We are waiting for IMB to follow in NAMB’s footsteps and name a new president. My hope is that when they make their nomination, they will forgo the “We have found God’s Man” tactic that was used by NAMB trustees and their search committee. Ted Traylor, Bryant Wright and others put on a full-court press for the nomination of Kevin Ezell as NAMB president. They designated him as “God’s Man” for the job.
Before I dig in, let me say that I think that Kevin Ezell may just be exactly the man we need at NAMB. NAMB needs a visionary leader – he seems to be that. NAMB needs integrity – everyone who knows him seems to believe we will get that with Ezell. NAMB needs a good administrator – I’m told he fills that bill. NAMB needs someone who is forward thinking, ready to face the challenges of the future – a seeming specialty for Kevin Ezell. I have some concerns about his relationship to the Cooperative Program, about how he will handle criticism and how he will relate to the state conventions. But what I have heard about him indicates to me that he may indeed be a home run choice. We all hope so, don’t we?
This article is not about Kevin Ezell’s leadership or character, it is about the nomination process – something Ezell is not responsible for. The focus here is on a common tactic of promotion used among Southern Baptists. This is not really a criticism of NAMB or even of those who have used the tactic, but of the tactic itself.
It is a tactic that I wish we would send to the sidelines permanently. I believe it is an unfair pressure tactic.
In announcing the nomination, Ted Traylor chairman of the presidential search team, said,
“I am delighted to report to you that our search team has found God’s man to be nominated as the next president of NAMB. Our team has prayerfully considered several impressive candidates. On Monday, Aug. 30, I received a unanimous vote of the search team for our candidate. We are convinced the Spirit of the Lord has given us His perfect plan in this endeavor.”
Traylor reported to us that Kevin Ezell was God’s “perfect plan” for the SBC. He is God’s man. That really casts those who oppose Ezell’s nomination in a bad light. You are not just disagreeing with a nominating committee, you are opposing “God’s man” who was revealed by “God’s perfect plan”. It put David Hankins and Emil Turner in a really bad position, doesn’t it? They questioned the wisdom of the nomination. Clearly, they are disobedient and rebellious, right? When you use the “God’s Man” tactic to announce a nomination, you are aiming a bazooka at those who do not agree with you.
Tim Dowdy, chairman of the entity’s board of trustees, said the vote was the culmination of a 10-month process.
“It has at times been discouraging and at times encouraging, but along the way God has been faithful to give us guidance. When He introduced us to Kevin, it was evident through the interview process that this was the man.”
Notice that it was not just an opinion made by human beings. God introduced them to Kevin Ezell and gave them guidance. Makes it really hard to argue with the committee, doesn’t it?
On the day the NAMB trustees were to vote, Bryant Wright put the icing on the cake.
“Today is an historic day in the life of NAMB. Today your big decision is to follow God’s will with a man the search committee clearly feels is God’s man for leading our churches as they go about the harvest.”
Am I reading that right? The decision is whether you will follow God’s will (as revealed to and through the committee) or not? That is just not the way to treat people. That is an unfair tactic.
I have had it with this kind of presentation. Essentially, when you tell me, “He’s God’s man” you are pressuring me to ignore my own judgment and discernment and to accept yours. “You don’t have to pray or think or judge on this one, Dave. We have made the determination that he is God’s man and you just need to accept it.”
That is not the way we should do business as Baptists.
Remind You of Anything?
This attitude was on display at the SBC Pastor’s Conference and Annual Meeting in relationship to the GCR. I drove to Orlando fully supportive of the GCR. By the end of the pastor’s conference, I was tempted to vote against it because of the manipulation and pressure tactics used by those who promoted it. (I think David Platt’s sermon was the exception – he laid out a case for sacrificial service without these kind of pressure tactics). Basically, we were told that this was God’s solution to our denominational problems. We could either enter the GCR Promised Land or stay in the wilderness of doubt. NONSENSE! (Yes, I’m shouting!) I supported the GCR, but I would never cast its opponents as unrighteous or faithless.
