FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, met with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty to update them on changes at NAMB and answer their questions, March 31. Ezell, who earned his Master of Divinity at Southwestern, spoke in chapel earlier in the day as part of the seminary’s North American Church Planting Week.
“I realize that when it comes to entities, we’re in last place,” Ezell told the faculty. “We lost a lot of credibility, but things are really looking up, and we’re very excited, with a vision in our sites.”
Ezell shared about NAMB’s transitions in personnel and focus, noting a more streamlined operating budget, which freed up $14 million. Nine million of that has been redirected into their “Send North America” campaign for church planting. He admitted past mistakes and casted an optimistic vision for the future.
“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,” Ezell said.
President Paige Patterson asked Ezell to give a portrait of the kinds of church planters Southwestern can produce to help make this task attainable. 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 they will continue the GPS strategy, 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.
Ezell also answered questions regarding relationships with state conventions and local associations: “The best way to do this is for churches to plant churches. 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 have 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 an association, but the association would not allow him to do it.
“That’s just totally ridiculous. We’re not playing these games. 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 assured concerned faculty that NAMB has no formal relationship with the group.
“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.”
Ezell also explained NAMB’s efforts to partner with the International Mission Board to reach internationals who now live in North America.
“We’re in the process of talking with [IMB] on how we can do this best,” Ezell said. “We are about reaching people groups here in North America. They have 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.”
Ezell also shared his long-term vision for North American church planting as a component of nationwide revival.
“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.”