We are shaped by our experiences and my year as president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference opened my eyes in many ways. I saw the very best of the SBC and I saw some things that disturbed me greatly. I was blown away at the support we received from our entities as they helped a group of smaller church pastors put on what our feedback indicated was a successful conference. We also saw resistance from those who felt the conference belonged to the celebrity pastors and that by running and winning that election we had done something wrong.
But from the day we found out we had won to the day we submitted our final financial report, there was one source of assistance that amazed us, supported us, and encouraged us beyond any other – the Executive Committee of the SBC. I remember sitting with Bill Townes after the election in what medical folks might have diagnosed as shock. He promised to help us and every member of the EC went the second, third, and fourth mile to keep his promise. I cannot overstate the assistance that we received. They went all out to help a bunch of inexperienced average Baptists carry out our mandate, and sought no glory, publicity, or credit along the way.
The Executive Committee has several roles – administrative, coordination of our entity work, promotion of the Cooperative Program. But they are also enablers, in the best sense of the word. They are there to help Southern Baptists do our work well.
The Search Committee is looking for a new president to take up the mantle of leadership at the EC. I do not envy them their role. I still grieve at the ending of Dr. Page’s tenure. But despite the sad ending to Dr. Page’s tenure, we need someone who leads the EC as he did, who emulates him in many ways. We need an encourager, not a controller, a man who exists to help not to dominate.
I hope and pray that the Search Committee of the EC will present us a man in the Frank Page mold – an encourager, enabler, supporter rather than one who sees the office in Nashville as a throne from which he can run the SBC. The EC needs a president who is a servant, not a sovereign, one who helps Southern Baptists reach their potential, not one who uses the office to control the work of Southern Baptists, one who works for all of us, not just manages the interests of the SBC elite.
1. He must be a unifying force at the EC, not someone who promotes a personal agenda.
When Frank Page was elected, many Calvinists were concerned about him, because of his book against Calvinist doctrine. But Frank did not use his position to promote his personal views. He worked to bring Calvinists and non-Calvinists together. That is what the president of the EC must do. It is not a place to build one’s personal platform or advance any agenda other than the CP and the good of all Southern Baptists.
The EC president must be a man whose goal is to advance Southern Baptist kingdom work.
2. He must not be a kingmaker.
There is a group of megachurch pastors who meet and discuss who should be the next president of the Pastors’ Conference and the Southern Baptist Convention. It is their right to do this, of course – in a political body any of us has the right to promote candidates for office. This small group wields great power in the SBC and I am not always comfortable with how they wield it, but they are within their rights to use the power they have to elect candidates they wish to elect.
However, it would bother me greatly if one of this group of kingmakers became president of the Executive Committee. Would such a man realize that his role has changed? It is no longer proper for him to be working behind the scenes and pulling strings to elect a certain man to office. His job would be to help every Baptist have an equal shot. If he understands that, a man could certainly transition from role to role, but it would be a challenge to go from kingmaker to what Dr. Page used to describe as “Chief Encouragement Officer.”
When I showed up at the EC and asked for help, they rolled out the red carpet for this nobody, this pastor of a small Iowa church who somehow got elected. They helped anyone and everyone, not just those who were “someone”.
It might not be good for the SBC if a kingmaker took the big seat at the EC.
3. He must relate to all, not just to the elite
I hate advocating class warfare, but the SBC has been a convention of 47,000 small churches run by about 200 megachurches. Even before I gained any small stature as a blogger, the staff at the EC was always willing to help me, to answer questions, to be a resource.
Frank Page had a remarkable ability to make every pastor he met feel like a valuable part of the team. He did not see the pastors of churches of 50 and 100 as less than because they didn’t have celebrity pulpits. The office in Nashville needs another man like that, who makes everyone feel like part of the team – not just by word, but by deed.
The EC president must be a man of the people, not a mover and shaker among the power-elite.
There may be other offices with greater power and authority than the President of the Executive Committee, but for those of us who are not part of the SBC power elite, the EC is our contact point. I hope and pray that the Search Committee will find us a man who continues the best of Frank Page’s leadership and builds on it, who is an encourager to all Baptists and leads us well.