Sad chapter in Missouri Baptist life ends
serves as reminder of how Baptists work
by David Krueger
A two-year saga came to an end on Tuesday of last week with the firing of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Executive Director, David Clippard. The April 10th, vote to dismiss was 44-7. Over the last two years, Dr. Clippard leadership style had become the focus of ever-increasing division between Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board members.
The process that led to Clippard’s dismissal began when Wesley Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church, Paris, presented a motion at the December 2006 board meeting calling for the formation of a committee to investigate the sources and veracity of allegations regarding leaders within the convention. Hammond’s motion passed 29-19, with three abstentions. The committee presented its report in a two-hour closed-door meeting to the MBC Executive Board at last week's meeting. The investigating committee made a finding of a “lack of confidence” in the continued leadership of David Clippard as MBC Executive Director and recommended the termination of his employments effective immediately.
Because the investigative committee’s report included some legally sensitive matters, the board appointed Michael Whitehead, MBC’s legal counsel, as spokesman for the MBC on the matter. Mr Whitehead has yet to release the report’s findings that led to David Clippard’s termination so I cannot comment with certainty at this time as to the specifics of the findings that led to his firing.
David Tolliver, one of the MBC’s associate directors, was elected to serve as interim Executive Director.
The events of recent days serve as a reminder of the importance of Baptist polity. Dr. Clippard’s termination reminds us that authority in Baptist life flows from the churches to the convention, not from the convention to the churches. In many denominations, such a termination would have been impossible.
Southern Baptist congregations are autonomous New Testament Churches. Their Head is none other than the Lord, Jesus Christ who guides His church through the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and guides them through the Scriptures which we believe are all-sufficient for faith and practice. As autonomous congregations, Baptist Churches make their own decisions about missions giving, ministerial calling and staffing, budgets, doctrinal positions, and their degree of cooperation with other churches and para-church organizations. There is no higher ecclesiastical authority in Baptist life than the local church. I think that denominational workers sometimes forget that.
Baptists, however, also believe in cooperation. We recognize that there are some missions that the local church cannot accomplish by itself and so most Southern Baptist churches voluntarily choose to cooperate on a number of levels. This includes local, state and national Baptist bodies. On the local level, we cooperate with other Baptist churches within our county or perhaps several surrounding counties. This is called the Association. As the name implies, this is a loose association of Baptist Churches cooperating together to do missions and ministry locally.
The next level of cooperation is the State Convention. In Missouri there are almost 2,000 Southern Baptist Churches with 600,000 members. We cooperate with these churches to accomplish missions and ministry on a state-wide level. This includes such institutions as two Baptist Colleges and the Missouri Baptist Children’s home as well as all of the ministries that the Executive Board staff is responsible for.
Finally, we cooperate on a national level through the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is composed of sum 45,000 congregations across the country. Through the cooperation of so many, the SBC is able to field one of the largest mission forces of any denomination in the world. Through our North American Mission Board and International Mission Board, over 10,000 Southern Baptist missionaries serve throughout the world.
Every level of Southern Baptist ministry is guided by the local church which sends Messengers to the annual meetings of the Association, State Convention, and National Convention. Even the use of the term “Messenger” carries with it the core concept of Baptist polity. These men and women who represent their local church bring “a message” from their congregation as to what they want to see the association or convention accomplish and how they are to accomplish it.
These messengers vote on budgets and other business that comes before these bodies. In between annual meetings, each level of Baptist ministry is guided by an executive committee – men and women, laymen and pastors – who are, again, approved by the messengers from local, autonomous Baptist congregations voting at annual meeting. These executive committees have the responsibility of overseeing the work of the association or convention between annual meetings. The employees of the association, the state convention, and the national convention take directions from the local church. All three of these Para-church entities exist to help the local church accomplish its mission.
The temptation at every level of Baptist life is assuming the local church exists so that some higher level of ecclesiastical authority can accomplish its mission, ministry or agenda. NO! NO! NO! We must zealously guard against and resist this kind of thinking in Baptist life. The local church does not exist to help some higher level of ecclesiastical authority can accomplish its mission, ministry or agenda. They exist to help the local church accomplish its mission, ministry and agendas as mandated by our Lord’s Great Commission. The paraphrase a banner that hung in then candadate Bill Clinton's campaign headquarters: "It's about the local church, stupid!"
As of right now, I do not know why our Executive Director was terminated. It is always a sad day in church life when something like this takes place. We need to pray for David Clippard and his family. At the same time, however, this chapter in Missouri Baptist life serves as a reminder that it is the local church, and those who represent us, who have the final say in all levels of Baptist life.
Think about it!