Apart from prayer, the most direct way to impact the Southern Baptist Convention is to vote for a president who will guide it in the direction one believes to be consistent with the will of God. The right president appoints the right people to move the convention in the right direction. This essay is not a reaction directed at current or former leadership. Rather, it proactively seeks to identify SBC presidential qualifications going forward.
Fairly certain our current officers will be re-elected to a second term in Houston, I am outlining here some general guidelines for future SBC elections. The timing of my suggestions, outside of an election season, is designed to eliminate suspicions regarding the endorsement of any specific candidate. These Ten Traits reflect my personal convictions regarding the kind of candidate I could most enthusiastically embrace.
Unfortunately, the brief nomination speeches rarely provide the information I need to make such a decision. They generally discuss the candidate in terms that could almost apply to any minister in the convention. I want to know more than that. When I vote in American elections, I know about a candidate’s platform and vision concerning where they plan to lead us. In SBC elections, I want to know the very same thing.
1. DENOMINATIONAL LOYALTY
His loyalties are with the SBC, not with the broader evangelical community. Many Southern Baptists take for granted that the pastors who speak and lead at our conventions invest most of their time and energy in denominational networks rather than interdenominational associations. However, this is not necessarily the case. Some Southern Baptist leaders appear more at home among gatherings of evangelical groups representing various denominations than they are with Southern Baptists. I want to cast my ballot for a Southern Baptist leader whose loyalties are very clearly with us. While he may occasionally attend outside gatherings, I want a president focused on SBC groups.
2. MULTI-FACETED INVOLVEMENT
He actively supports every single layer of our denominational structure. Every candidate for convention president will be engaged both in his local church and in our national convention. However, some presidential candidates may spend relatively little time and energy supporting their local association and their state convention. My vote is reserved for that Southern Baptist who values cooperation at every level of our denominational structure. I believe the president of the Southern Baptist Convention should model for all Southern Baptists this kind of respectful multi-faceted involvement.
3. PROPORTIONAL GENEROSITY
His church invests in SBC missions at a level approaching ten percent.
The fact that every church is autonomous can never excuse weak levels of giving through the Cooperative Program. No one questions a church’s right to give as they feel led. However, voters are also autonomous, possessing the right to establish acceptable standards for denominational leadership. I feel led by God to reserve my autonomous vote for those whose church gives through their local association and through the Cooperative Program approximately ten percent or more of their undesignated receipts. I want to vote for a president who leads by example. I want to be able to say, “If every pastor did what this pastor does, our denomination would be strong and healthy.”
4. COOPERATIVE DISCLOSURE
His church submits a fully completed Annual Church Profile each year. Disclosure is very important to me since it clearly reveals that there is nothing to hide. One might compare the completion of a congregation’s Annual Church Profile with the completion of a citizen’s Annual Tax Return. It may be administratively challenging and even a bit unpleasant, but responsible and cooperative participants recognize the value in reporting such information. I want to vote for a president who willingly volunteers the kind of information denominational leaders track and report in order to assist our churches in the fulfillment of our Great Commission task. I do not value Lone Rangers, renegades or other non-conformists who offer the smokescreen of some lofty principle to avoid the accountability necessary to verify denominational support and involvement.
5. CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT
He is unafraid to confront our culture with firm biblical convictions.
It has become fashionable, in certain evangelical circles, to embrace a rather broad philosophy of accommodationism culturally. Conceding defeat in the culture wars is viewed as a more enlightened approach than continuing to stand strongly against the tide of immorality. More than a few ministers, claiming the desire to build bridges and fit in with the lost in an effort to reach them, have gone too far in this direction, taking positions regarding beverage alcohol, homosexuality, environmentalism and other public concerns in a direction incomprehensible to most Southern Baptists. I want to vote for a Southern Baptist president unafraid of our historic counter-cultural posture.
6. MISSIONS SUPPORT
His missions support channels are unquestionably Southern Baptist.
Not long ago, I was stunned to read this direct quote of a Southern Baptist Pastor:
“The fact is, supporting the North American Mission Board is a poor stewardship of God’s money. The Cooperative Program is no longer a safe place to entrust the church’s resources.” This pastor, raised a Southern Baptist and seminary trained with Cooperative Program dollars, abandoned his state convention affiliation and redirected funds to other channels. A Southern Baptist president should not reward such attitudes by catering to them. He should call them out.
7. PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION
He understands our leadership should look like our membership.
The appointing powers of the SBC president are enormous. He should use his influence to see that our boards and commissions are representative of our denomination. With regard to geography, gender, church size, clergy, laity, age, ethnicity and soteriological orientation, our leadership structures should demonstrate a level of diversity capable of eliminating the disproportionate influence of any one group. To those who wonder why I do not include eschatological or pneumatological orientation in the above list, such other doctrinal concerns frankly do not represent a serious threat to our unity. In all the ways that truly matter, our leadership must proportionately represent our membership.
8. EVANGELISTIC CLARITY
His approach to evangelism includes altar calls and a sinner’s prayer.
It is high time to call a ceasefire with regard to disparaging remarks concerning such historically acceptable evangelistic practices. While everyone on both sides of this issue affirms the need for clarity and integrity when explaining to a lost soul how they may be saved, much greater care must be taken to affirm the legitimate and appropriate use of a sinner’s prayer in evangelism. You do not abandon a worthy practice simply because some may abuse its use. Frankly, if a candidate for Southern Baptist president is unsure about leading someone in praying a sinner’s prayer, then I am unsure about him.
9. SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP
He is generally qualified for Christian leadership in every major way.
It really goes without saying that this person will be a godly family man, a prayer warrior, committed to evangelism and possessing a passion to reach the nations for Christ. He will be gracious, hospitable, kind, prudent, wise, articulate, able to teach and preach and otherwise scripturally qualified. These concerns are important to me, but often represent the only matters described in nomination speeches. I pretty much assume these things are true of most Southern Baptist pastors. When it comes to selecting a president, I may be looking for more than this, but certainly not less.
10. DENOMINATIONALLY UNAPOLOGETIC
He is not the convention’s greatest critic but its strongest supporter.
I have grown weary of those who whine about the way most Southern Baptist Churches do things, whether questioning the manner in which we handle our membership rolls, the songs we sing, the way we dress, the way we do evangelism, the way we support our associations and state conventions, the Cooperative Program funding formula or other time-honored ministry practices. It is time for us to celebrate what is right about the Southern Baptist way and not to denigrate what is wrong. I want to vote for a president who inspires us to “get with the program,” by which I mean the Cooperative Program. Let us remember all that is good about Southern Baptists. I do not seek a president to “reform” the convention, but one to “return” the convention to our historic evangelistic partnership. May we stop trying to change what it means to be a Southern Baptist.