SPARTANBURG — The Rev. D.J. Horton says he got the call from God to reach people for Christ as a pastor when he was a student assistant coach for the Auburn University football team in 1999.
This week, the pastor of Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church near Spartanburg took that calling to a higher level, when he was elected president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Horton, 36, hopes to use his one-year term to focus the state’s largest religious group on reaching people for Christ, while streamlining state convention-run operations that he believes are taking too much energy and money away from that primary mission.
“Ministry is not complicated,” he said. “It’s about building relationships and loving people where they are and clearly communicating truth.”
Horton, who said he is possibly the youngest president the convention has had, was elected over Dusty Bradshaw, a North Charleston pastor, in a 244-163 vote, according to The Baptist Courier. There were no other nominees.
Many Southern Baptist churches across the state have plateaued or are declining in membership, following a national trend, the new president said.
“Like all denominations, we’ve got our churches that are really blowing it out, doing really good things, growing, reaching young people,” he said. “And we have a lot of churches that are really struggling.
“If the local church stops reaching people, then obviously it doesn’t take someone with a mathematical degree to know that your congregation is going to get older if you’re not reaching any new people.”
Horton leads a church that has tripled in size during his 10 years there, to about 2,000 members.
The key, he said, is getting deeply involved in the community.
“We’ve got to coach the Little League teams. We’ve got to get to know the school teachers. We’ve got to be involved in the office and factory Bible studies,” he said. “We’ve got to be in people’s lives. If we’ll be in their lives, they’ll be in our churches.”
He wants to streamline the state convention, which already has been downsized in recent years, and send more money to parts of the world where the gospel isn’t being preached.
Horton doesn’t expect to make big changes during his term, but he hopes to get momentum going in a new direction to help local churches be more effective.
“As president, I’d love to create energy around the things that we are doing well and then start the conversation about the things we need to change,” he said.
Horton was a walk-on deep snapper and linebacker at Auburn in 1997-98 before spending his senior year as an assistant.
He and his wife, Laura, have four children and are in the process of adopting a child from Ethiopia.