Memorable MBC news is new exec - Word&Way

Memorable MBC news is new exec

The 177th annual session of the Missouri Baptist Convention last week at Tan-Tar-A Resort on the Lake of the Ozarks will not be remembered for controversy. Far from it.

Bill Webb

The only point at which messengers disagreed much at all was over a resolution that would have urged them to give their opinion to a task force studying whether the Southern Baptist Convention needs to change its name. Some wound up vigorously and passionately debating the value of the national convention's 166-year-old moniker and rarely speaking to the resolution itself.

In the end, the body of messengers voted to simply eliminate that resolution and strike it from the Resolution Committee's report. Ironically, it sounds like several people feel pretty strongly about the issue and need to let the SBC study panel know how they feel. (For those who would like to contact the Name Change Task Force, go to

This will likely be the annual meeting remembered for the introduction and inauguration of a new MBC executive director. The inauguration was low-key, and did not involve outside dignitaries. Still, Missouri Baptists have high hopes for John Yeats.

Executive Director Search Committee Chair Vic Borden reminded messengers that the tenure of the last three executive directors ended painfully. Jim Hill stepped down as self-described conservatives assumed a majority on the Executive Board. The Project 1000 campaign that solidified the votes to change the direction of the MBC made no secret of wanting to replace key leaders with their own.

Hill's successor, David Clippard, was dismissed by the Executive Board itself, which cited a list of deficiencies and failures and a defiant attitude. A long-time activist in a group known as Southern Baptist Conservatives of Missouri and then in Project 1000, David Tolliver was regarded as a safe and lower-profile successor to Clippard. But he resigned on Jan. 6 when confronted with a charge of long-term moral indiscretion.

Missouri Baptists are looking for stability, and the search committee believes it has found it in Yeats. The new executive director has a solid conservative reputation from services in state conventions in Indiana, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Yeats was communications director and editor of the state paper for Baptists in Indiana, editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger and, since 2005, has served as director of communications and public policy for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

A former pastor in Texas and Kansas, Yeats has served as recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention – an annual elected position – since 1997.

Both he and current leaders in the state convention regard the national officer's role as a plus, especially as the MBC feels the effects of mandates of the SBC's Great Commission Task Force and the uncertainties that come with new leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee (Frank Page), International Mission Board (Tom Elliff) and North American Mission Board (Kevin Ezell). SBC-funded initiatives and salary-subsidized staff members in state conventions – especially those associated with NAMB – are threatened. Missouri is bracing and planning for significant staffing cuts.

Yeats, the search committee and other Missouri leaders acknowledge his relationships at the national level, in service with the powerful SBC Executive Committee, which in turn relates to the executive leadership of the range of national SBC entities, could give him a voice as decisions are made that might affect the MBC.

No doubt, some feel those connections will help raise the stock of Baptists in Missouri, whose reputation beyond the state is still bruised by bitter controversy over the past couple of decades.

The new executive director will bring to bear the influence of his office and of the state convention in the Missouri Legislature. He drew enthusiastic applause when he told messengers he believed Missouri could become the first abortion-free state.

Yeats has a reputation for being an energetic leader and will likely leave his imprint on the various ministries of Missouri Baptists. Like many other entities, the state convention faces challenges brought on by a fragile U.S. economy, which has affected affiliated churches and their members.

The new leader has promised to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening as he assumes his strategic role. Missouri Baptists will do well to pray for him, churches and Baptist ministries across the state.

Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.