A conversation with Buddy Gray

Communications Staff — July 23, 2009

(Editor’s note: Buddy Gray has served as pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., for the past 23 years. He also served as a trustee at Southern Seminary for many years and was chairman of the board earlier this decade. Over the past few years he has helped his congregation to develop a robust Christian worldview by teaching them systematic theology, biblical theology, church history and other topics both through his preaching/teaching and reading groups. News.sbts.edu interviewed him during the recent meeting of the SBC in Louisville)

SBTS: What were you most encouraged about at the SBC annual meeting this year?

Buddy Gray: I was excited and thrilled that so many young people were there, so many young pastors. And the atmosphere was great in the things that were said, how they were said, the informal meetings that took place, the other meetings that took place with so many young guys – there was an air of excitement.

I’m thrilled with what the convention’s doing, but one of the concerns has been, “Will the young pastors see the work of the denomination?” and I think some good strides were made this time.

SBTS: Most of our students are either serving as pastors or will be pastors, many for the first time. What words of wisdom would you give them as they leave here?

BG: I’ve had a lot of opportunities to talk to a lot of young guys, even over the last few days, just wonderful guys. They were asking the same kinds of questions. I just encouraged them to love the people that God has called (them) to pastor. Know that you are there to pastor and that means that you love them and lead them. And if you don’t love them, you’re not going to lead them.

Don’t try to make changes (too soon); I mean, if you know the church you’re going to and you know that there may be things that need to change, be sure to get the big picture first. If you’d like to lead people to change over the next 10 years, you can do it; but if you want to change them by next year or the year after, forget it. You’re going to mess things up and mess it up for whoever follows you.

Sometimes it’s not worth it. If it’s not illegal, immoral, unethical or unbiblical, leave it alone. Just work around it. Love them and just keep going. And plow the ground. I’m a big believer, not in manipulation, but in slowly educating people.

SBTS: It is well known that you are an avid reader, so what are you reading right now?

BG: One book I’m reading right now is “Dogs of God” by James Reston on Columbus, the defeat of the Moors and the Spanish Inquisition. I just read a book on the third crusade called, “Warriors of God” and I enjoyed that. I just finished “How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World,” by Stephen Nichols on the Reformation and it was really good.

SBTS: How do you recommend books to read to your congregation?

BG: I encourage people to get on one of our reading tracks. If you’re reading systematic theology or church history or what we call biblical theology — it’s not exactly that but that’s what we call it — there are books that I recommend if you want to know more about a certain topic.

We have a very good book store in our church, so a lot of times in a lot of Sunday mornings I will say, “Read such and such a book” on a given topic. Usually it will sell out because we have a lot of readers in our church. It works both ways too; people will come to me with books and say, “Man have you seen this and this” and so I’ve got a stack of books on my desk that people in the church want me to read.

SBTS: Tell me about the reading tracks at Hunter Street; is that part of a formalized curriculum within the church?

BG: We call it “Theological Reading Groups” and we started several years ago with Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology.” With Grudem, for example, we take a chapter a week, everybody reads and then we come together and discuss it.

We launched the reading groups a few years ago within the church and had more than 800 people read through Grudem’s book. When people see how great God is and that the most important thing about you is your concept of God by going through that systematic — and it takes about five or six months before the lights start coming on people’s minds — it is a great, great joy.

We added another track a year and a half ago and that was reading Mark Dever’s books on the whole Bible, “Promises Made” and “Promises Kept,” and people really enjoyed that. For the first time they were able to see that the Bible is one story, and how it all fits together.

This year we added a church history track where we’re using Bruce Shelly’s “Church History in Plain Language” and they are almost half way through that. After that, this group will read “How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World.”

One of the guys I was reading with – we were six months into it and he was 30 years old – said, “You know, I’ve been a Christian since I was 8 years old, and it has only been in the last few months that I’ve come to understand how great God is. I install kitchen equipment for a living, but the only thing I think about now is God and the greatness of God.” I thought, “There you go.”

People want to know God, and in order to do that they have to know theology. When you put theology on a level where they can get it and other people around them get it, they get really excited about the things of God.

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