MBC gets the right man who’s got the right stuff
A new leader has arrived as a new day dawns for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC).
Just think for a minute. The MBC has a new executive director, conservatives are firmly in control on every board and committee, an end to the legal battle with the breakaway agencies appears in sight, the Peace Committee continues to make progress and could finalize their work by summer, Cooperative Program giving remains relatively strong and optimism now reigns as a talented combination of old and new staff members unite to form as strong a team as has ever been assembled in the Baptist Building. It has been a long time since things have looked so promising. We all certainly agree it is about time.
So it is that David Tolliver begins his tenure as the MBC’s newest executive director. Many Missouri Baptists wanted a native Missourian to fill the post and with Tolliver they got it. They also got someone who is a known, solid conservative, but with a willingness to work with anyone as long as Scripture is not compromised. I have known Tolliver for 11 years. I am blessed to count him a dear friend. Many Missouri Southern Baptists know him as someone who was/is committed to the Conservative Resurgence in both the MBC and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I know him to be committed to Christ, someone who always strives to do what is right, a goal that the Apostle Paul confessed in Romans 7 is a constant and formidable challenge.
The Schwarzkopf factor
“Do what is right,” is among the 11 “command tips” one of my heroes, retired Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, gave some of his commanding officers.
“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do,” said the victorious commander of the Persian Gulf War. “The hard part is doing it.” What makes Schwarzkopf’s words so profound is that they apply to every facet of life – including the spiritual realm. This seems to be what the Apostle Paul was writing to Titus who was encountering resistance to the Gospel on the island of Crete. “In everything set them an example by doing what is good,” Paul urges Titus. “In your teaching, show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.”
Do what is right – do what is good – are aspiring tenets for any leader. Of course as sinful humans our fallibility too often causes us to fall short. But a true leader will not quit and will put forth a determined, consistent effort to do what is right – what is good.
All this brings me back to Tolliver. Over the past decade, I have seen him from afar as a national correspondent for Baptist Press as he faithfully, often in the face of intense public criticism, declared God’s Word to be inerrant and infallible. I have seen him up-close as a beneficiary of his compassion in times of difficulty. There is no doubt in my mind, that under the direction and assistance of the Holy Spirit, Tolliver will strive to do what is right, what is good.
His election by the MBC Executive Board to the highest office in the convention is another landmark event in the history of our convention. It brings to a close the necessary political phase of the Conservative Resurgence in Missouri Southern Baptist life. We are “turning the page,” if you will as a convention, moving forward after fighting and winning a decades-long battle over what the MBC will be: A convention of Bible-believing churches that believe God’s Word literally, that it is absolutely authoritative and true.
A tested, true Conservative
Tolliver has never been shy about his conservative views. He is a conservative by conviction, not convenience. He has too much integrity to be any other way. He was a leader in the Project 1000 effort that saved the MBC from the creeping liberalism that was easing the convention away from the SBC. The historical record demonstrates this to be an accurate view.
In 1997, as pastor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in St. Louis and a messenger to the MBC’s annual meeting, Tolliver made a motion instructing the Executive Board staff to discontinue accepting and forwarding designated monies to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), the organization formed by disgruntled moderates who opposed the conservative direction of the SBC. His motion was ruled out of order by the liberal/moderate officers who controlled the convention at the time. When his motion failed he simply blew the whistle on Mainstream Missouri Baptists (CBF sympathizers) for their use of the alumni mailing list from Southwest Baptist University. They were using it to mail their conservative-trashing propaganda to 30,000 Missouri Southern Baptists every month.
In 2001, as chairman of the MBC Credentials Committee, he stood before the convention at its annual meeting and affirmed the committee’s ruling to unseat about 10 messengers from Second Baptist Church, Liberty. The committee ruled that Second Baptist was in violation of the MBC Constitution that requires members to be affiliated with the SBC and the MBC. Second Liberty had voted earlier that year to end its affiliation with the SBC.
