Why don’t more Southern Baptists have positions of influence in seats of power?
I’ll admit I was a little disappointed when David Platt resigned as President of the International Mission Board. He has such passion “for the nations!” and I wanted to see how a young man, having endured a financial crisis and rightsizing of the historic organization, would lead our missions force to share the gospel in the far corners of the world. After all, he was only four years into what could have been a tenure of four decades.
But Platt left the position of great influence to return to the local pastorate. That was understandable, as he declared his love for the local church. And besides, he’s an excellent preacher. Now, a year after he made his announcement, it finally occurs to me why God may have led Platt to pastor McLean Bible Church in the D.C. area. I visited there once, years ago, and interviewed the previous pastor when the church had but one campus and two worship styles. Even then the pastor talked about the congregation’s connections to the government leaders in D.C., and Bible studies and prayer meetings for the powerbrokers on Capitol Hill.
On that D.C. trip, we also interviewed Lloyd John Ogilvie, who was serving as chaplain for the Senate. A tall man with a shock of silvery hair and a deep voice, the Kenosha native had become First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood’s version of our own Adrian Rogers, before finishing his ministry career serving the senators for eight years. It was surprising how many Bible studies he led each week. And they were well attended. Plus, he was able to counsel people in power about important decisions and family matters. They liked Ogilvie and they respected him.
Maybe that’s why God moved Platt to McLean, Virginia. Together with Pastor Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and Russell Moore of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, he is probably one of the best known Southern Baptists in the city—and best placed to influence the influential.
But, this column isn’t about Platt—or Dever or Moore—it’s about influence.
In Romans 1, Paul says he’s eager to get to Rome. He wants to share the gospel with the saints in Rome. He’s eager, he says, to preach. Some of these saints are ordinary people (chapter 16 is replete with them), but Paul also addresses those of Caesar’s household. Whether it’s the servants in the palace or cousins to royalty, he doesn’t say, but Paul is in a position of influence. God put him in Rome. From his rented house that served as a jail cell, the Apostle shared the gospel for two years.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek,” Paul told the poor and the powerful alike (Rom 1:16).
My recent study of Paul’s letter to the Romans has me wondering why Southern Baptists aren’t in more positions of influence in the seats of power, as Paul was. Or Moore. Or Ogilvie. And it needn’t be in the U.S. Capitol or even in Springfield. I suppose it could be from a jail cell.
I knew a fire department chaplain in the southern suburbs of Chicago who ministered quietly and effectively for years. He seemed an unlikely candidate: He was older, had a heart transplant, and sometimes struggled with mobility, but he was on every callout. He calmed suffering victims on scene and helped get those who were burned-out into new housing. When the truck returned to the station, he helped firefighters process what they had witnessed. He was present for them and their families, for births and deaths, weddings and divorces, and all the trials of their lives. He was a pastor in a helmet. And when he died, dozens of first responders attended his funeral, and gave him a fine procession to the cemetery.
A quiet, unassuming man served in an influential position, and his influence was widely and deeply appreciated.
Perhaps it’s because Baptists strongly favor separation of church and state that more of us aren’t called to serve in Houses. Or maybe it’s because Baptists aren’t perceived as being high enough on the denominational totem pole. Or maybe the people responsible for making such appointments fear we, like Paul, would be eager to preach the gospel. In any case, I feel compelled today to thank God for the doors he opens for Southern Baptists near the seats of influence. And to pray for more.
Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media and Associate Executive Director for Church Communications for the Illinois Baptist State Association.