The Proliferation of “Yes Men” in the SBC

Yes Man: a person who agrees with everything that is said; especially: one who endorses or supports without criticism every opinion or proposal of an associate or superior (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Throughout recorded history, we have always had “yes men” (and women too), those people who simply refused to ask any questions — much less the hard questions — of those in leadership.  Given our human nature, that is completely understandable.  After all, who wants to be seen as “difficult” or “divisive?”  Those who dare to ask any questions often find themselves not only with less benefits, but also on the outside looking in.  Not an enviable position to be in, to be sure.

Perhaps because of my legal background but, more likely because of my personal upbringing, I have never been accused of being a “yes man.”  My dad, who served on the town council and as mayor of my hometown, Lake Placid, FL, always distrusted “yes men.” He saw his fair share in the political arena, but, unfortunately, he also ran across a good number of “yes men” within the church.  These “yes men,” whether or not they held formal positions of power within the church, were good at protecting the pastor from the slightest criticism or questioning.  No one in leadership, even pastors, likes to be criticized.  However, when we surround ourselves with “yes men,” we often end up making unwise decisions because we did not allow the hard questions to be asked, which in hindsight, might have saved us much grief and heartache.

There will always be a long line of “yes men” who will gladly agree with and never question the opinions, beliefs, and even actions of their leaders.  That is simply a reality.  However, every leader — from pastors of churches of all sizes to CEOs of Corporations to Presidents of SBC Entities — can either encourage or discourage the “yes men” mentality.  Unfortunately, our culture, including the culture within the Southern Baptist Convention, seems to be encouraging, rather than discouraging, “yes men.”  Why should this be the case, particularly within a religious organization of churches such as the SBC?

Could the answer to that question lie somewhere in the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention has morphed from a servant-leader model of ministry to a CEO-leader model of ministry?  And, when I say CEO, I’m not talking “Chief Encouragement Officer.”  It seems that more and more pastors — regardless of the actual size of their congregations — are “running” their churches more like a business than the body of Christ.  These leaders surround themselves with “yes men” and even a few “yes women.”  If you want to stay in the inner circle, you give unquestioning loyalty to the pastor.  (I’ve even known of a few churches who require some sort of written loyalty oath pledge of allegiance to pastoral authority in order to be eligible to serve in any position within the church.)  If and when you begin to question, your time on the inside (and perhaps even the church — see here) will quickly come to an end.

What’s wrong with this picture?  Quite simply, our unquestioning loyalty should be to Jesus Christ and to the protection and safeguarding of His church, not to a particular person, not even the pastor.  Scripture is clear that we should submit to our leaders and should not bring any “accusation” against the pastors/elders without at least two or three witnesses.  However, we cannot misuse and contort that Biblical principle to mean that any questions — even hard questions — are off-limits.  Leaders, particularly in the GCR-era of “transparency” (the real kind as opposed to what has been practiced by the SBC establishment — here, here, and here), should not hide from questions, but rather should welcome a wide latitude of questions.  After all, leaders who have nothing to hide should not only practice transparency, but should live above reproach.

These same principles should apply to the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The Trustees of each of our entities should not serve out of unquestioning loyalty to the Presidents of these institutions, but rather should serve with unquestioning loyalty to Jesus Christ and to the protection and safeguarding of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The title “Trustee” carries with it a sacred obligation to serve the interests of the churches of the Convention, not the interests of the President of a particular entity, be it the oldest seminary or the youngest seminary.  In fact, Trustees are nominated with this very principle in mind:

“The (Nominating) committee shall recognize the principle that the persons it recommends shall represent the constituency of the Convention, rather than the staff of the entity.” (SBC ByLaws, Section 15E)

Our Trustees would do well to remember that their constituency is the churches that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention.  Churches of all sizes.  Churches with celebrity pastors and churches with pastors that no one really knows.  Churches that send ten messengers to the Annual Convention and churches who don’t send any messengers to the Annual Convention.  Traditional churches and contemporary churches.  Older churches and new church plants.

There was a time in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention when the Trustees of the various entities ignored the will of the majority of churches.  Instead of representing the majority constituency, these Trustees, particularly at our seminaries, acted on behalf of an elite minority of the churches.  When this abuse of power continued unabated, the Conservative Resurgence was born and accountability was eventually restored via the grassroots churches of the Convention.  If the SBC’s leaders — and their “yes men” enablers — continue to act on behalf of an elite minority, don’t be surprised when a second Conservative Resurgence (and the GCR wasn’t it) — led by grassroots pastors and lay folk — emerges to restore accountability to the entities that are supposed to SERVE the churches of the SBC!

 

7 comments for “The Proliferation of “Yes Men” in the SBC

  1. Ron
    February 7, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    Howell,

    I disagree!

    Just Kidding …you make much sense. The desert air must be good for the thinking, because back east the “yes men” are piling up in places of SBC power. Thanks for standing up, speaking out, and not giving in to the herd mentality!

    Ron

    • February 7, 2012 at 8:04 AM

      Ron,

      I think there is something about the desert southwest that is refreshing, for life in general and for life in the SBC. I’ve never been one to give into the herd mentality and I don’t think I’ll start anytime soon. I may not always get it right, but I try to call it like I see it. Even from my vantage point out west (and maybe because of my vantage point out west), your observation about yes men piling up in places of power back east is as clear as the clearest, cloudless days in New Mexico (which are crystal clear)! Thanks and have a great day. God bless,

      Howell

  2. February 7, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    For the record, agreeing with much of the direction of the SBC and believing that the men (and a few women) who are involved in leadership of people of honor and spiritual integrity does not make one a “yes man.”

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:00 PM

      Dave,

      Didn’t say that it did. Go back and re-read the definition of a “yes man.” Of course, disagreeing with much of the direction of the SBC does not make one a conspiracy nut, either 🙂 I don’t know if this post is too “hot” for Voices, but you are more than welcome to repost it there. It would probably elicit much more discussion — for good or bad — relating to the current state of leadership within the Convention. Let me know, and I can have it on the SBCVoices site for your review this afternoon. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  3. Max
    February 7, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    “Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might inquire of him?” (1 Kings 22:7)

    In the midst of 400 “yes men”, Micaiah stepped forth as the lone dissenter. He was told that the clergy had agreed and he had better make it unanimous. After all, they represented the majority (or so they thought). Micaiah was told that he better just go along and get in step with the times. It would be best for him to adjust and ride the wave of the future. It wasn’t easy being the 401st prophet, but Micaiah knew that he better humble himself, pray, seek God’s face, and follow His will. When dissenters observe the 400 in SBC ranks doing that, we should pay more attention to what they have to say … in the meantime, it would be best to hang out with the likes of Micaiah who are more discerning of the times.

    • February 7, 2012 at 12:38 PM

      Max,

      Thanks for the reminder from Scripture about Micaiah. As I said to Dave, being a “yes man” doesn’t mean that you are not ultimately supportive of a direction or vision. However, when you have unquestioning loyalty and an undiscerning spirit (i.e., fail to use wisdom), especially if you are put in a position of trust, then a “yes man” mentality can certainly take hold. Of course, the consequences, much like with the situation in 1 Kings 22, can turn into a disaster. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. God bless,

      Howell

  4. February 7, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    Put it over there. I’m always game for a good discussion.

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