In 2003, as MBC president, Tolliver banned Word & Way from having access to MBC meetings after the newspaper’s board of trustees voted to go self-perpetuating without convention approval. “The Word & Way board of trustees initiated an adversarial relationship when they separated themselves from the convention by means of a self-perpetuating board,” Tolliver said at the time. “We are now in litigation with one another. It is simply a matter of prudence that litigants not have direct communication or personal interaction with one another. For that reason I must require that you no longer attend any of the meetings of Missouri Baptist Convention committees, the Executive Board nor the annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention.” Tolliver’s edict has been affirmed by every MBC president since, except for Gerald Davidson, who turned the decision over to the board, which promptly voted overwhelmingly to continue the practice. Tolliver has indicated that as executive director he will encourage future presidents and executive boards to continue the policy, even after all litigation has been completed.
Since becoming interim MBC Executive Director on April 10, 2007, Tolliver has continued to put his conservative views into action. When a state-wide effort to ban human cloning in Missouri was launched in August 2007, he publicly declared, “We (Missouri Southern Baptists) are 100 percent pro-life. We’re for cures in scientific research — but without cloning.” He led the MBC to join a coalition of pro-life groups who nearly pulled a miracle upset in getting the initiative passed in the fall elections.
Then when it was learned in late 2007 that some MBC church plants had associated with Acts 29, an organization that, among other things, allowed the consumption of alcoholic beverages and the showing of R-rated movies in outreach ministries, Tolliver encouraged the MBC Executive Board to stop funding such church plants with Cooperative Program funds, which they did. Such actions often garnered Tolliver ridicule, but he never wavered in doing what he felt was right – as a leader should do.
While conservative, Tolliver is still very much “his own man.” He opposed most of his fellow conservatives by voting against suing the five breakaway agencies. Though he found himself in the minority, he gained respect for voting his conscience and conducting himself in a Christ-like way during debate on the matter. Once the convention made the final decision to take legal action, like a loyal Southern Baptist, he joined the cause and has supported it ever since.
As a trustee for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he seized the role of statesman when it was learned that the SBC was entertaining the possibility of closing Midwestern. Tolliver was firm in his commitment to Midwestern and implored SBC leaders to abandon the idea and supported his argument with compelling reasons. Through his effort and that of others including Midwestern President Phil Roberts, the seminary remains alive and well.
A dishwasher and a leader
Missouri Southern Baptists would be hard-pressed to find someone with the breadth of knowledge and experience that Tolliver has in SBC and MBC life. You would think such a person would have an elitist attitude, but not Tolliver. This is a man who unassumingly slips into the kitchen of his home church, Concord Baptist in Jefferson City, and washes dishes nearly every Wednesday night after supper is served to the church.
Even though 98 percent of the Baptist Building staff was hired by someone other than Tolliver, he has patiently won their loyalty and is confidently building a team that will strike a blow against Satan. A talented staff, often bruised by politics and poor leadership, have rallied because of Tolliver’s encouragement and his ability to respect the fact that God has called staff members here for a purpose and they must have the freedom to carry out that which God has entrusted to them.
Tolliver has another quality that is the mark of an effective leader: humility. He would be the first to tell you that he feels insufficient to be executive director. But God does not call people to positions of leadership because they feel “sufficient.” The Apostle Paul said in 2 Cor. 3:5, “Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” Tolliver knows that.
While some around the state will gripe about his selection, he has made it clear he is willing to work with all. The time for fighting has ended. The battle over what path the MBC will take has been decided. An old challenge has become a new priority: “The Great Commission.”
This is a happy and historic moment in Missouri Southern Baptist life. The executive board in so doing — having elected a fourth-generation Missouri Baptist pastor as MBC executive director — has, by the grace of God, marked the crowning achievement to the Conservative Resurgence in Missouri. An era has ended, but a new, promising one is beginning — with a new leader.