Ezell addresses questions from faculty
Ezell, who earned his master of divinity degree at Southwestern, acknowledged to the faculty, "We lost a lot of credibility" with the departure of two presidents of the mission board in recent years. "But things are really looking up and we're very excited, with a vision in our sights," Ezell said.
Ezell shared about NAMB's transitions in personnel and focus, noting a more streamlined operating budget that has redirected an additional $9 million for the board's new "Send North America" church planting initiative.
Despite NAMB's recent past, Ezell said, "I really believe that we have the potential to be on the front side of a golden age of church planting that we've never seen before."
SWBTS President Paige Patterson asked Ezell to give a portrait of the church planters Southwestern can produce to contribute to a surge in church planting. Ezell replied that they need passionate young men who are soul-winners ready to get their hands dirty.
When asked about NAMB's strategy for equipping churches for evangelism, Ezell said the mission board will continue the GPS ("God's Plan for Sharing") strategy launched last year, with a primary focus on pastors.
"Unless you have a pastor leading his people to be passionate about evangelism, they're just not going to do it," Ezell said during his March 31 visit to the Fort Worth, Texas, campus.
Ezell also answered questions regarding relationships with state conventions and local associations "The best way to do this is for churches to plant churches," he said. "NAMB does not plant churches. We want to see ourselves as a network of networks. You get a cluster of churches, which is what a local association is.
"What we've found is that NAMB has had a challenging relationship with the states. I've found that the states sometimes also have a bad relationship with some of the associations. What we want to do is set it up where we can work with anybody in any place as long as everybody at the table understands that there is no law of the lid because you have some associations who feel held captive.
"We're going to work with those who want to work, but you are not going to make it hard on our church planters."
Ezell mentioned a church planter who wanted to join a Baptist association, but it would not allow him. "That's just totally ridiculous. We're not playing these games," Ezell said. "Honestly, we've got too much to do and we have too few planters to do it with."
When asked about NAMB's connection with the Acts 29 Network, Ezell told the faculty that NAMB has no formal relationship with the church-planting organization.
"As Southern Baptists and as NAMB," Ezell said, "we have not done a good job of providing a sense of brotherhood for our church planters. When I ask church planters what they need, they say they don't have a sense of brotherhood. There's not a fraternal feeling among Southern Baptist church planters. There's a void there, so they filled that void by looking for a fellowship, a sense of belonging, because honestly, church planters like to be around church planters.
"We want to provide a sense of brotherhood for our church planters and treat them in such a way that they're not going to have to look for some other avenue to fulfill that."
Regarding NAMB's efforts to partner with the International Mission Board to reach internationals who are living in North America, Ezell said, "We're in the process of talking with [IMB] on how we can do this best.
"We are about reaching people groups here in North America, Ezell said, noting that the IMB has "expertise to help educate our churches on how to do that. They're better prepared to train the churches, and we'd like to come alongside them and say, 'As you train the churches on how to better reach those people groups, help us plant these churches.' We're really excited about working together, but we're in the initial stages."
Sharing his long-term vision for North American church planting as a component of nationwide revival, Ezell stated, "My vision for the Southern Baptist Convention is that we would have a larger percentage of our churches adopting unreached people groups. If we can get our churches to serve locally, plant nationally, and adopt a people group internationally, we will be revitalized like never before."
In his chapel message, Ezell noted that North America, despite presuppositions, remains largely unengaged with the Gospel. Citing various areas of the continent, he said only one church exists for every 17,345 Californians, one for every 59,760 New Yorkers and one for every 121,410 Canadians.
Ezell said recent changes in the board's structure will help reach more people with the Gospel.
"We are going to treat church planters as they should be treated, as the missionaries that God's called them to be, and to provide the resources they need, and we're going to focus an entire agency on helping them be able to do that," Ezell said.
Patterson promised Ezell that the seminary would be willing to help engage the most difficult mission fields in North America. He asked Ezell to choose a hard place where the prospects of church planting seem impossible, and Southwestern will work with churches in the region to plant more churches.
During the March 29-31 mission focus week, Southwestern's Naylor Student Center became a hub of connection, filled with 14 different church-planting mobilization organizations, including state conventions such as Colorado, Illinois, New England and Wyoming.
The representatives, most of them church planters themselves as well as strategists and missionaries, staffed luncheons, visited classes and explained the new initiatives of their state conventions and NAMB's methods to train and support church planters.
Steve Lee, Nehemiah professor of Baptist church planting at Southwestern, and Charles Lyons, pastor of Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago, also preached during the week.
Chapel messages are online at www.swbts.edu/chapel archives. For more information about Southwestern church planting initiatives, visit www.swbts.edu/churchplanting.
Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (http://www.swbts.edu/campusnews), and Rebecca Carter is a writer for the seminary.