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A bit about the Southern Baptist Convention

Since this blog is one source of information for my church about the wider world, I thought it might be prudent to give a bit of an update about what’s going on in our denominational life. We’re a Southern Baptist Church, so what the SBC does has an effect on us.

For example, when the SBC sends missionaries to carry the Gospel around the world, we’re a part of that. That’s a good thing. When the SBC does things that are silly or nonsensical, well, that affects us as well.

Now, the fun part of this interconnectedness is that there is no solid line of control, either from the SBC to the church or from the church to the SBC. The first is because, well, Jesus is in charge of the church. Dr. Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee president, and Dr. Steve Gaines, current president of the SBC, are both pretty good men. (I’ll admit to liking Dr. Page as a preacher and a leader better, but that’s another story.) But neither of them can tell any local church what to do. They can say, plainly, what they think the Bible says, but can do nothing to force a church to comply. That’s a good thing.

The other side is more odd. As one church in the SBC, our control is limited to the number of people we can send to the annual meeting and vote. Our influence is a bit wider because we can voice opinions and contact people who work for the SBC throughout the year. But there’s no real way to force a compliance. If our church sends the maximum messenger count to the meeting, we have 12 votes. Out of several thousand people.

So, first, we have to keep in mind how the SBC as a whole works. Second, we have to understand how each group works. For example, Lifeway Christian Resources (which owns Lifeway Christian Stores) is an SBC “entity.” We use the term “entity” for the various separate organizations the SBC owns and directs. But we direct these by electing trustees. Those trustees then hire a CEO or President for the organization who runs that entity.

Taking Lifeway as our example, the trustees were elected by the Southern Baptist Convention (from members of participating churches, approximately a third are elected each year, 3-year term, can be re-elected once). Those trustees, in the past, selected Thom Rainer to be the CEO of Lifeway. Every year since then, it is the responsibility of the trustees to determine if Dr. Rainer is doing his job well enough to keep it or not.

So, if Lifeway does something we don’t like, I can’t fire Dr. Rainer. Even if we gather a large coalition of churches to get their messengers to vote on it in June, it still falls to the trustees to handle it. That allows the leadership of entities to work through the mood swings we sometimes have in churches.

Mood swings? Instead of church, I’ll use Razorback Basketball as an example. About 3 weeks ago, listening to sportstalk radio in Little Rock, you’d have thought Mike Anderson was a terrible coach. The Hogs had lost a few games, some badly, and there was talk that his time needed to end.

Then, there was someone who highlighted the statistics of the basketball program under Anderson. It showed that we were in the top third or so of teams in our conference over the last five years. That’s long enough to run through several recruiting cycles. And remember, Kentucky is out there scooping up first-round NBA draft talent. We’re not going to be #1 against them every year. (plus, the comparisons to perennial powerhouses like Duke and Kansas aren’t exactly fair.)

Then, the Hogs won several games in a row. Now, we’re back to thinking we’ve got a great coach and the future is bright. Mood swings. Happens in church work and denominational work as well. David Platt, for example, leads the IMB (International Missions BoarD) for the SBC. 2 years ago, they had to make major, hard changes to balance the budget. People screamed at him and for his head. But let this year show a good budget, missionary appointments, and effectiveness for proclaiming the Gospel.

We’ll all be happy.

So, trustee boards insulate that. They are elected, supposedly prayerfully, from God-honoring people in churches that preach the truth.

It makes change take time. At the same time, it means that change is possible. But you have to want it bad enough to work through that system. In theory, our claim is that this allows all participating churches, whether big, small, rich, poor, to have a fairly equal footing.

Is that true? Well, we have to reprove that every so often. So that question is valid to ask and keep asking.

Which is part of what we use the Internet for in the SBC. To ask that question.

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