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Unanimous Baptists “ Isn’t That an Oxymoron?

I have always wondered why reasonable people would think a Baptist committee could ever reach a unanimous decision. Frankly, it is remarkable “unanimous” and “Baptist” appear in the same dictionary!
 

As the old saying goes, “Where there are two Baptists gathered together, there are at least three opinions.” By our very nature, we are people with opinions. Our strong historic emphasis on individualism creates a fertile environment for growing opinions – about most everything.

 

Why, then, would we assume 10 Baptists are going to agree on any single issue?

 

Yet, I hear it all the time, “Our pastor search committee met for the first time on Tuesday night. We elected a chair and decided we would present a unanimous recommendation to the church.” How did Baptists, committed to individualism, create the expectation a pastor search committee should ever be unanimous? What planet did this notion come from?

 

The answer is in understanding organizational dynamics and human insecurities.

 

Baptist search committees favor unanimous recommendations because they are insecure; they don’t want to face potential challenges to their recommendation on the church floor. While committee members will clothe their fears in spiritual language to defend a “unanimous recommendation” policy, the real reason is human insecurity. The search committee’s nightmare is the church will not accept their recommendation. A unanimous committee minimizes that potential.

 

This is also the primary reason we do not have more women pastors in Baptist church pulpits. Our insecurities lead us to present unanimous recommendations, and there is always one person on a search committee who is small-minded and dreadfully biased against women.

 

We can write articles about the need for Baptists to change their attitudes about women until the cows come home. But until we change the expectation that search committees should present unanimous recommendations, no progress will be made. It is functional polity, not attitude, which holds back the role of women in local Baptist churches.

 

 

 

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While “unanimous Baptist” is an oxymoron, “unanimous Baptist committees” are rarely truly unanimous. Most search committees committed to being unanimous spend 80 percent of their time working out the personal issues of committee members during committee deliberations.

 

It is an old story; as committee members share their observations about candidates, they become alarmingly aware of diversity in their own church’s ranks. Illusions are wrecked and preconceived notions about ministers and congregations hit the wall of reality. And so, 80 percent of the committee’s time and energy could be characterized as educating committee members and wearing down people until they give up their opinions.

 

This dynamic is very destructive. Typically with committees committed to unanimous recommendations, a functional veto is handed to every person on the committee. In terms of organizational dynamics, the weakest and most small-minded person on the committee is handed a veto and is able to manipulate the committee.

 

This is the reason most search committees end up settling for a middle-of-the-road, “nice” candidate. This is the way creative, out-of-the-box, unorthodox pastoral candidates are side-tracked and end up fourth or fifth on the “short list.” In essence, requiring a unanimous committee moves the committee toward the less creative candidate – in an age when local churches desperately need creative leaders.

 

Pass the word, “unanimous Baptist” is an oxymoron.

 

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.