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‘Common denominator’ kept appearing for EC search teams

Neal Hughes looks on as Jeff Iorg speaks at a press conference March 21 following his election to serve as the next president of the SBC Executive Committee. Photo by Adam Covington.

NASHVILLE (BP)—Last Thursday marked 28 months and 21 days since the Executive Committee had a president/CEO in place. In that time, four candidates emerged among two search teams and one name consistently came up.

“What has been the common denominator in both teams’ pilgrimages has been the name of Dr. Jeff Iorg for president,” said Neal Hughes in light of Iorg being elected unanimously on March 21 to the position. 

Now as president-elect, Iorg’s first day as EC president will be May 13. 

Hughes, who served as chair, referenced comments from initial search team chairman Chicago-area pastor Adron Robinson saying Iorg emerged as a “strong candidate” during the initial search. Still, the timing was not right regarding Iorg’s tenure and upcoming plans for finding his successor as president of Gateway Seminary. 

That team eventually presented Texas pastor Jared Wellman as its candidate, but the Executive Committee did not confirm that decision in a May 2023 vote. Interim EC president/CEO Willie McLaurin emerged as the next leading candidate, but resigned from that role and was removed from consideration last August when it was discovered he had falsified information on his resume. 

Once again, said Hughes, the search team reached out to Iorg. The Gateway president, though, was in the midst of working with seminary leadership to develop the transition process to find the next president. 

Later last year and into the beginning of 2024, another candidate emerged. Even though no official announcement by the search team identified the candidate, Georgia Baptist executive director Thomas Hammond issued a statement in late January that he had withdrawn his name from consideration. 

“When the last candidate removed his name from consideration, the team went back and asked Jeff, “Has anything changed in your decision?” said Hughes. “This time, Jeff was ready. Our brother and his family’s answer was ‘Yes.’”

EC presidential search committee member Drew Landry prays with other EC members at the March 21 special called meeting to extend a call to Jeff Iorg to become EC president/CEO. Photo by Adam Covington

In a column for Baptist Press, search team member Sarah Rogers wrote about the “missing blueprint” that eluded her group but ultimately led them to trust God’s direction. 

“I rejoice despite a missing blueprint because it invited us to recognize His glory,” she wrote. “Many hours were invested in laboring over what this role entails and who could fill it. We came to realize that this job is complex. The person called to this role must be a leader gifted by God and dependent on Him to accomplish the necessary objectives. 

“But our exchanges also convinced us that this gifted leader must be excellent at recognizing that he is but one member working along with Southern Baptists toward a shared objective: the fame and honor of King Jesus.”

Following Hughes’ introductory comments at a press conference after the EC’s vote, Iorg said, “I’m as surprised, in some ways, to be here as you are to share the word you just did.” 

It was only a matter of weeks earlier that he and his wife, Ann, were making retirement plans to be near family in Portland, Ore. 

“Then circumstances changed with the Executive Committee and I was asked to consider this position and ultimately made the decision to do so,” he said.