A sacred trust exists between the President of NAMB and Southern Baptists. One man is entrusted with enormous power, prestige, and resources to shape individual lives and direct the mission of the SBC in North America. Southern Baptists sacrificially invest themselves and their resources, for the sake of an eternal purpose, to the tune of $120 million every year. The President of NAMB makes decisions that impact staffers and thousands of planters and evangelists all across North America. The President is responsible to live honorably before God and man, to steward the financial resources, to steward both the staff and the missionaries who represent SBC efforts in Alpharetta across the land, and to set the direction and priorities for Southern Baptists in reaching North America.
This essay is the sixth and final installment of a series entitled “The New NAMB: Is it Working?” It is offered as a rebuttal to the report by Dr. Kevin Ezell to the messengers of the SBC Annual meeting in June 2016, entitled, “It is working.” I have sought to ask and answer several “better” questions than the weaker ones NAMB has been asking. This article will address the question: Have NAMB leaders reflected Christ in their attitudes and actions with others as they steward the trust placed in them by SBC churches and members?
Sometimes situations demand that the facts be laid out beyond a cursory look. This is one such time, for I will be dealing with a person God created and loves who has been entrusted with much. Communicating as accurately as possible is an expectation from God and is only right in this situation. I will not cover every fact or document that supports my claims regarding Dr. Ezell, but this treatment will necessarily have some length. While I cannot cover it all, I have attached links below to a number of articles and fact sheets that examine these areas in greater detail.
The claims I make are serious, impacting the lives of many employees, the institution of NAMB, its President, and our trustees both at NAMB and in other parts of the SBC. I must not make these claims without also providing numerous examples and supporting evidence. While acknowledging there is much I do not know, I am deeply troubled over the matters I do know and can easily support with specific evidence.
Three Important Leadership Qualities
According to Dr. Jimmy Knott in It’s All About Leadership: Be a Leader Worth Following,three qualities of a Credible Leader worth following emerge: (A) Authentic Character, (B) Exceptional Competence, and (C) Relational Connection. This raises the question: “Are there significant lapses found in Dr. Ezell?” The following examples are illustrative, but not exhaustive. Consider these facts, along with the ones described in the list of online links following the article.
A. AUTHENTIC CHARACTER
Most human actions and thoughts are out of the sight of others. Take Orlando, for example. It has 66 million visitors per year. This is over 20 million more than NYC. While Orlando is publicly known to be a safe city, it is abundantly clear that many crimes take place that are either unreported by the victims or unreported by the Orlando press. Therefore, the actions of the perpetrators go unnoticed in public and probably by most of those who know them. The same is true for Christian leaders.
My pastor revealed in a sermon that we all have three persons inside of us: public, private and secret. Character and integrity requires the public, private and secret persons as revealed in their actions to be the same. The following are examples of wrongful character revealing things by Dr. Ezell occuring mostly out of sight of others.
1. Deception and False Communication
Dr. Ezell falsely stated that I refused to meet with him prior to canceling the historic Strategic Partnership Agreement. I have seven emails requesting meetings with Dr. Ezell. The General Mission Board President of the Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware, Mark Dooley, reported to the General Mission Board in February of 2015: “He (Dooley) has personally seen the email correspondence that supports the opposite. McRaney has repeatedly asked Kevin Ezell, ‘Can we get together?’ Which was met with very short, terse responses, and not an openness to meet.”
Dr. Ezell falsely stated that I violated the Strategic Partnership Agreement regarding two hiring procedures by not contacting NAMB staff, that I had repeatedly and willfully violated the agreement, and as such, I was the sole reason for the cancellation of the agreement with the convention, at a loss of one million dollars to the convention for planters, missions, evangelism, and eight jointly funded staff positions. Three convention officers examined these claims and concluded: (1) Neither I nor the convention violated the hiring agreement procedures, as evidenced by a NAMB Vice President’s own communication, along with the hiring dates involved, and (2) NAMB had, in fact, violated the agreement in seven specific ways, some knowingly for their benefit and to the detriment of the convention. NAMB Vice Presidents Christopherson and Davis disproved Dr. Ezell’s accusations with their own emails and calendar.
