Bastardizing the Executive Committee


The word “bastard” has a curious etymology. Used by the French for centuries to describe the child of a nobleman by his mistress, the original and literal translation of the word is a “saddle son,” or a child who is conceived on a makeshift bed. Today, to “bastardize” something is to make it less valuable, important, or of poorer quality.

The Executive Committee has been bastardized.

It really began with the push to create a Great Commission Task Force, ultimately chaired by Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd and promoted by Georgia pastor and then-SBC President Johnny Hunt. But the grand strategy gained momentum when Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler was conscripted to the effort.

Ten years ago this June, Mohler rose to the convention floor in Louisville to make a motion:

“That the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 23-24, 2009, in Louisville, Kentucky, authorize the president of the Southern Baptist Convention to appoint a Great Commission Task Force charged to bring a report and any recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida, June 15-16, 2010, concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”

The battle lines were quickly drawn. On the one side were Paige Patterson — who was not included in the task force nor were his immediate lieutenants — and Morris Chapman, who knew a thing or two about reorganizing the convention, though it is fairly clear the two were not working in tandem. Both men were excluded from membership on the task force and left out of the report’s drafting process.

On the other side were: megachurch pastors like Johnny Hunt who never liked how Cooperative Program support was historically reported and never fully understood how the convention works; perennially aspiring entity executives like Ronnie Floyd, who once asserted that Promise Keepers would inaugurate the next Great Awakening (and if not PK, then the task force he chaired; and if not the task force, then his own convention presidency);  theologians like David Dockery, Daniel Akin, and Mohler added some intellectual heft and gravitas; two state convention executives (Jim Richards, who has a stained glass window at Southwestern, and Robert White, who had a reputation for administratively escrowing Georgia’s Cooperative Program receipts for months at a time); SBC presidential election losers like Ted Traylor and, at the time, Ronnie Floyd; and two women, including the wife of future SBC President Steve Gaines.

Add to the mix the angst of young pastors increasingly frustrated by bureaucracies ill-equipped to mobilize the kinds of church planting efforts they envisioned and you end up with one of the best efforts to slice up an ever-smaller pie Southern Baptists have ever witnessed.

Indeed, never had Southern Baptists authorized so expansive an agenda — practically limitless in scope — to be conceived and implemented by such a large committee. At one point, Ronnie Floyd sent emails to the convention parliamentarian and a few members of the task force asking one question: “How far can we go?” In the meantime, the task force kept getting larger every time one of Johnny Hunt’s synapses threw a spark or blew a fuse.

The stated goal of the task force was to “more effectively and faithfully” engage Southern Baptists in the Great Commission. To achieve this goal, the task force recommended tinkering with Cooperative Program distributions to the entities, ostensibly to help pay for more missionaries by cutting funding to the Executive Committee. Additionally, the task force recommended a greater role of state conventions in Cooperative Program promotion, revisions to the ministry assignments of both the IMB and NAMB, and new nomenclature for reporting mission support to satisfy the megachurch pastors who don’t like it when their church’s CP percentages are reported instead of the total dollar amounts.

Ten years later, Southern Baptists have fewer missionaries, baptisms are in steady decline, Cooperative Program receipts are falling, and the Executive Committee trustees can’t seem to find a single minority candidate to interview for the executive vacancy. Robert White has retired. Jim Richards still presides over the largest duplication of resources in Southern Baptist history. And the next Great Awakening is still forthcoming, only this time from the administrative offices of the National Day of Prayer.

To be sure, personalities got in the way of the committee’s work from day one. To read through the boxes of personal correspondence — much of which is publicly available despite being marked “CONFIDENTIAL” in Johnny Hunt’s files at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives — you can get a sense of the interpersonal conflict, bad blood, and pettiness that beset the efforts. Accusations and recriminations were made, blind-carbon copies were sent with shocking regularity, and entity executives corresponded with the trustees of other agencies in a way that undermined their peers on the Great Commission Council.

