I’ve been working on this concept since long before JD Greear announced, so this has nothing to do with an analysis of his candidacy. I want to take a brief moment to set forth the rubric I’m going to use to judge the candidate or candidates for president of the SBC. It’s a tricky thing. It’s not a secret that last time around I put my support behind Dennis Kim and advocated him strongly. We fell short and Ronnie Floyd was elected. I am not sorry we promoted Dr. Kim – he is a good man and well worthy of our support – but I’ve come to be grateful that Ronnie Floyd was elected. He’s been as good an SBC president as we have had in the years I’ve been attending (and I’m an old codger, folks). That doesn’t mean that I’ve agreed with everything he’s said or done. For crying out loud, I don’t agree with everything I’ve said or done! But he’s represented us well.
Now, it’s time to pick a replacement. It’s always hard to know who the right man is for the job. But I do have some standards that I’ve developed over the years. Some I’ve worked out on my own, others I’ve come to believe in conversations with others. Here’s what I consider to be important.
1. The president must be confessionally Baptist.
That isn’t too hard. He must adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement in his life and teaching. My first SBC Annual Meeting was 1979 in Houston. Yep, that one. I am a Conservative Resurgence Baptist. I said it then and I say it now, what we did was necessary and right. The way it was done was often not as good. We made some errors in the conduct of the war that scarred the convention. But the war was fought and won and thank God! I have no desire to re-fight that war. If you don’t agree with our BF&M, God bless you. It’s not a perfect document. But it is our confession and if you don’t support it, I’m not going to vote for you to lead us. If you receive people in your church membership who aren’t immersed, bless your heart! You don’t answer to me, that is your church’s decision. But I’m not voting for you. If you deny congregational government, the priesthood of believers, inerrancy, substitutionary atonement, or any of our other doctrines or practices spelled out in our confession, you may be a wonderful Christian, but you aren’t getting my vote for president.
2. The president must be cooperative in missions.
I wish I had a number. CP. GCG. It’s more of an art than a science in determining this, but if you are going to be president of our convention you ought to be plugged in and passionate about cooperating in our convention. Again, you can be a perfectly good, God-honoring pastor and church if you do missions in another way. The CP isn’t the only way. But it is OUR way and if you want to be the president of the convention I want to see a proven track record not only of your church giving to missions but being active in denominational life. Again, I don’t have an exact number to use here.
Back in 2006, this became a big deal. Ronnie Floyd was running the first time and his church’s CP giving was “dollar high, percentage low.” It became an issue and a lesser known candidate named Frank Page, whose church was at or above the 10% CP threshold found himself elected (Praise God from whom all blessing flow!). Ronnie went back, led the GCR, and led his church to change the way they did things. They don’t have the highest percentage, but they are if not the highest, among the highest givers to missions through the CP now. Well done, Ronnie.
3. The president must be constitutional in his approach.
I just realized I have 3 words starting with c. Now I’m going to have to work to use alliteration on the rest! Drat!
The president of the SBC is not tasked with forming study groups to redesign the SBC or any of the other things recent men have often done. He is supposed to moderate the meetings, work for the messengers to help them get their business transacted, be a positive representative of the SBC, and he is to appoint certain committees. The key work that a president does is appoint his committee on committees. The other things they do are often forgotten when they leave office, but when a man makes solid appointments, he can impact the denomination for a decade. He appoints the committee on committees which then nominates the committee on nominations the next year. That committee then nominates trustees who can serve up to two 4-year terms. So, when a president has been out of office many years, the trustees who were nominated by the nominating committee nominated by the committee appointed by him is still serving! Confusing? Maybe. But the fact is that if a president simply takes his constitutional duties seriously he can do more than if he’s running around the country promoting task forces, name changes, or other such things.
4. The president must be careful and consistent in appointments.
There! I got two c-words in one!
This is difficult, because he doesn’t nominate the trustees, but only appoints a committee that nominates the nominating committee. But if he chooses carefully men and women who share his vision, who will choose a committee on nominations that share his vision, they can nominate trustees who share that vision. What is it I’d like to see?
- Greater racial and ethnic diversity in appointments. Great progress has been made here, but let’s keep it going.
- Greater emphasis on small and medium church appointments. Too many trustees have been recycled from board to board and little church get no representation.
- Careful emphasis on confessional fidelity in appointments. No one should be a trustee who does not hold to our confession.
If we learned anything in the 80s and 90s, folks, it’s that the trustee process is where it all happens!
5. The president must be a Calvinism non-combatant.
I don’t care if the president is a 5-pointer or a 1-pointer, if he’s signed the Abstract or the Traditionalist document or the Remonstrance. (Side note: was doing my family genealogy, and found that one of my wife’s ancestors was a signatory to the Remonstrance!) What I do care about is that the president is not now and has not for some time been a part of the Calvinism wars in the SBC. The SBC has always been a Calvinist and n0n-Calvinist denomination. Sometimes one stream flowed stronger. In my early years, the Calvinism stream was weak and it has definitely gained strength. If someone is in it to advance Calvinism, I’m not interested. If someone is in it to stop Calvinism, I’m not interested.
I believe that the vast majority of people just want to do ministry, missions, and don’t care that much about Calvinism unless someone is pushing it or fighting against it.
6. The president must be conciliatory.
That one I stretched for, but the president needs to be a person who emphasizes the “us,” not the “us against them.” The SBC is seriously splintered and has a tendency to divide into factions and the president must be someone who seeks to bring disparate factions together, not someone who chooses a side and seeks to help that side win. When Frank Page was elected, there was some disquiet on the Calvinist side because he had written a book against Calvinist views. But they realized pretty quickly that even though he did not agree with the doctrine, he was a friend, not an enemy. The same thing happened when Johnny Hunt was elected. There are so many factions – young vs old, contemporary style vs traditionalist style, megachurch vs smaller church, Deep South vs New Work. The list is long. It is in our human nature to magnify these divisions and to fracture. But a president must rise above this and seek to call us to our higher task.