Monday, August 28, 2006

The Cult of Personality within the SBC

Steven Flockhart resigned abruptly this past week as the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, Florida after the local paper uncovered that the pastor had lied about several things in his past, including his educational achievements. You can read the Palm Beach Post's story here.

There were three statements in the newspaper story that struck me as very odd. First, when the chairman of the pulpit committee was asked why the committee did not thoroughly investigate the background of the man they were bringing in view of a call to be pastor of their very large church, he responded,

"(There was) a significant endorsement because Johnny Hunt is a leading pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention," Mahoney said. "He's respected in both religious and secular circles."

Second, after the newspaper called the registrar's office at Liberty University to ask about Mr. Flockhart's alleged enrollment for his second "doctorate," the registrar first said they had never heard of Mr. Flockhart, then called back and said,

"They (the registrar's office) discovered he paid his registration fees directly to seminary President Ergun Caner. The pastor is enrolled and has paid in advance, said Ron Godwin, executive vice president and CEO of Liberty University. "I love those kind of students." He further said, "Flockhart is good friend of our chancellor, Dr. Jerry Falwell."

The third statement that struck me as odd was this one:

"Flockhart said he was "licensed to preach" in 1986 by Rev. Hunt and ordained by Hunt in 1990.Hunt appeared via videotape at Flockhart's first service at First Baptist last month and gave a ringing endorsement of his protégé. Like Flockhart, he also lists a degree from Covington on his résumé. It says he holds an honorary doctorate from the school."

I am amazed that we have an environment in the SBC where popular circuit speakers such as Johnny Hunt, Ergun Caner, and Jerry Falwell have enough influence over professional laymen in a large, metropolitan church to cause them to call a man without ever checking his resume. Doing a Lexus Nexus internet search would have uncovered the lawsuits against Mr. Flockhart, or running a simple credit report would have identified his financial struggles, and might have saved the church a tremendous amount of embarrassment.

Could it be that we have developed in our beloved SBC a climate where personality has more of a hold on people than it should?

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Dave Miller said...

I get a little sick in my stomach when I read stories like this. It amazes me the unfettered and unaccountable power that churches sometimes give their pastors.

On the other hand, I heard someone once say, "People get the leaders they deserve." That may be harsh, but there is a grain of truth. The church in America is often about "the show" - bells and whistles instead of truth and character. In that kind of culture, people of talent but not character will rise to the top.

There is no substitute for integrity and character.

Dave Miller said...

By the way, any church that does not do a credit check, criminal history check, and resume fact check is acting in folly.

Lifeway has a great booklet for search committees. When I was in talks with my current church, I signed permission forms for them to run all these checks.

When I became a pastor, I put my character in evidence, and any church thinking of hiring me should test it. If I am not willing to have them do this search, that in itself should be a red flag.

davidinflorida said...

Very interesting and very sad. It appears that the Club got caught with their pants down. I would recommend alot of prayer..We are wrestling against the rulers of darkness Eph 6:12

Bob Cleveland said...

The answer to your question is, of course, yes.

The surprising thing to me is that this is surprising.

I once heard a story (allegedly true)that illustrates my point. A certain horse was an overwhelming favorite to win some big horse race or other. When the race was run, the overwhelming favorite finished a distant last. I mean it was the deal where the horse left the gate at ten to one and finished at a quarter after four. Something like that.

The analyst in the booth commented "I guess that shows that horses are only human".

Alas, so are preachers and committees.

Perhaps it's natural to avoid being skillfully businesslike in conducting church affairs, but I think the church's business .. where I am involved in it .. merits my absolute best and all the skill I have.

irreverend fox said...

you bet we have! I was turned down by three churches cause I said that Wade Burelson is a close personal friend of mine. That was all they needed to hear.

On a serious note, I'm confused about why Eurgen Caner would be accepting funds directly from any student. This needs to be untangled QUICKLY or else we could have an exposive story that some in the media would love to splash on headlines.

I pray to God that everything is on the up and up with Caner and Liberty. What a disaster and reproach it would be if it weren't not.

irreverend fox said...


