Key Challenges Facing Southern Baptists Today

Institutional Revitalization of the SBC for the Sake of Its Gospel Mission

The Center for Baptist Leadership aims to revitalize SBC for the sake of its enduring gospel mission and the purity of its witness to a lost and dying world that needs Jesus Christ. This is, first and foremost, a theological endeavor with a missional aspiration. We want to see the SBC united in the truth so that it can function as intended: as a multiplying force for the spread of the gospel, the planting and revitalization of SBC churches, and the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). We hope that the SBC will confront its present challenges in such a manner as to strengthen the Convention, bringing gospel-grounded unity on both the message and the application of the gospel to our churches and the culture, entity practices, and public witness.

While many of the key challenges facing the SBC may appear to be political and cultural, as Christians we know that they are first and foremost theological. Colossians 2:8 warns believers to “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” This is the great battle of the ages: The Word of God versus the way of the world. In order to return to the Word of God as our one sure foundation (Matthew 7:24-27) Southern Baptists must first tell the truth, in love, about the ways we have been led to compromise with the world out of a misplaced fear of man or desire for worldly approval (Ephesians 4:15, Proverbs 29:25).

The first step in resolving these challenges facing the Convention is forthrightly naming them. Our goal in highlighting these issues is to pursue lasting change that brings the SBC back to a sound theological footing, its Baptist heritage, and to help inspire the next generation of Southern Baptists “to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

The four main challenges we outline below are not meant to be exhaustive but rather to highlight our current key areas of focus. As our work continues in the coming years, these key issues and challenges will certainly change over time. We pray that many, if not all, will be resolved. Even if they are, we do not doubt that new ones will arrive. Therefore, these will be updated as appropriate.

Reaffirming the SBC’s Commitment to Biblically-Qualified Pastors

God’s Word could not be more precise: A pastor (or elder/overseer) is one of the two God-ordained offices within the local church (the other being the office of deacon) and is reserved for men, and only men, who meet the biblical qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. This stipulation is grounded in the creational order (1 Corinthians 11:11-14), a crucial and often overlooked part of God’s revealed truth and an indispensable part of the foundation for our faith and practice. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 affirms this biblical teaching: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” (Article VI. The Church).

However, both data-driven empirical studies and a growing body of anecdotal evidence reveal that many churches now considered to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC have and celebrate women pastors of one kind or another. This modern phenomenon is not a product of sound theology but rather demonstrates the incursion of secular beliefs indifferent or hostile to the integrity of a New Testament church (such as feminism and egalitarianism) gaining a foothold in the SBC. Congregations may have gone down this path unwittingly, oblivious to the clash with biblical counsel, or they may see themselves as agents of admirable, incremental change. Either way, the SBC is in desperate need of leadership that rises to this present challenge, calling on our Convention to address this error and for churches to adjust their practices accordingly.

It’s important to recognize the connection between the rise in egalitarianism in the SBC and the onslaught of other new “orthodoxies” such as so-called Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in our broader culture. The rise of DEI has resulted in elite institutions defending academic dishonesty and rejecting even clearly revealed scientific truth.

While secular institutions, unmoored from God’s truth, have been captured by DEI and feminism, such ideologies have no place in the church or the SBC. Yet many faithful Baptists are astounded at how easily this new religion gained a foothold in our Convention. A post-truth, far-left America is stumped by the simple question, “What is a woman?” Now, SBC leaders appear stumped by the simple question, “What is a pastor?” Thus, one of the most pressing doctrinal and cultural battles facing the SBC, and all of broader American evangelicalism, is the defeat of this competing religion. We must be able to give clear, firm, biblical answers without equivocation to the question, “What is a pastor?” The answer, again, can be found in the Bible: Only a biblically-qualified man.

The fight against egalitarianism is also a battle over the “dictionary.” Some churches seek to skirt God’s clear commands and good boundaries around the office of pastor/elder/overseer by changing the title to obscure the function, or by allowing women to serve in roles that have “pastor” in the title but, per their claims, not in the function of oversight or spiritual authority. Such roles do great violence to the word “pastor” and display a spirit of compromise with the world.

In response to this unmistakably liberal drift, the SBC must take the necessary step of ratifying the “Law Amendment” at the SBC 2024 Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Law Amendment amends the SBC constitution in Article 3, Paragraph 1 to read, “. . . a church [is] in friendly cooperation with the Convention . . . which . . .”6. Affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.”

