Some time ago I gave some unsolicited advice to the International Mission Board of the SBC as they sought a new president to replace Tom Elliff. David Platt was recently elected. I want to note the areas where the IMB followed (if inadvertently) my advice and where they didn’t. Some quick notes-
-Failure to follow my advice is not necessarily failure. I’ve been wrong many times about many things. Sometimes the wisest course is to reject my advice. (More often than I would like to admit!)
-Disagreements do not stop in any way my prayers for, and support of, Dr. Platt. He is our President and I hope he succeeds fabulously. I want the IMB to be more effective for the cause of Christ than ever before.
With that, I give my original recommendations (in bold) and my thoughts on how that stacks up against their choice of David Platt.
1. Don’t worry much about who recommends them. We don’t need any kingmakers because we don’t have any kings. (Further free advice extends to my recommendation that you read that last sentence again.) The new person should not be required to be recommended by Dr. Mohler (he is smart and bold but not omniscient) or anyone else for that matter. Maybe the best guy will come from Golden Gate seminary or somewhere unexpected. The best way to perpetuate a good old boy system is to have the same recommenders recommend their friends. Maybe those recommenders don’t even yet know the fellow who would best lead this organization.
-I don’t know who recommended Dr. Platt or anyone else. Can you believe I am not consulted on all things? Hard to believe!
2. Don’t worry much about how well-known they are. Maybe the best fellow isn’t well-known at this time, maybe he is. But current fame should not be a requirement. If they are recommended they will become well-known soon enough. Fame is greatly overrated anyway.
-They chose a rock star. Nothing
wrong with that in and of itself. It isn’t bad or good. Fame can be a danger of sorts (see Bieber, Justin) and Southern Baptists can be too enamored by it (see history, SBC), but it is neither good nor bad.
3. Get someone with experience. It would be best if the new guy isn’t young. The argument for a young guy is that they will help us reach the young pastors and leaders. Let’s reach the young leaders with the power of the mission, not the age of the president. This is not a job for someone with potential, but not experience. And, they would be best served with the experience of having been a career missionary. Our greatest assets are our career missionaries and it would be great if the new guy has been in their shoes. (Well, not literally as foot fungus is not something which should be shared.) I doubt an academician is the best choice. Theory rarely trumps experience. I doubt a pastor who loves missions, is articulate and writes books is a better choice than one who has been a missionary.
-They could not have chosen more differently than I recommended. As I said, sometimes the best idea is to find out my suggestions and do the opposite. They chose a young guy (36) who has never been a career missionary. (I think this is the first time we have a prez of the IMB with no direct experience as a missionary.) There are many things he hasn’t experienced yet and doesn’t yet know that he doesn’t know. Some things are gained through experience. I wonder, for instance, if Dr. Platt would have used the word “superstitious” in connection with the sinner’s prayer- which was less charitable than necessary, I think- had he more experience. Maybe so, maybe not. But Dr. Elliff had lots of experience and it manifested itself in some good ways. But, given enough time, Dr. Platt will be less young and more experienced.
4. Get someone with some leadership skills. They will need to lead. What is the best indicator of someone’s future activity? Their past activity. We kid ourselves if we think otherwise. Get someone with some leadership abilities who has shown that leadership by leading. They need to lead in several areas including-
-being a uniter.
-rallying people around a compelling vision of God’s work.
-recommending policies that are thoughtful.
-making some hard decisions about some hard problems.
-He certainly gained some leadership lessons as pastor of a large church. That experience in leading a church and staff will be helpful. His passion (a particularly strong suit of Dr. Platt) will rally people. As for being a uniter, those desiring more Reformed theology in the SBC are probably happier than those who don’t. Traditionalists may wonder at the dominance of calvinistic theology in the leadership of the sbc. The young, restless and reformed seem happiest of all. But, our already fractured SBC vision seems likely to remain so in the short run. Dr. Platt’s early comments have been encouraging- maybe he will be a uniter. Maybe he will work well with traditionalists and reformed. Paige Patterson’s suggestions on the subject were healing. Only time will tell about Dr. Platt’s leadership abilities, but one would hope he has some skills in that area.
5. Get someone who is spiritually vibrant. This is so obvious I must mention it. (I love that last sentence!) We mustn’t forget that spiritual vibrancy is at the core of healthy spiritual leadership. Ability is not enough. We need a godly leader with ability who relies on the Lord. We need someone who is serious about prayer and has a faithful devotional life. We need someone who loves Jesus deeply.
-Dr. Platt seems to have spiritual vibrancy in spades. I pray he remains faithful in personal devotions- reading God’s word and prayer.
6. Get someone who is denominationally loyal. (See second sentence of number 5.) They don’t have to be denominationally blind, or anti other denominations or unaware of God’s great work through other believers. But, they should love our style of cooperative missions and evidence that love through their giving patterns.
-Dr. Platt has not been a strong proponent- at least in practice- of the cooperative program as we have known it for the past several decades. Some like that. I do hope we can maintain a cooperative approach rather than a societal approach, but it seems somewhat less likely. His church has given a lot of money in other ways to missions. He has been very involved in mission trips. That is very good. There was a time when cp giving was absolutely a non-negotiable for all our denominational leaders. That day is past. Perhaps it was inevitable that cooperative missions would wain, but we will miss the benefits should we abandon that approach. I like the idea of change in general, but I do want us to know what we lose as well as what we gain. Dr. Platt will, I feel confident, be a quick study in this area.
7. Get someone nice. Mean people aren’t that much fun to work with or for. A person who loves people and is thoughtful of others seems like a good idea to me. But then, I can be kind of a radical thinker sometimes. Can you believe all this advice was free?
-Dr. Platt seems really nice. I like that. I pray he is really thoughtful and kind to our missionaries, staff, partners and churches. Radically nice.