SBC Matters: A Q&A with Mike Keahbone and Todd Fisher

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Above: Mike Keahbone, left, speaks during an episode of Messenger Insight, while Todd Fisher listens.

The Baptist Messenger recently interviewed Mike Keahbone, pastor of Lawton, First, and Todd Fisher, executive director-treasurer of Oklahoma Baptists, about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The following transcript is edited for length and clarity. The full interview can be viewed at baptistmessenger.com/podcast.

Baptist messenger: We want to talk about some key issues of the Southern Baptist Convention. Pastor Mike, can you share your experience serving on the SBC Executive Committee and also its Presidential Search Committee?

Mike Keahbone: It has been an educational process for me. I really had no idea what the whole executive committee of SBC was doing. The Executive Committee (EC), together with the President of the SBC EC, manages the whole cooperative program, which is the collection of all these funds from all the different places and distributes them to all the right places. So Southern Baptists are reaching people around the world through the cooperative program, starting right here at home. Managing all of this and getting to the bottom of it all is what the EC does, and the president is the one who guides all of this.

I was involved in a campaign to try to educate Southern Baptists about the importance of understanding how it all works and about this executive search process. The man we are looking for – and God already knows who he is – must be a man of God who can lead well in all kinds of situations because of the certain climate in which we find ourselves at the moment. For me, it’s been a process of learning exactly what it looks like, in each phase. It has been a wonderful process to participate in; great in many ways, and it was difficult in many ways.

Messenger: Can you tell us how you have prioritized prayer at the heart of what you do?

Keahbone: Yes… as a research team, we were reviewing all of these previous documents. There were deadlines, processes, there are all these different things, a job description…I kept going through it to find a place where prayer was a priority. I knew in my heart that the front search teams who were in this situation were praying. I knew the Executive Committee prayed through this, but what I was looking for was where we called ALL Southern Baptists to pray. The executive committee is made up of representatives of Southern Baptists from each state that has a Baptist convention. Oklahoma has a good contingency there. I wondered, ‘Where is the place on the timeline where we called all Southern Baptists to pray for such an important position?’ It’s such an important moment, and it wasn’t there.

We talked about it and determined that we hadn’t really invited Southern Baptists to be part of this process. We were really excited about it. We started to strategize on what that would look like. We realized that we have a report (from the task force) that is going to be published here a few weeks before the convention, so this is a natural time to call our people to prayer. We have developed a strategy for praying. This is a 21 day prayer guide that we really put together with prayer and thought. We pray for each other, pray for our families, pray for our churches, pray for the places we represent, and then ask God to help us see with his eyes what he wants us to see and whoever it is. next president of the SBC EC should be.

Messenger: Dr. Fisher, why is it important for the ordinary Southern Baptist – the local church person – to understand politics, and what are some things you would like to emphasize?

Todd Fisher: It is not just the laity, but those of us who have been involved in church leadership, who may not fully understand Baptist beliefs, Baptist politics, and the cooperative program. In these months of traveling across the state, I have seen that we need some sort of re-emphasis on the key tenants of what makes us Southern Baptists.

The first one you mentioned is Baptist politics. The Southern Baptists have a political system which is not an Episcopalian system. It’s not a Presbyterian policy; it is the policy of the congregation. Congregational politics essentially means that we take scripture to teach that there is no authority over the local church except Jesus Christ. Thus, there is no kind of church structure that has any authority over the local church. This means that the Southern Baptist Convention is not a top-down organization, it is a bottom-up organization.

I’ve had people say to me over the past few months, “Hey Todd, you’ve become the patron saint of all Baptists in Oklahoma,” and I’ve been like, “No, no. I went from being a pastor for 30 years where I was kind of a boss, if you will, to over 1,700 bosses. I think we need to have a bit of resurgence, a reminder that, if we want to use the phrase “seat of power” or authority, it’s not in a national convention or in a state convention; it’s in the local church. I think in terms of our biblical understanding, and in terms of the Baptist diet, it really doesn’t have to give the impression that state convention is leading; but it must rather give the impression that the local church is in front.

The convention should be behind the church and support and serve the church, not lead and lead. The role of the state convention is to come to the side of our churches and say, “You know your community better than we do.” Rather than trying to impose a strategy, we would say, “What is your strategy? How can we encourage? How to equip? How can we help rejuvenate? What can we do to help you?’ We should join together in this direction. This is our goal, and I firmly believe that God does this work through the local church.

I also said that state conventions do not call and send pastors and missionaries, nor do seminaries. Local churches send pastors and missionaries. The reality is that a large portion of those currently serving on church staff and as missionaries – they were mentored in your average Baptist church in Oklahoma, which is a small church. We not only come here behind the big church, but we come behind all our churches. All churches matter, and that’s also another part of Baptist politics, especially in terms of cooperation. We have over 1,700 Baptist churches in this state. About 1,400 of them average fewer than 100 in Sunday morning worship, and those numbers are similar nationally. We are a convention of small churches.

Some lay people in (small) churches say to me, “Well, what difference does our little church make? We don’t give much in terms of dollar amount. I say, ‘The size of your church, the location of your church, the dollar amount your church gives doesn’t matter. What matters is that we all cooperate together. Because I said, “If you bring a small amount to the CP of a small rural church—yes, by itself, that may not be a very large amount. But when you combine it with all these other churches, 1,400 other churches of a similar size, it starts to add up to something very significant in terms of funding missionaries and funding ministries. We need to put the local church in front, in the spotlight, with the state convention behind and in service.

Then something important is Baptist doctrine or beliefs. We live in very difficult times culturally, but if you read the faith and the Baptist message, there are very important things to say to our culture that help us. The Baptist faith and message has something to say about gender, sexuality, family, and so many of the issues we face today, where our culture is drifting away from what the Word of God teaches. I think we need to get back some of the good old faith and the good Baptist message. I think the faith and the Baptist message is a good interpretation of understanding what Scripture teaches.

Finally, I would highlight the cooperative program. If you attend a church that is a Southern Baptist church that donates to the Southern Baptist program, when you give to that church, part of your donation will fund all of these things, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, six seminaries, Falls Creek, disaster relief, Baptist Collegiate Ministries, etc. The co-op program is really an ingenious way to fund these things, and it’s stronger when we all work together.

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