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Why is there no word from Richmond?

 

Jerry Rankin, former president of the International Mission Board, announced his retirement 15 months ago in September 2009. Soon thereafter Jerry Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church of Forney, Texas, was chosen to lead a 15-member search committee.

At one point the committee announced that it had received more than 270 nominations and identified 74 candidates.

On March 3 of this year the search committee stated it was continuing to “narrow down its field of candidates. Southern Baptists were asked to set aside March 13 as a day of prayer and fasting to ask God to direct their path.

Four months ago – a full year after Rankin’s announcement – Pritchard remarked, “This is the most crucial position that a man can hold on the face of the planet, and because of that [choosing a new president] shouldn’t be easy.”

Next month the Baptist state editors will gather for their annual meeting, which will be held outside of Richmond. Part of the reason for holding it in the state was to personally meet the president and learn about the vision God had given him for the agency. While nothing was guaranteed that this would occur, it was greatly assumed – even from IMB personnel extending the invitation to their state – that a president would be named in the coming year.

Sadly, that is not the case. We have now been told that if a president were to be announced in the next eight weeks, the transition period to his new position would simply not allow such a meeting.

Most Southern Baptists, both home and abroad, recognize the importance of this strategic position in the life of our Convention. People want to know who the new IMB president is going to be.

So far, rumors have been swirling and speculations have been as prevalent as Georgia kudzu on a summer day. Rankin gave the search committee more than an adequate amount of time – nearly a full year – as a head start to find his replacement. Sixteen months have now passed, he has been retired for five months, and there is still no word from the committee.

Why the silence? There can only be one of several answers.

First, it may be that the committee has not located a qualified leader. In fact, many contend that in America today we are bereft of capable, visionary leaders in politics, industry and religion. Most would agree that we need someone as the IMB president who would demonstrate surrender and sacrifice. Who is there among us who can say, “This is the way. Let us walk in it,” and actually expect people to follow?

Secondly, no candidate is going to “launch out into the deep” and embrace the responsibilities required to lead the largest denominational mission agency in the world.

Third, the committee could be divided and too unyielding to agree on one candidate. That is common on pastor search committees all the time. It is not easy to be in one accord as were the disciples in Acts 2. In order to be in agreement, personal agendas must be abandoned and outside influences ignored for the will of God to reign supreme. If a committee cannot pray themselves into a spirit of harmony they probably need to resign and give another committee the chance to finish the task.

Finally, God may have allowed the process to bog down because He has different plan. In Genesis 11 He prevented the building of the tower of Babel, because it was not His will for man to work his way into God’s presence. God had a better plan. He built a bridge through the rough-hewn timbers of a cross; and this bridge gave all people a pathway into the presence of God.

Is the divine plan for Southern Baptists to have just one mission agency? I hope not, but something seems amiss. I realize that God’s delays are not God’s denials, but the International Mission Board needs a new, passionate leader – someone who engenders respect, someone who will cast a heavenly vision, issue a clarion call for young adults to surrender to missionary service, challenge Southern Baptists to give and inspire all of us to surrender to His will and work.

Regardless of who is chosen, he should be a strong supporter of the Cooperative Program as outlined by the Great Commission Task Force Report overwhelmingly approved by messengers to the annual Convention meeting in Orlando. Anything less would violate the spirit and intent of both the Task Force and the messengers of the Convention and basically render a vital part of the Task Force recommendations null and void.

If the candidate is a pastor, his giving record should be above reproach. If the candidate is not a pastor, he should be a member of a church whose giving is unquestionable in its support of the denomination’s primary funding channel as well as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

It’s not enough to elect a president with a weak Cooperative Program record who may find it necessary to apologize for his lack of support in order to try to ameliorate the ruffled feathers of Southern Baptists who took the GCR Task Force report seriously. It’s time to elect leaders who support the denomination with a proven giving record that is within parameters as approved by messengers.

It is no secret that the IMB has been the most aggressive of our agencies at making direct appeals to churches to subsidize the funds it received through the Cooperative Program. I appreciate the passion that motivates such an aggressive quest to fund its mission, but on the other hand it is disturbing when one agency plays “favorite son” against the others.

In the March 11 issue of The Index, GBC Executive Director and Task Force member J. Robert White said, “It is absolutely essential that the boards of trustees of our entities exercise strict control over their entities to see that direct solicitation among our churches does not happen. Such solicitation is a direct threat to the very existence of the Cooperative Program.”

The new IMB president, as well as all agency heads, should be committed to the principle that when agencies agree to accept CP monies they relinquish all rights to other fund-raising activities. This is explicitly detailed in the Southern Baptist Business and Financial Plan (Section VI of SBC Bylaws).

The Executive Committee’s lack of enforcing the small indiscretions has created a problem, which has led to an unprecedented solicitation of churches. Such solicitation indirectly undermines the reason why the CP was founded in the first place, and moves us back to a societal giving method.

If Southern Baptists are sincere about their overwhelming affirmation of the CP as outlined in the GCR Task Force Report, they expect their agencies to live within their means. Messengers overwhelmingly agreed that the primary way to support each missions agency is, first and foremost, through the Cooperative Program and, indirectly, through their special offerings – the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

God has a plan and God has a man for this strategic place in SBC life. We all need to pray for the search committee to have divine direction in their quest for God’s man.