At third annual McCall Lecture, Dockery offers case-studies in leadership from Southern Seminary’s presidents

Communications Staff — October 1, 2013

 A helpful way to learn about leadership is to examine leaders from the past, said David S. Dockery during The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s third annual Duke K. McCall Lecture on Christian Leadership, Sept. 24.

Dockery, long-time president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn., spoke about Southern Seminary’s nine presidents, using each as a case-study in leadership qualities. He focused particularly on the seminary’s current president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. and his convictional leadership as the essential and foundational trait.

Drawing from leadership principles from each of the presidents, Dockery said that each of the lessons — the necessity of vision, teamwork, change agency, wise risk-taking, encouragement, good managing, strategic planning, relational skills and convictional leadership — must be grounded in the Bible and theological direction.

“Without such commitments these efforts lose shape and become disconnected from the Christ- centered mission,” Dockery said. “A leader’s life is not primarily about an organization or about success, but a leader’s life is primarily about being characterized by the worship of God, authentic discipleship, by spiritual and ministry formation — a life that God uses for his purposes.”

Dockery, who served as the dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary from 1992-1996, began with the founder of the seminary, James Petigru Boyce as an example of leadership as vision. Boyce, president from 1859-1888, dreamed of a Baptist seminary for the South and the Southern Baptist Convention, and in Greenville, S.C., in 1859 this dream began to turn into a reality.

Leaders can learn about the necessity of vision from Boyce, Dockery said. Boyce saw a vision of an established, confessional seminary. He persevered through post-Civil War hardships to see the vision realized.

“Vision has the ability to see the end of the plan from the beginning,” Dockery said. “It was Boyce’s vision that served as the source of energy and direction for the seminary from 1859 until his death in 1888.”

Dockery then talked about John A. Broadus, an example of team leadership, who not only succeeded Boyce as president (1888-1895), but worked closely with Boyce from the early days of the seminary.

“In many ways, the Boyce-Broadus leadership was a duet, not a solo,” Dockery said.

Broadus stood beside Boyce in the difficult economic days of the seminary when it moved from Greenville to Louisville, Ky. He refused to take a salary while he raised funds for Southern, and he worked with Boyce to help accomplish his vision for the school. Dockery said that Broadus exemplified team leadership throughout his professorship and presidency at Southern Seminary.

After Broadus came William Heth Whitsett (1895-1899). Whitsett, the third seminary president and a member of the faculty and historian, challenged prevailing views about Baptist origins, resulting in controversy and crisis for the seminary. It eventually cost him his job.

Dockery said the lesson of Whitsett’s presidency is risk-taking at the right time and understanding context. He said that timing is key in leadership. Leaders who make mistakes need to admit it and move on, he said.

“The right thing done at the wrong time, or the right thing done for the wrong reason is the wrong decision,” Dockery said. “Risk-taking is good at the right time and right place. And godly leaders must be willing to do so.”

Southern’s fourth president, Edgar Young Mullins (1899-1928), is an example of leadership as change agent. Mullins provided lasting leadership through his persuasive work as an administrator and denominational statesman who adapted to his time, Dockery said.

“Not only did he influence the campus and the denomination, but he influenced far beyond Baptist life through his statesman-like leadership,” Dockery said. “He demonstrated the power of persuasion. For almost 30 years,  E.Y Mullins’ giant sized abilities touched Baptists everywhere and pointed the seminary forward in the changing world of the 20th century.”

After Mullins died, John Richard Sampey became president (1929-1942). Sampey inherited not only the seminary but substantial debt. “He was a model of courage in difficult days,” Dockery said, stating that leadership as encourager is important.

Sampey began to implement plans for paying the debt and the school’s enrollment grew as time progressed.

Ellis Adams Fuller, Southern Seminary’s sixth president (1942-1950), was a leader as manager, Dockery said. Fuller knew business well and had good managerial skills. He adequately managed the seminary and Dockery said that leaders can learn that timing is key for implementation from Fuller.

“Managers like Fuller make wise and prayerful decisions. They know when and how to ask for help,” Dockery said.

Duke K. McCall, the leader who the lecture honors, was Southern Seminary’s seventh and longest serving president (1950-1982). Dockery cited McCall as Southern Seminary’s strategic leader.

McCall, a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, had already been the executive secretary of the SBC Executive Committee, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville before he came to Southern Seminary. He was also named president of the Baptist World Alliance after his time at Southern.

Dockery said that McCall’s presidency teaches leaders that they will not be able to move forward without strategic planning.

“He remarkably placed his stamp on the campus of Southern Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention like few others in Southern Baptist history,” Dockery said. “His strategic, thoughtful leadership reached far beyond this campus.”

Dockery said that Roy Lee Honeycutt, Southern’s eighth president (1982-1993), was a relational leader. Relationships are essential for those in leadership, Dockery said. Honeycutt worked through difficult opposition from the progressive faculty, and he built consensus with a covenant statement, written in the midst of denominational controversy.

Dockery finished his leadership case studies with Mohler, who marks 20 years as president of Southern Seminary this semester. He told students that the lesson to learn from Mohler is convictional leadership and commitment to sound biblical teaching.

When Mohler began his presidency, the seminary was at the center of controversy in the SBC. Mohler, through his convictional and committed leadership, turned the seminary back to biblical fidelity and theological orthodoxy.

“President Mohler has brought about a remarkable transformation by convictional leadership which is both theologically informed and theologically shaped,” Dockery said. “President Mohler has reclaimed the vision of James P. Boyce and the tradition that provided the framework for the early decades of this seminary.”

Audio and video from Dockery’s message are available at

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