An Interview with Dr. Willie McLaurin

In my twenty-five years of serving as Recording Secretary for the Southern Baptist Convention, I have been blessed to serve with many godly and gifted leaders from across the Convention. That blessing has helped make me a better leader, but more importantly, it has improved my walk with Christ. It’s hard not to benefit from being around those types of leaders.

One leader I have been blessed to work with is Dr. Willie McLaurin, the Interim President and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. Dr. McLaurin had been serving as the Vice President for Great Commission Relations and Mobilization at the EC. I have been blessed to know and work with Dr. McLaurin for years.

I wanted our pastors in Missouri to get to know Dr. McLaurin so they could benefit from the types of leadership I have been blessed with. So, we reached out to see if he would do an interview with us, and he readily agreed. I believe you will find his responses will help you in your leadership and improve your walk with Christ. Here is the interview.

Dr. Yeats:  Dr. McLaurin, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. It’s been a challenging year for the Executive Committee and the staff. As pastors, we have all faced challenges from time to time. What has helped you through this time, and what lessons would you share with pastors about dealing with conflict and difficulty?

Dr. McLaurin:  My personal walk with the Lord is the foundation that keeps my heart and mind stable during difficult seasons. Each day I spend time with the Lord in a devotional reading that shapes my perspective. This devotional is accompanied with prayer where I ask the Lord to guard my heart and my mind for the day. One more thing that I have found helpful is to accurately identify what the challenge(s) are and separate the challenge from how others may feel about it.

Pastors must keep their relationship fresh with the Lord if they are going to lead successfully during challenging times. Emotional health for pastors is vitally important when dealing with challenging seasons. Pastors need to have a hobby or some constructive non-ministry-related activity where they can pull away and clear their minds. During a crisis, it is also vitally important to keep a balance with your family life. If pastors are not careful, their families will receive the short end of the stick.

Dr. Yeats:  As you assume the interim role of President and CEO of the EC, what do you feel is your greatest challenge in this role, and what steps are you taking to meet that challenge?

Dr. McLaurin:  As the Interim President and CEO at the SBC Executive Committee, I will focus on serving our staff team and caring for them well. Teams don’t need managers; they need leaders. Our motto will be “Mission First, People Always.” I will lead our team to serve our trustees, entities, and cooperating churches well. We will champion pastors and serve the churches of our Convention. I want to model care and concern and champion our unified Great Commission causes.

The Executive Committee has several strategic priorities that will guide the transitional season:

1. Preparing for the SBC Annual Meeting that will take place in Anaheim CA. In 2021, our staff team planned and executed the largest gathering of Southern Baptists in the past 25 years. Our team skillfully navigated relocating the convention and, at the same time, did this amid a global pandemic. So, we are working diligently to welcome messengers and guests to Anaheim CA.

2. The SBC EC trustees and staff will continue cooperating with the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force and Guidepost investigation. The SBC EC staff has been fully cooperative, and we await the final report that will be completed 30 days prior to the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting, June 15-16, 2022.

3. The SBC has assigned the SBC Executive Committee seven ministry assignments. Our staff team will steward each of the assignments with high levels of competency. Those assignments include but are not limited to Cooperative Program promotion, stewardship development, providing a news service for Southern Baptists, and kingdom investment through the Southern Baptist Foundation.

4. We will focus on lengthening, strengthening, and deepening relationships with our Great Commission partners. Our team will put a laser-focused emphasis on collaboration, partnerships, cooperation, and generosity.

Dr. Yeats:  As you look out across the SBC, what challenges do you see ahead for the Convention in the coming days, and what should our response be?

Dr. McLaurin:  No network is without its share of challenges. The SBC has its share of challenges. The immediate challenge before the SBC is stabilizing and strengthening from the pandemic. But our greatest challenge continues to be the burden of lostness. Every day hundreds of thousands of people die without a relationship with Jesus Christ. In my role as Interim President/CEO, I am prioritizing cultivating relationships with strategic partners resulting in increased collaboration and cooperation to further fund and fuel the Great Commission.

