Wayne Bray, lead pastor of First Baptist Church, Simpsonville, and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, began his life in Dothan, Ala., grew up in Georgia, and located to Simpsonville six years ago.
“My dad pastored my entire life,” he said. “I remember riding on the seat of the bus while we did bus ministry. I was born the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, so my background is unquestionably not only born but absolutely soaked in Southern Baptist life.”
He becomes the 201st president of this state convention, following Alex Sands, the 200th president and first African-American to serve in this position. Bray stated, “I love coming out of Alex’s time of service. We celebrate his historical election. He is a good friend of mine, and I love him dearly. His theme was ‘Advance Together,’ and I want to build on that. Gary Hollingsworth and I have talked (about the 2022 theme), and I think we are going with ‘Wake Up,’ which is based on Romans 13:11 (ESV): ‘… you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.’ ”
Simpsonville First has 11 worship services, five campuses, and four different styles, he pointed out. The moniker for the Simpsonville church network is Upstate Church. Even though the main campus would be regarded as a mega church, Bray points out that he wants to “build some bridges that would help reinforce and reassure some pastors that, number one, we are all in this thing together. It doesn’t matter how small or large. It doesn’t matter what the budget is. None of those things matter at the end of the day. We need to pool our resources and focus on some significant things that can launch the idea of unity. South Carolina is very unified, and I am encouraged by the fact that we really do share the same mission and we are able to work together. We need to celebrate that and maximize that opportunity.”
He and his wife, Amy, recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. She is a third-grade teacher in Simpsonville, and together they have three sons and two daughters. The oldest, Will, is the campus pastor of Upstate Church in Anderson.
“I think anytime I am given a microphone, I am going to try to remind people not what makes us separate, but what makes us united,” he said. “I want to focus on our identity — who we are as Southern Baptists. I am afraid we have become very dogmatic about our doctrines and beliefs, instead of limiting the things we are dogmatic about to the things that are non-negotiable. We seem to be non-negotiable about almost everything now. I think our diversity is what makes us strong. In passages like Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, you see the strength of the body of Christ is how we are different. I want to emphasize unity, not uniformity.”
Bray plans to make six phone calls a day, with the goal of calling every SBC pastor in the state. “I want to potentially invite every pastor to come to next year’s convention and bring his messengers. I would love it if South Carolina could be an example to the nation. Amid all the chaos and confusion (in the world), instead of people saying, ‘They are just like us — confused, lost, fighting, mad’— they see a group of people that, in spite of all the trouble in the world, has the light for the darkness.”
He believes our convention needs to understand that we share a mission that is greater than any differences we have. “At the annual meeting, I want to include people from all areas of the state, bringing together pastors, church planters and older pastors. I really want us to be truly unified and not just repeating some catchy slogan.”
Bray believes we share a common mission and a common Savior, but, over the years, “we have become so segmented in tribal differences in our culture in various areas. People want to divide you and get you into the smallest group possible where you share identical beliefs with them. We are not going to do that and be effective in ministry as a convention.” He added, “I think I am going to try to reinforce the fact that no matter where we are on the spectrum of Bible-believing, gospel-centered believers, we are in this thing together. We need to help each other.”
His hope is that people will see South Carolina Baptists and “know we are Christians by our love.”