I just read that article. The thing that gets my attention is how similar some of his background is with mine.

neither of us have a highscool deploma

both of us have a GED

God has (apparently) gifted us both as passionate, compelling, evangelistically driven "communicators" or as I say "preachers".

I am who I am. I was a screw ball in highschool, what can I say? I rededicated my life and started preaching after several years of a re-dedicated life. One thing led to another and now I'm a NAMB church planter. I've been asked to pray about working with another church in our area in a re-start (the church God used me to plant only meets on Sunday Nights, so I'm free in the mornings...I could potentially be working both fields). Most weeks I'm in a pulpit in one of our churches and back at Southside at night. I've been sorta church planting missionary/ traveling evangelist.

I am what I am. I don't feel the need to impress anybody but Christ. My target is the lost, not the saved. I've never been asked by a sinner what my credentials are. I pray to GOD that He makes me what He'll make me...and that I will also have the ambition to please Him, ultimately, alone.

Jack Maddox said...

TO Fox:

I don't believe that the problem is in the fact that some men have not achieved a high level of academic success (Including me) I believe the problem is the misinformation and misinformation.

I am however concerned with the idea that only certain 'type' of Southern Baptists does this. I guess on some blogs and according to some bloggers it is wrong to support and respect certain leaders and men and women of God.

Wade, what is the point of this post? Not being critical, but it reeks more of gossip than of grace.


Bro. Ray said...

There have been many, many churches that have by-passed proper research of a potential pastor due to the recommendation of a popular pastor. In SBC circles, it is not "what you know, but who you know!" (And notice the "who" is not capitalized!)

I personally do not agree with Johnny Hunt, but he is not alone in the nepotism within the SBC. It is just a shame that a secular newspaper had to be the one to uncover this and cast a negative light on one of God's churches.

Jack Maddox said...

I have a question... How in the world did Liberty accept him a post maters level degree or even a masters degree at that if he does not posses a accredited masters or bachelours degree?

This does not bode well for Liberty or Dr. Canar.


Jack Maddox said...

sorry...i mean 'post masters' level would not have to look at mt resume to see that I lack in the educational realm


Groseys messages said...

I am so sorry to have read these words Wade. I am not sure of your purpose is it to demand church discipline for the gentleman (it appears that has occurred) or is it simple muck raking?

Prov 10: 19 When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.

2Tim 2:25
The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient,
25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance to know the truth.
26 Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured by him to do his will.

Marty Duren said...

Thanks for addressing this. I've posted on it as well.

Foreboding said...

Jack and Grosey,

I wish the pastor my very best and pray for the Lord's healing in his life and ministry.

This is very public information from a secular newspaper. As my wife said this evening, we must deal with these matters as a convention instead of secular newspapers. Our integrity is at stake.

Writer said...


I have worked with some wonderful search committees who have been very diligent to check out my background as well as my resume credentials. I appreciate how hard it is for any search committee to fulfill its assigned responsibility. Truly, only through much prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit will any search committee identify the person whom God is calling to the church.

Having said that, let me also say that I have witnessed the catastrophic results of search committees in neighboring churches who don't take their charge seriously. One mistake that I have seen made too many times is the search committee will recommend someone who is already on staff to fill the vacancy. After working for only two months, one church's search committee did that and the result was the church came very close to folding when their "choice" was revealed to physically abuse his wife and children. Rather than ask for his resignation, they continued to allow the man to serve until he was under the threat of a restraining order from his family.

Please pray for wisdom and guidance for pastor search committees. It's not an easy job.



Kevin Bussey said...

I'm sick too! I have learned from recent experiences in hiring staff members to check out references no matter what! Ask references to give references and them to give references!

Jack Maddox said...


Why is the integrity of the SBC at stake due to the unfortunate happenings of this church and this Pastor? If that is the case then we all better go indy quick!


Jack Maddox said...

Great post Mark and I say AMEN AND AMEN!


Bob Cleveland said...


