In the short time that Kevin Ezell has led the North American Mission Board he has skidded Southern Baptists’ largest bureaucracy into a turn few thought it could make. I’m optimistic that the organizational changes and priorities he has staked out will give our denomination a mission board that makes a difference in North America.
For instance, we can discern some of the board’s priorities as we look at the five regions. Four of the five regional directors will be directed toward areas with relatively few Southern Baptists. It’s more than symbolic. Three of the four directors working the United States will focus on regions that contain the largest population centers in our country. All of those three regions contain population groups and cities that are 90 percent or more unreached with the gospel. By any reasonable estimation, a population is that is more than 90 percent lost should go on the urgent list. NAMB has placed them there.
I also affirm the plan to send less money back to states of relative strength. So long as Texas or Arkansas or Georgia have a strong state convention and churches able to resource missions in their state, these state conventions need to be mission senders and not mission receivers. Until our southern states become like New England, lost and unable to help themselves, our priority should be to give.
Efforts to establish a standard definition of what constitutes a “church start” will doubtless lower our numbers in some locations but is a step toward greater integrity. I have little doubt that some will give NAMB greater credibility for this effort.
I don’t take lightly the challenges that remain. Our state conventions will be a big part of the changes, and they’ll need to have visions for their ministry that are at least compatible with NAMB’s strategy if this is going to be all it should. Neither am I naēve regarding the difference between organizing for change and actually implementing change successfully. Others have written reams about the challenges of what NAMB is trying to do. The challenges are noted. No one really knows how anything is going to turn out until it does. For the first time, though, the North American Mission Board seems to have a focused plan to reach North America. They won’t do everything, and shouldn’t, but they will do more than they have previously, I’m expecting.
There is urgency in the North American mission. I know that “urgency” is most often applied to international missions, and appropriately, but large populations within our own country are also pagan and foreign to biblical Christianity. No legislation, no election, no revolution will do what evangelistic churches can do for our nation. Without those churches, our nation will be less and less a resource for world evangelism. The anchor for our international mission is set in a crumbling rock, not a crumbling denominational rock, but an increasingly Christ-less American culture. It is a culture that permeates our families and churches and parachurch denominational institutions. The answer to our denominational problems does not lie within; it will be found when our people and churches are empowered and obedient to reach America for Christ.
The ability of state conventions to continue their ministries without millions of dollars that Kevin Ezell plans to send to population centers mostly outside the Bible Belt will depend on their focus, and on the Great Commission commitment of the churches that make up those conventions. There is no way that the money will be there until church members stop robbing God and Southern churches of all sizes devote less money and staffing to nest feathering. The same is true of our desire to send more to reach other nations. We’re just shifting a finite number of workers and amount of funding until newly devoted Baptists, and churches newly devoted to God’s work beyond their own control and area code, join in our cooperative mission.
Your church and mine can be missionaries to North America on our own, I know. NAMB’s part in this is like that of our state convention and the International Mission Board, each within their own realms. The job of missionary entities is strategic, to ensure that not only are we sending and going but that we’re sending and going to the priority places?eventually every place. We won’t and mostly can’t do that on our own. That’s why we need NAMB, and why we really need NAMB to succeed. Join me in praying that they will succeed in what seems to be a worthy and God-honoring strategy.
Please consider how you or your church can enthusiastically support our Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions this March. You’ll find other stories and information on the offering on page 10.