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The Southern Baptist Convention: Praise, Problems, Promise




March 12, 2024


Why did I place my name in the running for the office of president? Why should anyone vote for me? These two questions I wish to address in this post.

 

In answer to the first question, I did so because I sensed God’s prompting. I did so because so many have told me that after much prayer, they felt led of God to ask me to allow my name to be placed in nomination. I did so because I owe so much to Southern Baptists. I did so because I believe our convention has been and can continue to be useful in service to God’s kingdom.

 

Motives are often the most difficult thing to discern. I can only confess that as best I know my heart, my motives are simply to follow what I perceive to be God’s will, and to serve my fellow Southern Baptists as best I know how.

 

Anyone who has ever sat in an annual SBC meeting and listened to the reports of our International Mission Board and North American Mission Board thrills at what God is doing in His world. Our six Southern Baptist seminaries are training men and women to serve the Savior around the world. Faithful pastors in churches of every size are preaching the word. Souls are being saved. Lives are being changed. Ministry is happening.

 

Permit me to add my trickle to the flood of opinionation concerning the status and future of the SBC.

 

Southern Baptists currently inhabit a no-man’s land somewhere between a false greatness and a false insignificance. Perhaps there are some who are all too eager to place the SBC on a pedestal as if somehow the Kingdom of God can’t move forward without us. Others appear to be inoculated with the microbes of pessimism concerning the future. A few appear stricken with a fever pitch as calls to “burn it down” or “let it die” demonstrate ignorant and unstable mindsets.

 

Southern Baptists don’t have a top-down structure. Each SBC church is autonomous. All our denominational entities and agencies exist to serve local churches. Denominational leaders are accountable to Southern Baptists primarily through their Boards of Trustees. This polity has served us well through the years. It is important that all Southern Baptists understand this and function accordingly.

 

Denominational loyalty is a good thing. Adherence to truth is necessary and also a good thing. If we understand that truth always trumps denominational loyalty, we should never assume that adherence to the truth and denominational loyalty are mutually exclusive.

 

The current condition of the SBC is not at Noah flood stage, nevertheless, the forecast is shade not sunshine. The patient is not on life support, but we are near being transported from a hospital room to ICU. At the very least, most of us could use a clinical visit concerning our evangelism. Our SBC is suffering from many ailments. Everybody senses there are some things seriously wrong. We seem to be a jumble of intelligence and wrongheadedness; good intentions alloyed with poor discernment; information tainted with misinformation; misunderstanding resulting in mistrust.

 

It appears some of us can think only of mistakes and uprooting error. Others can think only of defending the status quo and minimizing or denying any mistakes or errors. We must avoid two extremes: a theological Clint Eastwood mentality that says: “Go ahead; make my day,” and a “move along—nothing to see here” mindset that squelches questions and ignores concerns. Neither is correct. Neither is helpful. Most Southern Baptists have never tolerated a convention-controlled echo chamber or a theological firing squad.

 

We need a return to our humanity in how we view one another, speak to one another and treat one another. People should not be pestered to death with a constant caustic spirit of unverified accusations. They deserve our trust unless and until they prove themselves untrustworthy. Likewise, no one should be branded as a blasphemous barbarian because he or she presumes to question or dares to express an honest differing opinion about convention issues.

 

We are indeed facing many challenges.

 

The watchword among us must be “balance.” We need a healthy perspective between the good and the not-so-good in our convention. We need the gift of forbearance balanced by the gift of discernment. We need a positive affirmation of the things most surely believed among us, as well as a full-throated convictional defense of viewpoints with which some of our fellow Southern Baptists may disagree.

 

The tactic of guilt by association has been used to unjustly sully reputations. Some have a tendency to magnify venial faults into mortal sins while others downgrade mortal sins to mere venial faults.  In recent years, some reputations have been done to death by their own sinful actions; others have been slain by slander.

 

Acerbic tongues and nimble fingers dipped in vitriol on social media harm our fellowship with one another and our witness to the world. The uncharitable reading of words and actions is a not uncommon occurrence among us. Social media outrage and virtue signaling are fig leaves behind which no one can hide for long. That trick play no longer works. A few of us enjoy too much the sound of our own voice. As Solomon reminds us, there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. When we do speak, we must ever avoid engaging in a clever manipulation of the facts, and always speak the truth in love.

 

These principles ought to permeate all our discussions of all the issues and concerns before us.  One of those topics of discussion in recent years has been sexual abuse. Sexual abuse cannot be ignored. Survivors deserve justice. They deserve to have their voice heard. The SBC must do everything responsibly within our power to prevent sexual abuse. The most vulnerable among us should feel safe in our churches. We all agree on this. Yet it is clear we do not all agree on how to accomplish this goal.

 

Whatever decisions Southern Baptists make regarding this issue, I believe abuse is dealt with and defeated ultimately at the local church level. The local church is where accountability begins. The SBC should do all that is reasonably possible to provide information and training to church leaders regarding all aspects of abuse prevention and survivor care. We need heavenly wisdom to help us to work together to address the issue with biblical principles, genuine compassion, a financially prudent plan, sound legal strategies, and a methodologically wise blueprint for action.

 

Another concern in the SBC is a lack of transparency and clear communication. In the first year of my first pastorate in 1982, a wise deacon told me: “Pastor, what people are not up on, they are down on. Good communication is the key to minimizing criticism. As the old saying goes among Baptists: ‘Trust the Lord and tell the people.’”

 

I occasionally learned the hard way the wisdom of his words. Of course, leadership cannot tell everything, nor should they. Good leaders resist maneuvering in a cloak and dagger fashion. Truly great leaders resist the urge to put their thumb on the scale when they know they have the power and influence to do so.