Dr. Ezell falsely stated that I did not return a phone call from NAMB Mobilizer Kevin Marsico. This is the first of three stated concerns by Dr. Ezell in his only communication (Nov. 2014) regarding any possible conflict with me. The second was that I violated the hiring procedure of the agreement, which was false. The third was that I added a new requirement that planters must reinvest in the regional ministry around them AFTER NAMB required the convention to remove the requirement for planters to give to the Association, which was true. The only recorded call by my Executive Assistant from Marsico occurred in October 2013 just after I was hired. Marsico called to express a welcome and offer his assistance, which does not require a return phone call.
2. Violations of Dr. Ezell’s Word and of the SPA by NAMB
NAMB violated the SPA, including the very manner in which Dr. Ezell cancelled the SPA, without communicating with me as the Executive Director in advance on his intentions.
Dr. Ezell violated the agreed upon terms of our March 11, 2015 meeting. He said he would bring two NAMB Trustees, in order to satisfy our terms, but he only brought one. He tried a power play to change the location at the last minute, requesting that we change the meeting place from the convention offices to his hotel a few minutes away. He changed the agenda from “not talking about the past” to his “talking mostly about the past” after I had the opening turn and talked about our joint ministry and the future. Convention leaders perceived this as Dr. Ezell’s attempt to control the meeting and get us out of balance with his tactics. Convention Chief Financial Officer Tom Stolle described Dr. Ezell’s behaviors as “petulant.” One convention leader noted in front of our team: “You showed remarkable restraint. If that had been me, I would have come across the table at Dr. Ezell.”
Dr. Ezell falsely stated that I resigned, not that I was terminated, and that he did not interfere in the process, and in fact, was not even involved. This was reported by Baptist Press in the article dated June 20, 2016 entitled MD/DE Investigation “Concluded.” The fact remains that I was terminated. It is decidedly untrue that I was told to “resign or be terminated” by a vote of the General Mission Board of the convention on June 8, 2015. The later term “resignation” was offered and even requested by the convention if I would accept a to-be-determined severance agreement that was not agreed upon until weeks after my termination.
The convention officers provided false information in their statement released on March 24, 2016. It is abundantly clear, the officers of the convention misled the public stating a resignation on June 9, 2015 and the vote of the board to terminate me on June 8, 2015. It is apparent to many that this decision to provide cover for Dr. Ezell was also an effort to cover themselves concerning the quick, unjust, and induced termination. Lots of ministers in this story are having a hard time telling the truth!
I requested a correction to Baptist Press leaders and to Dr. Page and the Communication team after their article on April 13, 2017. In doing so, I provided them with the first page of my separation agreement with the state convention which clearly indicates I was terminated on June 8, 2015, just days before the 2015 SBC Convention.
At the State Executive Directors meeting in California in February 2017, Dr. Ezell stated that he had talked with some State Executives that he trusted regarding the hiring of a new young leader at NAMB. Reportedly, Dr. Ezell represented that he received counsel and implied support of the proposed hire. However, two of the state executives interrupted Dr. Ezell to communicate the exact opposite. One Executive Director replied to Dr. Ezell, “I told you this was the response you would get.” Why did Dr. Ezell speak falsely in front of State Executives who he knew could confront him publicly? Is he in the habit of being loose with the truth?
A highly respected former State Executive has relayed stories of Dr. Ezell calling him for counsel only to learn later that Dr. Ezell misrepresented what that former State Executive had said. Why would Dr. Ezell do this? Was he borrowing credibility without regard for the truth?
If Dr. Ezell acts with deception, makes false accusations, and speaks falsely about his own behavior and conversations with State leaders, can he be trusted to represent the truth without guile? If Dr. Ezell will make false accusations against a brother, then what else will he do to damage someone? If he misrepresents conversations, can he ever be believed? Dr. Ezell did not follow Biblical commands to clear up relationships, nor did he accept my offers to do so. Then, he lied about it. So, why is Dr. Ezell communicating with deception in the ways noted above? There appears to be a character problem.
