By David Roach
NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear’s call to pray and fast Oct. 8 for the presidential search committees at five SBC entities has been embraced by leaders of associations and state conventions.
Meanwhile, some Baptists have drawn encouragement from God’s faithfulness through previous periods of entity transition, including two previous occasions when five entities sought chief executives during the same year.
The five entities currently seeking presidents are the SBC Executive Committee, the International Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Greear announced the call to pray and fast Oct. 2 via Twitter and in letters to state convention executive directors and associational mission strategists.
“From the moment our 2018 Convention convened, I have sensed that God is doing something unprecedented in our midst,” Greear wrote in his letters. “With many of the changes we have seen in SBC leadership recently, that sense has only increased. Today we received news of Dr. Chuck Kelley’s upcoming retirement [from New Orleans Seminary], which means that there are now five national entities seeking new leaders.
“I believe God is up to something that — if we are humble and faithful — can prepare us for greater days of effectiveness for the Great Commission,” wrote Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
Greear requested prayer specifically for:
— “Wisdom for the search committee” at each entity “in assessing what is needed most for effective ministry in the 21st century”;
— “Boldness … in asking the difficult questions”;
— “Loving-kindness” as search committee members “interact with one another”; and
— “That God’s face would shine upon us as a people — not for our sake, but that Jesus’ name would be known to the ends of the earth.”
Among state convention executive directors responding to Greear’s call to prayer, Alabama’s Rick Lance posted on Facebook, “In response to a call by SBC President J.D. Greear for October 8 as a day of prayer for denominational search committees, your State Board of Missions staff will meet to pray on Monday morning. Hoping other Alabama Baptists will also heed this invitation to pray for strategic decisions to be made in the SBC.”
Kentucky’s Paul Chitwood tweeted, “Will you join us as we answer the call from @jdgreear to a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of the #SBC?”
Ray Gentry, executive director of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders, asked via email for conference members to “prayerfully consider asking your pastors/churches to join this call to prayer. Encourage people to fast for one meal and pray for these Search Committees if they cannot do so all day.”
Greg Wills, director of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study of the SBC, told Baptist Press previous leadership transitions at multiple entities simultaneously were caused by a combination of internal factors at the entities and external pressures in the SBC and the culture.
In 1951 and again in 1953, five entities sought chief executives. That period was a time of “generational transition,” Wills, a professor of church history at Southern, said, “as the SBC grew at such an extraordinary rate.”
From 1951-53, 13 total SBC entities sought chief executives amid an era of generational transition. In 1997, the SBC’s Covenant for a New Century restructuring plan reduced the number of convention entities from 19 to 12.
At least twice, the SBC experienced six chief executive searches in a two-year span: 1927-28 and 1978-79.
Pressure surrounding the 1927-28 transitions — which included the Foreign Mission Board and the Home Mission Board — likely was amplified, Wills said, by FMB treasurer George Sanders’ embezzling $103,000 from the board and HMB treasurer Clinton Carnes’ embezzling $909,000. That’s the equivalent today of $1.5 million and $13.4 million respectively.
Cultural change following the Vietnam War and Watergate may have played some role in the 1978-79 transitions, Wills said.
Four SBC entities sought presidents in 1946 and 1952, and three entities were searching for leaders in at least nine other years.
D. August Boto, interim president of the Executive Committee, told BP he is encouraged by the SBC’s history of leadership transitions.
“Having come to learn this isn’t the first time our convention has faced such challenges — or even the second — I’m confident God’s grace is sufficient for the SBC’s current entity transitions, as it was in the past,” Boto said. “President Greear’s call to prayer and fasting is entirely fitting, and I support it, for we can do nothing challenging, and certainly nothing worthy, without God’s blessing and direction.”
EC ambassador Jimmy Draper drew similar encouragement from the convention’s history, including the three presidential transitions in 1991, the year he became president of LifeWay Christian Resources. He expressed optimism for the future.
“We have some great younger men” rising as SBC leaders, typified by Greear, Draper told BP. “We have great prospects. We’ll get great presidents. It’s just amazing that with all the furor that’s taken place the last six to eight months, things are as strong as they are [in the convention]. It almost defies imagination. The hand of God is on this.”
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.