A day of reckoning has dawned in the SBC with the release of the SATF report last weekend. Many steps of action must be taken. It is my aim to introduce to you an idea for discussion which may be developed into one such step of action. The following plan would not resolve the issue of sexual abuse in the SBC, but it could serve as a safeguard for churches against wolves who stealthily seek to flock-hop from one congregation to the next. The preliminary working title for this step is the “Pastors in Good Standing” plan.
Local churches often acknowledge God’s calling on a servant and commission them to Christian service through ordination. After a period of observing the servant’s faith and character, the church calls together an ordination council to vet the servant with questions of doctrine, faith, and practice. Upon approval of the ordination council and the church body, the servant is ordained. The ordination, and the physical representation of it in the form of a certificate, serves as an endorsement of this person’s ministry.
Unfortunately, not all ordained ministers serve faithfully. Some abandon the faith, abuse the vulnerable, and abdicate the call to holiness. Nevertheless, such unqualified pastors are easily able to mislead local churches by flaunting their credentials as ordained ministers. When a local church acknowledges such a pastor as being doctrinally and morally unqualified, then a network should be in place which allows other local churches to observe their warnings. Perhaps the SBC can help local churches see the red flags raised by sister churches.
The Pastors in Good Standing plan could operate as follows. When a local church ordains a servant to ministry, the minister will be encouraged to file the ordination information with the Pastors in Good Standing database (name, church, location, date, presiding officer, etc.). With the cooperating assistance of the local association, ministers will file their ordination information along with a proper background check and fingerprinting.
The database is to be accessible to the public, particularly local churches. When a local church is seeking to hire a new minister, they may wish to view the database in order to verify that their pastoral candidate is in good standing.
In the terrible circumstance in which a pastor has become disqualified for ministry, the local church is to act. The local, offended church is responsible for investigating the accusation against the pastor and decide as a congregation whether such allegation disqualifies the pastor from ministry. (If the allegation is of legal consequence, then the matter is to be reported to law enforcement!) If the church moves to issue a warning of the minister, they are to contact the local association. The local association’s credentials committee, or similar body, is to investigate the matter and discern the validity of the local church’s warning. (Such a step provides at least a thin layer of protection for qualified ministers who are attacked by wayward churches.) When in agreement, the local church in partnership with the local association files a warning with the Pastors in Good Standing database. The warning is attached to the public record of ordination. When that pastor later seeks to be hired by another church, the church will be able to check the Pastors in Good Standing database and note that this minister has been red-flagged. As an autonomous congregation, the church may conduct their own investigation and possibly hire the minister anyway, however the red-flag is a sign to them that they “swim at your own risk.” (Whether or not a process may be established for ministers to have their red flags amended would have to be worked out through further development.) In a more positive circumstance, the church may discover that their pastoral candidate is in fact a Pastor in Good Standing, allowing them to proceed with a greater sense of confidence.
To be clear, the role of the SBC in this plan is not to ordain, not to investigate, and not to red-flag. All of those actions are done by local churches with the cooperating partnership of their local association of churches. The SBC simply houses and maintains the record keeping as a nation-wide database of participating churches. The SBC is to keep the database accessible to the public through its website, particularly for the aid of local churches and for cooperation with police investigations.
Southern Baptist churches have long held a practice of acknowledging members “in good standing” with their local churches. The SBC has long held a practice of acknowledging churches which are in” friendly cooperation” with the convention. Now, it is time for us to acknowledge pastors who are in good standing with their local churches (and thus the convention).
The preliminary Pastors in Good Standing plan is an effort to protect sheep from wolves by creating a framework through which churches can see the warnings raised by other churches. It is a process which holds ministers accountable, preserves local church autonomy, and promotes friendly cooperation of associated churches for their mutual edification. The plan would not eradicate ministerial abuses, but it would establish a hindrance for those who wish to injure the church. It is not a solution, but it is a step.
Field Thigppen is the Pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He holds a Th.M. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Allisha have three children.