 

The law of gravity remains unrepealed in the natural world and the same is true in our Southern Baptist Zion. If once great civilizations can decay, die, and lie in ruins, once great denominations can too. Some may believe our SBC has become too tangled to unravel. I don’t believe that. The bathwater may be dirty, but there is a baby in it.

 

Where bad decisions have been made along the way, good decisions can still become the order of the day. Where individuals and groups have sinned, repentance is called for. Repentance is the door of renewal. Revival is possible in the SBC. But we must value our integrity above our reputation. When we do, God will take care of our reputation.

 

The second important question is, “Why should anyone vote for me as president of the convention?” I would hope people would vote for me because of my future vision and past experience.

 

I believe the SBC needs a president who is well-versed in the workings of the Convention but is

not overly connected to our current leadership. We need a president who loves and respects our Convention but understands the concerns of a growing number of grassroots Southern Baptists and who will work to have those concerns heard and addressed by all SBC leadership. For the record, I am not a member of any group—only a local Southern Baptist church.

 

I believe my past experience has prepared me to serve Southern Baptists in these difficult days.

 

My mother served on the staff of an SBC church for 25 years. I was saved in an SBC church. My first ministry assignment was in an SBC church when I was nineteen. My children were saved and baptized in an SBC church. One of my sons was trained in an SBC seminary and he and his wife served in Egypt as IMB missionaries.

 

In my first pastorate, our church planted six ethnic missions in the Dallas area. Our church members went on several international mission trips for the specific purpose of evangelism and church planting. As a result, there have been over 100 churches planted in Central America, South America, Africa, Europe and Asia.

 

I served Southern Baptists in roles within the local Association, State Convention, and the SBC, including twelve years as a trustee of one of our seminaries. I taught at an SBC seminary for eighteen years.

 

God has given me the joy of preaching in many of our SBC churches. In 2021 I launched a new ministry called “PreachingCoach” where I partner with pastors and other ministry leaders to communicate the word of God with clarity, competence, and confidence. Most of my partners are Southern Baptist pastors and ministry leaders.

 

In 21 years of serving two churches as senior pastor, and in 10 years of serving 13 churches as Interim Pastor, I believe God has prepared me to serve Southern Baptists for this strategic time. I know pastors. I know SBC churches. Now is a good time in my life to serve in this way. I have the flexibility to travel and be involved.

 

As a candidate for president, my platform is simple:

 

1) Strengthen our long-term Convention focus on evangelism, missions, and preaching.

2) Support passage of the Mike Law Amendment at the 2024 SBC in Indianapolis.

3) Seek to restore an eroding trust among many Southern Baptists by calling for transparency at every level.

 

1. Distractions cause loss of focus. We must keep the main thing the main thing. Evangelism, missions, and preaching must ever remain paramount in the SBC lest she lose her reason for existence. This is not to say that all other issues are unimportant or should not be addressed.

2. One of the major issues among us is the role of women in church leadership. As we move toward the 2024 SBC meeting in June, the most divisive issue is likely to be the vote on the Law Amendment to the SBC Constitution. The amendment, if approved, would add a sixth statement to Article III, subparagraph 1: “The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a ‘cooperating’ church as that term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which: 6. Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

The amendment must be voted on in consecutive SBC meetings and receive a two-thirds majority to pass. In the 2023 SBC, the first vote on the Law Amendment was estimated to be 80-90% in favor. A second vote will occur in Indianapolis this summer.

 

An article by Kevin McClure in the American Reformer in June, 2023, identified more than 1800 women serving in pastoral leadership roles in more than 1200 Southern Baptist churches.  (https://americanreformer.org/2023/06/how-many-female-pastors-are-in-the-sbc/)

 

While I am aware of those few who advocate for women in roles of pastoral leadership in direct contradiction to Scripture and contrary to the BFM, most Southern Baptists affirm complementarianism. However, I have the troubling feeling some do not really believe it but are trying hard not to tell us they don’t believe it.

 

This is a watershed issue for Southern Baptists. The Law Amendment is an important clarifying statement. I recognize good and godly people can and do disagree on some things in this area. Let the discussion continue before the vote in June.

 

3. As I travel and preach in our SBC churches, the number one concern I hear, especially from pastors, is the eroding level of trust. Loss of trust means loss of motivation to cooperate. Loss of cooperation means loss of ministry effectiveness for the SBC. When Southern Baptists ask questions or seek clear explanations for things and are stonewalled by entity leaders or Boards of Trustees, such lack of response and transparency ineluctably breeds discontent and a loss of trust. There is no question that many Southern Baptists perceive this to be the case, and perception is reality for people.

 

Forty-five years ago, grass-roots Southern Baptists made it clear they had never authorized some of our convention leaders to surrender our principles, no matter how much some of those leaders had surrendered theirs.

 

Therefore, if elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, my pledge is two-fold:

 

1) Support and encourage all Southern Baptists and all SBC entities and agencies in their ultimate mission of seeking to win the world to Christ as we cooperate to call out the called, pray, and give faithfully to the Cooperative Program.

           

2) Appoint Southern Baptists to the Committee on Committees who will assure me and all Southern Baptists they will only nominate people to places of service who will pledge to work for truth, trust and transparency within their respective committees, trustee boards, and entities.

 

I cannot imagine a single Southern Baptist who would not support these goals, even if he or she chooses not to support me.  

 

In June Bingham’s biography of Reinhold Niebuhr, “Courage to Change,” she included a prayer which Niebuhr himself had written: “Oh God give us serenity to accept what cannot be changed, courage to change what should be changed, and wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

 

May God help Southern Baptists to have the courage to change what should be changed . . . and, of course, the wisdom to know why, when, and how to do so.

 

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