Undoubtedly, the SBC family is still facing a significant challenge in the area of racial reconciliation. Research shows the SBC is changing demographically and will look different in the future. Praise God for a generation of biblically faithful younger leaders who love the Word of God and our Convention and are looking for ways to engage their communities and minister to the lost and dying world.

Dr. Yeats:  How can local churches play a part in meeting these challenges?

Dr. McLaurin:  The local church should devote herself to preaching and teaching of the Word, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prioritizing prayer. The local church must continue to prioritize reaching their harvest field. Each church is called to be a Gospel light in their community. The strength and health of the whole SBC family depends upon the strength and the health of the local churches. It’s often said that the headquarters of the SBC is the local church, so when local churches are winning, then the larger SBC family wins.

Dr. Yeats:  Throughout the controversy and crises, we have lived through these last two years, one positive is that giving to the Cooperative Program has stayed high. What do you attribute that to?

Dr. McLaurin:  After the first five months of the fiscal year, the Cooperative Program is 13.39% above last year due to the generosity of Southern Baptists in local churches across the country led by the faithfulness of God to provide for His mission. In the midst of uncertainty, Southern Baptist churches always rely on what and Who is certain. I am incredibly thankful for the positive surge we are experiencing in Cooperative Program giving. Southern Baptists continue to prioritize sending missionaries to the nations, planting churches, training biblically-sound pastors, and winning the next generation to Jesus. Scripture reminds us, where your treasure is there, your heart is also. Southern Baptists clearly treasure the Gospel and the sharing of the Gospel with the nations and in their neighborhoods. Despite the cultural challenges and the COVID19 pandemic, Southern Baptist churches have increased in their generosity, and the Cooperative Program is proof that the SBC is doing quite well.

Dr. Yeats:  As this is the Stewardship Journal, what advice would you have for MBC pastors regarding giving and how the CP might help spur on increased giving?

Dr. McLaurin:  I would encourage pastors to engage in five simple areas regarding stewardship.

  1. Pray—Pastors who lead their congregation to pray demonstrate a desperate dependence upon God. The most important step of increased giving is when a congregation comes before the Lord asking Him to guide them in biblical stewardship. Scripture teaches that “we have not because we ask not.” The church must begin by turning to God in prayer, asking Him to send a spirit of true stewardship. Place your needs intentionally and explicitly before God—He is a good Father and will provide for our needs. This would include items such as praying over the weekly offering and taking special financial needs before the Lord in prayer. When you don’t know how to articulate a subject, you should pray about it.
  1. Plan–Churches that are doing stewardship well focus on it more than just a couple of weeks in the fall. A year-round strategy for helping folks learn that being a faithful steward is about more than how the church pays its bills. Each church should have a comprehensive plan. It doesn’t matter if you have 50 members or 5,000 members; you can create a stewardship plan for your church. The plan should cater to the needs of your church. There are various components to a stewardship strategy. You can implement all of them or just a few. Congregations want to see the manifestation of their giving. Some simple elements include:
    a. Annual Financial Goals
    b. Capital Campaigns
    c. Financial Responsibility
    d. Ministry Spotlights
    e. Testimonials
    f. Preaching Series
  1. Promote—Keeping biblical stewardship in front of the congregation must be intentional and creative. One of the basic communications principles is that a person has to hear about a concept 17-18 different times and 7-8 different ways before they truly hear it the first time. Repetition is key. The more you communicate stewardship, the more people internalize it. Pastors should have a genuine excitement in communicating biblical stewardship.
  2. Preach–We know from research that pastors who preach yearly on stewardship experience increased giving. I would encourage pastors to ensure that they include a stewardship series in their yearly sermon planning.
  3. Practice–A basic leadership principle is: “People don’t do what you say, they do what you do.” The pastor must practice biblical stewardship and hold leaders in the local church accountable for doing the same. James reminds us not to just be hearers of the Word, but to be doers of the Word. Pastors need to provide opportunities on a regular basis for your congregation to practice biblical stewardship.

Dr. Yeats:  Thank you, Dr. McLaurin, for not only your time but for these great words. I believe I can say for Missouri Baptists that you can count on our prayers and support.

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