The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention has not always been a part of Baptist life. For the first several decades of the SBC the business got done through committees, meetings, and workgroups. It was finally decided a central committee was needed to facilitate all the work. The EC can trace its origins to a 1916 proposal by MH Wolfe of Texas “to create one strong executive board which shall direct all of the work and enterprises fostered and promoted by this Convention.” The result of that proposal was what we now call the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
In ensuing years the role of the EC expanded to oversee the new Cooperative Program, and help the SBC grow fiscally strong. Finally in 1927 it was constituted as a formal agency of the convention with a staff, an office, and an executive secretary. As time and circumstances dictated the work of the EC was amended to better serve the convention. The most notable changes occurred in 1976 when the Committee of Seven noted that “acting for the Convention ad interim” is not the same as “being the Convention ad interim.” Still another noted that “The advisory role of the Executive Committee should never become a supervisory or managerial role. In cases where agencies do not agree on questions of cooperation and do not follow the advice of the Executive Committee, the Committee should make recommendations on these matters to the Convention. “
I give you all of this background to get to the issue of the leadership of the EC. Since it’s official institution in 1927 seven men has served as leader. The title has varied over the years as the role has changed. Below are the men and their titles.
Austin Crouch 1927-46 Executive Secretary
Duke McCall 1946-51 Executive Secretary
Porter Routh 1951-79 Executive Secretary-Treasurer
Harold Bennet 1979-92 Executive Secretary-Treasurer
Morris Chapman 1992-2010 President and CEO
Frank Page 2010-19 President and CEO
Ronnie Floyd 2019-22 President and CEO
All of those men worked in other denominational leadership before moving to the EC, both state and local. Routh in particular was no stranger to Baptist life though, as his father EC Routh was a legendary baptist leader, and Porter Routh did not miss an annual meeting for more than forty years. Duke McCall went from The Baptist Bible Institute, now NOBTS, to the EC, and then to lead his alma mater at SBTS. Bennet led the Florida Baptist Convention, and Chapman served in three different state conventions. All of these leaders had extensive denominational experience.
The majority of these men were pastors, all of them in fact, except for Porter Routh. He also served the longest as the leader of the EC, and during the period of the biggest growth in the SBC. In addition the man who suggested the formation of a central committee to oversee Convention work was a layman and served many years as the chairman of the deacons under GW Truett. He served two years as the first chairman of the EC before it became an official entity. He served the convention tirelessly before that, giving his gifts and skills honed in the business world on committees designed to “strengthen organizational and administrative effectiveness and accountability for the Conventions ministries.”
Today all SBC entities are guided by the Organizational Manual that is printed every year in the SBC Annual. The mission of the EC is to “serve churches as they prioritize, elevate, and accelerate the vision of reaching every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state, and every nation through collaborative partnership, cooperation, and generosity.”
This is done through several ministries assignments:
Assist churches through conducting and administering the work of the Convention not otherwise assigned,
Assist churches by providing a Convention news service.
Assist churches by developing and strengthening cooperative relationships.
Assist churches, organizations, and individuals with investment management and generosity.
Assist churches by promoting the Cooperative Program and celebrating other cooperative giving.
Assist churches in stewardship education.
Assist churches through elevating the ministry of prayer.
As noted, most of the past leaders of the EC have been former pastors, even if they served in other denominational roles too. The skills required to lead the EC often overlap with that of a pastor, but helping almost 50,000 churches cooperate also takes great organizational, financial, and leadership acumen. In years past the President and CEO has also preached at churches, conferences, and other events, but there is no requirement from the job to do that.
The President and CEO of the EC is not the spiritual leader of the SBC. Some outside the denomination might assume them to be a sort of bishop or pope, or have oversight of pastors and churches. But since the SBC works from the bottom up not the top down, the CEO is actually the “employee” of the messengers and churches of the SBC. The EC does not work for itself or to promote the agenda of any one leader, but to carry out the will of the messengers.
Given the recent turmoil over the last few years around the EC, now is a good time to think about who is the best type of person to serve as President and CEO of the Executive Committee. It should go without saying that we need a person of the highest integrity, someone who loves God and has a long history of following Him. We also need someone with the leadership skills and acumen to help thousands of churches work together for the sake of the gospel. And we need a leader who can be trusted, and who puts God’s word above all else in life.
But what about the skills outside of that? Do we need a wise, mature leader who can shepherd it safely, or a young leader to guide us into the future? Duke McCall was only 31 when he became the leader of the EC, Porter Routh was 40, and Harold Bennet 54. Do we need a gifted charismatic leader, a no-nonsense business man, or a top flight organizer and leader? Of course it’d be nice to find someone who checks every box, but more than anything the EC needs a leader to restore dignity, grace, and integrity to the office.
Does that person have to be a pastor? I’m not sure we can make a definitive statement one way or the other. We can be certain that there is a record in the past of leaders from outside the pastorate, and there is nothing in the job that demands that be the case. There could be a case made for both sides of the argument.
Regardless, every Southern Baptist needs to commit to pray for the search team as they do their work. It’s obvious they are doing their due diligence and work to find the best candidate. We should also pray for the staff of the EC as they carry out their work minus several leaders, and deal with the fall out of broken relationships. I believe that God has been preparing just the right leader for such a time as this, and I trust in the appointed committee to work diligently to find that person.
Even in the midst of this turmoil, God is continuing to work through Southern Baptists and the Cooperative Program. This week tithes and offerings will make their way to the disaster relief, pregnancy centers, collegiate ministries, church plants, the foreign mission field, and more. The next leader of the EC should continue that work and help Southern Baptists work to be stronger together.