Texas pastor Jared Wellman, who recently stepped down as chair of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee board of trustees, has been selected as the nominee for the next EC president and CEO.
Wellman, 39, serves as pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and announced at the end of this morning’s worship service (April 30) a “brief family church meeting” would be held following the service and asked the church family not to record the meeting. Live stream cameras turned off before the meeting began.
While the full EC trustee board will review the nomination during a special-called, quick fly-in meeting May 1 in Dallas to vote, a growing number of voices across the convention are speaking out against the process that led to Wellman’s selection.
Questions raised about the process
A.B. Vines Sr., pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego, California, recently shared through an open letter the concerns he raised with the EC through an email he reports he sent to members March 10.
Vines, a former SBC first vice president and former president of the California Southern Baptist State Convention, also previously served as president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC.
“We are facing a decision that could forever change our convention as we know it,” he wrote in the recent open letter to EC members.
Raising concerns about the search process leading to Wellman’s nomination for EC president, Vines asks EC members to question how a closed application portal was reopened privately but not publicly and how an ex-officio member of the committee gets an interview in the process he helped develop.
Other questions Vines noted revolve around whether EC staff members were involved in discussing the hiring of a new leader. “Who was feeding all these (alleged) staff issues to the committee? What was that person’s agenda in the first place when giving information to the committee?
“Why was the current interim expected to cast vision for the staff while serving in a temporary assignment?”
“These are just a few questions you should ask yourself while discussing this critical decision,” he stated. “How come Southern Baptists always seems to have issues with hiring a person of color for a senior leadership position?
“When God calls us to fulfill our assignment, we must be willing to do what He asks and go where He sends us, even if it means we must work under challenging situations where it is spiritually complex.
“Yes, we may encounter challenging situations that make it difficult to do our calling. But regardless, we must decide that, with God’s help, we will push through each distraction or problematic situation and refuse to be affected by what we see, hear or feel.
“Being a person of color in this convention has its highs and lows, but we keep pressing forward because of the assignment Christ has given us,” Vines continued. “Therefore, I’m calling on you to reject this nominee, develop a transparent process and call for a new search committee. If it is God’s will, then He will allow the newly appointed search committee to see the same person this committee has chosen, if the current nominee is God’s choice.”
Affirming Wellman while challenging the process
Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, has been an outspoken voice related to race issues in the SBC. He affirmed Wellman in an April 29 message via Twitter: “Jared Wellman is a friend of all those who are friends of God, through His Son, Jesus. No one in the SBC has a more stellar record of fighting for racial equality/representation, abuse victims and justice for them, and lovingly listening to opposing viewpoints, as does [Wellman].”
He also spoke highly of Wellman while affirming Vines’ letter April 27
“Jared Wellman’s church, Tate Springs Baptist Church, sponsored Cornerstone in our inception,” McKissic wrote on Twitter. “We are fellow pastors in Arlington. I’ve had nothing but positive interaction with Wellman. However, I affirm every single word in the attached probative letter from Rev. A.B. Vines.”
Others across the denomination have raised similar questions and many are calling it an integrity issue.
Baptist News Global also addresses the public opposition that surfaced prior to the official announcement about Wellman. Read the BNG story here.
Voices speaking in favor of Wellman being the candidate began surfacing after the nomination became official, and even many of those opposing the move are concerned about the process, not specifically about Wellman. Read Dave Miller’s follow-up article on SBC Voices here.
Wellman declined to comment for TAB Media Group, which publishes The Baptist Paper and The Alabama Baptist, ahead of today’s announcement but agreed to discuss the nomination at a later date. Neither Sons nor Robinson had returned email requests for comments prior to press time.
Robinson told Baptist Press, “[Wellman’s] humility, administrative skill and pastoral sensibilities made him a strong candidate for the search team.”
Wellman is pastor of Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, and became well-known among Southern Baptists during the September and October 2021 EC meetings for his motion to waive attorney-client privilege in the independent investigation of the EC’s handling of sexual abuse allegations within the denomination.
He has a bachelor of arts in biblical studies (2007) and a master of arts in philosophy (2010) from Criswell College in Dallas, as well as a Ph.D. in theology from South African Theological Seminary (2018). He is currently working on a Ph.D. in apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as an adjunct professor of apologetics.
Wellman and his wife, Amanda, have four children.
As far as his role as a trustee of the EC, Wellman is in his second and final term, having served since 2015, and in his first year as chair. His time as an EC trustee would have expired at the upcoming June SBC Annual Meeting, but he reportedly gave up his EC seat about two weeks ago, Baptist Press reported today (April 30). If he is voted in as the new staff hire for president and CEO, he would have had to step down from the trustee role prior to officially taking the staff position. His trustee seat will remain vacant until new trustees are elected at the annual meeting in June.
While the specifics of when Wellman stepped down as chair and off the EC board had not been released until today’s announcement (see Baptist Press coverage for details), The Baptist Paper confirmed in late April that vice chair David Sons of South Carolina had stepped into the role of chair several days prior to the search team’s announcement.
