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‘We turn the page on a new chapter,’ Howe tells SBC Executive Committee

SBC Executive Committee interim president and CEO Jonathan Howe speaks to EC members at their Sept. 18 meeting in Nashville. Photo by Hunter Lewis.

NASHVILLE (BP) – Acknowledging the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee “has fallen short” as an institution, interim President Jonathan Howe told the body it’s time “to turn the page on a new chapter” of service to God’s kingdom.

“As we turn this page, let us write a heading on the new chapter that declares we will be guided by a spirit of humility with a commitment to service and a call to cooperation for the greater good,” Howe exhorted during his presidential address to the body Sept. 18 at its meeting in Nashville.

EC vice president for communications since September 2019, Howe was named interim president and CEO of the EC Aug. 18 following the sudden resignation of Willie McLaurin, who had held the interim post since February 2022. McLaurin departed after admitting he falsified academic credentials on his resume.

“I think it’s fair to say I never expected to be in this spot,” Howe said. “I didn’t expect it a month ago, didn’t expect it a year ago, and I certainly wouldn’t have believed it a decade ago.”

Howe lamented the EC’s current challenges, including a financial predicament that led him to announce five full-time staff cuts just weeks into his post.

“Nothing has been more humbling at the Executive Committee in recent years than our financial position,” Howe told the EC, referencing a sex abuse investigation ordered by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting that has proved costly. “There is a price to pay for reform, even when reform is necessary. We have seen our reserves fall from more than $13 million to just over $4 million in two short years.”

He described the EC as committed to carrying out the will of the messengers and reminded EC members of the same.

“Pastors and Convention leaders, it is past time for us to lay down our personal preferences. It is time to lock arms for the greater good of the Convention,” Howe said. “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.”

Howe recognized the EC staff for continuing to work wholeheartedly in the face of difficulty, and assured the EC that the staff will continue its committed service. The staff, he said, will:

  • Continue to administer the work of the Convention and support the committees elected and appointed to serve in their respective duties.
  • Continue to develop and improve cooperative relationships across the Convention.
  • Continue to assist churches with stewardship education and resource churches toward a ministry of prayer.
  • Continue to promote and elevate the Cooperative Program, which has been Southern Baptists’ collective giving plan for nearly 100 years, while making certain “every cent given through the Cooperative Program makes it to the right destination;”
  • Continue to assist the EC as it carries out the 14 functions the body is authorized, instructed or commissioned to perform as listed in SBC Bylaw 18.

The Southern Baptist Foundation will continue to assist with investment management and generosity, he said, and the Convention news service Baptist Press will continue to deliver news stories for and about Southern Baptists.

In the midst of the challenges, the EC staff has:

  • Worked to serve Southern Baptists amid massive increases in messenger registration at annual meetings that have grown in size and scope;
  • Celebrated major giving milestones in the generosity of Southern Baptists who continue to support the Cooperative Program.
  • Created new communications platforms, podcasts, video series and websites, and
  • Worked to build relationships across the country, aiding Southern Baptists in navigating the cooperative network of believers.

“But we must come to grips with the reality that these accomplishments do not outshine where the Executive Committee as an institution has fallen short,” Howe said. “And those of us who are here understand the gravity of that, the responsibility of it. However, the Lord has still placed us here with a mission and with an opportunity to join with Southern Baptists in service to His kingdom.”

In addition to staff adjustments, Howe said he continues to make difficult budgetary choices in exercising the EC’s fiduciary responsibility.

“There is a cost to doing the right thing,” Howe said. “It is one that we have paid and continue to pay. … Over the past few years, we have repeatedly learned of distressing actions that could not be ignored, and the cost of addressing them has been high.”

He expressed a commitment to the entirety of the Southern Baptist body and encouraged the EC to embrace the smallest to the largest of churches in pleading with God to renew the Convention.

“May we desperately ask the Lord to renew the people, the churches and the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Howe encouraged, “to serve and adore not ourselves, not our plans, not our ideas, not our political leanings, but serve and adore the one true God.”

Editor’s note: This story was corrected after initial publication to change “three” to “two” in Howe’s statement about the number of years of decline in the EC’s financial reserves.