Reminds me of the old pol who said that in the next election "we're going to throw those bums out and put our bums in." The simple meaning there is not lost on most people - you have your crowd, we're going to put our crowd in.
I know of no "bums" in SBC life, now or former. I think the Conservative Resurgence a remarkable accomplishment which I supported and which would not have been possible without the few leaders whose labor helped to bring it about. And I would take any reader's point if they said that the term "oligarchy" generally carries a negative connotation these days (Russian "oligarchs", corrupt, extremely wealthy individuals, et al) but allow me to use the term simply to mean the control of a relative few.
There is nothing sinister about pointing out that the highest level SBC positions, the most coveted trustee appointments, the most powerful committees, are always filled with some of the same people, their associates, their church members if they are pastors, or their mentees or acolytes. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. Such may be good, bad, or neutral.
My first question is this: Has the SBC moved sufficiently past the Conservative Resurgence and the stalwart leaders thereof for the masses of involved pastors and the multitudes of voting messengers at SBC annual meetings to show symptoms of oligarchy fatigue and elect unexpected leaders?
I'd answer this question with a equivocal, "perhaps" and even then be guildty of showing excessive and irrational exuberance. I am well aware that the SBC in annual session has seldom found a mega church pastor they didn't think the best choice for SBC president.
While we respect the accomplishments of people like Paul Pressler, Paige Patterson, Albert Mohler, and the handful of mega church pastors whom we never seem to tire of electing to the SBC presidency in spite of below average, sometimes embarrassingly below average, Cooperative Program giving, has the Convention at large reached a point where they can say, or vote, such that the Convention machinery is safe in the hands of others who are not celebrities, not mega church pastors, or not convention superstars?
I would answer "yes" to this.
A concomitant question is, Would we be better off if we were not on the celebrity star system and moved away from control by the SBC grandees, that small number of oligarchs?
To answer this question, one might look at the SBC of the last decade. Our North American Mission Board is just now recovering from its dysfunctional state that wasted tens of millions of dollars of our mission money and gave us two failed leaders. Our International Mission Board has had turmoil that some would say was caused by excessive meddling which has been harmful to its mission. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has had a series of failed leaders and internal turmoil. I would ask if trustee appointments, many of which on the critical organizations rotate among the same small number of large churches and those connected with the same few influential SBC leaders, been such that we have been well-served by the trustee system or would trustees who had more de facto independence have served us better?
It is difficult to conclude that some of our difficulties in the last decade were not a product of the same system of leadership oligarchy. When we have had failures, the perception I have is that the Convention's putative leaders will close ranks around the failed leaders far more quickly than they recognize a problem and move to fix it.
No one asked but I do sense an atmosphere that there is a level of oligarchy fatigue in the Convention. Many younger SBCers have little interest in Convention politics, elections, or appointments (see how many messengers show up in Baltimore next month). Notably and prominently, some who are highly interested in Convention matters have publicly called for more independent entity heads who are free of the perceived influence of some SBC oligarchs.
All of this may be a futile exercise in hand-wringing over matters that are common, typical in any large organization, and to be expected. A few people do have enormous influence. A handful of oligarchs do control much of the machinery. Maybe so, but in SBC life at least we have the mechanism in place to depart from that pattern.
Three good people are announced candidates for the SBC's most visible office, President. One is a young small church pastor. One is a highly-successful mega church pastor, one of the SBC superstars. And one is a large church pastor, generally unknown to the SBC masses, an ethnic pastor with a record of stellar accomplishment.
If there is oligarchy fatigue in the SBC it might manifest itself in the presidential election next month. I don't think it would change much if the highly connected mega church pastor is elected or defeated. This is not criticism of the mega church pastor nominee or mega churches in general, they are highly accomplished Christian leaders and their churches are examples of successful Christian ministry. In my view, however, departing from the usual pattern of electing mega church pastors would be a welcome change.
Think of it. Someone who is not that well known, who is a fresh face, who has labored outside of the spotlight, and who is an example of the considerable inroads the Convention has made in the past decade or two with ethnic churches and a broader appeal, could be the next SBC president. Perhaps he could bring with him a movement to expand the pool of appointments to the vast numbers of qualified people who have labored in obscurity in SBC life.
I like the idea and think it possible.