The Center for Baptist Leadership wholeheartedly supports the Law Amendment as the best tool available to Southern Baptists at this time to begin countering the clear and present danger of our egalitarian drift.

The SBC must decide whether it will compromise on God’s Word or heed the call to submit to God’s good order for His church and defend its clear, confessional commitments on this matter.

CBL aims to equip pastors and institutional leaders in Baptist life to confidently defend our complementarian confessional commitments, both in our churches, seminaries, and church planting organizations, and lead us back to the safe ground of biblical fidelity on one of the significant doctrinal issues facing this generation of Baptists.

Securing Fiscal Transparency

Cooperation in the Great Commission runs on trust. Given multiple, recent high-profile reports of the misuse of funds at SBC entities (such as $1.5 million of school funds spent on personal expenses at SWBTS), trust is running low. It’s time to start shining the light of financial transparency and accountability on all our SBC entities.

In recent years, there have been increasing efforts from faithful SBC pastors and messengers of the SBC to demand increased financial transparency, including multiple efforts to call for a forensic audit of NAMB, which were rebuffed at the annual meeting. While the SBC does make “Ministry Reports” available, entities still do not meet the bare minimum industry standards for nonprofit financial transparency. Some entities, such as Lifeway Christian Resources and the SBC Executive Committee, provided no financial information in the 2024 Ministry Reports.

Those who claim the name of Christ and operate as stewards of tithe dollars and Christian charity ought to meet, if not exceed, worldly standards in financial reporting.

The SBC EC is currently considering two financial transparency motions made in New Orleans that would require all SBC entities to disclose IRS Form 990-level information. Form 990-level financial information represents the bare minimum level of information that the federal government says donors and the public ought to know to evaluate the financial health, practices, and trustworthiness of a non-profit organization.

One of these motions, led by South Carolina pastor Rhett Burns, would require every SBC entity to publish audited information equivalent to Form 990s in the SBC’s Book of Reports. This information would include reporting on items such as revenue, expenditures, and compensation packages for the top five executives at each of our entities.

CBL fully supports these efforts to bring long-delayed financial transparency to the churches that so generously give to the SBC and intends to equip Baptist pastors and lay members to secure the successful passage and implementation of these reforms.

Recovering Biblical Standards of Justice and Baptist Accountability

In 2019, the Houston Chronicle reported on incidents of sexual abuse at local churches in the SBC over a 20-year period. Every instance of abuse is a sin against God and man, and the CBL fully supports all abuse victims and supports their pursuit of justice under the law against their abusers. We affirm that elders must be held to the high standards of Scripture and that using church authority to abuse others is a matter of grave sin, even when it does not violate the law. We believe leaders should be removed when they fail to meet these standards.

However, many SBC leaders, caught up in the spirit of the worldly “MeToo” movement, DEI ideology, and social justice signaling have imported perverse, anti-Christian standards of justice to judge claims of abuse. Untrustworthy former leaders who grew tired of the Executive Committee’s oversight pushed to harm the EC by forcing the waiver of attorney-client privilege. They pushed messengers to make the SBC responsible for wrongs it did not commit. They sacrificed local church autonomy to become “influencers” on SBC committees.

Instead of using biblical standards and Baptist accountability, they pushed for the creation of a Sexual Abuse Task Force and then an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, directed victims to preferred consultants, failed to deliver a biblical Ministry Check database, and hired consultants and lawyers from LGBT-affirming companies. As it stands today, millions of offering plate dollars have now gone to these consultants and lawyers with very little to show for it.

These false apologies and fraudulent promises have put the entire SBC at risk. The entire Convention–its missionaries, seminaries, and churches–is now at greater legal risk than ever before in the history of the SBC. Few real victims of sexual abuse have been helped. Lawsuits and government investigations involving the SBC have multiplied. Some churches report difficulty finding appropriate insurance coverage if they remain associated with the SBC.

As the SBC EC began a downward slide toward insolvency, we anticipated these same leaders would propose reallocating SBC money (that is only available by the generosity of local churches) to create a “permanent home” for these lawyers, consultants, and initiatives. And this is exactly what transpired in February 2024, when the ARITF announced the creation of a permanent, unaccountable non-profit organization that would take SBC money to “independently” continue to pursue abuse reforms, but be exempt from answering to the messengers.

