The announcement that Dr. Randel Everett, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Newport News, Virginia, will be nominated to succeed Dr. Charles Wade as executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas comes about a month before the trustee meeting where he is scheduled to be elected takes place. It leaves about a three week interim period for Dr. Daehnert to get the convention ready for his arrival.
I’ve avoided reading the comments of other bloggers prior to writing this post. For what it’s worth, I want this to be a “gut” reaction.
Dr. Everett is a native Texan with a lot of ministerial experience outside the state. That’s a good combination. There have been those, myself included, who have suggested that the search committee might look outside the boundaries of the state for a new exec, simply because being distanced from the Baptist battles in Texas would help with a fresh perspective and some genuine objectivity. It also helps by appealing to those who feel that Texas institutions are only worthy of the native born with some kind of connection to the soil.
I’m sure the reactions to this nomination will be varied. Whether this choice represents a significant change from the previous administration, or that the committee was actually listening to Texas Baptists, is something that remains to be seen after Dr. Everett is elected and has had a chance to settle in and move forward. In terms of the qualifications the committee apparently considered, the choice does not represent change at all, but incorporates virtually all of the traditional elements of previous selections. Dr. Everett is a pastor with tenure in a number of prominent churches in several states, along with a pedigree of denominational service that includes executive board membership in three state conventions including the BGCT, membership on institutional trustee boards, convention committees, along with a stint as a guest chaplain for both houses of Congress. His resume is comparable to that of past executive directors Dr. James Landes, Dr. William Pinson and Dr. Charles Wade. He does have some administrative experience in an educational institution, which will be an asset.
The emphasis on his BWA connections, along with his service in the moderate Baptist General Association of Virginia, and his current congregation’s strong ties to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, combined with the absence of virtually any mention of the Southern Baptist Convention, does send a signal. Dr. Everett himself has an opportunity to rise above the bickering and turf protecting that has become so characteristic of Baptist denominational life, and I hope, and pray, that is the direction he decides to go. But I am disappointed that the search committee, after hearing Texas Baptists repeatedly state their desire for selection of a leader who was not politically aligned or strongly identified with one side or the other in the Baptist battles, chose someone who is almost exclusively identified with moderate Baptist elements like the CBF, the BWA and the BGAV, while his identification with Southwestern Seminary and First Baptist Church of Dallas are far in the past, and predate the conservative resurgence. I believe that the search committee missed a golden opportunity to restore the trust of Texas Baptists and work to restore unity in the BGCT. I pray that Dr. Everett does not miss that same opportunity. I hope he steps forward, puts some distance between himself and the solidly moderate organizations he has been involved in, and reaches out to those in the BGCT who feel disenfranchised and ignored. We do not need to lose more churches.
In spite of that, I believe that all BGCT Baptists need to give Dr. Everett a chance to work toward healing and unity. And we also need to give him a chance to try his hand at moving the BGCT toward the kind of changes it will need to make in order to stay relevant and have a future. He will inherit an organization that is smaller than it was when he left it, and which has experienced a loss of $2 million in income in just one year, falling 7% short of a budget that had been cut back 5% from the previous year, and which is still losing churches to a rival state convention. He will not have an easy job. So we need to pray for him, support him, and work toward rebuilding the trust that has been lost. He cannot be expected to go it alone, and do it all by himself.