NEW ORLEANS, La. – Last year at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Phoenix, Matt Mowrey took the stage as a testimony to God’s work in Norwich, Conn., through North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary Shaun Pillay.
This year Southern Baptists saw video of Matt’s dad who, shortly after watching last year’s presentation, became one of Norwich’s newest believers. Recently, Matt’s grandmother also accepted Christ.
During the NAMB report and presentation at the 2012 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, NAMB President Kevin Ezell highlighted the importance of ongoing and sustainable efforts, like those in Norwich, in penetrating lostness in North America.
“We’re not planting churches that will make a difference for a week or a month or a year,” Ezell told messengers. “We’re planting churches that will continue to reach people year after year after year.”
To highlight the need for more churches in North America, Ezell offered a historical glimpse into the SBC’s nearly two centuries.
“When we started back in 1845, we started churches at a great pace. By 1900 there was one church for every 3,800 people,” Ezell said.
He added: “Today there are two different North Americas. One very well churched and one that’s not.”
Ezell shared that some Southern states have one SBC congregation for every 1,400 people. But in Canada there is one church for every 117,000 people. In the northeast United States, the numbers aren’t much better.
Photo by Jeremy Scott
John Voltaire, a bivocational pastor, with his wife, Emmanuela, and their two children, Mathew and Christa, was honored during a North American Mission Board report June 20 by Kevin Ezell, right, president of NAMB, for being an ‘Iron Man.’ “We think bivocational pastors are the iron men of the SBC,” Ezell said.
With a goal of seeing a net gain of 5,000 additional SBC congregations by 2022 and with an average of 890 churches dropping off the SBC database each year, at least 13,500 new churches will be needed in the next 10 years. In addition to church planting, Ezell spotlighted ways NAMB will help Southern Baptists accomplish this goal:
Iron Men of the SBC
Ezell said bivocational pastors are the “Iron Men of the SBC” and NAMB will be supporting them through educational and resourcing opportunities and by encouraging would-be pastors to pursue a profession as they pursue ministry.
John Voltaire, an engineer and bivocational pastor in Miami, joined Ezell on stage.
“I find it very exciting and rewarding, because when you’re out there [working in a career] you understand their problems and can point them to hope,” Voltaire said. “It’s good to know we are not alone in this. We need your prayers.”
NAMB also is building an initiative for assisting plateaued and declining churches through partnering them with healthy churches.
Larry Wynn, NAMB vice president for evangelism, told messengers, “there is a place for you in the [church] revitalization process.” He outlined how the initiative will work.
This could include encouraging a plateaued church, helping re-launch a struggling church, merging with a dying church or helping acquire and reallocate unused church properties.
Military chaplain hero
In the most moving and dramatic portion of the presentation, SBC messengers viewed the story of Army Chaplain (Capt.) Jared Vineyard. Prior to becoming a chaplain, Vineyard’s unit was attacked by a suicide bomber while on a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. Eight members of his unit were killed. The rest – including Vineyard – were injured. The experience ultimately led Vineyard toward chaplaincy service.
At the close of the video, Doug Carver, a retired two-star Army Major General and executive director of NAMB’s chaplaincy team, introduced Vineyard and his wife, Amanda, to SBC messengers who welcomed him with a sustained standing ovation.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be with those who serve and to be able to serve them,” Vineyard said. “We get in the mix with them and through that we’re able to share our stories and through that the story of Christ.”
Ezell added: “We appreciate your service to our country and most of all your service to our Lord.”
Earlier, in the report segment of Ezell’s presentation, he outlined the work NAMB is doing in Disaster Relief, LoveLoud ministry evangelism, GPS: God’s Plan for Sharing and a new initiative for ministers’ wives called Flourish. In addition, he shared how NAMB is strengthening its church planter assessment process and thanked churches for the 2011 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, which surpassed the previous year’s amount by 3 percent.
In closing the presentation, messengers gathered around NAMB missionaries and chaplains in prayer, and Ezell challenged each church to engage the North American mission field.
“We need a spiritual awakening in North America,” Ezell said. “That can’t be generated by NAMB. That must start on our knees.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – To view the videos from NAMB’s SBC presentation, visit namb.net. Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)