3. Abuses and Misuses of Power, Position and Money
On Dec. 2, 2014, Dr. Ezell in violation of the terms of the agreement, threatened the BCMD with a Notice of Cancellation Letter, which would have resulted in the loss of $1 million from the convention. This money was already committed to funding church planters, missions, evangelism and eight jointly-funded staff members. Incidentally, state convention churches annually contributed about $950,000 per year to NAMB through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and NAMB’s portion of Cooperative Program gifts. Similar amounts were exchanged in both directions, yet Dr. Ezell threated to withhold NAMB’s committed resources due to his false allegations, while still continuing to accept the almost $1 million funds from the state convention.
As noted above, Dr. Ezell based his cancellation on the false accusations against me. Later, Dr. Ezell stated that NAMB would withhold financial support to the state convention as long as I remained the Executive Director. There are several smoking guns on Ezell’s threat. Numerous public verbalizations of the Ezell threat were made by the state convention President Bill Warren, who orchestrated my termination. One can follow the money trail. Significantly, the day after I was terminated, Warren stated, and later verified, that he believed the Lord would have him to be the next Executive Director.
Dr. Ezell made good on his promises. The state convention budgets and the board meeting minutes reveal post-termination additional gifts and financial commitments to the state convention in the amount of $675,000 payable in 2016 and $825,000 payable in 2017.
On February 5, 2015, Dr. Ezell texted a threat to a board member during a board meeting that Dr. Ezell knew was taking place. He threatened the Executive Director and the leadership of the state convention. The meeting resulted in 100% vote to: (1) reject NAMB’s offer to take over 100% of church planting and any partnership agreement establishing such terms, and (2) affirm support for my leadership and my approach in dealing with NAMB.
Dr. Ezell’s threat did not serve the purposes of NAMB in evangelism and missions or assist a ministry partner in the state convention. So why did Dr. Ezell make the threats and the false statements within them? Is there not a character problem?
Several State Executive Directors, SBC pastors and members of the press have discussed the new 2014 version of the Strategic Partnership Agreement NAMB was pressuring state conventions to adopt. I highlighted changes from 2012-2014 agreement in an article Going Going Gone Sold: Essential Elements of SBC Mission Efforts. We see the existence of gag orders on the State Conventions and the threat of funding cuts if the gag orders were violated or if state convention staff talked negatively about NAMB, or even revealed the terms of their Strategic Partnership Agreements.
The Christian Examiner editor wrote, “Several Southern Baptist state convention leaders have accused the denomination’s North American Mission Board (NAMB) of linking financial support from the national entity – funding for church planting and other ministries – to secretive Cooperative Agreements which include a clause that threatens to withhold ministry funds to the states if disclosures about the agreement – or concerns – are shared publicly.”
State leaders and pastors have expressed concern that Dr. Ezell is using gag orders, threats, and strong-arming tactics. This does not reflect the spirit of a cooperative partnership, but rather one of coercion. So why did Dr. Ezell use such tactics with several State Convention executive Directors? Is there not a character problem?
4. Punitive, Vindictive and Other Behaviors
Dr. Ezell interfered in my working relationship with the state convention by working around me and talking with Board President Bill Warren instead. In fact, Warren stated to the executive leadership team and the officers that Dr. Ezell told him that if McRaney would behave himself for six months, Dr. Ezell would talk with me. In essence, Dr. Ezell was putting me on probation for six months from talking with him. What a power move to dominate me and damage my leadership! What happened to wanting to meet as he falsely claimed? Where is the application of the basic teachings of Jesus? Was Dr. Ezell punishing me? It appears that Dr Ezell is having difficulties with telling the truth. His character is once again being exposed.
In a meeting of selected state convention officers to discuss how to address Ezell’s Notice of Cancellation, a former state convention President with national influence shared his experience and knowledge with the officers on December 16, 2014. This leader noted that Dr. Ezell is known to be vindictive to those who oppose him, regardless of the validity of the concerns.
I had speaking engagements scheduled for the fall of 2016 in Mississippi and Florida. Evidence indicates that Dr. Ezell and NAMB representatives engaged in efforts to interfere with my speaking opportunities to provide for my family financially. I have since received additional confirmation of Dr. Ezell’s involvement.
