of every church member to take evangelism personally. This is especially true for the pastor. We can get isolated in our offices and fail to engage in one-on-one evangelism. I have found the key to personal evangelism is praying for opportunities to share and opening your eyes to the people God puts in your life. I seek to turn normal conversations toward the gospel and share what Christ has done for me. Sharing my faith is a regular part of my ministry. In the past week, I have had the opportunity to share with a delivery man, my neighbor, and a parent of one of our church’s children’s ministries. As far as greatest success, this is found in faithfully sharing. We plant and water, but God gives the increase.
Searcy: Although I agree with the premise of the question that personal evangelism is crucial to winning the lost, the second part of the question is troubling to me. I see success in evangelism as being faithful in being a witness. I am not the judge, that is God the Father, I am not the convincer, that is God the Holy Spirit, I am not the savior, that is God the Son. All glory is His. With that being said, I am determined to be a witness everywhere I go, every day. I rejoice that God has blessed my witness and the witness of Allen Baptist Church. In 2017 we had an 8/1 baptism ratio. I rejoice that God saw fit to work through me and others in Nepal over several years in the Chandranigahapur region. Thousands came out to hear the Gospel and hundreds accepted Christ resulting in new churches in a place where the Good News had not been preached in the remembrance of the people. I praise God for that! “So let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one commending himself who is approved, but the one the Lord commends.” (2 Cor. 10: 17-18 CSB)
Kentucky Today: We hear a lot about things like apathy in the church, like worldly ideas invading the church, like the need for greater financial commitment on the part of Christians, like the intrusion of government on religious liberty. What do you consider to be the biggest issues and challenges facing Kentucky Baptists today?
Searcy: I try not to dwell on what I consider to be true. I try my best to let God’s Word make the judgement. Let me do this by the words of Christ to the seven churches. In Revelation 2 & 3 Jesus points out some issues and challenges that face our Kentucky Baptist Churches. To Ephesus He warns of doing hard work while forgetting our first love. He tells the church at Smyrna not to fear what is coming. Even if it’s persecution unto death. He tells the church at Pergamum to stay with sound doctrine and stay away from sexual immorality. He warns the church at Thyatira not to tolerate sexual immorality. He tells the church at Sardis that they are not dead yet. He tells the church at Philadelphia that the door is open, walk through it. He tells the church at Laodicea to get fired up! “Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3: 22 CSB)
Sandefur: There are several issues facing the church today that pose challenges. Some of the issues mentioned above threaten church health. In addition to these, I would say the pace of cultural change has been difficult for the church. Baptist churches typically resist change and often struggle to accept the changes they do make. This dynamic has left many churches alienated from the community they are trying to reach. While we should not be like the world, we must live in the world. We must meet people where they are if we seek to lead them to where Jesus wants them to be. Another significant issue I see facing the church is a lack of regeneration in the membership. People fill our rolls and our pews who have a second or third generation faith without a firsthand experience with the risen Savior. We must faithfully proclaim the gospel message and raise expectation on our membership.
Kentucky Today: What do you believe Kentucky Baptists should be doing today to ensure some degree of religious liberty for their children and grandchildren tomorrow?
Sandefur: We are blessed to live in a land where we can worship freely and without fear. We are blessed to be a part of the process of establishing and maintaining our laws. Christians should actively engage in the process. We should share biblical principles, vote, serve, lead, and participate in public discourse. With that said, we must participate in a way that does not diminish our gospel witness. Our speech should always be filled with grace. We must not allow a divided country to distract us from our primary goal of sharing the gospel of Jesus.
Searcy: First and foremost, I believe we should be praying for our leaders. This is commanded in scripture and should be done daily. Secondly, Christians need to vote in a way consistent with Scripture, not according to political parties. Thirdly, Christians should run for office to have a biblical influence in their communities. However, not Kentucky Baptists nor any other religious body can ensure any degree of religious liberty. History teaches us that followers of Christ might have freedom, or they might not. We remain faithful either way. In some ways, the church is made stronger by persecution. “Up to the present hour we are both hungry and thirsty; we are poorly clothed, roughly treated, homeless; we labor, working with our own hands. When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we respond graciously. Even now, we are like the scum of the earth, like everyone’s garbage.” (1 Cor. 4: 11-13 CSB)
Kentucky Today: What would you do as KBC president to fight for the sanctity of life, whether that be for the unborn or the elderly?
Searcy: I would use every opportunity given me to speak God’s truth from His Word concerning this issue. I would make it very clear that this issue is not one of human choice, but of God’s truth. I believe it is a false concept that a fetus is not a human being until viability. I believe that at the creation of the very first cell with a totally new DNA, they are new persons and they deserve every God given right due them. I believe that God’s Word teaches us of the value and the need for respect of the elderly. The Proverbs teach us that wisdom accrued over a lifetime is a necessary part of the health of both our society and our churches. “You are to rise in the presence of the elderly and honor the old. Fear your God; I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19: 32 CSB)
Sandefur: We should continue to speak the truth that every human being has the image of God imparted to them and is to be treated with dignity and respect. As Baptists, my hope is for people to see us consistently valuing life, all life – the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the fallen. If asked to serve the Convention as president, I would promote the value of each life. I will speak clearly about the sanctity of life when asked by those outside of our camp, and I will challenge Kentucky Baptists to proclaim through word and deed God’s great love for all.