In a streamlined, soft-spoken and straightforward manner, Jonathan Howe, interim president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, calmly outlined the current reality facing the EC.
Sharing the news during the opening plenary session of the board of trustees’ Sept. 18–19 meeting in Nashville, Howe called for a spirit of humility and unity from all Southern Baptists.
“We are facing significant challenges,” he said. “Over the past few years, we have repeatedly heard of distressing actions that could not be ignored and the cost of addressing them has been very high.”
Howe — who will return to his vice president for communications role after the board votes to install a “transitional interim” (read more here) — commended staff members for their continued commitment to the work despite the instability around them.
“But we must come to grips with the reality that these accomplishments do not outshine where the EC as an institution has fallen short,” he said, adding “the Lord has still placed us here with a mission and an opportunity to join Southern Baptists in service to His kingdom.
“The SBC does not exist for the EC. We are the administrative entity of the SBC … that means we serve the SBC. It does not serve us,” he said. “We have a great responsibility as the fiduciary and legal entity of the convention. It is one we must humbly approach.”
“Nothing has been more humbling to the EC in recent years than our financial position. We are all aware. There is a price to pay for reform even when reform is necessary,” he noted.
“We have seen our reserves fall from more than $13 million, almost $14 million to just over $4 million in two short years. … This week we are making difficult choices moving forward with our budget to exercise our fiduciary responsibility (read about staff cuts here). It should not be this way and I wish it wasn’t, but we cannot debate the steps that got us to this point.
“We are here now and have convention-mandated responsibilities that we are bound to carry out,” Howe added. “Your officers and your staff leadership have set forth a new path financially that will reduce our dependence on reserve funds and allow us to maintain our financial feasibility.”
“We are moving forward committed in our service to Southern Baptists,” he said, outlining what will continue.
—“We will still administer the work of the convention and support committees elected and appointed to serve in their respective duties.”
—“Baptist Press, your convention news service, will continue to deliver news stories for and about Southern Baptists.”
—“We will continue to develop and improve cooperative relationships across the convention.”
—“The Southern Baptist Foundation led by Warren Peek will continue to assist with investment management and generosity.”
—“We will continue to assist churches with stewardship education and resource churches toward a ministry of prayer.”
—“We will continue to promote and elevate the Cooperative Program.”
—“We will continue to assist you, (EC) members, as you carry out the 14 functions you were authorized and instructed or commissioned to perform as listed by SBC Bylaw 18.
“We plan to fulfill these ministry assignments and functions with a commitment to serving the entirety of our Southern Baptist community,” he noted. “Each of our 47,000 churches requires our services. Whether the church runs 12 or 12,000, it is an important member of our ecosystem.”
‘Cooperation for the greater good’
“Only when we join in unity with one another will we see our response to a call for the cooperation for the greater good,” Howe said. “Pastors and convention leaders, it’s past time for us to lay down our personal preferences. It’s time for us to lock arms for the greater good of the convention. Our churches deserve the best of us, and I truly believe that when they get the best of us, they will respond in kind.
“We must move forward in unity for the sake of the convention and for the sake of gospel proclamation. … May we desperately ask the Lord to renew the people, churches, the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention to serve not ourselves, not our plans, not our ideas, not our political interests but serve and adore the one true God.”
Howe received commendations from many in the room as well as across social media platforms for speaking candidly to the group.
EC chair Philip Robertson also shared his appreciation for Howe’s overall effort.
“It has been almost two full years since the EC has had a permanent president and CEO,” Robertson said. “Within that two years Jonathan Howe has taken on an unfathomable number of additional responsibilities and then four weeks ago we asked him to once again step into a new role.
“I want to thank him for his work, professionalism and spirit over the last month,” Robertson noted. “He has made some hard but necessary changes while also providing the absolute best care for EC staff members.”
Other business items
Also during the meeting, EC board members elected Mollie Duddleston of Arkansas as chair of the missions and ministry committee and heard updates from the presidential search committee and Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force as well as a message from SBC president Bart Barber.
“We do not lack money. We do not lack planning. We do not lack opportunity,” Barber said. “What we lack is inspiration.” Read more on Barber’s message to the EC here.
The EC will reconvene tomorrow morning (Sept. 19) at 10:15 and again at 1 p.m., in which the transitional interim nominee Dan Summerlin of Kentucky will be presented for a vote.