ALPHARETTA, Ga. — When Kevin
Ezell invited Buff and Cissy McNickle on stage at the 2010 SBC Pastor’s
Conference in Orlando with newborn son Jedidiah, it became an emotional
highlight of the two-day event.
Ezell led the conference to
establish a fund for pastors who wanted to adopt, and Buff, a Florida pastor,
was the first to benefit from the fund. But the couple still had $10,000 in
outstanding costs associated with the adoption of Jedidiah and his twin
“They don’t know this,”
Ezell said to the audience with his arm around the tearful couple, “but the
generous sponsors that we have for the pastor’s conference are going to pay
your adoption off in full.”
Ezell’s family has been
greatly impacted by adoption. He and his wife, Lynette, have adopted three
children, each from different nations.
“It has made a huge impact
on our biological children because it has made them more missions-minded,” he
says. “And I tell people our family always has someone to cheer for when we
watch the Olympics.”
On Sep. 14, trustees of the
North American Mission Board will hold a special meeting in Atlanta to consider
making Ezell the new president of the entity. The 48-year-old currently pastors
Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
Ezell first sensed God’s
call to ministry when he was a high school sophomore.
“My parents and pastor
didn’t really push me into it at the time,” he recalls. “They believed that if
it was a true calling of God, I would pursue it on my own.”
That call was confirmed and
solidified during his time as a student on a tennis scholarship at Union
University in Jackson, Tenn.
“I thought at the time that
I would go into student ministry,” Ezell says. He had served in student
ministry at First Baptist Church, Paducah, Ky. The church’s pastor at the time,
J. Robert White, serves today as executive director of the Georgia Baptist
With financial help from
First Baptist, Ezell attended seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Nearing completion of seminary, God began
turning Ezell toward senior pastor roles, although he says his first attempt at
preaching was not exactly a success.
“It was a miserable
experience,” he now recalls, laughing. “My wife called her mother and said she
was praying about what kind of work she could do to support us.”
But soon after that came a
call from Hilltop Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and Ezell became pastor
of the congregation of seven. He specifically reached out to the growing
Hispanic community near the church and by the time he left in late 1988, half
of the church’s 50 members were Hispanic.
Ezell pastored First Baptist
Church, Hartsville, Tenn., from early 1989 to 1991. He led First Baptist
Church, Marion, Ill., from 1991-1996.
When Ezell came to Highview
in 1996 the church met on a single campus and averaged 1,200 on Sunday
mornings. Today, Highview consists of seven campuses, one that meets across the
Ohio River in southern Indiana. Two of the campuses consist of Hispanic
congregations. One meets on campus at the University of Louisville. The church
now averages more than 3,000 in worship attendance.
“We realized we were not
going to reach Louisville from where we were located,” Ezell remembers. “So we
were faced with staying where we were or relocating. We decided to do both.”
Highview’s separate campuses
each have their own teaching pastors, but weekly staff meetings and
accountability from Ezell keep the Highview culture and standards present on
“What has happened at
Highview is that I have surrounded myself with great people,” Ezell says. “I
don’t mind being the dumbest guy in the room.”
Highview’s 2010 missions
giving goal is $1.4 million with $582,000 being spent locally, $150,000
nationally and $700,000 internationally. The church web site includes a
calendar with more than two-dozen mission events and trips scheduled for 2010.
Last year more than 500 of Highview’s members participated in a mission trip.
Ezell has led Highview to
start several new churches since becoming pastor. The church is currently
funding eight church plants in Atlanta, Boise, Idaho, Clarksville, Ind. (a
Louisville suburb), Cleveland, Indianapolis (two churches), New York City and
“All of our church plants
are in major cities,” Ezell says. “For too long Southern Baptists have put
their churches in the same places while the Northeast, the West and Canada are
underserved. When people have been in the same place too long, they can get
stale. There is something invigorating in doing something new.”
Ezell believes church
planting success is more about finding high quality planters and focusing on
quality churches rather than quantity.
“I like to invest in young
leaders and church planters. I like to find the right people more than invest
in a particular city. We’ve focused a lot on quantity and I’m not sure Southern
Baptists are buying that as the best way to measure it.”
Ezell says his heart is in
finding pastors and churches who want to plant churches and finding ways to get
resources to them.
“The greatest unused
resource we have are the pastors and the people of the Southern Baptist
Convention. We need to get them invigorated to start churches. What we should
focus on is developing sending churches and finding passionate pastors and
allow them to plant churches,” he says. “There are people out there who are
passionate about seeing people come to know Christ and passionate about
starting churches. It’s not about being a funnel but being an amplifier for
those who are doing it anyway.”
Ezell says his excitement
about NAMB’s new potential grew after passage of the Great Commission
Resurgence recommendations at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in June.
“The messengers really sent a message that they
want NAMB to be focused on church planting. That really excited me—to look at
North America and get as many people engaged in this as possible and give it
our best shot.”