Put my name on the list of folks who think this sort of thing needs to be discussed. For years and years, I've watched churches allow ineffective and unsuited people to resign, rather than be fired, for what can only be deemed "firing offenses". Isn't that as dishonest as lying on a resume? That behavior by churches shouldn't be tolerated, either, and I doubt seriously that God condones it.

I know all the legal arguments, but they are just an evidence of the world influencing the church, coincident with the church no longer influencing the world (the way it ought). said...

Truth of Acts,

Please be careful with your comments. I can only delete the entire comment, not portions of it. said...

Mike and Tim,

Pray for the people involved.

No need to incite anyone.

Charlie Mac said...

This is an example of the GOB network at work. This incident may also be an argument for looking at financial giving records as much or more than educational records. Rumors are that it is easier than ever to 'buy' a masters or doctorate at some institutes of "higher" learning. It seems to me that too many of the SBC leaders of recent years lead churches or organizations that do not sufficiently support SBC CP programs. The convention's purpose for being used to be for combining funds to better spread the word.
Mac McFatter

Jack Maddox said...

Bro. Ergun

Then that takes issue with what has been reported does it not. It seems to me that there needs to be a retraction from the newspaper if this is the case...or perhpas more clarification on your part.

My question stands. How could he be a Dmin or Phd candidate without a accredited degree. If you can, after 20 years in the pastorate and simply a BS and a portion of a MA I would likr to begin work on my Dmin. at Liberty.


Marty Duren said...

Dr. Caner-
Does the Center for Ministry Training offer a doctorate?

Is the Palm Beach Post story incorrect in its assertion concerning the payment of fees by Steve Flockhart?

Thanks for your response here.

C said...

"Could it be that we have developed in our beloved SBC a climate where personality has more of a hold on people than it should?"

What's more amazing is that some people are just now figuring that out!

Bob Cleveland said...

I poked around the Liberty website and found the Lovett Center for Ministry Training. I searched on "member" and also on the pastor's last name, on the site's search engine, and it produced no hits. Thus, there is no information there on what constitutes a "member", or how Mr. Flockhart night fit in.

I did, however, find the requirements for the DMin program. They may be viewed at:

Jack Maddox said...

I will admit that the personality thing is very strong to those of us who are younger pastors. At 43 I do not qualify any more but I can tell you that I have struggled with a "American Idol" mentality when it comes to preachers from time to time. I am glad to say that with maturity this tends to subside. I love Dr. Johnny Hunt and thank God for what he has brought to the table in my ministry...I know him to be a very open, kind and transparent guy. I know some here will want to disagree but I would ask do you know him? My point is this however, although I believe him to be a wonderful man of God...he is not the Babe Ruth of Baptists! I honestly do not believe that men like Dr. Hunt could survive in church's like mine. I guess this is why God gifts us differently. I could not do what he does...and that’s ok...I am good with it!

at the end of the day we will all stand before our perfect Savior and I will promise you the ground there is vvveeerryyyy level!


Tom Bryant said...

This is so sad. Both the story, the problems of the churches and the indictment of the convention as fostering a "cult of personality". Most churches will take another pastors word of reference for another pastor. This didn't start with the SBC.

I agree it needs to be talked about. But to make it a SBC issue is like saying the George O'Leary resume lies was a catholic problem. said...


Thanks for the clarification.

I do wish the newspaper had offered more details regarding that. said...

I receieved the following email from my father, who hesitated to write it as a comment because he was speaking to my motives in writing this post, a hesitation unfamiliar with a few commentators.

However, my dad, as usual, has hit the proverbial nail on the head.

His email, which does speak to my motives for this post, is as follows:

"Wade, I'm thinking that a lot of good people who are behind you and look to you might be struggling with the idea of posting on this subject. There will be, of course, those that commented today who will blast you if you sneeze. They are not the point of this e-mail.

I understand why it is needed. It might be helpful, suggestion only, to write a comment that conveys the fact that any christian, including you, would struggle with even commenting about a situation such as this. That struggle keeps one from being hardened or having hidden agendas. But as the point of your post says, there may be the kind of problem abroad in SBC life that the publication of public information is essential so "fear will fall upon" all of us.

