Ezell: Priority is evangelistic church planting

WILLIAMSBURG?Outlining plans for a renewed emphasis on church planting, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell told state Baptist newspaper editors, “We’re not just doing things to do things. We want believers to connect with churches?existing churches or a new church plant. Everything has to be driven to the church.”

Preferring to refer to that priority as evangelistic church planting, Ezell said the combination of terms better communicates their purpose.

Primary attention will be given to areas of the greatest population with the idea that “water runs down hill” to influence other areas, Ezell explained. Unlike earlier efforts focused on major cities, he said, “We want to go there to stay and to help plant as many churches as we possibly can, and do it together” with other churches, associations and state conventions.

Ezell expressed regret at having heard church planters say they preferred to raise their own money than “to mess with Southern Baptists.” Asking them why they go to other networks for relationship building, strategy and equipping, Ezell questioned, “Why are we the nerd at the party?”

After a significant downsizing, NAMB’s administration will include regional vice presidents who operate from the field “with a laptop and administrative assistant” and have direct access to the president.

“I like more people around the table” instead of “one person that I’m working through,” Ezell said, adding that he never had an executive pastor because it didn’t fit his style of leadership. “I want to make sure there’s not a filter of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Convinced that NAMB can accomplish “more with less,” Ezell said, “You cannot judge the success of an entity by the size of its headquarters.” He intends to utilize pastors and laymen who want to partner with an evangelistic church planting effort instead of hiring “everyone to come to Alpharetta to be a specialist in every area.”

Putting it more bluntly, he stated, “We’re not looking to build little ‘NAMBies’ all over North America. We’ll start small, not glamorous, and move from there.”

As state conventions are asked to make do with less NAMB funding, they will have a say in deciding where the reallocated money is invested. In addition to working with the state conventions that relate geographically to a particular region, NAMB will involve the state conventions that choose to invest in that region as well, forming an advisory board that develops an appropriate church planting strategy.

“We want to have a comprehensive national strategy that is implemented through the regions,” Ezell said. A standardized application process will be developed locally to fit the needs of each region. “We’re missing out on a lot of great church planters because they don’t want to jump through all of our hoops.”

While church planters can expect a faster track to start new work, Ezell also promised greater accountability, making sure all of the partners are “using the same dictionary” when defining what constitutes a church, a church plant, and a missionary.

He spoke of churches that have been affiliated with Southern Baptists for 30 to 40 years that were on the church plant list and Bible studies in campgrounds that were considered church plants. Upon further study, Ezell said he found “a lot of smoke and mirrors when they reported the numbers.”

By centralizing internal controls, he hopes to make sure “there’s no skin in the game to make the numbers look better than they really are.” Local partners will conduct evaluations of all jointly funded missionaries twice a year as well as accounting for all church planting in the state.

Ezell declined to estimate the number of missionaries that will be jointly funded with state conventions and associations, but expects a greater reduction among southern states where mission efforts are more established. “We want to mobilize Southern Baptists,” he said, referring to partnering churches, “so we want to have as many [missionaries] as we possibly need to help us do that, but want them to focus on what we want them doing.”

State conventions will be given plenty of time to absorb the cost of ministries previously funded by NAMB that no longer match the priority of evangelistic church planting, Ezell explained. He said new agreements between state conventions and NAMB should be finalized by the end of March.

Having put “all of my cards on the table,” Ezell said he greatly appreciates state convention executive directors, calling them “incredibly helpful” as he sought to outline a new strategy.

“There were greater challenges than I anticipated, but there is also greater potential than I ever imagined,” Ezell told the editors. “One was alarming; the other is very exciting.”

Responding to one editor’s praise for the transparency of NAMB since Ezell took office, he added, “I want to make sure you guys know something. There is no red phone in my office where I get daily phone calls from anybody. There’s no smoke-filled room.”

He restated his approach to developing a new strategy for the domestic missions entity, adding, “We started with a blank legal pad when we put this together.”

While under pressure to release details of their plan, Ezell said he appreciated those who had been patient through the process.

“We just started from scratch. It would have been much easier if someone had had a game plan,” he said, describing the attempt to honor the requests of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force approved last year by messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention. “We hope this will be consistent with most of it.”

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