Recently, our esteemed Grand Poobah and Chief Pontificator around here offered a thorough and sound argument for the type of person we need serving our convention of churches in Nashville as our Executive Committee CEO. I’d like to unashamedly steal his title and repurpose it for a similar musing about the type of person I believe we need here in my home of New Orleans to serve our convention as the next President of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS).
Those of you who regularly read our posts at Voices might know that I am the number one fan of the work the SBC does here in the Big Easy. Having lived and served here for not quite two decades, I believe this is the most unique place of ministry / ministry-training in our cooperative work.
We have what I believe is the most cutting edge local Baptist Association in the SBC with medical clinics, fantastic ministry points, and a wonderfully diverse fellowship. We have a thriving church planting network with strong leadership and sound encouragement for planters. We have a hard-working BCM staff attempting to reach the 7 colleges/universities in our area. We have a growing community of young professionals moving into our metro area and we have excited seminary students who want to engage that community with the Gospel. Finally, we have a 100-year-old seminary whose goings forth are from old… or at least the idea of ministry in New Orleans is as old as the SBC itself. (As a reminder… in Augusta, Georgia, on Monday, May 12, 1845, the brand new SBC called on the 2-day-old Domestic Mission Board to “direct their effective attention to aid the present effort to establish the Baptist cause in New Orleans.”) Clearly, the work in New Orleans is preeminent among all other domestic SBC work. (j/k but only a little).
New Orleans is the most European of American cities. It stands alone as the US “nexus-city” of art, music, history, celebration, cuisine, diversity and neo-religious superstition. This place is Postmodern and Post-Christian. It is a hard place to plant churches. It is a hard place to grow churches. Heck, it is a hard place to just attempt to pastor a church. And thus, it might be the very best place to train those who’ll be sent out to shepherd churches all around the world and in even harder places than this.
There is a serious focus right now on the multiple entity openings around the SBC but I’m not sure there is as strategic an opening existing as there is here in “the city that care forgot.”
I don’t want to overplay my concern but I believe the next president will preside over either a Great Renaissance or the Graveside Rites for our School of Providence and Prayer.
Anyone who has lived and worked here knows this is a special place (consider our recent issue with the NFL. In most cities, there would be riots if such an injustice took place. In New Orleans… we’re having a parade and party in which the parade “throws” are yellow penalty flags). Special, indeed! This is a place that it takes 5 years just to begin to understand the nomenclature used in directions. Then there’s the question of the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine. This special kind of place is going to take a special kind of president.
And what of the question of minority candidates? Of all the entities of the SBC, the city of New Orleans is clearly the most “non-white” place we have a charter. As a convention, we have stated our resolution to be deliberate in our intention to include men and women from panta ta ethne in leadership roles within the SBC. However, from what I understand of the three SBC entity-head searches that are furthest along in the process, not a single minority candidate has even been interviewed. Friends, I cannot fathom that same result coming about during the NOBTS search. If so we have a far bigger problem than I even thought we did. I’m not saying that anyone’s skin color should determine whether or not they are hired, but it absolutely should be one of the factors that are considered in just the same way as experience, employment history, and educational philosophy is considered. It absolutely does mean something. And furthermore, what a profoundly impactful testimony it would be to the city of New Orleans if this school which at one time did not allow God-called men of African descent to study theology here, were to happen to choose a God-called man of African descent to become its 9th president. What a statement that would be!
As a long term resident, student, pastor and “whodat” I am convinced what follows is what our school needs to fire a spark which will set off healthy and sustained growth in order to lead us into the future.
1) A RECRUIT MAGNET
I’m talking about someone who will, himself, be a draw for students to NOBTS. This person should have charisma and be energetic while also anchored in the work of the SBC. In turn, this president will draw respected academic-heavyweight profs who’ll want to join him in his assigned task. The new president should be someone students want to glean from, to study under, to boast to others about having as their president.