Gossip is never right for whatever end, but facing problems honestly will keep the sin that happens from being pushed out of sight, as the Catholic Church has learned, is tragic as well as unbiblical. Being part of the solution to a problem removes something from gossip to healthy diagnosis and treatment. That's your goal in this post. John Powell, a writer on marriage and family life, said on one ocasion that "a family [denomination, government, etc.] is only as healthy as it's secrets. So be careful of what is kept secret."

I would write this but it speaks to your motive and, besides, I'm biased anyway. :)"

DAD said...

Jack Maddox,

Amen. I could not have said it better.


FX Turk said...

My first reaction to this story is that this is a painful situation for everyone involved -- and God forbid that any of us who are fans of Wade or the rest of the iconoclasts in the SBC ever have to go through this kind of public exposure to frankly-human failings.

My other reaction -- which, I guess, makes me a blogger in good standing -- is that this wouldn;t have happened if the main thing was kept the main thing. For example, if we were discipling instead of creating proteges, we would have men of good integrity rather than men of good personality. If we were preaching the Gospel we would be full of personal humility rather than seeking public notoriety and endorsements.

This event makes me sad -- but not because a good man was somehow a victim of circumstance and invasive media. It makes me sad because I can't see the people of God -- I can only see the people wearing "people of God" t-shirts. said...


If I had an offense with Hunt, Caner or Falwell I would contact them personally. What offense do you believe I have with them? I have none. It is strange how you can read my post and think the problem is with those three men.

The problem is an environment and a culture within our SBC where laymen are overwhelmed by personality and not substance.

That's the problem. And if anyone has that problem, it is NOT those three men, but the pulpit committee. However, I'm sure they don't need me contacting them regarding this offense because their own church is probably doing a pretty good job of that themselves right now.

In His Grace,


Rex Ray said...

August 25, 2006 Colleyville
In the aftermath of a response by Southwest Seminary President Paige Patterson, Local News Only (LNO) requested a review by the Executive Editor of ABP.
In a column written by LNO Editor Nelson Thibodeaux titled The Harber Legacy the role of the pastor in the church was discussed and references made to Dr. Patterson's philosophy on the matter. In an Email to the Editor, Dr. Patterson's offered a angry reply that his position was misrepresented.

The Associated Baptist Press (ABP) currently has an article on its online news site about the unfolding events at the Colleyville First Baptist Church, with a photo credited to Local News

LNO contacted Greg Warner of Jacksonville, Florida, the Executive Editor of the ABP. ABP describes itself as " the nation’s first and only independent news service created by and for Baptists." LNO requested that Mr. Warner review the column and offer an objective opinion. The following is Mr. Warner's response, unedited and posted here with the permission of Mr. Warner.

I'm glad to help if I can. Here's the crux of your disagreement with Patterson:

"The Patterson-Pressler coalition changed the role of the pastor in Baptist church life. ... The Patterson-Pressler coalition insists that the pastor is the unquestioned ruler of the church. ... Dr. Harber's adaptation of Patterson's teaching at FBCC (that his authority was not to be challenged), had the effect of a dynamic evangelist becoming estranged from many of his own members. "

Prescott and McClatchy (both friends of mine) are attributing to the "coalition" of fundamentalist who now control the SBC an opinion about the role of the pastor that Patterson himself would not accept in whole. Prescott and McClatchy are right, in a general sense, that the SBC fundamentalists teach and practice an authoritative pastoral role, but there are many variations of that within fundamentalist ranks. Patterson himself apparently finds a place for the authoritative pastor WITHIN the traditional congregational model (where every member gets a vote). I suspect that Harber would favor a more centralized governance that gives the pastor and a small group of select leaders (elders) ultimate authority, as evidenced by the changes he instituted at Colleyville. Both positions give the pastor more authority but they are not identical. Meanwhile, the specific language of "the pastor is the ruler of the church," which Prescott and McClatchy attribute to the "Patterson-Pressler coalition," really originated with W.A. Criswell, who is the godfather of the SBC fundamentalist movement and Patterson's former and longtime pastor at First Baptist of Dallas.

