Can any good thing come out of Oklahoma?
By: Joe Hall
When I was a student at Grand Canyon College in the late 60’s I had a conversation with Dr. Niles Puckett, my Greek professor. The conversation came about because of a debate he allowed in Greek class between a Church of Christ and a Baptist pastor. Both were young and full of them selves and made their arguments. Some of the young students felt that the Church of Christ preacher may have won the debate based on his communication skills. He spoke louder and longer than either.
After class I spoke with Dr. Puckett and enquired as to why he hadn’t stepped into the discussion and corrected the false interpretations offered by the Church of Christ preacher concerning baptismal regeneration. Dr. Puckett was a member of the church I served as Student Associate Pastor and I felt I knew him well and yet was surprised by his answer. He told me, “Joe, it is not my calling to become the conscience of or to take the place of the Holy Spirit for any of my students. I allowed the debate because I want you to listen to various sides of issues and seek God’s voice to you and make intelligent decisions based on hearing all sides. Then I want you to go to God’s word and hear what the Lord has to say. Then I want you to make an informed decision for your self.”
Forgive me for this long story but Dr. Puckett’s advice has stuck with me and has served me well in my own life and in my business. I feel that my organization would be weakened if every one of my managers always agreed with me. I feel the need to allow my key leaders to shed light on all sides of our business.
Now we cut to the chase. It is my belief that the issue is not just the narrowing of acceptable standards and beliefs but the narrowing of leadership. In the recent actions of the IMB key leaders, trustees of the IMB, chosen for their leadership skills and knowledge of the work, have not been rewarded for insightful disagreement. Steps have been taken that attempt to keep any disagreement in check. I believe that once the decision has been made, the decision is the rule of the day until the rules are changed. To kill all disagreement before, during, or after the decision is made opens the door for falling into the trap of the good old boy syndrome. Stemming disagreement ensures inward growth. Everything that lives changes and change is good but change must be reasonable and useful. Therefore all sides of an issue must be explored, weighed for usefulness, exposed as correct or false, and decided upon in such a way that debate is not stymied. Gracious disagreement enhances the opportunity of a well thought through direction. Today’s debate or disagreement is tomorrow’s success.
The actions of the IMB of late are not healthy, productive, or insightful but rather smack of hurt feelings or a “who’s in charge here” attitude. They are not in the best interest of the SBC, IMB, individual missionaries, and most especially the lost and un-reached around the world. I have a personal feeling about things like private prayer language, baptismal authority, and individual disagreement but they are not important. What is important is my responsibility to add something significant to the discussion and not be castigated for my thoughts. John Floyd shared with me that a trustee who does not play by the rules will be sidelined. It is my opinion that the recent rules are ill gotten and ill advised. I would like an answer about how these rules relate to the constitution of the IMB, how they diminish or strengthen the work of a leader chosen to represent Southern Baptist, at least in terms of communication, and how it is good to do this censure thing the month before our largest single Missions Resource gathering. As a pew sitter I am in favor of some soul searching, explanation to the constituents, and some changes that will bring about healthy disagreement.
I have heard all my life this formula: tell the people, pray the issue, and lead where God is going. The IMB is God’s, entrusted to His people of the SBC. It does not belong to the leaders of the trustees of the IMB or to its’ staff. It is time for accountability to the people who provide resources for it in God’s name.