Our denomination is run now by megachurch pastors who may be used to telling their congregations what God wants and expecting the congregations to walk in lock step thereafter. (I’ve tried to suggest such a plan to the people of my church – but just got some amused grins and a few hostile glares.) But I do not think it is an appropriate tactic for Southern Baptist Convention discourse.
Why I Dislike the “God’s Man” Tactic
I have several problems with this tactic. I think people use the tactic without really thinking about the problems associated with it.
1) It replaces the Holy Spirit with powerful men.
I think this is a fundamental problem with some leaders today. I don’t think we trust the Holy Spirit to do His job. My job is to present the truth; present my convictions. It is the Spirit’s job to convict and convince. When I step beyond my role as presenter of truth and begin to pressure people to conform to my will, I am taking the place of God’s Spirit.
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:2, renounces “disgraceful and underhanded” ways. He then says,
“We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”
When we serve a living God whose Spirit is at work among us, we do not need to manipulate or pressure people to conform. We simply commend ourselves to the Spirit-influenced conscience of others in the sight of God.
Please, SBC leaders, stop trying to be our Holy Spirit. Speak truth and let the Spirit convince and convict. The same Spirit who moved you will move us, if indeed you heard Him correctly. You don’t need overwhelm us, pressure us or burden us to conform. Just tell us what you believe and let the Holy Spirit lead us.
2) Does God sometimes select the WRONG man?
Here are the words of the chairman of the NAMB search committee recommending their new President.
“We determined what we were going to do was seek God’s man. There was never a predetermined person. We were faithful to follow our process and allow God to reveal His choice. We considered a wide variety of candidates from all corners of Southern Baptist life: pastors, seminary professors, state executives, missionaries, evangelists, as well as staff members of denominational agencies.”
No, this was not Ted Traylor about the selection of Kevin Ezell, this was Greg Faulls, on February 28, 2007 about the nomination of Geoff Hammond, who resigned under pressure a couple of years later. When did Geoff Hammond stop being “God’s Man”?
How often is someone nominated or elected to an SBC or local church positions after being identified as “God’s Man” and then fails miserably at the post? What is the problem? Surely we don’t believe that God is bad at revealing His man, do we? Are committees making mistakes in selection?
3) It flirts with “using God’s name in vain.”
The prophets of the OT saved some of their harshest words for those who said, “This is what the LORD says” when it was their own ideas they were promoting. That is, essentially, a violation of the commandment against taking the Lord’s name in vain and it borders on blasphemy.
I have stood before my congregation and said, “I believe that this is what God wants us to do.” But I am very careful when I do it. I share my view that this is God’s will. I ask people to study, pray and discuss things. I do not demand that they suspend their own discernment and accept my judgment. My job is to lead, but leading is not dictating. I seek and I speak; then the people test and approve.
We ought to be very slow to invoke the name of God in our efforts to convince others to accept what we believe is right.
4) It is simply unnecessary
We have the Holy Spirit living in each and every believer. When I am leading in obedience to the will of God, I can trust that God’s Spirit will convince the congregation that what I have said is right. I do not have to demand conformity. I do not have to pressure, campaign or manipulate. I do not have to make people feel that disagreeing with me is like disagreeing with God.
There are two possibilities when I say, “This is God’s Man.”
- I am wrong. If so, I shouldn’t be claiming that he is God’s Man. I am sinning against God by saying someone is God’s man if he is not.
- I am right. If I’m right, then God Himself is behind the nomination. I don’t have to manipulate or pressure anyone. If Kevin Ezell was God’s man, God would promote his election. Do you think that NAMB trustees could thwart the will of the Sovereign God? If you believe in a sovereign God and a powerful Spirit, the tactic becomes completely unnecessary.
It is time to leave the “God’s Man” rhetoric in the holster. I hold to the hope that Traylor and Wright and others do not mean to be manipulative or to use undue pressure. I think they are just using a tactic that is familiar and common. But it needs to stop.
Here’s to the hope that when the IMB announces its selection, they will use a different tactic. Just tell us who you nominate and why. Speak to us, not down to us. Give us reasons. Information. Tell us what you think then respect the trustees to test and approve your nomination. Respect the trustees that we have elected. Respect us as you deal with us.
Maybe 2 Corinthians 4:2 can become one of the SBC’s core values.
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”