(RNS) — “Since 2018, the Southern Baptist Convention has lost a series of high-profile leaders whose tenures ended due to controversy or misconduct,” began the recent RNS article, “Can anyone lead the Southern Baptist Convention forward?” by Bob Smietana. But maybe the author is looking for leaders in all the wrong places.
The vast majority of Southern Baptist pastors are in towns you’ve never heard of, pastoring churches you will never spot on Outreach’s Fastest-Growing Churches list. After all, Annual Church Profile data in 2020 revealed the Southern Baptist Convention had 47,592 churches with 4,439,797 in average attendance. In other words, the typical SBC church averages 92 people on Sunday mornings.
It was these leaders — the messengers from average, no-name churches — who, as the article put it, “wrestled control of the (sex abuse task force) investigation away from the Executive Committee in a vote from the meeting floor.”
So, “Can anyone lead the Southern Baptist Convention forward?”
Yes. And they already are.
“They” are the guys totally content outside of the limelight who are leading the Southern Baptist Convention. “They” are not the presidents of our seminaries, but the pastors, Sunday school teachers and volunteer age-graded ministry directors who are leading the Southern Baptist Convention.
People like Mitch, a full-time employee of a telecommunications business, part-time rancher and small business owner in a no-name town who leads as a Sunday school teacher. People like Charlie, a retired teacher who leads as a children’s ministry director and heads up the church’s Vacation Bible School program. People like Cal, who leads as the longtime pastor of a small church in the middle of nowhere.
“They” are not the entity heads but are the 1,273 missionaries sent from the International Mission Board since 2018. A few we know, most we do not, but they are leading. “They” are largely not on trustee boards but lead within the 2,643 churches the North American Mission Board planted since 2018. Some in large cities, some in small. But they are all leading.
So, if you are asking who can lead the Southern Baptist Convention forward, look to who is already leading. The people who do not need segments on Fox News or even the occasional piece in a Baptist state newspaper are leading — right now.
You can find them on any given Sunday in America or launching a Bible study in their home in another country. And you will see them descend on Anaheim for the SBC Annual Convention in June, where, with paper ballots in hand, they will lead the Southern Baptist Convention forward. Just like they have done since 1845.
In other words, the SBC is not run by elites but, rather, by ordinary people who show up and lead. They unlock the doors on Sundays, brew the coffee, adjust the thermostat (much to the chagrin of Ms. Helen), teach a Sunday school lesson, rock a baby or preach a sermon. They go to the nations with the gospel or plant churches in hard-to-reach areas.
The true leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are the ones leading their churches to give through the Cooperative Program to send missionaries and church planters and to train their future pastors (and more). The true leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are reaching their communities, schools and neighbors for Jesus. The true leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention may not have a glossy business card with a fancy title or even have a title at all, but they are leading — now.
Therefore, if you want to find the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, visit First Baptist Church of Anywhere and look around. While entity heads and trustees are important, the true leaders of the SBC are already leading — now, right before your eyes.
(Matt Henslee (@mhenslee) is the Associational Mission Strategist of Collin Baptist Association, president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference and hosts Not Another Baptist and Potluck Podcasts. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)