Longest-Serving SBC Officer to Leave Post - Word&Way

Longest-Serving SBC Officer to Leave Post

Since 1997, 13 men have served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. But during that time, only one person has held another important position for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination: Recording Secretary John Yeats. However, that will change in June.

Yeats, the executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention since 2011, told the MBC’s Executive Board Monday (March 7) that he won’t run for another term as SBC recording secretary. That means he will also no longer serve as an ex officio member of the SBC’s Executive Committee.

Screengrab as John Yeats addresses the Missouri Baptist Convention’s annual meeting on Oct. 25, 2021.

Yeats said he’d been “honored to serve Southern Baptists in this vital role” for the past 25 years.

While SBC presidents and other leadership roles include term limits, there isn’t one for the position that documents the proceedings of SBC meetings. Yeats has the third-longest tenure of recording secretaries in SBC history, but the longest since 1946. SBC presidents can only serve two consecutive one-year terms, and members of the SBC Executive Committee can only serve two consecutive four-year terms.

But Yeats as recording secretary has spent a quarter century on the EC, which has sparked controversy in recent years. A Virginia pastor who challenged Yeats in the election at last year’s SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, pledged not to serve longer than the eight years that any other EC member is allowed and urged an SBC constitutional amendment to codify a term limit for the office. There have also been some Southern Baptists suggesting the recording secretary should no longer have EC status.

The EC found itself embroiled in controversy earlier this year as members repeatedly voted against waiving attorney-client privilege in an investigation into the EC’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations — before several members resigned as the EC finally approved the waiving as SBC messengers had instructed. Yeats voted against waiving privilege and criticized the decision afterward.

Yeats has also played a key role in the controversy at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, where actions he and other MBC leaders undertook were part of why the school’s accreditation is now on probation.

In addition to electing a new recording secretary, SBC messengers at the June annual meeting in Anaheim, California, will also elect a new president. Last week, SBC President Ed Litton announced he would become the first SBC president in four decades to not seek a second term.