Published September 25, 2008
Every year the national Southern Baptist Convention and its state conventions elect trustees to oversee the work and operations of their various institutions and agencies.
In the course of a long ministry I have had the privilege of serving as a trustee for a variety of those entities. In the beginning I accepted this role as an honor and was proud to be given the recognition that accompanied the role of trustee.
Generally, being a trustee has certain amenities that are easy to appreciate. While a trustee of the Baptist Sunday School Board I enjoyed the times when we traveled to Glorieta and Ridgecrest for our board meetings.
It is not at all difficult for a trustee to become ingratiated by an agency leader, enamored by the position itself and captivated by the proprieties offered to those who hold that strategic role.
However, being a trustee of a Baptist entity is far more than an honor to be coveted. It is a serious and solemn responsibility to be upheld.
The Board of Trustees – the governing body of an entity – operates its entity in trust for the Convention and has a fiduciary duty to protect its assets through efficient operation.
Trustees are also generally responsible for establishing the entity’s mission, bylaws, and strategic policies. Trustees select the administrative leader of the institution and ensure that the entity remains true to its stated mission. Failure to do this would be a serious dereliction of duty and constitute a breach of trust.
Former SBC president and current SBC Strategist of Global Evangelical Relations Bobby Welch believes, “Trustees are elected by the SBC and thereby given the right and responsibility to govern the entities to which they are elected. The trustees owe and own ultimate accountability to the SBC which holds possession of the particular entity.”
Frank Page, immediate past president of the Convention, adds, “The role of trustees in SBC life is one of extreme importance. While entities and agencies rely on staff for day-to-day operations, it is the role of the trustees to ensure that the Lord’s money is properly utilized in the accomplishment of the Great Commission. Thus, theirs is the responsibility of stewardship and therefore is a holy responsibility. When these fiduciary as well as spiritual responsibilities are fulfilled properly God’s people can be confident that their trust in trustees is well placed.”
The trustees of the North American Mission Board demonstrated a remarkable understanding of this concept in October of 2006 when they approved Executive Level Policies and expressly stated, “Our first responsibility as trustees is to the Southern Baptist Convention, not to NAMB team members.”
We live in a critical day when our institutions and agencies must function at maximum effectiveness. Good and responsible trustees can be instrumental in keeping their entity on mission successfully.
First, if trustees are primarily accountable to their Southern Baptist constituency – Billy and Betty Baptist – they will do everything they can to see that every penny their agency spends is well-placed and used to accomplish the greatest good for the Kingdom. This will build credibility and transparency and give people the assurance that their Cooperative Program dollars are being used effectively.
In the secular world, trustees protect the best interests of their shareholders. They want the company to grow and prosper, but at the end of the day they are responsible for providing a good return on the investment of those who own stock in the company. In the denominational world those shareholders are the tithers who purchase an interest (shares) in the ministries of the Convention through deposits in the offering plate.
Second, responsible trustees will make wise, Christ-honoring decisions when choosing entity leaders and should be wary of nepotism and avoid things that would suggest a conflict of interest. Any leader of a Baptist agency should be a sold-out Christian with a clear biblical worldview, have a passion for Christ, be a personal soul-winner, and completely committed to the purpose of the entity to which he has been called.
Furthermore, trustees should make sure that the entity leader is building a team of workers that are marked by an explicit agreement, a visible unity, extraordinary prayer, high motivation, and a high level of collaboration with constituents and/or partners to work efficiently and effectively to fulfill the Great Commission. If our agencies are not committed to these things it is unlikely that their employees will rise above the example of their leaders – those whose salary they pay.
Third, trustees and employees should be able to converse freely. This will undoubtedly allow staff to relate stories of how God is at work in and through the staff. On occasion an employee may need to confide in a trustee to register a concern. This should always be allowed without the employee being fearful of retribution or marginalization.
Fourth, trustees who are committed to their entrusted assignment will serve as a liaison between their entity and the pew. The people in the pew need to know the good things that are happening through our institutions and agencies. Trustees have an up close and personal view of what God is doing in the entity and should be able to relate “God stories” to thrill the hearts of fellow Baptists within his/her sphere of influence.
I had the privilege of serving on the administration committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention and always rejoiced when someone from the New Church Development Ministries would request money for a new church start or when someone from Language Missions Ministries would tell about what God was doing in terms of reaching a new ethnic group in Georgia. I often wished that all Georgia Baptists could sit where I sat and hear the glowing reports of what God was doing through our state convention. I was similarly impressed when I was on the SBC Executive Committee’s Cooperative Program Budget Committee.
When the president of the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, or one of our seminaries came to share their vision and make their budget requests, I could only wish that we had enough money to meet every need. I longed for every Southern Baptist to hear the reports of what God was doing among his people around the world.
Fifth, trustees must demonstrate an exemplary degree of spiritual and financial support for the entity they represent. Every agency and institution needs prayer support and financial support. Trustees should be pacesetters by leading their churches to give generously to the Cooperative Program and to SBC missions offerings.
The point of this editorial is that the trustees of our agencies – both in Georgia and in Southern Baptist life – have an awesome responsibility. Their first responsibility is to Billy and Betty Baptist. We are depending upon them to do their job. We joyfully express our gratitude to all those who are.
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