This sentence also gets you in trouble: "Dr. Harber's first effort as pastor resulted in a power grab designed to replace the authority of the congregation with the pastor as the unquestioned ruler of the church."

This may be true, but Patterson can't be blamed for it. The "Patterson-Pressler coalition," which is now a vast network of fundamentalists and conservatives with a wide spectrum of views and leaders, must shoulder some blame for emphasizing pastoral authority and hiring seminary teachers like Harber who teach it.

Perhaps more telling than Harber's view of pastoral authority is his vision for the Colleyville church to become a regional church or perhaps a mega church. This ambition has been the hallmark and Achilles heal of far too many young pastors that have emerged from the fundamentalist-controlled SBC and the tutelage of Patterson and others, and which has developed into a kind of hero worship of the mega church pastor. In this regard, centralized pastoral authority and selectively applied "church discipline" have become means to an end for many impatient pastors unwilling to let the congregation decide its own vision for the future.

So the dispute you are having with Patterson seems to boil down to this: Prescott and McClatchy attributed an over-generalized position to the "coalition" which Harber apparently supports but Patterson does not. And your article oversimplified the variety of opinions that exist about pastoral authority among SBC fundamentalists. You are to be forgiven. More careful research might have prevented that mistake. But I suspect your readers are not interested in such nuances.

Greg Warner
Executive Editor
Associated Baptist Press

Rex Ray

Unknown said...

After the discourse on discipline between brothers, the Scriptures say, (Matt 18:)"21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven."

10-40 Window Missionary:

One of the proverbs in the country where I serve goes, "Any man who will lie to you will also cheat you and steal from you."

I lied to God. He knew I was going to...then I cheated Him and stole what was His. He still bore my sins, bore the shame and reproach of men, knowing I would lie to Him again and again, and even then cheat and lie to Him. As such, we are called to be lied to, cheated on and stolen from...agian and again. With that, I would say that your proverb is useful only in knowing what we are called to bear for His name.

Since when does having a seminary degree qualify you for the ministry or even mean that God has called him/her to that ministry... Read some of the job openings from time to time on

Sir, these two are not necessarily complementary. Seminary degrees do not determine a man's call, but neither do they spur on the unbiblical requirements churches are placing on applicants. For all you know, the members of that church trusted, in Jesus' name, that they were receiving a man truthful on all accounts. Further, they will glorify God in forgiving Him as well, although giving him the due justice as a result of his actions.

It seems to me that Wade's intent is to call into question the health of our churches, and the system which we have adopted broadscale in the SBC. It also seems to me that there is no reason at all that blame should fall on any man but the man that lied. Dr. Caner, Dr. Falwell, and the precious soul who lied to his church are men like you and I. But, the system is set up to allow men like you and I to fall. A man fell. The system may need to be examined, not every man on the other side of our pet debate. This should cause us to fall extra hard on our knees tonight for his soul-and ours, that our lies are not hidden in our hearts, but that God may lift "the veil of our hearts" to qoute Tozer and pour out our hidden and coveted sins. said...


A good word.

I believe you have well represented my intent.

Fanchettes said...

As pitiful as my resume looks, it is at least truthful.

I know, I know, the scandal of it all - I don't have a seminary degree! So is this the new benchmark? First it was Biblical inerrancy (CHECK), then BF&M (CHECK), then the 2000 BF&M (CHECK), and most recently CP percentage (CHECK)... now I'm neither "Baptist enough" nor truly called of God if I don't have a degree from an SBC seminary.

So what's next, holy underwear?

Marty Duren said...

In the SBC I'm sure you'd find a lot of holey underwear.

Anonymous said...

The way around all of this deceit is to stop paying preachers.

After all the true gospel specifically states in 1 Peter 5:2 the following.

"Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by restraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre(that is money), but of a ready mind."

If pastors would just teach and preach out of love for the Lord and love for their congregation, a lot of this could be diverted.