Key issues for the Southern Baptist Convention
IB Media Team Report
A season for reinvention
There’s no time in living memory when there have been so many vacancies at the top of key SBC entities. The election of Paul Chitwood to the presidency of the International Mission Board in November fills but one of five vacant posts. Two seminaries (New Orleans and Southwestern), the Executive Committee, and LifeWay Christian Resources are all engaged in president searches right now.
There was a period of turnover after World War II that stretched over several years, and, of course, the Conservative Resurgence that swapped out leaders and philosophies of SBC entities over more than a decade. But this shifting of leadership gears represents the greatest change in the shortest time in living memory.
What is the effect of all that change in executive leadership?
In any organization, changes at the top mean changes in philosophy and style, the departure of some second-tier leaders and rearrangement of others, and—in general—a season of optimistic uncertainty.
People are glad there’s a new leader but unsure where that leaves them, and they are wondering about the new direction of the organization.
Multiply that times five, and the ripple effect is felt across the Convention.
If we consider the last round of changes at the top of the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and LifeWay—and how long it took for the new leaders and their new plans to settle in—the SBC as a whole may be looking at two or three years of choppy water.
Making room at the table
Questions surrounding women in the church came into sharp relief in 2018 on the heels of #Metoo. Southern Baptists struggled through their own version of the movement, resulting in the termination of a seminary president and public investigations of pastors and missionaries accused of sexual abuse. Amid the scandals, women leaders denounced abuse and also prescribed preventive measures for churches and pastors.
In “A Letter to My Brothers” in May, Bible teacher Beth Moore called out misogyny of any kind among believers in Christ. “One of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life,” Moore wrote, is “Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women” among some key Christian leaders. “It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason. Ungodliness.”
Moore and others, including Texas Bible teacher Jen Wilkin, have called both men and women to more fervent Bible literacy, and to a reexamination of how men and women are called to build the church—together.
“The women e-mailing me regularly are not worried about winning the pulpit,” Wilkin wrote in 2015. “They are looking for leadership trajectories for women in the local church and finding virtually nothing. They watch their brothers receive advocacy and wonder who will invite them and equip them to lead well.”
As the dust settles on an unsettling movement, Baptists and other evangelicals still have questions to answer about what it really means for men and women to be made in the image of God, and treat each other as such.
The Greear Effect
The election of David Platt, then 35, to head the International Mission Board in 2014 prompted this question, but his departure this year means we have to ask it of another young leader, J.D. Greear, instead: What will be the impact of this young pastor on senior leadership in the SBC?
It’s probably too early to talk about his legacy, since he’s only six months into his first term as SBC president. It won’t be until the nominations for denomination committees are made in June that the presumed influence of Greear’s Reformed theology—as implemented by his likeminded peers—will be known. And we can only assume, based on a few comments he’s made, that his reluctance to embrace populist U.S. politics will mean an annual meeting with less public support for the Trump administration.
So far, we have only seen some public statements in support of Cooperative Program, and in November, a challenge to raise giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions by $10 million, surpassing IMB’s goal of $160 million. If giving reaches $170 million, Greear has pledged to engage in some kind of stunt in celebration.
The nature of the stunt is unknown, but Baptist Press reports, “suggested stunts include singing a duet with newly elected IMB President Paul Chitwood, arm wrestling Chitwood, performing a Broadway number, taking a pie in the face, and sporting a mullet at the SBC annual meeting.”
Signs are the Greear Effect seems, at this point, more youth-ministry than missional in nature. With four SBC entities still seeking head leadership (LifeWay, Executive Committee, and Southwestern and New Orleans seminaries), perhaps it will be in his second one-year term (if reelected) that Greear really makes his mark on behalf of a younger generation.
Written by the IB Media Team for the 1/1/19 issue of the Illinois Baptist.