Dr. Ezell or other NAMB leaders posted my picture at the Welcome Desk of NAMB headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia. Why? What message was being sent to everyone who saw this 8 x 10 picture? NAMB attorneys communicated to my attorney that it was over “security” concerns. Really? Is this the action of an innocent man or the act of a guilty man? The picture, in full view, was taken in the fall of 2016 by a current Executive Committee member of the SBC who is a highly respected leader.
In early April 2017, a former state leader testified that he was told Dr. Ezell made a call to a ministry leader where the former state leader was being considered for a new position. Dr. Ezell had no responsibility or involvement with that ministry, yet chose to damage a fellow minister with his negative perspectives. The former state leader was looking to reengage in ministry and provide for his family. The man is working through his hurt and trying to make a living. Is it any wonder he has not yet come forward to expose Dr. Ezell’s involvement? Ezell has shown by word and deed who he is and what lengths he will go to in order to get what he wants and to damage people as he pleases. Wherever is there a place for this kind of activity in Christian work?
Dozens of national and state leaders have used the following descriptors of Dr. Ezell. They know, but keep silent for their own reasons, such as concern for the SBC or possible personal retribution. These words are being used to describe Dr. Ezell: vindictive, unstable, reckless, petulant, and impulsive.
Leaders lead out of who they are! What does this sample of KNOWN actions say about Dr. Ezell? Who knows what else has happened that has remained unspoken? Do these representative actions reveal poor character? Are they behaviors of a Christian who is sensitive to obeying Biblical commands? Should this leader be entrusted with setting direction and leading our staff and missionaries? Should he be stewarding the enormous resources of Southern Baptist Churches and members? How many times can you intentionally bear false witness to your actions and the actions of others? How many times can you intentionally seek to damage brothers and fellow leaders? How many times can you threaten and bully individuals and state conventions while keeping a position of trust as the President of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention?
B. EXCEPTIONAL COMPETENCE
NAMB is charged with helping the SBC evangelize North America. In 2010, Dr. Ezell began an all-out single focus on church planting. This strategy has caused dramatic shifts in staff, state partnerships, financial priorities, and associational partnerships. What have been the results of Dr. Ezell’s leadership as he turned NAMB and parts of the SBC upside down?
NAMB as noted in my two previous articles on Baptism and Church Planting, has reduced the evangelism budget to 5% of the annual $120 million budget. During the last six years this has been reduced from $20.6 million to $6.3 million. The New NAMB has defunded the vast majority of NAMB national evangelism staff to assist state conventions and churches. In 2017, the $6.3 million for evangelism is roughly half of the $12 million used to purchase homes for church planters.
The church planting budget has increased each year, so that it now represents in 2017 an increase of 3.5 times the amount of funds budgeted in 2010 for church planting. NAMB has budgeted $62 million to purchase homes for church planters over about a six year period, with 89 homes already purchased.
In non-Southern states, NAMB has defunded jointly funded state evangelism staff, including the State DOMS where they are most needed, almost all the collegiate student ministers, and the joint funding for Association ministries and DOMS.
Have those landscape changing strategies produced the results as promised in the key SBC metrics? Absolutely not. To the contrary, in every single significant measureable, Southern Baptists are in alarming decline. Here are key facts which I discuss in more detail in the previous articles on Baptist and Church Planting.
Baptisms are down 18.7% per church over the past six years under the New NAMB. Total baptisms are down over 45,000 per year during the past six years compared to the previous six years. Baptisms are at a 70-year low, and in a continual slide downward, even while the US population and the number of SBC churches is increasing. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Dr. Chuck Kelley noted, “Southern Baptists are closer to losing the South than we are to reaching North America. If we lose the South, eventually, we lose everything.” What do these numbers say about the effectiveness of the strategy that has dismantled much of evangelism at local, state and national levels? Has NAMB helped Southern Baptists be more or less effective in NAMB’s primary mission assignment?
The foundational statistic used to justify the radical overhaul of “all things NAMB” to support the single focus of church planting is misleading and flawed, whether by statistical ignorance or intentional guile. Church plants and established churches have baptism ratios based on membership that are within a few percentages of each other. While there are many good reasons to start churches, the new churches are nowhere near the NAMB reported “three to four times more effective in evangelism” statistic.
