This post was orginally published on Howell’s blog, From Law to Grace.
Yes Man: a person who agrees with everything that is said; especially: one who endorses or supports without criticism every opinion or proposal of an associate or superior (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Throughout recorded history, we have always had “yes men” (and women too), those people who simply refused to ask any questions — much less the hard questions — of those in leadership. Given our human nature, that is completely understandable. After all, who wants to be seen as “difficult” or “divisive?” Those who dare to ask any questions often find themselves not only with less benefits, but also on the outside looking in. Not an enviable position to be in, to be sure.
Perhaps because of my legal background but, more likely because of my personal upbringing, I have never been accused of being a “yes man.” My dad, who served on the town council and as mayor of my hometown, Lake Placid, FL, always distrusted “yes men.” He saw his fair share in the political arena, but, unfortunately, he also ran across a good number of “yes men” within the church. These “yes men,” whether or not they held formal positions of power within the church, were good at protecting the pastor from the slightest criticism or questioning. No one in leadership, even pastors, likes to be criticized. However, when we surround ourselves with “yes men,” we often end up making unwise decisions because we did not allow the hard questions to be asked, which in hindsight, might have saved us much grief and heartache.
There will always be a long line of “yes men” who will gladly agree with and never question the opinions, beliefs, and even actions of their leaders. That is simply a reality. However, every leader — from pastors of churches of all sizes to CEOs of Corporations to Presidents of SBC Entities — can either encourage or discourage the “yes men” mentality. Unfortunately, our culture, including the culture within the Southern Baptist Convention, seems to be encouraging, rather than discouraging, “yes men.” Why should this be the case, particularly within a religious organization of churches such as the SBC?
Could the answer to that question lie somewhere in the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention has morphed from a servant-leader model of ministry to a CEO-leader model of ministry? And, when I say CEO, I’m not talking “Chief Encouragement Officer.” It seems that more and more pastors — regardless of the actual size of their congregations — are “running” their churches more like a business than the body of Christ. These leaders surround themselves with “yes men” and even a few “yes women.” If you want to stay in the inner circle, you give unquestioning loyalty to the pastor. (I’ve even known of a few churches who require some sort of written
loyalty oath pledge of allegiance to pastoral authority in order to be eligible to serve in any position within the church.) If and when you begin to question, your time on the inside (and perhaps even the church — see here) will quickly come to an end.
What’s wrong with this picture? Quite simply, our unquestioning loyalty should be to Jesus Christ and to the protection and safeguarding of His church, not to a particular person, not even the pastor. Scripture is clear that we should submit to our leaders and should not bring any “accusation” against the pastors/elders without at least two or three witnesses. However, we cannot misuse and contort that Biblical principle to mean that any questions — even hard questions — are off-limits. Leaders, particularly in the GCR-era of “transparency” (the real kind as opposed to what has been practiced by the SBC establishment — here, here, and here), should not hide from questions, but rather should welcome a wide latitude of questions. After all, leaders who have nothing to hide should not only practice transparency, but should live above reproach.
These same principles should apply to the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Trustees of each of our entities should not serve out of unquestioning loyalty to the Presidents of these institutions, but rather should serve with unquestioning loyalty to Jesus Christ and to the protection and safeguarding of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. The title “Trustee” carries with it a sacred obligation to serve the interests of the churches of the Convention, not the interests of the President of a particular entity, be it the oldest seminary or the youngest seminary. In fact, Trustees are nominated with this very principle in mind:
“The (Nominating) committee shall recognize the principle that the persons it recommends shall represent the constituency of the Convention, rather than the staff of the entity.” (SBC ByLaws, Section 15E)
Our Trustees would do well to remember that their constituency is the churches that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention. Churches of all sizes. Churches with celebrity pastors and churches with pastors that no one really knows. Churches that send ten messengers to the Annual Convention and churches who don’t send any messengers to the Annual Convention. Traditional churches and contemporary churches. Older churches and new church plants.
There was a time in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention when the Trustees of the various entities ignored the will of the majority of churches. Instead of representing the majority constituency, these Trustees, particularly at our seminaries, acted on behalf of an elite minority of the churches. When this abuse of power continued unabated, the Conservative Resurgence was born and accountability was eventually restored via the grassroots churches of the Convention. If the SBC’s leaders — and their “yes men” enablers — continue to act on behalf of an elite minority, don’t be surprised when a second Conservative Resurgence (and the GCR wasn’t it) — led by grassroots pastors and lay folk — emerges to restore accountability to the entities that are supposed to SERVE the churches of the SBC!