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Smaller staff, greater efficiency key to NAMB
Joe Westbury, The Christian Index
October 22, 2010
10 MIN READ TIME

Smaller staff, greater efficiency key to NAMB

Smaller staff, greater efficiency key to NAMB
Joe Westbury, The Christian Index
October 22, 2010

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

months.

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),”

he continued.

‘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

retirement package.

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

we have.”

Joe Westbury/Christian Index

Early in his first report to NAMB’s trustees Kevin Ezell set the tone of radical change coming to the agency. He stated forthrightly that substantial change in staffing levels and organizational structure is on the horizon but the lostness of North America required no less.

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

unknowns

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

Agreements.

“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.

“We

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

people.

“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

money).”

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

the case.

“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

future

“First, we will determine

NAMB’s focus, then build a strategy to support that focus, and then develop a

staffing strategy.

“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

strategy.

“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

together.

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

broken.

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

ministry controls.