Transition for SBC’s big three

At this moment, two of the three most significant units of Southern Baptist structure are looking for new presidents. The third has not yet begun to search for a new occupant for its now-vacant presidential suite.

Yes, I know that all God’s children are significant but; as of this writing the president of the SBC Executive Committee is effectively the most powerful man in our denomination, the president of our International Mission Board is the most influential man in our denomination, and the president of the North American Mission Board has the hardest job in our denomination. The selection of appropriate leaders to lead these three aspects of SBC work is about the most important thing going on right now among our people.

To explain:

?The president of the Executive Committee is currently the most powerful person within our denominational work because his influence over the committee, and the committee’s influence over convention business, is practically irresistible. Who else holds that level of power?

?I say that the president of the International Mission Board is the most influential person in the SBC because his work is at the emotional heart of our ministry together. While his is not the only evangelistic and missionary entity, it is the one that can conjure up the memories of Lottie Moon and Bill Wallace. We want the IMB to succeed to a degree that we want few other things denominationally. While we will do what the president of the Executive Committee says, we want to do what the president of the International Mission Board says?not that these are contradictory things.

?The president of the North American Mission Board has arguably the most difficult job in the SBC because that entity has not worked well since it’s formation in the 1990s. It has forced the resignation of its only two presidents. It seems to be riding in all directions. When more Southern Baptists associate the phrase “merge out of existence” with your organization than with any other denominational entity, you have a tough job.

Back to our subject: The SBC Executive Committee approved a search committee to replace retiring president Morris Chapman within 24 hours of his retirement announcement. Our denomination’s International Mission Board also moved quickly to start its own presidential search after Jerry Rankin announced his retirement date. Although the North American Mission Board’s president departed without any transition time, and a month before the two retirements at the other entities were announced, NAMB’s board has not announced any plans to find a permanent leader.

Here’s a hint regarding why NAMB seems to be lagging behind. In a recent interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Chairman Ronnie Floyd seemed to encourage the three entities to hold off in finding presidents until after his task force reveals their recommendations. We could all get a peek at the committee’s recommendations as early as next February. While indicating that he considers the two retirements and one forced resignation signs that God is “working in a special way in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Dr. Floyd further suggested that the two search committees and one search committee-in-waiting should be “very prayerful and watchful” of the task force’s work.

Leaving aside assumptions and speculation, Ronnie Floyd’s suggestion lacks context. If, as some think, the recommendations of the task force will result in substantial changes across our SBC agencies, then maybe we know what he was saying. At the same time, SBC President Johnny Hunt has discouraged such speculation every time it’s arisen. If the task force has nothing in mind so drastic as merging or discontinuing one agency or another, Dr. Floyd’s remarks seem cryptic. The fact is, and the point also, is that we don’t know how to understand what he’s saying.

A little more openness or a little more clarity would curb some of the speculation. At the very least it seems desirable that the already-appointed search committees need to hear some context from the task force. They have been appointed by their respective boards with a job to do. Someone needs to make a clear case to them why they should not proceed. I still favor general and regular status reports of the task force’s work. An unwillingness to hold meetings before a live audience is understandable, I guess. Carefully worded, candid, informative progress reports don’t have to be counterproductive or inhibiting though. Have the discussion in private and then tell us all, in general terms, what you’re doing. Thousands of us are praying for the task force as they deliberate; a little update would be most encouraging to those prayer partners. A huge number of people care about the committee’s work. Either we’ll listen to official reports or we’ll do our best with leaks and rumors. Which is better?

Southern Baptists regularly suffer the handicap of leaks and spotty information regarding big decisions at our agencies. We suffer further when outside journalists gladly publish every rumor or unattributed claim they hear. What a blessing it would be to break this cycle.

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