Religion

Southern Baptists elect Jeff Iorg to lead Executive Committee

(RNS) — After more than two years of uncertainty and at times, chaos, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee has a new president.

At a special meeting in Dallas, members of the committee — which oversees the work of the 13 million-member denomination in between its annual meetings — unanimously elected Jeff Iorg as its new president and CEO. The meeting was held in executive session, and Iorg’s election was announced in the early afternoon on Thursday (March 21). 

Iorg, long-time president of Gateway Seminary, a Southern Baptist school in Ontario, California, is well respected in Southern Baptist circles for his steady and low-key approach to leadership. In a press conference following his election, Iorg said he would focus on earning trust in his new role. 

“Organizational trust is earned by two things: sacrificial service and demonstrated competence,” said Iorg, 65, who will begin his new role in May, after Gateway’s school year ends. You don’t gain trust by asking people to trust you. You gain trust by doing the right thing, serving sacrificially and demonstrating competence. And people trust organizations that do that.

Iorg is the Executive Committee’s first permanent leader since 2021 and its third since 2018. His predecessor, Ronnie Floyd, resigned in October 2021 after a two-year tenure overshadowed by the SBC’s sexual abuse crisis. Floyd’s predecessor, Frank Page, resigned in 2018 for misconduct.

Finding a new leader for the committee was an arduous process.

Committee members had hoped to approve a different candidate — Georgia Baptist leader Thomas Hammond — in February, but Hammond withdrew at the last moment. In May of 2023, the committee voted down Texas pastor Jared Wellman, a former Executive Committee trustee, as a candidate for the top job. Some trustees had been concerned that Wellman had served as chair of the Executive Committee and was on the search committee before becoming a candidate.

Willie McLaurin, an interim leader for the committee, had been considered for the permanent job but resigned last fall after the search committee discovered he had falsified his resume, claiming degrees he did not earn.

Jonathan Howe, who has served as interim Executive Committee leader, will remain in that role until May, when Iorg begins serving as president. 

Louisiana pastor Philip Robertson, who chairs the Executive Committee, called the search process “a long journey” when Iorg was announced as a candidate. Iorg’s election, he said, marked a “new day” for the committee. 

“The way Southern Baptists have united around this nomination is something we haven’t seen in a long time,” he told Baptist Press, an official SBC publication. “I am extremely grateful to God for that.” 

Iorg’s colleagues have applauded his move to the Executive Committee. 

“He is exactly what we need as president of the Executive Committee at this historic moment,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press in February.


 


Unlike other Southern Baptist seminary leaders, such as Mohler, Iorg has operated largely out of the limelight during his 20 years at Gateway Seminary.

“Jeff has managed to do a great job at Gateway Seminary while simultaneously avoiding the internecine fighting of the SBC,” said Ed Stetzer, dean of the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and a former Southern Baptist leader. “That probably makes him one of the few candidates who can unite all sides in 2024.”

Gateway has experienced slow but steady growth under his leadership. When he was named president of the seminary in 2004, the school had 696 total students and the equivalent of 403 full-time students, according to data from the Association of Theological Schools. In the fall of 2023, the most recent semester for which data is available, the school had 1,499 total students — the equivalent of 783 full-time enrollees.

Iorg also oversaw a move from San Francisco, where the school had been known as Golden Gate Seminary, to Ontario, California, in 2016. According to Baptist Press, Iorg had asked the school’s trustees to begin searching for his successor as president last fall.

The newly elected president said he planned to fly to Nashville on Thursday to begin searching for a place to live. He also said he and his wife plan to buy a home in Portland, Oregon, where his wife’s parents live, and that he would likely spend much of his time as Executive Committee president on the road rather than in an office. 

In his new role, Iorg will lead a committee facing fiscal and legal challenges. In recent years, the committee’s legal costs have skyrocketed in response to the denomination’s abuse crisis. At their last meeting, the Executive Committee approved a budget that included drawing on more reserves to make up a deficit.  

The committee will also play a role in deciding the fate of a series of abuse reforms approved by local church representatives at the denomination’s annual meeting. Currently, there is no long-term plan to fund those reforms, which have stalled.

Giving to the SBC’s Cooperative Program, which funds international and national ministries, is down, and trust in the denomination’s leadership has been frayed in recent years.

Iorg said that as a seminary president, he has long benefited from the Cooperative Program and plans to enthusiastically promote it. 

A former pastor and state convention leader, Iorg is the author of eight books and holds degrees from Hardin-Simmons University, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Ann, have three children and five grandchildren. 




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