One of the narratives that quickly emerged after BNG broke the story of Adam Greenway resigning as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is that this is yet another example of Southern Baptist Convention trustees asleep at the wheel. That’s a popular theme honed in some parts of the SBC well before last week.
By this reasoning, there’s reportedly a significant financial problem at Southwestern that trustees didn’t catch until it was too late.
But what if the truth is the exact opposite? What if Greenway’s abrupt resignation is a sign of seminary trustees actually doing their job?
The more I’ve watched this crazy story play out — so many twists and turns already — the more I’ve begun to question the narrative that trustees weren’t paying attention. Consider these facts.
Many of these trustees were on the board when the Paige Patterson dynasty fell apart. That is a story of grandiosity, bellicosity and a celebrity president who couldn’t show the receipts to justify his expenditures — both financial and interpersonal. Patterson got away with more than most presidents would because of his stature as a hero to many in the SBC.
I know Paige Patterson, and Adam Greenway is no Paige Patterson.
Consider the possibility that seminary trustees saw a repeat pattern emerging — ironically from the president who was brought in to clean up the previous administration’s messes. Consider the possibility that trustees said, “We’ve seen this show before, and we’re not doing that again.”
“What if Southwestern’s trustees, rather than being asleep at the wheel, have instead taken dramatic action to avert a coming crash?”
What if Southwestern’s trustees, rather than being asleep at the wheel, have instead taken dramatic action to avert a coming crash? I don’t know for sure that this is the case, but it sure seems possible.
Here’s another reason I think this is plausible. I don’t know Danny Roberts; I have no memory of ever meeting him. But I know the job he does as executive pastor of a large church. I did that same job for nearly 17 years. In a large church, the executive pastor is the one who makes the trains run on time and is the one who is held accountable by the congregation for showing the receipts. The executive pastor is the one who sometimes has to tell the senior pastor, “We can’t do that.”
I don’t know Danny Roberts, but I have a pretty good idea of the mindset he brings to his role as chair of Southwestern’s board.
It’s also notable that he chaired the search committee that recommended Greenway as president. The chair of a search committee is deeply invested in the success of the candidate he ushers in. Just imagine the chair of a pastor search committee leading the charge to dismiss that pastor less than four years later. It takes something truly dramatic for that to happen.
And yet by most all accounts, that’s the position Roberts found himself in last week.
What happened? As I previously wrote, there likely is not just one reason for this turn of events but instead a perfect storm of multiple factors that coalesced.
“Greenway could have been what we call an ‘unintentional interim.’”
There’s also another possibility. Greenway could have been what we call an “unintentional interim.”
In church life there is a wonderful program called “intentional interims” where trained pastors come in after a long-tenured pastor leaves or after a pastor departs amid conflict. They don’t just fill the pulpit, they help the congregation process what has happened in the past and how to prepare for the future. This is a person who comes to fill the gap for a short period of a year or two with intentionality.
An unintentional interim is the opposite of that. This is someone who is hired for the long haul but turns out to be a short-term bridge because the system isn’t ready to make long-term commitments yet. They become the second sacrificial lamb in the resolution of conflict or identity crisis.
It’s possible that’s what Greenway has been. Anyone following Paige Patterson at Southwestern would have had their work cut out for them. He is a bigger-than-life figure who left Texas-size chaos in his wake. And yet he still has plenty of admirers who were not interested to see anyone who succeeded him succeed.
One of the things interims do is clean up messes so the next person in the door will have a smoother journey. But on rare occasions, the person cleaning up the mess creates a mess of their own.
I don’t know all the details, but I do know enough and have talked to enough people with inside knowledge to understand both of the things I’ve outlined above could be true at the same time at Southwestern. And if so, this is a cautionary tale for the ages.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
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