‘Be the kind of leader that will help advance the Gospel,’ Richards exhorts

Alex Sibley
| Apr 21, 2021

Noting that God defines “winning” differently than the world does, Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), encouraged the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel audience to consider what kind of leaders they want to be as they serve the church. 

“Cultures change, faces change, names change, but Jesus’ lordship over the church does not change,” said Richards during his chapel sermon, April 21. “He is the supreme authority in our lives and in the church. So, I want to encourage you today to serve the church; to be the kind of leader that will help advance the Gospel.”

Richards is the founding director of the SBTC, and after 22 years in this role, he will transition to executive director emeritus at the end of this year. In appreciation for his years of service, prior to Richards’ sermon, President Adam W. Greenway presented him with two gifts: a copy of The B. H. Carroll Pulpit, a new book from Seminary Hill Press that collects 40 sermons and messages from Southwestern Seminary’s founder, and a set of Southwestern Seminary presidential cuff links, which bear the seminary’s seal. 

“I hope that you will wear them knowing that Southwestern Seminary is grateful for your service, for your friendship, and on behalf of the thousands of churches that make up the SBTC, for all of the Cooperative Program partnership and investment that has been made during these 22 years of your leadership, that the churches of Texas might have a more faithful and educated ministry,” Greenway said. 

Greenway also recognized during the chapel service the SBTC executive committee, which was on campus during the week for their spring meeting, including executive director elect Nathan Lorick. Before chapel, the SBTC provided breakfast for the Southwestern community. 

In his chapel message, Richards preached from the book of 3 John, noting the three types of leaders represented in the text—Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius. 

Gaius, Richards noted, was marked by love for the truth and love for people. Richards encouraged the Southwestern community to model that same love.

“The Word of God is truth,” Richards said. “And there are irreducibles that we must hold if we are to love the truth.” 

Richards singled out one key “irreducible”—belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. 

“We are to believe that the Bible is the Word of God without error,” he said. “From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, it is the inerrant, infallible Word of God.”

Unlike Gaius, who was an exemplar of godly leadership, Diotrephes was marked by pride, gossip, and spitefulness. As stated in 3 John 10, “he not only refuses to welcome fellow believers, but he even stops those who want to do so and expels them from the church.” In other words, Richards said, Diotrephes allowed pride to hinder the advance of the Gospel. 

“Jesus is Lord,” Richards said, “not some church boss, not some dictatorial pastor. Jesus is Lord.”

The third leader mentioned in the text, Demetrius, demonstrated a “liberated” leadership, Richards said. 

“He was liberated from all of the discouragement and difficulties that came against him,” Richards explained. “Many scholars believe that Demetrius was the person who delivered the letter and probably one of the missionaries that had been refused hospitality [by Diotrephes]. But it didn’t stop Demetrius; he kept going; he stayed with it.” 

“Demetrius shows how we can be liberated to serve Jesus when we’re opposed by others,” Richards continued. “… Do not let anyone deter you from living and preaching the Gospel. You’re liberated by the blood to live for our God.”

Richards concluded by comparing ministry service to running a race. Though the world defines “winning” only as finishing in first place, Richards noted that God defines winning differently. 

“When you’re running your life for Jesus, you’re going to stumble, and you’re going to fall, and you’re going to hit the cinders,” said Richards. “And you’re not going to be able to really finish it by yourself, because none of us can do that. But our heavenly Father, in the person of the Holy Spirit, will come and lift us up every time and enable us to keep down the track until we cross the finish line. 

“Do not be deterred by adversity or the adversary; you will get to the finish line, because God will call you a winner.”