Dr. Charles Wade’s announced retirement from the Baptist General Convention of Texas has opened the door for speculation about the future of the organization. Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, has done a good job in the editorial linked above, outlining the person of Dr. Wade.
Dr. Wade’s tenure was not without controversy, by any stretch of the imagination. His selection as executive director was seen as a strengthening of the BGCT ties to CBF, and a distancing from the SBC by some, and as a result, a rival state convention was created. A restructuring and reorganization of the convention’s administration ruffled a lot of feathers. And the church planting scandal in the Rio Grande Valley, coupled with the investigation and controversy over how to bring it all to a resolution, has marked these past months. However, even if Dr. Wade had been perfect, he would still have his critics. That comes with the job. The selection of his successor will say a lot about the direction the BGCT will go into the future.
I’m torn between the idea that our current convention structure and Cooperative Program may be a completely and totally outdated dinosaur, or that it may be flexible and changeable enough to not only adapt to what is being termed a “post denominational” future, but might actually be capable of leadership on the cutting edge of that. Much change (uh oh, here he goes) would need to take place in order for that to happen, in attitude as well as in structure, but my understanding of who Baptists have been, historically and traditionally, and who they are today, permits me to believe that this is within the realm of possibility. The choice of a new executive director for the BGCT will be crucial in determining what happens to the convention in the future.
The fact that we are a convention in crisis goes without saying. We’ve still not recovered from the effect of the misuse of millions of dollars in missions money. Last November’s convention meeting did very little to resolve that issue. There are many people in the churches who are not really sure whether the actions of the convention leadership regarding this issue has been done in the interests of the BGCT as a whole, or as a means of protecting the jobs of certain administrators and the positions of certain officers. Generally, I’ve trusted and supported the BGCT leadership. If I’m having doubts about the way this particular issue has been handled, I can only imagine the erosion of support that must be taking place across the convention. The uncertainties related to this issue must be resolved before the BGCT can move forward. The theme of the convention last year was a good one, “Together, we can do more.” But we must first be brought “together.”
This makes the choice of a new executive director a critical one. The last executive was chosen during a time when fear of a fundamentalist takeover of the convention by elements of the conservative resurgence in the SBC was a major consideration. That’s been the driving factor behind the direction the BGCT has gone since then. But that shouldn’t be a major consideration in choosing new leadership. We’ve got to get past that, because of what we face in the future if we don’t. In light of the things that have developed during the past few years on that front, fear of a hostile takeover of the convention pales in comparison to the threat of its becoming a completely irrelevant organization.
The BGCT needs an executive director who has a vision for the future and is competent to lead it to support its churches in renewing their vitality and their mission, and helping and supporting them in their efforts to be relevant and evangelistic in the coming years. We need someone who has a strong belief in the authority of the Bible, yet is able to work with people who may differ in their interpretation of non-essential doctrines. We need someone who is young enough to give 15-20 years of uninterrupted service to the convention in order to maintain consistency, as well as being capable of relating to the certainty of change in methods of operation. We need someone who understands the ins and outs of Baptist polity. We need someone who can relate to the diversity of churches and individuals in the BGCT, in terms of their cultural and theological backgrounds, and who can successfully resist influence peddling and the temptation to use the convention to build a personal kingdom. We need someone who hasn’t been tired out by a complicated or difficult pastorate and is looking for an “easier” time in a denominational job. We need someone who is capable of managing the resources of a large denominational organization, and at the same time is willing to listen to the concerns of individual church members and denominational employees.
We need someone on whom the majority of churches within the convention, and not just those which are politically active, can agree is the man for the job.
I’m thinking that the nine months of Dr. Wade’s tenure that remains may not be enough to make this decision.