LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Things
will never be the same again.
And, they will be better.
That’s the sober two-edged
message that newly elected North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin
Ezell sent to state convention partners, Alpharetta staff, and the Southern
Baptist Convention (SBC) during his first board meeting Oct. 20.
Citing the urgent but
inevitably painful need to set aside what is good in order to achieve what is
great, Ezell cast his vision for the future of the agency which has struggled
with its identify since its founding in 1997.
Trustees gathered in Los
Angeles, Calif., Oct. 17-20 to hear the new president, commission missionaries,
and tour area ministry sites to better understand what is occurring in a
multicultural field as diverse as Southern California.
Ezell sounded a somber note
about staff reductions but said the step was necessary to be more effective
stewards of money Southern Baptists are channeling to the agency. At the urging
of Georgia Trustee Chairman Tim Dowdy, trustees established a Vision Committee
whose members will be appointed by Ezell to help him shape the agency in coming
Early in his comments Ezell
established the mantra that being good is the enemy of being great. He
expressed gratitude for NAMB’s heritage to that point in history but admitted
that little is being done to effectively penetrate lostness.
“Our intent is to do it and
our hearts are in the right place but not our results,” he said.
“NAMB has the primary task
to assist churches, not to employ people. Therefore we have to very objectively
evaluate (differentiate) what is good from what is great. We cannot sacrifice
what is great so we can do many things that are average-to-good (on a scale),”
‘Very difficult decisions’
Ezell said there would be
some “very difficult decisions that he will be called on to make and he said he
would call on the trustees to stand by him in eliminating some things in order
to focus on the right thing.
Some of that staff
reduction, which Ezell has pegged at 25 percent or about 70 positions
initially, will be offset by employees who are taking advantage of an enhanced
Last month the retirement
threshold was lowered to age 55 and would have applied to about 107 employees,
or nearly a third of NAMB’s Alpharetta staff. But it was recently lowered again
to age 54 to help those who were interested but did not quite qualify. That
increased the pool of eligible candidates to about 124, newly elected Vice
President for Communications Mike Ebert explained.
Initial accounts are that
about 30 individuals have accepted the retirement offer and several others are
still considering the incentive. They have until Nov. 23 to make their decision
for severance pay and generous medical benefits until age 65.
“We can absolutely do
better,” Ezell said about helping the agency redefine its focus.
“I am very excited about the
years to come but we have got to bring focus to the agency and narrow the
credibility gap. The younger the minister, the greater the credibility gap that
Ezell said the agency has
begun a self-audit, going through every area “very meticulously to examine
everything that we do and realign the structure — not just to change it for the
sake of change but to do it in the most effective way possible.”
Regarding how NAMB operates
in the future through partnerships, he said “the table (of decision making)
will not be small and those around it will not be few; rather, the table will
be increased and the team will all be focused on our shared objectives.
“We absolutely can do this
together,” he said about reaching North America through better relationships
with state conventions, associations, and local churches.
States frustrated by
The new president
acknowledged that many in state conventions are concerned and frustrated by
forthcoming changes, many recommended by the Great Commission Resurgence Task
Force Report. Most important is the seven-year phase out of the Cooperative
“It’s a fearful time for
many state conventions and they want answers. I have observed in human nature
that whenever there are questions followed by empty blanks, people fill in the
blanks with answers that are much worse than reality.”
Ezell said he is assuring
state conventions that NAMB is committed to working with the entities.
absolutely want a relationship with associations and state conventions and to
mobilize them even greater than in the past.
“Anytime you have 42 state
conventions and NAMB and others at the table it is going to take some time.
Discussions with each state convention will result in a strategy that is unique
to their situation,” he added.
“As I told one state
convention executive director, ‘We can still do this (negotiate the phase out
and new funding options) and be friends. We may not agree but we can sit down,
have a conversation, and love one another through this. The best way to
accomplish our goals is to do it together and not work against each other.
“Those days (of
confrontation) are over; it’s a new day and we’re going to work with people and
not against them,” he stressed.
