Unity, missions priorities for new EC head

ORLANDO, Fla.–Unity around the gospel and a new image before the world are priorities the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee will pursue when he takes office in October.

“My hope is that we can have a unified voice at every level, hope that there will be a strong encouragement to do missions more than we’ve ever done before,” Frank Page declared in a news conference on June 15.

Asked how he viewed receiving only 60 percent of the vote of Executive Committee members after several hours of closed-door discussion on June 14, Page responded, “It says to me that we’re a very divided group of persons. I think that which we see on the Executive Committee is indicative of what’s happening in our convention?that we have multiple opinions and are very free to voice those multiple opinions, sometimes very vocally, very strongly.”

Knowing that trust comes over time, Page said he is hopeful that a consistently positive and unified vision will build confidence in others.

“I think I have a track record of encouraging people in ‘followship’?that’s a part of leadership. I would hope those that may not have been initially voting for me realize that I can be a partner with whom they can work.”

Calling it a “mostly civil meeting,” Page said EC members realized they were able to express their opinions, be honest and receive answers to their questions.

Page, 57, most recently served as vice president of evangelization for the North American Mission Board, was pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., for nine years, and SBC president from 2006-08.

The pastorate gave him experience with “a complicated church filled with multiple subgroups of agendas much like the Southern Baptist Convention.” Having seen God bring about a transformation in a local church context, Page said in his new role of working with EC members, “I would work hard to bring about unity within that body.”

Having only been in the North American Mission Board role since October 2009, Page told Baptist Press he is puzzled somewhat by God moving him so quickly to the Executive Committee, but he identified three possible reasons for the short tenure.

“Number one, I think God gave me that time to see the inside of a denomination better than I would have as a pastor,” Page said. “I think he let me go to NAMB to let me see some of the inside, which I like some of it, some of it I don’t as I’ve looked on the inside of the denomination.

“Secondly, I think being a part of the GCR at the same time helped me provide a perspective to say NAMB has a unique missiological need, and I think that was an encouragement to some on the committee to see that NAMB does have a place separately than IMB,” Page said.

“Third, I would have to say the biggest reason I think God brought me to NAMB was to help legitimize and motivate and encourage people in the GPS strategy,” Page said, referring to the God’s Plan for Sharing national evangelistic initiative he advanced while president of the SBC.

Evangelism will be encouraged as Southern Baptists unite around the common cause of reaching the world for the Lord Jesus Christ, he said in addressing his priorities.

“It is my goal that if God were to allow me to serve for 10 to 15 years, that our nation particularly and our world generally would be able to say, ‘You know, Baptists are good people. We may not always agree with them but we’ve changed our mind about who they are'” after having seen them as godly, loving, caring people who help their neighbors instead of judging them by what they are against, he explained.

Page said he hopes to establish a long-term vision for Southern Baptists while working with those elected to the office of SBC president.

“Perhaps the CEO is a little more behind the scenes that the president, and I’ve served in that role so I understand that, but I do believe the president and CEO [of the EC] has a crucial role in establishing a long-term vision and as a leader of the Great Commission Council [he] helps pull together a unified group who can work together to see the Great Commission accomplished.”

Reiterating his desire to unify, Page said, “I want to be someone who comes in, in a collegial atmosphere, not adversarial in the GCC, for example, to pull them together in a common direction. I think Baptists are way past being tired of hearing about fusses and turf wars and those kinds of things,” he added, crediting SBC president Johnny Hunt for trying to “pull us together.”

Asked if he sees the EC president as “first among equals” in setting a vision within that group of SBC entity leaders, Page said, “I think he is the primary coordinator of that group and so he certainly needs to share his vision with those persons. Certainly they don’t work for the CEO. We work together and the CEO is a coordinating leader in that regard.”

Page said: “I hope Southern Baptists can be confident that there will be a strong hand at the helm. I’m not intimidated by strong individuals at the various entities and am anxious to pull them together in a common direction. I also believe all of the entities need to abide by the business and financial plan of the convention and will clearly call that to the attention of entity heads on a regular basis.”

He acknowledged having had “major difficulties” with the progress report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force released Feb. 22, though he ultimately supported the final report. “That doesn’t mean it’s the report I would have written. It doesn’t mean that I come to the table with 100 percent agreement with the final report, but it does mean I felt strong enough that I could agree with the intent.”

“It did not seem to be strong enough in support of the Cooperative Program, that there was too much micromanagement of the North American Mission Board and a free pass given to other entities. I also did have some concerns of taking 1 percent from one of the smallest entities to give to the largest,” he added, referring to the recommendation to increase the International Mission Board’s allocation to 51 percent by reducing the Executive Committee’s allocation.

“I do want more money to go to international missions. I do support the Great Commission Resurgence. I’m extremely excited about the challenges at the end of the final report,” he added. “Anyone on the task force will tell you I was vocal, sometimes too vocal,” Page said.

“You need to be ready to be true to who you are,” he added, answering a question about the experience of serving on an SBC committee or board. “Southern Baptists are tired of what I think are unstatesmanlike activities, always saying what you think your little group wants to hear. Sometimes we’ve just got to be honest with who we are in the Lord,” he said.

Asked what role he would play when the Executive Committee takes up the matter of cutting its budget to accommodate task force recommendations, Page affirmed the trustee process.

“I think we need to calm down and realize that those sets of checks and balances help guard us and guide us,” he stated. “The Executive Committee is charged by the Southern Baptist Convention as an ad interim group to look at how best to deal with the spirit of that recommendation, but to implement it in such a way that the cause of God’s kingdom is enhanced and not hurt.”

Asked about statistical evidence pointing to decline in the Southern Baptist Convention, Page said, “If one is looking carefully, you would find our worship attendance has increased the last two years in a row. Membership is important, but it is not as important as the live, warm bodies in the pew.”

Noting the 2.2 percent increase in baptisms, Page said, “With the GPS focus that NAMB has now strongly in place, we’re going to see a significant turnaround in baptisms. Even in an era of increasing anti-denominationalism, major denominations can make a turnaround.”

A native of Robbins, N.C., Page holds a Ph.D. in Christian ethics focusing on moral, social and ethical issues from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, along with a master of divinity degree from Southwestern. He earned a bachelor of science degree with honors from Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, majoring in psychology with minors in sociology and Greek.

Page is the author of several books, including “Trouble with the Tulip,” a critique of the five points of Calvinism, and commentaries on the biblical books for Jonah and Mark. He also contributed as lead writer for the Advanced Continuing Witness Training material. Page was named to President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in February 2009.

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