The following are calculations based on reports by NAMB and reports found in SBC Annuals each year. Southern Baptists are planting 444 fewer churches per year during the past six years compared to the previous six years, in spite of current 2017 expenditures that are 3.5 times greater than in years past. The SBC has planted 2,665 fewer churches during the past six years than during the previous six years. The New NAMB National Strategy has produced (a) reduced funding for evangelism, (b) weakened SBC ties, (c) diminished trust levels, (d) weakened relationships, and (e) reduced evangelistic collaboration. The strategic and tactical problems being discussed are planter placement, satellite campus funding, funding outside networks, and nationalized control.
Dr. Ezell initiated these radical changes and presided over the radical declines. His strategic decisions, in addition to his character, have impacted NAMB and the SBC in remarkable ways. In the question of competence, is NAMB helping to produce healthier and stronger results? Or has NAMB and the SBC hastened downward?
C. RELATIONAL CONNECTION
The President of NAMB is a leader for all Southern Baptists, pastors, laypeople, Associational missionaries, and State Convention missionaries and strategists. He needs to relate to a wide variety of people as Southern Baptists are a diverse group geographically, ethnically, racially, in terms of age, church size, worship style and language. His relationships and the relationships he fosters by protecting and enhancing trust and goodwill will impact the SBC for decades to come. His failures in these areas also impact us. We are a people who operate as volunteers who choose to work together in cooperation. The President of NAMB needs to be adding to trust and goodwill among all parts of the SBC family.
By observation and experience, anyone who has a brief encounter with Dr. Ezell will recognize his affability. He presents a warm and inviting first impression that seems to make people feel comfortable. However, a non-Southern State Executive noted to others that Dr. Ezell is “affable, but not nice.” He noted that he had observed Dr. Ezell’s actions and relayed that he was not a man who could be trusted, would not keep his word, had intentionally hurt people he knew, and was not someone he would describe as nice.
Why is this being said about Dr. Ezell? What does this State Executive Director’s comments to others say about Dr. Ezell? Is this also tied to faulty character, faulty strategy, and faulty perspectives on who Southern Baptists are, as by his own words when hired, he had disengaged from NAMB as a pastor?
NAMB Presidents cheer on and build up SBC partners. However, it appears that Dr. Ezell has started multiple new partnerships outside the SBC, while at the same time setting strategies and setting large budget allocations that have damaged SBC sister partners, both at the local and state levels.
Why? Maybe this reflects his perceived mandate from the GCR. Maybe this reflects his own bad experiences and lack of personal engagement with his Association and/or State Convention. Maybe he had bad experiences or just could not see from his megachurch view how either of these entities were really contributing to the whole of the SBC, and in fact, are the backbone in various ways. I have captured some of the issues of partnership in the SBC ecosystem by writing various articles linked below.
“A long-tenured national leader declared, “Partnership is dead in the SBC.” He, I and I am sure you, all hope he is wrong. However, groanings deep inside SBC life are indicating that walls may be beginning to crumble. The violations of trust and good will among and between SBC entities and Southern Baptists to their local, state and national agencies may not be able to be repaired. When the nationalization is fully set, and it is deep into the process, what has been dismantled and taken apart for short-term gains, will forever not be able to be put back together again. God has used the SBC, but God is not obligated to bless in the future. God help us!”
Is Dr. Ezell’s perspective accurate or are the perspectives of leaders who have invested the bulk of their ministry in serving the people and purposes of Southern Baptists? Are partnerships strong or are they closer to “dead?” Why, or better yet, how can the SBC maintain cooperation, advance together, and operate under the blessing of God if our NAMB President is building new partnerships, but damaging SBC ones?
The Damages and Hurts are Personal as Heads Turn Away
For me Dr. Ezell’s action are personal, but I recognize that Sandy and our girls are but a few of those who have had to deal with the consequences of being on the wrong side of Dr. Ezell. Southern Baptists deserve better from their NAMB President.
Not a single, not even one single national leader ever reached out to me after my questionable and untimely termination, even though many of them have seen his character firsthand. In fact, only a few state leaders did so. I was the one beaten on the side of the road and watched my former friends and national level religious leaders walk by, literally on the other side as they went on their SBC business way. The congratulatory calls and the letters came when I was appointed to the position by God and elected by the Board, but NOTHING after my unjust termination. Where is the Soul of the SBC and its leaders?
Sadly, most of the men I have talked with are in the know. They know the truths shared above to ring true with their own experiences with Dr. Ezell. In fact, one national leader has a file he keeps on things just related to Dr. Ezell. Yet, the sound of silence among these men is deafening. The Bible is so clear. When we know the right thing to do and do it not, it is sin. (James 4:19) The mostly loving thing the NAMB Trustee leaders and national leaders and even pastor friends can do is to encourage Kevin toward repentance and public and private confession. It is hard to live like this before a Holy God. There is freedom in Christ, but it begins with humility of heart that results in confession and prayer. (James 5:16)
Sandy and I have absorbed countless hurts. We love people and we are all in people in our work, ministry and in our personal lives. It is who we are. If you love deeply, you can experience deep joys and deep hurts. I will never forget the look on Sandy’s face as one of our top national leaders was coming down the hall in Columbus, Ohio, at the SBC in 2015, about eight days after my termination. She saw that leader quickly look away and skirt by us instead of reaching out to us. It spoke volumes and actually forecasted much of the reception or the lack of that we would receive from people like him who used to welcome us: ignore and deny and hope it goes away or the damage is limited. God is holy and just.
After thirty years of faithful and fruitful ministry among Southern Baptists, for 22 months now I have been unemployed, but now I have founded, “The Church Strengthening Network” and I am starting over to rebuild from no base. No calls have come offering help to get me back on my feet after this powerful bully knocked me down. I have been blown away and hurt all over again with such silence. Take a look at my resume and academic vitae on my website and see what you think. It has been pointed out to me that if I had a problem with alcohol, or an affair or outburst with an uncontrolled temper, someone would have to my rescue and offered help. But because I am the victim of libel and interference by the NAMB President and dare to speak truth, there are no calls or offers to help. As one State Executive said, “The SBC knows how to handle adultery and embezzlement, but not how to handle a bully.”
When a man repeatedly speaks falsely and seeks to damage others, he is unfit to lead and has forfeited the trust and privilege of stewarding people, money, and priorities that originate in the pockets of faithful and generous Southern Baptists. If hearts get right with Jesus, the NAMB Trustees will know what to do to make restitution and restore me. If not, my suggestions would only add words to this document. I tried absolutely everything to prevent taking this matter to court for justice, but to no avail. The sins are not just of a man, but of an agency and others. The sins were not just against a person or a people such as the state convention (and probably many others around North America) but against God Himself. The offenses were not just personal, but involved organizational neglect and a pattern of bullying by the NAMB President that has been ignored and denied. If you would like to hear the story behind the filing of the legal complaint, you can hear my wife Sandy and I discuss the matter on our website and read the related article.
Every child of God is a work in progress, not yet perfected. However the qualifications of those who seek spiritual leadership, such as pastors, are demanding and exacting. As to the President of NAMB, we must have high demands in terms of authentic character, exceptional competence, and relational connection. Dr. Ezell has significant failures in all three areas.
From my personal experience and documented facts, it is apparent to me there are serious and obviously disqualifying behaviors that have been identified by numerous SBC national, state and associational leaders. The patterns are the same. The damages widespread, not isolated. The conclusion should be obvious to those with eyes to see, minds to perceive, hearts to feel, and a willingness to obey God.
With Dr. Ezell’s patterns of misleading communication and his affability and a $120 million budget that he is controlling, it is no surprise how Dr. Ezell has fooled many trustees, developed a loyal band of followers, and convinced many people to disregard the documented and court filed complaints of libel and tortious interference.
Dr. Ezell’s actions do not reflect the spirit of Christ or the spirit of brotherly love and cooperation expected by all Southern Baptists. However, as I have said and written repeatedly, the facts are documented, verified by witnesses, and are unimpeachable. At some point Dr. Ezell moved away from doing the will of Father and got focused on other wills. Perhaps it was his own will. The intentions of his heart are of little importance, frankly. As Proverbs 20:11 reminds us, “Even small children are known by their actions, so is their conduct really pure and upright?”
LINKS TO RELATED ARTICLES: