I’m not supposed to speak about matters presently before the board of trustees, so I’m going to limit my remarks to a few observations about how being a trustee works and the nuts and bolts of how we relate to the Southern Baptists who have placed us into office.
Some trustees are blabbermouths and some trustees are very tight-lipped and most trustees are somewhere in the middle. Me? I’m a blabbermouth by nature. When I get myself into trouble, it is usually for saying too much. Not everyone is like that. Trust me when I tell you that my natural inclination is to tell you a lot more. Doing so would bring its own set of problems, I’m sure, for I’d probably give you incomplete or incorrect information. I’m thankful for fellow trustees who want to have compiled and vetted a careful collection of data before they respond to questions about the seminary.
Like many SBC boards, the SWBTS trustees meet twice a year for a couple of days each time. Those meetings are the forum at which the administration makes regular reports to us and at which we trustees get to ask any question we like. Certainly we can ask questions in between trustee meetings, and certainly we do. But in general, it is at our trustee meetings that we do our work as trustees. There are no trustees, to my knowledge, who clear out thirty minutes of their morning every day to work on trustee matters.
We are divided up among various committees to help our board to function well. I work with the committee at SWBTS that oversees faculty, curriculum, and degrees. Other committees oversee fundraising, policies, student life, business affairs, and the like. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I can say that staying on top of my committee requires more time than I thought it would when I signed up. When we hire faculty, for example, I generally try to acquaint myself with what they have written (from published works to blogging or social media). I want to read their dissertations. I want to read the questionnaires they have completed about how their beliefs compare to The Baptist Faith & Message. If we’re hiring five or six faculty members, that takes a lot of time. So, even though in a general sense as a trustee I am responsible to know about the finances of the seminary, a trustee serving on the Business Affairs Committee is always going to know more about the seminary’s finances than I do.
The trustee process is often pretty slow. I’m not sure that we do much worse than Washington, DC, but compared to the rate at which the Internet wants answers, trustee boards are ill-suited to provide them.
The trustee process is scalable: In a true emergency, we can meet more frequently and get more done. I’ve spoken with people on our Business Affairs Committee. They are thoroughly knowledgeable of the seminary’s financial condition, receiving frequent, full updates from the administration, and they do not know of anything in the seminary’s finances that warrant our gathering the trustees for a meeting before our scheduled meeting in the Spring. You should probably infer from the fact that we are not calling a special board meeting either that SWBTS is not teetering on the edge of bankruptcy or that we are all utterly unconcerned about the health of the seminary (and I hope you know by now that I am not indifferent about SWBTS). We trustees will meet on our normal schedule, as far as I know. If we faced a situation as dire as some people have thought, we would be convening meetings left and right. We aren’t. As a person acquainted with the history of the school, I can tell you that we’ve been both a lot richer and a whole lot poorer at various times in the past. God carried us through it all before. He has my confidence today.
I think we’re prioritizing the right things right now. No task before us is more important right now than filling the presidency of the school. Our fall meeting was given largely to responding to the directives that we received from the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting and resolving matters left up in the air after the extraordinary events of the summer. Those were not items that we could ignore. For my part, I want to do whatever I can in the final months of my trustee service to hand over to a new president a faculty and curriculum poised to grow the seminary.
I’m thankful for everyone’s concern about SWBTS. I’m especially thankful if it drives you to pray for the seminary.
I’m thankful for everyone’s questions about SWBTS. I want you to get good answers. I want you to get answers so good that you know the seminary well, know her mission well, and know her condition well. I believe that will happen for you, even if it requires some patience on your part to await it while it percolates through the administration and then the board.
I’m thankful for everyone’s critiques. Ben says some harsh things about our effectiveness as trustees, and I’m willing to own that totally. The Lord knows that I didn’t want our seminary to have a year like the year we just had, but the Lord also knows full well that we came to be here under my watch. You hoped for and expected more of me when you elected me to be a trustee. You deserved better. I’m sorry.
But I don’t know a single trustee who isn’t committed to the future effectiveness of this school for ministry. Find fault where you will, but alongside that fault-finding, I hope you’ll acknowledge that this board has, time and time again in the past twelve months, had the courage to do hard things, even if you haven’t agreed with all of the things that we’ve done (although even greater courage has been shown by some of the non-trustees involved at various points along the way). In the past, I’ve criticized the IMB Board for hires that they’ve made. I’ve criticized other seminaries and entities for decisions that they have made. And now, here I am writing this post after the year that we’ve had. What’s going through my mind now? That perhaps my criticisms had some validity, just as criticisms of my own board service have validity, but also that it is so much more difficult now, in this position, to make solutions happen than it was to offer outside critiques before.
And, thanks to your critiques, I’ve learned some things along the way. I’m thankful for that.
I covet your prayers. I’m enough of an optimist to believe that the Lord has better days in store for Seminary Hill. Nobody is more ready for that to arrive than I. Thank you for the honor of having served you in this way.