I am not a Southern Baptist, but I have been watching the reports about their election of Dr. Fred Luter as their new president. As the media has reported, this election is a historic event in the life of this denomination. The SBC was birthed, at least partially, as southern Baptists separated from their northern brethern over the issue of slavery. The election of Luter, an African-American, as president of the SBC will certainly go down in Baptist history as a monumental event. Some reports state this is a way for the SBC, who has seen a decline in membership in recent years, to appeal to more ethnic churches and perhaps convince them to join the denomination. Time will tell if that happens or not. Other reports claim this is the next step for Southern Baptists as they attempt to put their pro-slavery past behind them. In 1995 the SBC apologized for supporting slavery in their early years, and the election of Luter is one more step in their effort to separate themselves from that past. For some in the denomination, this is probably also true. However, my concern in all this is that Dr. Luter is more than the color of his skin, and in all the excitement I hope people do not miss that.
While attending a pastor's conference at Campbellsville University a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Luter preach and was able to spend a brief amount of time with him. This does not make me close friends or an expert on Dr. Fred Luter! But, that brief exposure to him made me a big fan. I found him to be a man of passion for God, for people, and for the ministry. His work in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina was huge for the people of his church in New Orleans and for the entire city. His story of coming up out of a rough neighborhood where he admits he made his share of mistakes to becoming one of the premier ministers in America is inspiring. The bottom line, in my opinion, is that Dr. Fred Luter would be a great president of the SBC, or any denomination, regardless of the color of his skin.
In my recent book The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision I noted that one of the problems many churches have today is a lack of excellence in their denominations. Many denominations are mired in controversies they won't resolve, they lack vision, and they are too much controlled by the politicians within their denominations. They pass resolutions that say the right things, but often the implementation fails because of a lack of passion around the issue. For years one of my prayers is that God would send us leaders who have passion about what they are doing. Dr. Fred Luter is a man of passion, and I predict the SBC will be a stronger denomination when his term expires.
As denominations seek new leadership in the future I would hope they would look for men and women who, like Luter, are passionate about ministry. We don't need more bureaucrats leading our denominations. We don't need more people who have played the political games of their respective denominations until they have worked their way to the top spot. We need individuals who believe in the authority of Scripture, who believe that the Great Commission gives churches their marching orders, and who believe that Christ came so that all who believe in Him can be saved. Such passion is contagious, and when the leaders are people of passion we'll see it trickle down throughout the denomination and its churches. When such passion exists in the churches we'll see them begin to impact their communities for the Kingdom of God in new and exciting ways, but it begins at the top. Congratulations to my SBC friends...I believe you have elected the right person for this time in the life of your denomination. I pray other denominations will follow their example.