I can personally attest to the fact that today’s prospective students are far more knowledgeable about the goings on of the SBC than they were just 10 years ago. With blogging (still around), all-time high podcast subscribers, and the Twitter-verse exploding with SBC scuttlebutt there is no shortage of information to be ingested. And with that information are individuals of notable and respected voices, both young and old, who are making a name for themselves for the encouragement and work they are doing in their current ministry spheres. Many of these types of folks are already leaders in our seminaries, colleges and other institutions.
Fact is, it is not enough that NOBTS struggles along and keeps their “regional students” in our home zone. We must draw from around the county! We must be competitive. And why cant we be?!? This is New Orleans! We need a president that is respected for the commitment in his voice and backbone to speak up. To engage the relevant topics happening around us. Who will boldly share the Gospel with the lost and offer corrective words of encouragement to our convention when needed.
On the other hand, the last thing we need is a lightning rod, water carrier or a divisive critic who focuses on minor issues which serve to divide our convention rather than unite us. NOBTS doesn’t need a cage-stage Calvinist at the helm but we also do not need a cock-fighting Traditionalist who’d rather disparage the doctrines of Grace, than understand them. I can promise you that choosing a well-known vocal “anti-Calvinist” guy for this post will render NOBTS irrelevant and further, will likely kill it.
2) An ENGAGED ACADEMIC
There seems to be a desire by some to place a pastor in the role of seminary president due to perceived needs in the area of fundraising. Clearly part of the president’s job is to raise funds for the school, understood. But I would like to posit that students drawn to a school by the character and vision of the president… engenders excitement. Donors like to be a part of excitement. They will give when they see students excited to be a part of something thriving. Thus, I’m not as concerned about the fundraising aspect. That will come with the right guy. I’d rather have someone who is involved in the academy but also in evangelical life at large. Someone who will be a strong and engaging voice in our convention but is just as respected as a published theologian.
Part of the reason I love NOBTS is that they look for teaching candidates with some pastoral experience. I think that’s a good idea. I am also very excited about some recent hires in the areas of administrative leadership at NOBTS. I feel strongly that we have some really great people in the right spots to help support the new president and to assist in the future growth of the school. These are academic guys WITH pastoral experience and the school is in good hands that way.
Fact is, discerning students read outside of their disciplines and know who the scholars are on certain subjects. Our school should be respected in the Academy. The students we WANT to come to NOBTS are discerning, scholarly and circumspect in their worldview. These students want academic excellence. We must provide that and it starts with the president.
3) A LOVER of CHURCH and CITY
Maybe most importantly, this man must have the capacity to love deeply. First, he must love the Church. His ultimate task is to oversee the training of ministers for Christ’s Church. This is a daunting and difficult task and one that must be held in trust with great fear and trembling. If a man does not love the church, how will he steward those called to love and shepherd her? A man who loves the church loves her shepherds and will work tirelessly to train the called to fulfill their task to the Glory of God.
Second, this man must love, and not be afraid of this city. Honestly, my gut reaction would be to look for someone who has lived here, who knows the culture, the people, the needs, the unique way people communicate. The problem is, no matter how much we try to explain it, there is no way we can prepare someone for what it is like to live here (especially moving in from the Bible-belt… can I get an amen, my second-lining brothers and sisters). I know it’s cliché and overused, and most outsiders roll their eyes at the saying but… it’s hard here. And it’s different. And a bunch of folks washout. We need a president who’ll buy a #9 jersey (maybe a #41), take visitors to go meet Mrs. Leah at Dookies, set up in the neutral ground to watch REX and ZULU, sit on the porch and eat crawfish, go to Jazz Fest, and who will one day tear up because they know what it means to miss New Orleans.
Where is that man? (I certainly have some ideas… in fact, I have a short list of about 5 men who I think fit the bill.) I am excited about the prospect of who will lead my school into the future. I am praying for the NOBTS search team and their work. Won’t you join me?
PS. Search Team… Please make a deliberate decision to interview a qualified minority candidate along with all the other white-guys you’re going to look at. It is not only appropriate for us in this place, it is warranted, thoughtful and the right thing to do since our convention has made resolution to that end. Can we be the entity that actually affirms what was requested by the convention?