FIRST-PERSON: An EC’s Journey through the Wilderness

FIRST-PERSON: An EC’s Journey through the Wilderness

As a boy growing up on a dairy farm in southeast Louisiana, I never dreamed that I would serve on the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, much less be elected Chairman, during what could arguably be called one of the most challenging and controversial seasons of the EC in its one hundred year history!

To me, serving as a trustee of the EC these past 5 years has been like a journey in the wilderness. There have been numerous detours, dead ends, and dry holes! However, God is faithful and uses even wilderness wanderings to accomplish His purpose of sanctification in His church.

My service on the EC began in 2018. EC trustees are recommended by the Committee on Nominations and approved by the messengers each year at the SBC annual meeting. Trustees are eligible to serve two four-year terms, typically resulting in 8 years of service.

In June of 2023, I was asked if I would be willing to be nominated for chairman of the EC. Following a close, run-off election, I was chosen. My number one prayer was, “Lord, help me restore stability, credibility, and reliability to the EC.”

“Detours”

My appointment as an EC trustee was in the same year (2018) as the unexpected resignation of EC president Frank Page due to a moral failure. In April of the following year, the EC elected Dr. Ronnie Floyd as president/CEO. Then, Dr. Floyd resigned in October of 2021 due to the mounting pressure related to the EC’s response to sexual abuse cases in the Southern Baptist Convention and the actions of the convention, which placed the EC in a difficult predicament. Needless to say, this was a tumultuous time for both the EC leadership and trustees! We were faced with the resignation of two presidents within three years.

“Dry Holes”

I was elected by the trustees in 2022 to serve on the Presidential Search Team, which was tasked with recommending a candidate for that position. This team worked for one year. While not unanimous, the search team ultimately decided to recommend Jared Wellman (then chairman of the EC) as the candidate for president. This recommendation was rejected by the trustees in April of 2023, and a new Presidential Search Team was elected to resume the search.

By virtue of my position as chairman, I automatically became a voting ex-officio member of the newly elected Presidential Search Team. So, this gave me the unique position of serving on both search teams! We now had to start a brand new presidential search.

“Dead Ends”

After implementing a new search process, opening the portal, and interviewing candidates, the new Presidential Search Team ultimately felt drawn to Willie McClaurin as our recommendation for president/CEO. Willie was a Vice President at the EC who was then serving as the interim president/CEO. In my opinion, Willie was a proven, standout leader in the SBC. I was excited at the potential of him becoming the first ever African American to be the President/CEO of the world’s largest Protestant convention. His election would be a historic moment in the SBC.

In the final steps of McClaurin’s vetting by the Search Team, it was revealed that he had listed several earned degrees on his resume, which proved to be false. Subsequently, McClaurin resigned from his position as interim president/CEO and was no longer a candidate. I cannot overstate how devastating this was to me, the other members of the Search Team, and even the entire SBC! We were now back to square one – another dead end.

“God’s Faithfulness”

Our Search Team knew that we had to continue to trust God. As was the case with the children of Israel, God is always faithful. He still, however, had one more “dry hole” for us to get past. Our search process started all over. After five months of due diligence and interviews, the Search Team was excited to present a very solid candidate at our February 2024 meeting in Nashville. However, on January 22, 2024, that candidate informed us that he was withdrawing his name from consideration. Again, the disappointment cannot be overstated – another dead end!

Yet, God was still at work! Little did we know that God had allowed us to go on this wilderness journey in order to ultimately lead us to His man for His time. When the search began in 2021, Jeff Iorg was recommended as a candidate, but when he was contacted, he informed the Search Team that he was not finished at Gateway Seminary and declined to submit a resume. Following the last “dry hole” in January, the Search Team reached out again to Dr. Iorg two years later. This time, he was ready. He knew that God was calling him for such a time as this.

On March 21st, the Executive Committee met in Dallas, TX, and unanimously elected Dr. Jeff Iorg as the President/CEO of the Executive Committee. You have to go back to 1979 to find another time when a President/CEO of the EC was elected with no opposition!

God’s delays are not always denials! That miracle vote was evidence of the unity that only the Holy Spirit could’ve produced among us! It has been quite the journey, but it is a new day at the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am grateful this particular wilderness wandering is behind us. Dr. Iorg has already charged us to remember that “Mission Matters Most.” 

I am privileged to have a few years of service remaining as an EC trustee and covet your prayers as we cooperatively work together to take the Gospel to our neighbors and the nations!

About the Author

Philip Robertson
Chairman, Executive Committee of the SBC

Philip Robertson received his degree in Pastoral Ministries from Liberty University and his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Robertson has been serving as the senior pastor of

Philadelphia Baptist Church since 1995. He also was a member of the Louisiana Baptist Convention Executive Board (1997-2003), including two years as president of that Board in addition to his two terms as president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, from 2003-2005. He has also served on the Board of Trustees for the NOBTS. Philip continues to serve on committees and boards for his local association, the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and currently serves as the chairman

of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Dr. Robertson has been happily married to his wife, Sandy, for twenty-eight years, and they have four daughters: Whitney, Lexie, Kylee, and Addi Grace, and one granddaughter, Paisley.

More About Philip Robertson
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