CUMMING, Ga. — A trustee has
resigned from the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) North American Mission Board (NAMB) saying he does not share the vision of the
agency’s new president.
“I believe that throughout
my life, and particularly as I’ve gotten older, that it’s very important to
take your body where your heart is,” Lester Cooper, pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Cumming, Ga., told church members Nov. 28. “If
you’ve got your body somewhere where your heart’s not, that just not where it
ought to be.”
“I just wanted to share with
you this morning — for whatever it’s worth to anybody — that this past week I
resigned as trustee of the North American Mission Board,” he said.
Cooper added, in an
interview with Associated Baptist Press, “My heart is not with the North
American Mission Board.”
Cooper, former director of
missions for the Atlanta Association of Southern Baptist Churches, was elected
as a NAMB trustee in 2008. He said watching changes made since the election
Sept. 14 of Kevin Ezell as the agency’s president “is not what I signed on for.”
On Sept. 30 Ezell announced
an early-retirement incentive for employees age 54 and over. The goal is to
reduce staff by a net 25 percent by the end of the year — including new people
brought in by Ezell.
Cooper said he agrees with
the strategy of focusing on church planting in urban areas with large
populations, but doesn’t think the way to do it is by losing senior staff
members recognized as leading experts in the field.
“I can’t imagine how you can
see 80 people leave an organization that has 260 people in it and have any idea
of how you are going to function or come to the conclusion of who is going to
go before you have been there two months,” Cooper said. “It’s not reasonable,
and I cannot get a satisfactory answer from anybody where we are going.”
He also said that since a
Great Commission Task Force report adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention calls for
a restructuring of NAMB within seven years, he doesn’t understand why decisions
are being handed down so quickly and without vote by the board of trustees.
Cooper, 64, said if he were
to serve out his term and be re-elected he would be a NAMB trustee until he was
70 and that at that age, “I don’t need any more stress in my life.”
“I do not really see the
direction I see it going in as being something that I think is helpful,” he
said. “I don’t think that I should stay and stand in the way of what others
think need to be done.”
Cooper said three NAMB staff
members taking the early-retirement option are members of his church.
“I’ve never seen anything
like it,” said Cooper, a pastor for more than 30 years with a long record of
denominational service. “It’s a new day for Southern Baptists, and I really don’t
know what it looks like.”
Ezell said in a statement
Dec. 8 that he admires Cooper and appreciates the service he has given as a
member of the board of trustees. Ezell said the timing of the voluntary
retirement incentive package was driven primarily by changes being implemented
by Guidestone Financial Resources.
“The package we offered was
as generous as we could make it, and we are also providing employment
assistance for those who are seeking work after leaving NAMB,” Ezell said. “These
reductions are driven by my firm belief that we need to send more resources to
the North American mission field.”
Ezell said just over two
months on the job he is moving forward as quickly as he can.
“We haven’t shared details
of a new direction yet because we are still in the important phase of meeting
with and listening to our state partners,” he said. “We will have a clearer
direction to share after NAMB’s next board of trustees meeting in February.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is
senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)