Dayton: Before Gospel, your last book was Breaking the Islam Code. How important is it, in your opinion, for pastors/elders to understand Islam and to prepare their congregants to engage Muslims?
J.D.: Very! Islam is the only major civilization in which there hasn’t yet been a breakthrough with the Gospel. We know that history will not end before we’ve seen a huge harvest of Muslims. Recently I finished Collin Hansen’s excellent book. A God-Sized Vision, in which he describes all these times in which God has moved. The glaring omission was that there wasn’t a chapter about Muslims. I finished the book wondering when the chapter is going to be written about a massive wave of Muslims coming to Christ!
A good first step is simply to teach your people about massive number of Muslims apart from Christ. One out of every three unbelievers in the world is Muslim, and the majority of Unreached People Groups in the 10-40 window are Muslim. Awareness of the lostness of Muslims lead to burden for them. Jesus died to reconcile them to the Father. If we know and love the gospel, our hearts will burn with that passion, too.
Dayton: On a different note, lets talk about Summit. Many young people have gravitated to Summit in part because of your deep but accessible preaching. What many people may not know is that not only are you a pastor but you are also a scholar. Could you comment on what led you to earn a PhD and what role scholarship should play in the life and preaching of a pastor?
J.D.: I’ve heard it said that “nerdy” is the new “cool.” That’s certainly born out on the sitcoms. Tim Keller, the yoda for many young preachers, preaches like a professor. So, to be able to speak intelligibly about many issues is important. I don’t think a PhD is required for effective engagement of a culture, but I don’t think it hurts. I am so grateful to Paige Patterson, president of the seminary I attended, for pushing me that direction. His advice has paid off 10x over.
Dayton: Under your leadership, The Summit has pledged to plant 1000 churches over the next four decades. What is the vision for planting these churches in terms of location? Is this a North American church planting effort or global?
J.D.: We intend and pray to plant churches both domestically and internationally. I have an especial attraction to the Muslim world, of course. We have sent out about 250 of our members to plant internationally, and about 50 to plant domestically—in places like Denver, Nashville, and Greensboro.
Dayton: As someone who serves in a church not far from The Summit, I have benefited greatly from the Advance the Church conferences you have hosted. The next conference is not until March of 2013. Talk about the purpose and vision for this conference and why pastors and church leaders should plan to attend.
J.D.: The purpose of Advance is to create a vision for what a recovery of the Gospel in southern churches would look like. It’s not a church growth seminar filled with the latest gimmicks or techniques, but an exploration of the gospel and its profound implications for ministry. In the South the gospel is being replaced by fundamentalism, irreligion, or liberalism. Many churches have attempted to address declining attendance through flashier programs or louder music. Advance is about the gospel. We try to make the conference a balance between the attractional and the missional as well as the theological and the practical.
Dayton: In addition to being a notable voice in the SBC, you pastor one of the fastest growing churches in the United States. How do you remain humble and focused upon mission given the ever-increasing attention you receive?
J.D.: Two things have helped me with humility, though I don’t think I’m that good at being humble, yet: the gospel and my life. It is impossible really to believe the gospel and be proud. As I dwell on the gospel, humility grows in me naturally. The fruit of my own efforts is condemnation, futility, and hell. The gospel is that God gave me in Christ what I don’t deserve and can never earn. How do you believe that and be proud?
I also have a great wife who doesn’t think that I’m really all that important. She’s more concerned about me as the daddy and the friend than she is me the pastor of a mega-church. I’ve also got several good friends on staff. It’s been difficult to have close friends on staff, but I wouldn’t trade the way they are able to speak into my life, the way they rebuke me, call me out, and call me forward. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable having people close to me with that much access, but I wouldn’t trade it.
Dayton: You were asked to serve on the Great Commission Resurgence task force. How do you believe most churches have responded to the GCR? In other words, do you think the findings and recommendations of the GCR are bringing about change in the SBC?
J.D.: There’s only so much a committee can do. They can recommend, but they can’t change culture. The days where Southern Baptists merely write a check to a far away office and expect them to do missions is over. Most younger Southern Baptist churches want (correctly) to be directly involved in missions. That said, we are committed to cooperative efforts, and plan to increase our giving to the Cooperative Program, particularly as we see the Convention going in such positive directions. We love a lot of the new leadership. In short, I believe that Southern Baptists will need to be a leaner and lighter organization. If they do that, they will remain a very viable mission organization.
Dayton: In closing, based upon your own experiences, what is one caution you will give to potential church planters/revitalizers?
J.D.: First, do not allow anything, however good, to take the place of the Gospel. Pastors, me included, love to adopt the latest program and think it is they key to revitalization. The gospel revitalizes. A lot of the new techniques are good, but nothing replaces the glory of Jesus and the centrality of His cross. Jesus said that if He is lifted up He will draw all people to himself. Focus on that.
Second, do not create false dichotomies. We can be attractional and missional. We can have great music and be serious about discipleship. We do not usually have to choose between church growth and church health. We do not have to choose between growing our church and planting churches. Healthy plants grow evenly, bearing fruit on all branches.
Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts J.D.!