Ezell announces full-time Northeast missionaries, hails bivocational pastors
"Every state should have at least one full-time missionary before any state has 20," Ezell told NAMB trustees during their May 15-16 in Alpharetta, Ga. The new missionaries will serve as church planting catalysts with a goal of assisting with the starting of four churches a year in their states and helping nearby existing churches with evangelism efforts.
The new missionary roles -- located in Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, South New Jersey and Vermont -- will be the first full-time missionaries fully funded by NAMB serving in those states. A part-time role, fully funded by NAMB, is being added to New Hampshire.
Since coming to NAMB as president in September 2010, Ezell has championed new budget and personnel priorities for the entity, determinedly cutting budgets and staff at NAMB's offices in Alpharetta. He is shifting the funds into NAMB's Send North America strategy, which is focused on church planting and evangelism efforts in North America's largest cities and in areas where Southern Baptist churches are scarce.
"You have heard about NAMB's cuts," Ezell said. "We have told people so often we are not cutting money, we are shifting money from one state to another. We have up to 23 or 30 and in some states up to 60 and 70 jointly funded missionaries all over North America. We are downsizing some of those numbers because quite honestly some of the states have too many."
Ezell shared the plans against the backdrop of a stated goal to see a net gain of 5,000 Southern Baptist congregations in the next decade. If achieved, the gain would be the largest seen by the SBC since 1900, representing a 3 percent gain in the congregation-to-population ratio for Southern Baptists. Recent decades have seen a steady drop in the ratio as the North American population has exploded while SBC church starts have failed to keep pace and church deaths have stayed stubbornly high at an average of 880 a year in the last decade.
Ezell told trustees one of his biggest surprises after coming to NAMB was to learn of the high number of bivocational pastors serving the SBC. These pastors, he said, are key to gaining ground on lostness in North America.
"We really believe the only way for us to have a true church planting movement is to really garnish the efforts of bivocational pastors and to train our young people that they, too, can be bivocational," Ezell said.
With that in mind, Ezell said NAMB will begin celebrating and encouraging bivocational pastors and church planters through a variety of means. He announced NAMB is partnering with Union University to offer bivocational pastors a 33-hour online master of arts in theological studies degree. NAMB will provide a limited number of scholarships for the program each year. Ezell said NAMB also is hosting a luncheon for bivocational pastors at the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans and will feature the work of bivocational pastors in its presentation there.
Ezell also highlighted several NAMB evangelism initiatives, including GPS: God's Plan for Sharing, the national evangelism emphasis in partnership with state conventions through the year 2020. In addition, NAMB's new LoveLoud ministry will connect needs ministries with evangelism and discipleship through local churches and church plants. A new church revitalization effort will engage healthy SBC churches with those that need assistance and give churches on the verge of dying an opportunity to be re-planted with new resources and a new vision for impacting lostness in their communities.
Ezell introduced Douglas Carver to NAMB trustees. Carver, the two-star major general who led chaplaincy for the Army before retiring in 2011, now serves as executive director of NAMB's chaplaincy team. Ezell said Carver's vision will help connect SBC churches to chaplains of all kinds and assist churches that want to start ministries to members of the military.
NAMB trustees voted to approve a 2012-13 budget of $114.5 million and a 2013-14 budget of $116.8 million. NAMB is shifting from a calendar budget to a fiscal October-September budget beginning this October. Approving two years' worth of budgets at one time will help state convention partners in their budget planning. NAMB provides $42 million in funding to state conventions for missionary personnel, church planting and evangelism efforts.
Also during the meeting:
-- Trustees voted unanimously to elect Douglas Dieterly as trustee chairman. Dieterly, executive pastor of Plymouth Baptist Church in Plymouth, Ind., has served as first vice chairman of NAMB's trustees since 2010. He replaces Timothy Dowdy, whose term of service is ending in June. Trustees elected Rickey Camp, pastor of First Baptist Church Florence, Ala., as first vice chairman and Chuck Herring, pastor of Collierville First Baptist Church in Collierville, Tenn., as second vice chairman.
-- NAMB Chief Financial Officer and Missions Support Vice President Carlos Ferrer reported that NAMB's 2012 year-to-date income through the Cooperative Program is running 3.88 percent above budget and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions is 15.4 percent ahead of budget. Ferrer emphasized that it is too early in the year to predict if the offerings will remain above anticipated levels.
-- Trustees approved guidelines for NAMB church planters in relationship to other church planting networks.
-- Trustees adopted a policy stating that NAMB's definition of what constitutes a state Baptist convention will follow the policy of the SBC Executive Committee. The move will not affect NAMB's relationship with or funding to existing state conventions.
-- Trustees voted to remove travel limits and quarterly evaluation reports that had been placed on the NAMB president during previous administrations.
-- In addition to Dowdy, trustees recognized Keith Fordham, an evangelist and member of Harps Crossing Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., and Robert Parker, a member of Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Va., for their years of service on NAMB's trustee board. Not attending the meeting but also recognized for their service were trustees Todd Garren of Lincolnton, N.C., and Doug Jones of Woodland Park, Colo.
In comments after his election as chairman, Dieterly thanked Dowdy for his service. "He has worked tirelessly on behalf of the North American Mission Board," Dieterly said.
Dieterly thanked Ezell for his leadership and said, "It's nice to be on the upward path, but we're just starting. There is such a bright future for the North American Mission Board."
Mike Ebert serves as vice president of the Communications Group for the North American Mission Board.