David Platt, the President of our International Mission Board, recently became the preaching pastor at the Mclean Bible Church, a megachurch in the DC area. There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation about the whole process, and there many who are troubled by this development. Platt is a polarizing figure. There are some who will support him whatever he does and some who will relentlessly criticize him no matter what. But this is troubling even to many who are otherwise sympathetic to much of what Platt has done at the IMB.
I was brought into this controversy months ago by a long-standing and influential member of MBC (Member X) who was not happy that Dr. Platt was being put forward as (what we thought then) was their Senior Pastor. I was disturbed and I wrote a fiery post asking whether the IMB presidency wasn’t meant to be a full-time job. Then I decided I might do better to get all the facts before I published the post. I spent a lot of time Facebook messaging with Member X who had a lot of wrong ideas about David Platt but also had quite a few genuine concerns. I also contacted a friend who is an IMB trustee and asked for information. This was all taking place on Friday and Saturday. They asked me to hold off until Monday and I gladly agreed. I had conversations with highly placed administrators and finally, on Monday, with Hance Dilbeck, the chairman of the IMB Board of Trustees.
By the end of that conversation, I had drawn three conclusions.
- I felt I had about as good a handle on the facts as anyone did. I’d heard the inside story from IMB, from MBC membership, and I’d gotten the story straight.
- I no longer felt the need to write on the topic because I did not think that what David Platt was doing was such a huge deal but more importantly, I was fully confident that the IMB BoT is doing its job and taking care of business. Having conversed in one form or another with three trustees (one of them through a friend) I believe that our trustees are on top of things.
- If we don’t elect Hance Dilbeck as president of the SBC soon, we are making a huge mistake.
I decided not to “break” the story but now, after recent discussions here, I thought it might be well for me to share what I know. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I do believe that on this issue, I have a pretty good grasp on the facts. I will also share some of my opinions – those are, of course, less authoritative.
When Dr. David Platt was hired as the president of the IMB, his contract included a clause that stipulated that he would travel no more than 40% of weekends. He wanted to be home most Sundays to worship with his family, which includes young children. His job may require him to travel the world Monday through Friday, but he wanted to be home 60% of weekends.
Platt is enthusiastic and passionate about his job at the IMB, but he came to miss preaching regularly. This is not surprising. I have spoken to others who took denominational jobs and this seems to be a common refrain. They enjoy their jobs but miss preaching regularly. They get to preach often but don’t get to preach an expository series. I am not aware of how the McLean Bible Church relationship started, but Platt was asked to become a part-time supply preacher for them (I think it was about once a month). Sometime this year the leadership at MBC approached Platt about becoming their preaching pastor on those Sundays when he is in town. That relationship was approved in September.
McLean Bible Church is now an officially affiliated SBC church, but that has been an odd process. Their bylaws actually state that the church is not allowed to affiliate with any denomination. But some time ago (I am not sure exactly when), the elders of McLean entered into an agreement with NAMB to become a SEND church (not sure of the correct terminology). They had a formalized relationship with NAMB that qualified them as Southern Baptist, enabling Platt to begin preaching there. When the elders decided to approach Platt to make the position more permanent, they also sought a more formal relationship with the SBC. They affiliated with the conservative convention of Virginia and began to give to the CP.
It was at this point that the membership was first informed of the relationship with the SBC. MBC is an elder-ruled church, not elder led. The elders are able to do a lot without the approval of the congregation and without informing the congregation. As Platt was being brought forward as teaching pastor, the church was informed of the affiliation with Southern Baptists. They used the commonly stated idea that the SBC is a convention of independent churches, not a denomination.
It is a very unusual pastoral position that David Platt is undertaking. He will be the preaching pastor at McLean. That is it. He will show up on Sunday morning and preach about 30 or so weeks in the year. He will have no administrative or pastoral duties other than simply preaching on Sunday. He will receive no salary. Dr. Platt will study his Bible, drive to McLean, preach, and when the closing hymn (worship song?) is sung his duties are done for the week and he puts his world missions hat back on.
David Platt is quite a departure theologically from former pastors of MBC. Its doctrinal statement is fairly typical of the independent Bible church movement – dispensational, non-Calvinist, etc. Platt is definitely not in that mold. I don’t know if it is the norm in the church, but Member X would definitely be more comfortable with the political views of Robert Jeffress than Russell Moore. There are going to be some adjustments for them.
As I understand it, the IMB granted David Platt approval to do this ministry as long as it did not negatively impact his work as president. They are going to monitor the situation and if they believe that it is hampering Platt’s effectiveness at the IMB, he will be asked to give it up. The trustees are being supportive of Platt’s desire to preach but they are not rubber stamping his wishes. He has to show them that he can be the preaching pastor at McLean without it hurting his work as IMB president.
1. There is something about this that doesn’t sit right, though it is also not something that is wrong. Platt is biting off more than most of us mere mortals would want to chew. Were I an IMB trustee I would have been among the last ones to be convinced to vote aye on this. I know there are people who just have more energy and pep and vigor than I do, but I can’t imagine running the IMB, raising a family, and still preaching regularly at this church.
2. I am not an IMB trustee, and I will say it again. I think they are doing their job. I don’t always think that. Unfortunately, too often trustee boards have either become antagonistic or sycophantic. Neither is good. This BoT is neither.
3. The McLean Bible Church needs to rethink their ecclesiology. I believe in the importance of preaching – even more so than some others. I think the proclaimed word is the foundation of discipleship in the church. It isn’t the end of it, but good discipleship roots on good biblical preaching. But a pastor who does nothing more than preaching isn’t actually a pastor. Member X and I had lengthy discussions. It horrifies me that the elders of MBC would approve such an arrangement.
4. Admittedly, my information comes from a dissatisfied member, but my disdain for strongly authoritative elder boards was buttressed by what I have been told. Elders who lead the church but are accountable to the congregation? No problem. But ruling elders that are above question, that do not need to inform or get the consent of the people of God – it is a formula for disaster.
5. It is important that we not allow our feelings concerning David Platt to govern our feelings on the issue. Don’t be a blind defender or a knee-jerk critic. Examine the situation based on the facts, not just our view of Platt. And for the love of all that is holy, let us keep this in perspective. Whatever this is, it is not a felony.
6. Some have questioned the validity of McLean’s standing as a Southern Baptist church. People can argue over the nature of a “real” Baptist church in theology and practice – we had the Baptist Identity wars a few years back to hash those issues out. But what makes a church Baptist in “heart” is not the same as what makes it Baptist in affiliation. My church has been SBC since its founding, has Baptist in the name, and has never, to my knowledge, given less than 10% to the CP. McLean is JUST AS Southern Baptist as my church. There are no categories of SBC churches, no gradations. You are or you ain’t. The threshold for becoming an “are” is pretty low and then it becomes the duty of the SBC to declare you an “ain’t.” That happens only in limited circumstances.
All of that to say that the idea that Platt should have been at a “real” SBC church shows a lack of understanding of SBC polity. McLean is as SBC as Bellevue in Memphis. There’s only one category – in or out. Is McLean a BAPTIST church? I don’t know. But it is Southern Baptist.
7. I do not see anything deep and dark here. One commenter indicated in our previous discussion that this nullified Platt’s call to Southern Baptists to sacrifice. I can’t see the logic there. He’s going to preach the word a little more than half the Sundays in a year. I have questions about whether it is a good idea for his sake – will this burn him out? But this is no breach of integrity or mark against his character. A desire to preach God’s word is somehow a problem?
I realize that this post is over a month late, but after the discussion we had here last week, I thought it might be good to put the things that I know and that which I think on the record.