Today, Southern Baptists have a mess on their hands.

The Executive Committee is leaderless, with no consensus candidate emerging. The IMB has been through four executives in less than ten years and thousands of missionaries have been recalled. NAMB is still struggling to define its ministry assignment, and state conventions seem increasingly peripheral to the local churches they purportedly serve.

Some four decades ago, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention adopted Bold Mission Thrust, a herculean effort to promote inter-agency cooperation, deploy more than 10,500 international and North American missionaries, increase mission volunteers, jump start church planting efforts, and witness annual baptism rates in excess of 500,000 per year.

And here’s the critical part: every SBC entity was required to report annually to the convention how it was implementing Bold Mission Thrust. But since the affirmation of the Hunt/Floyd task force, the whole effort seems to have been dropped and no standard, meaningful metrics for judging success have been utilized. So perhaps it was a good plan, poorly implemented.

Or perhaps it was a bad plan to begin with. Either way you cut it, the Executive Committee is expected to perform a few vital functions on behalf of the convention churches, not least of which is ensuring that SBC-owned entities execute their ministry assignments with integrity, transparency, consistency, and financial accountability. The gutting of the Executive Committee’s budget — and there are reasons to believe the cuts were more interpersonally punitive than missiologically adaptive — has left the institution weaker.

The unique role of the Executive Committee demands that it have the resources necessary to accomplish its assignment and trustees who are smart enough to stay the course. In the end, the Great Commission Task Force has faltered in nearly every one of its stated goals, except for making the Executive Committee more anemic. And if the Executive Committee is weaker, then the threshold for determining its new president is lower.

The question remains whether or not the present search committee is competent to find a president who can begin to fix what has been broken, or if this particular committee has the confidence of the convention to even keep functioning.

We think a new committee should be formed, and a better process for selecting a new president established and disclosed. Until that happens, any man who accepts the committee’s nomination is potentially setting himself up for more headaches than the job is worth, not to mention the unenviable responsibility of making bricks without straw.

4 thoughts on “Bastardizing the Executive Committee

  1. I am forevermore glad that I addressed the Convention, via a floor mic, at Greensboro in 2006. The statement I made then is still my mantra for today … God pays for what He wants done. And if the organization … the EC was the topic at that time … was not receiving the funds they thought they needed, then they must either (a) Not be doing what God wanted them doing, or (b) be doing what God does not want them doing.

    I think that is still abundantly true, today.

    We’re to be making disciples, which means teaching learners. What we’re actually doing is going to the highways and byways and begging them to come in. With little to no attention paid to their subsequent learning. But that responsibility falls at the feet of the Pastors who lead the local churches, and I can understand their reluctance to admit it and deal with it.

    How does it happen that we have Seminars to educate church members how to have a Gospel Conversation, when I’ve never heard of such a seminar about how to have a conversation about your favorite restaurant, how you met your spouse, or why you don’t like the New England Patriots?

    1. Because people are more familiar with their spouse, their favorite restaurant or why they don’t like the patriots than they are with Jesus?

      1. Which brings up another interesting point: Folks do not need to tell everything they
        know about a topic in order to discuss it. I sure don’t do that WRT my wife … I tell what fits the context of the moment. Ditto for my favorite restaurant, or my favorite pro football team (of which I have none at all). Methinks that thought may, however, be keeping people bringing up their faith in casual conversations.

  2. ‘We’re to be making disciples, which means teaching learners.’

    The folks in the pews are the ones who encounter the world, who reach the world with their daily involvement in the world, unlike most professional church staffs. To teach them you need, not a rhetorical monologue weekly delivered from the high place but solid Sunday School teachers who know how to carry on a dialogue. The pastor ought to be spending more time teaching the teachers who teach those who are encountering the world than ensuring precise alignment of three points and a poem.

    But, in too many evangelical circles the rhetorical monologue holds pride of place over solid pedagogical dialogue.

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