This creation of such a religious hierarchy, absent accountability, over local Baptist churches violates the BFM, would not help victims, and would not advance the gospel. It would only pay “experts” to judge between local churches and accusers in ways that violate biblical justice. If pastors or churches are slandered by the ARC’s negligence or faulty fact-finding, they would have no recourse to hold these new cardinals unaccountable to the law or the SBC.

CBL believes the way forward is to help SBC churches access the latest tools and training available to protect children and prevent abuse. But there should be no permanent drain on the Cooperative Program for the creation of ecclesiastical tribunals to decide between accuser and accused in local churches—nor should there be the creation of an “independent” and unaccountable body that receives SBC funding yet spurns SBC oversight. This would intrude on local churches and their autonomous government without helping victims. The solution, as expounded in our first article, offers Baptists a better way forward.

Restoring Mission Fidelity to the ERLC, NAMB, and other entities

In recent years, the Ethics and Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC has frustrated a unified Baptist message in the public square, frequently advancing positions and issues that are at odds with the majority of honorable Southern Baptists. This frustration has been on clear display with motions to “Defund the ERLC” now regularly offered at annual meetings.

Many of the actions and initiatives that have been undertaken by the ERLC of late appear to be efforts to find “common ground” with the secular culture by either appealing to social justice ideology, such as their MLK50 conference, or by increasingly liberal policy activism, such as their engagement on “immigration reform.” Instead of bringing unapologetically biblical standards to the world, the ERLC has allowed the world’s agenda, one of an unending cultural revolution, to silence our Baptist voice in the public square. The ERLC has been far more focused on issues like promoting forms of amnesty for illegal aliens, endangering Second Amendment freedoms by supporting “Red Flag” laws in Tennessee, and has even allowed the current ERLC President to fight against the press and public interest to keep a mass murderer’s manifesto hidden from the public with SBC resources. Other egregious examples of mission drift at the ERLC include when it praised “the passion and faithfulness” of its D.C. Policy Director after he left to work for “Evangelicals for Biden.”

Furthermore, the ERLC has allowed its Washington, D.C. office to become an ineffective lobbying force through unmitigated and significant staff attrition. They appear unable or unwilling to hire conservative, experienced staff that can effectively defend uncompromised Baptistic and biblical positions in the public square.

Even the once-unified Baptist voice opposed to abortion has been muffled by the ELRC. Where once we spoke decisively against the 1973 Roe decision, now, in the wake of the Dobbs ruling overturning Roe, the ERLC has targeted pro-life and abortion abolition advocates for “overreach” in their urging that abortion be counted as murder—and all parties involved be held appropriately liable for their role in ending a pre-born life. The most egregious example of this is when they opposed a Louisiana bill that would have outlawed abortion, choosing to engage out of a misguided framework of political calculations instead of bold, prophetic, and moral positioning.

Other entities like the North American Mission Board (NAMB) have prioritized church planting in urban areas to the neglect of regions like the Rust Belt. NAMB is also reportedly encouraging small or struggling churches to join multi-site church campuses rather than being revitalized as autonomous local churches per historic Baptist polity. If state and associational leadership resist particulars of NAMB’s agenda, the national planners have shown a willingness to run roughshod over these “subsidiary” bodies, with disregard for over a century of collegial activity. Furthermore, NAMB has a well-documented record of planting egalitarian churches, with the husband and wife of a church-planting leadership team serving in pastoral roles, in obvious contravention of the BF&M 2000.

The ERLC, NAMB, and other entities (such as the Executive Committee, Lifeway, and some of our seminaries) require a restored mission focus that instead serves faithful Southern Baptists across America and advances our shared goals, ethical commitments, and mission.


While there are many challenges facing the SBC right now, we are not without hope. The valley may appear to be full of dry bones, but we know that the Lord can bring life again (Ezekiel 37:1-14).

What the SBC needs now is humble men of God who understand the times and know what we should do in response (1 Chronicles 12:32).

We invite you to join us in this mission and vision as we seek to faithfully lead Baptists and American evangelicalism to a better future through a confident, courageous, convictional, and hopeful pursuit of a compelling alternative Christian vision for life in America in the 21st Century. Whether you are a pastor, a church member, a student, a scholar, or a concerned citizen, you are vital to this movement. CBL is here to offer you resources, training, networking, and support to equip you for effective Baptist leadership in your sphere of influence.

Together, we believe that a revitalized SBC, one that is uncorrupted by worldly ideologies and theological compromise, can still have a profound and positive impact for humanity’s spiritual and earthly good and God’s glory—both in America and around the world.