The Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board met in special called session in downtown Jefferson City on Jan. 14 to take steps to deal with a leadership crisis. Just a week ago, the convention announced in a single-paragraph news release that Executive Director David Tolliver had tendered his resignation because of an alleged moral failure.
As the news story on page 3 indicates, the Executive Board set in motion a procedure for securing search committee recommendations by its next regular meeting on April 12. In addition, members unanimously named associate executive director of support services Jay Hughes to serve as interim until Tolliver's successor is elected and takes office. Hughes has been the acting interim for the past week.
The Executive Board also "discussed a process for ministering to the Tolliver family," according to a news release following the closed session on Jan. 14.
Tolliver's alleged failure should bring no satisfaction to any Baptist in Missouri or elsewhere. For good or bad, each Baptist shares the family name. We are Baptists. Whether we are part of one or another of the factions remaining within the MBC or whether we relate to a group that functions outside the state convention umbrella — or whether we do not identify directly with any of these — our identity as Baptists has suffered.
When a Baptist or a group of Baptists are at their best, the rest of the Baptist family, no matter how dysfunctional it might be, reaps a benefit. Even though lines of separation among Baptist groups are significant, each Baptist is affected negatively when any Baptist leader or group fails publicly.
Like it or not, we all are in this together. We have a vested interest in expressing prayerful concern for those dealing with how best to deal with the situation at hand and to move forward.
This particular failure has damaged families, both immediate and extended. It has left a Baptist Building staff shaken. Baptists across the state are watching anxiously and warily as they read negative press in local newspapers and on television newscasts. Many are understandably lamenting this bad news about Baptists in Missouri with sighs of "not again."
At both of these levels — family and Baptist family — trust has been lost. When a leader falls, a whole family or organization stands in danger of losing the trust of constituents and outsiders, sometimes even the trust that exists among themselves.
Executive Committee Chair John Marshall, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, had no idea when he was elected MBC president last fall that he would be called to guide the convention through this kind of turbulence. He is a highly regarded leader and one whose demeanor should serve the convention well in this very difficult situation.
The Executive Board meeting ended shortly before this editorial was written, but in the days ahead Marshall likely will offer reassuring words to Baptists in Missouri and will call on them to faithfully pray for all concerned. It seems to me that we all are under obligation as Baptists to do just that.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.