Adding staff not necessary
to reach goals
Regarding staffing levels,
Ezell said it will not always be necessary to add staff to accomplish the
agency’s goals. In fact, he said, some church planting groups with less than a
tenth of NAMB’s purchasing power are showing themselves to be more effective.
Ezell acknowledged that
income from the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering have
been declining for several years and the agency needs to take that into consideration
when it comes to evaluating staffing levels. But declining revenue doesn’t
necessarily mean that the agency will be poised to do less in coming years.
“We are going to do the very
best with every dollar that Southern Baptists send us. We are going to provide
a compelling vision that will encourage them to give with even greater
sacrifice. But money will not drive our efforts to reach North America for
Christ; what will drive this is the passion of the church, the passion of the
“I’m not discouraged or feel
like when we have less money that we have less resources. We just have to look
at our resources as being painted in different colors than green (signifying
Regarding regional church
planting, Ezell said that most Southern Baptists assume that mainline and
established state conventions have plenty of churches, but that is not always
“As a result of the Task
Force recommendations some pastors assumed we were not going to focus on
mainline states. In reality we will shift a priority of resources to the
less-reached sections of the nation such as the West, Northeast, and Canada.
But that does not mean we are going to disregard other areas.
“In Florida, for example,
there are 18 million people but fewer churches than Kentucky or Tennessee. We
will not stop planting churches in those two states, but we will need to focus
on those other areas where the population needs are the greatest.”
Ezell then rhetorically
asked, “Where do we go from here?”
NAMB’s blueprint for the
“First, we will determine
NAMB’s focus, then build a strategy to support that focus, and then develop a
“Everyone wants to know
‘who’ and ‘where ‘ (in this staffing scenario) but we really will not know
until we have a strategy; then we will add or reduce staff according to that
“What I do know is that not
all NAMB staff will need to be fulltime and based in Alpharetta. We will
decentralize but new positions will not necessarily be fulltime staff. We
will use pastors and others who are doing a wonderful job where they are but
can advise us in our efforts. We are now living in 2010; (due to technology)
you do not have to have everyone (living) in Alpharetta in order to work
Ezell said the agency’s
focus will be mobilizing Southern Baptists for evangelism that results in
church planting. He then quoted Peter Wagner, who said “The single most
effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.”
Ezell then affirmed the
agency’s dependence on the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter
Offering for its livelihood.
“I have repeatedly been
asked ‘Are you going to strongly support the CP and Annie Armstrong offerings?’
and my answer has always been ‘Absolutely.’
Ezell then said NAMB has “an
incredible opportunity” to tap into those pastors who, like himself, had
disengaged from Southern Baptist life because they saw that the system was
Regret over disengaging
“One of the things that I
regret is that I disengaged from the Kentucky Baptist Convention as a pastor.
Very soon the KBC will be voting to move toward a 50/50 goal with their CP
giving and it will happen with no help from me.
“Years ago when I examined
the system I became very frustrated and disengaged. We still gave to the
Convention but I did not attend many meetings and distanced myself from it. In
fact, I told a good friend, Herschel York, that he would never change that
machine (the way the state convention operated). Next week at their annual
meeting he will prove me wrong, and I am thankful for men like Herschel York
who stayed engaged.
“I believe there are
thousands of pastors who are ready to become re-engaged if we provide them with
a compelling vision and show them how we are effectively using the money that
they encourage their people to give to the two offerings.
In other business trustees
learned of the retirements of three vice presidents — Richard Harris, vice
president of missionary sending and former interim president; Harry Lewis, vice
president of partnership missions and mobilization and David Meacham, vice
president of associational strategies.
Harris and Lewis will remain
for an undetermined amount of time in a limited role to assist state
conventions in the phase-out of the Cooperative Agreements.
Trustees also created two
new vice president positions. Mike Ebert, communications team leader, was
elevated to vice president of communications and Clark Logan, currently with
LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, was hired as vice president of