Search committee’s process
The seven-member presidential search committee, which included Wellman as an ex-officio voting member because of his role as EC chair, announced a nominee had been selected in an April 3 news release from EC media relations director Jon Wilke.
Adron Robinson of Illinois, chair of the search committee, shared a few days prior to the regularly scheduled February EC meeting in Nashville and again during the meeting that the committee had hoped to present a candidate but was not ready.
“We had a desire to arrive at this place with a candidate but that was not able to happen. We are meeting again (the afternoon of Feb. 21, after the EC meeting adjourns),” he reported during the Feb. 20 opening session. “Continue to pray for us so we can bring you a candidate as soon as possible.”
The search committee was named in February 2022 to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Ronnie Floyd in October 2021.
Serving on the search committee with Robinson and Wellman are Sons, Mollie Duddleston of Arkansas, Jeremy Morton of Georgia, Philip Robertson of Louisiana and Mike Keahbone of Oklahoma.
In previous updates, the search committee reported 11 initial applicants that were narrowed down to seven and then eventually trimmed down again to those who were interviewed. The search committee did not share how many were in the last set being considered, but Robinson confirmed Willie McLaurin remained as one of the final candidates as of Feb. 21.
It was not clear if Wellman was among the initial applicants or if he became an option after the search team was unable to bring a candidate to the February meeting.
Sons told Baptist Press that Wellman recused himself from the search committee Jan. 26 and stepped down from his position on the EC confidentially April 17. The full EC board was apprised of the move April 19 but a public announcement was not made until today so Wellman could share the news with his congregation prior to the May 1 vote, according to the Baptist Press article.
McLaurin prepping for transition
McLaurin, who came to the EC from the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board in 2020, has been serving as interim president and CEO since February 2022. He previously served as TBMB special assistant to the executive director since 2005.
Following the recent EC meeting in Nashville (February 2023), speculation ramped up related to McLaurin not being the nominee since an announcement was not made at the meeting. A late-night Twitter post by McLaurin on Feb. 22 stated, “Thankful that Ash Wednesday reminds me that my hope is in Jesus and not in a job. Embracing this season of reflection, repentance and renewal.”
McLaurin reportedly has continued to lead and represent the EC with the same energy and commitment these past two months as he has all along. He recently shared with The Baptist Paper his plan to ensure a smooth transition between his interim role and the newly elected president.
“I’m prioritizing the Great Commission and the Great Commandment and working to foster cooperation and collaboration,” he said. “While living life at the intersection of expectation and disappointment … I plan to continue to serve our convention and continue to advance the mission of the gospel.
“It’s not about the individual. … Our job is to be prayerful and faithful,” McLaurin added, noting Southern Baptists can pray for him to “keep being who God has called me to be and not allow this set of circumstances to define who I am and who I’m not.”
Currently, he is preparing for the May 1 EC gathering in Dallas. “I’m making sure we are ready for this coming trustee meeting and that it takes place at the same high level as all the other meetings.”
Potential future changes for EC responsibilities
The most recent EC meeting taking place outside of Nashville was last June prior to the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim. That’s when Wellman was elected as chair of the EC trustees.
Within hours of that announcement, Wellman shared his initial thoughts on the EC presidential search and his vision for the characteristics of the new leader with Gary Ledbetter of the Southern Baptist Texan newspaper.
“One of the first words that comes to mind is humility,” Wellman told the Texan. “We often think of that position as a pastoral role. I’d like to think of the Executive Committee as more of an administrative committee and the president and CEO as a servant or treasurer — someone who has some administrative capabilities to serve the charges that the [convention] messengers give.”
Wellman’s reference about the EC serving as an administrative-type committee rather than overseeing the full slate of responsibilities it has taken on over time is a conversation numerous Southern Baptists across the nation have been having in recent years.
Current EC ministry assignment
The EC’s main purpose is to serve as the receiver and distributor of Cooperative Program funds, as well as designated gifts, on the national level and to conduct SBC-related business during the time between the convention’s annual two-day meetings each June.
The EC is the entity that retains and pays for attorneys to handle lawsuits against the SBC and/or EC, houses the denomination’s news service Baptist Press and organizes the SBC Annual Meeting each year. In modern days, the EC president has served as an unofficial public relations representative attempting to keep state convention leaders connected to national entities, auxiliaries and the six SBC seminaries as well as seek ways to rally loyalty among grassroots Southern Baptists. To read more about the EC’s ministry assignment, read this article posted by The Baptist Paper on April 25.
The EC currently has a staff of about 25 and has an operating budget of $8.3 million. How and if/when EC responsibilities might change could take years of discussion and decision-making but current concerns related to the EC’s financial health also could become a major factor in those conversations. For information on the EC’s financial health, read this article posted by The Baptist Paper on Feb. 22.
Update May 6: Complete coverage following the May 1 meeting can be found here: