Southern Baptists invest and entrust $375 million annually to national and international causes through the Cooperative Program and directly through our two primary mission offerings, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. Since, NAMB leaders alone steward over $400 million in assets and a $120 million annual budget, the office of the President of NAMB carries enormous trust and should possess the utmost integrity.
Its stands to reason that an examination of the stewarding of the staggering financial resources entrusted to NAMB would not only be acceptable, but would be welcomed. Most assuredly the generous gifts are resourcing missionaries and helping to advance the gospel. Yet, a closer look is merited just as in a family budget, as a matter of accountability to determine, perhaps even more importantly if the resources are helping to accomplish the objectives and values of Southern Baptist givers. Those givers, many of them on a fixed income in our 30,000 bedrock churches of 200 or less, have every expectation that those in charge of setting direction and providing oversight are using their resources wisely. Those same bedrock churches give 41% of all CP dollars.
I am not suggesting personal or corporate misuse of resources for personal financial gain. However, the facts reveal that SBC resources have been parlayed and misused to secure favors for Dr. Ezell and organizational compliance or silence for NAMB. The facts reveal that Dr. Ezell used SBC entrusted financial resources to threaten a state convention staff, mission and their Executive Director. The facts reveal that NAMB has reprioritized funds to church planting at the expense of national and state evangelism staff while baptisms are declining at alarming rates.
Dr. Ezell’s Tenure and How It All Began
According to the Louisiana Baptist Messenger, between 2010 and 2015, the financial position of NAMB improved $121.8 million. The two largest factors contributing to this were (1) increase of $77.4 million in unrestricted assets and (2) a drop of $33.7 million in post-retirement benefits liability resulting from the termination of 37% of the NAMB staff, mostly over the age of 54, in the first eight months of Dr. Ezell’s tenure. The major staff reductions reflect often used corporate America business practices to make what Dr. Ezell refers to as a “leaner” NAMB. But what the SBC lost in transition was some faithful and experienced servants who were connected and trusted by State Conventions, Associations, churches and pastors all over North America. People matter to Jesus, regardless of having a new leader and focus. Because SBC partnerships are voluntary, relationships matter even more, therefore turnover is more costly outside the balance sheet.
Fast forward to December 2014 and documented evidence reveals Dr. Ezell used $1million of SBC given money to threaten the jointly funded staff, church planters, ministries and the Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of MD/DE (BCMD). In the threat, Dr. Ezell made provable false accusations and violated the Agreement in the manner of his cancellation. If the threat was not enough, Dr. Ezell rewarded the BCMD with what amounts to an extra $675,000 for 2016 and $825,000 for 2017. A claim regarding this matter has been filed in a state court to determine if Dr. Ezell violated laws against this type of interference with a work relationship and committed libel.
A Board member in a non-Southern State Convention has recently shared his experience and concern. He communicated that while his State Convention of West Virginia was searching for a new State Executive Director (ED), Dr. Ezell and one of his VPs indicated Ezell would pay for two years of the salary of the Executive Director. The Board was initially asked to approve the candidate as their ED without his presence or his name “because Dr. Ezell was going to pay his salary for two years.” The State Board rejected the highly unusual “anonymous approach”, but later approved the same man when his name was provided. Interestingly, back in 2008 Dr. Ezell nominated that same ED for 1st VP of the KY Baptist Convention. Was paying the ED’s salary for two years an act of generosity on behalf of Southern Baptists or was influence being purchased? Are there other State Conventions where SBC money has been used to get what Dr. Ezell wanted?
Yet another example involves a past Chairman of NAMB Trustees who after his resignation from his pastorate, was “picked up” by NAMB to serve as a National Mobilizer the following month. But wait, there’s more….This same man then finds himself as the new Executive Director in Michigan only 5 months later. Coincidentally, a NAMB VP, Steve Davis, served as an advisor for the Michigan search team in their quest for a new exec. All of this is documented through press releases and published materials.
Areas of Concern
Storing Up Money
Baptist Press reported Dr. Ezell on Oct. 22, 2010 as saying, “We will do the best for every dollar Baptists send us.” In a NAMB release to BP on Nov. 13, 2015, Dr. Ezell said, “Southern Baptist don’t give sacrificially so that we can leave money unspent.” However in 2014, NAMB reported $285 million in unrestricted reserves, which is over $100 more than NAMB held in 2009. Do we want our NAMB to posses this level of reserves while we have defunded NAMB and state evangelism staff, experiencing 70 year low baptisms and our 47,000 churches are baptizing 18.8% fewer people per year ?
Trading Money for Support or Compliance?
The temptations are great when leaders have access to distribute large amounts of discretionary funds. The temptation to use money to reward and punish is even higher when the organization is undergoing major changes. When a leader’s actions have included making threats to State Convention partners and against a State Convention’s elected Executive Director, all types of questions arise about what else that leader is doing to buy influence, secure silence or pay off other leaders to get what he wants.
When a leader has acted in bad faith, trust is damaged and the presumption of innocence is gone. An independent investigation into the checkbook of NAMB beyond financial audits could be revealing. If there is nothing there, then nothing will be found.
NAMB Trustees: Potential Conflict of Interest
People are asking, “are the churches of NAMB Trustees receiving funds from NAMB to plants churches or start satellites?” The answer is YES. Pastors are expressing their concern that NAMB Trustees receiving funds may give the appearance of a conflict of interest in regard to their oversight responsibilities to the SBC.
Real-estate Purchases by NAMB for Planters to Use
Several concerns have developed around NAMB’s purchasing of buildings across the country. NAMB has purchased buildings to set up headquarters from which to conduct ministry from, such as compassion ministries and other types of relief. Are there not churches that are ready, willing and able to assist without NAMB owning and managing additional buildings. Should a national entity even be doing this type of ministry or is it better done by local Baptists in coordination with their state leaders? Questions are stirring on whether or not these types of purchases are a means to store financial resources or a move to garner additional good PR in the midst of noteworthy declines?
In its 2016 Financial Management Report, NAMB relayed its commitment to use $62 million of SBC given resources to purchase at least 4 homes in each of the 32 Send Cities and latest notes are they may be considering purchasing additional homes beyond the 32 cities. At last known reporting, 89 homes have ALREADY been purchased.
Several related questions are swirling among Southern Baptist leaders and members. First, when did NAMB get into the business of purchasing homes for planters to use? Second, how can NAMB even know where to purchase homes, as cities are constantly undergoing populations shifts so the strategic need is a moving target. Who at NAMB is making those decisions in 32 different cities? Third, is this another way for NAMB to tie up SBC resources in light of the remarkably high unrestricted reserves? Finally, is spending $12 million for housing for church planters in 2017 wise in light of slashing the evangelism budget almost in half to a paltry $6.3 million?
Having planted a church about 1,400 miles from family and friends, I understand the need. The issue is not whether planters, or even pastors of established churches in major cities need access to a home in their mission field. The issue is should NAMB be a LANDLORD all over the country or is the need better addressed by planters in coordination with local church leaders and their sponsoring church(s)?
Home FOR a Planter?
According to multiple leaders in conversations with me and others, NAMB actually purchased a home in the name of a church planter in Las Vegas, not to provide temporary housing, but actually gave him the home as he got started. If this is accurate, is this an example of using SBC funds to secure loyalty or was there a strategic reason to purchase this home for this one planters out of some 925 SBC church planters we have every year for the last six years?
Decimated Evangelism Budget
The Former (pre-Ezell) NAMB was investing $20.6 million in evangelism and the New NAMB has slashed the evangelism budget to $6.3 million in 2017. NAMB has decimated national evangelism staff, defunded jointly funded evangelism missionaries such as State Director of Evangelism, and reduced and eliminated financial support of other historic evangelism and local mission efforts.
Tripling Funds for Church Planting w/ Fewer Results
NAMB initially doubled allocation of funds to church planting. That number continues to rise. In 2017 the budgeted amount for church plantings is 3.5 times more than in 2010 when Dr. Ezell became President. With the New NAMB planting an average of 444 fewer churches per year, has it been wise stewardship to continue to invest even more dollars, but which has resulted in fewer plants? What about slashing the evangelism budgets and staffing across North America while SBC churches collectively are baptizing over 45,000 less per year and baptisms have declined an average of 18.8% per church over the last six years?
Funding Satellite Campuses
Concerns are being expressed by pastors of small and mid-size churches that NAMB is funding large and mega church satellite campuses. Those churches are noting that unless the satellites are evangelizing the lost for their congregations, the people reached would be Christians from small and mid-size churches like theirs. Consequently, the money the average SBC congregation is sending to CP may eventually drive their own churches out of business as people flock to a more impressive satellite.
Hidden Cost – WARNING!
The single greatest stewardship in church planting is the planter and his family. It will take another article to address this matter fully, but let me communicate, that I am deeply, deeply concerned that we are recruiting and using up (often for our own purposes) courageous men of faith who put themselves, their families, and their ministry on the line in making the sacrifices to plant a church. We are sending them into tough places of services with inadequate training and local support, in fact, NAMB’s flawed strategies are dismantling essential components at the local and state levels, while burning through sponsoring churches who are frustrated by what they see happening.
Surely some planters are looking to be in on the “cool” thing, but most are faithfully seeking to follow Jesus into the battlefield. My primary concern that I had as the professor of church planting at NOBTS, the Team Strategist for Church Planting in Florida, and the Executive Director of the BCDM was the stewardship of the planter and his family. So, training AND support were the focus, as was contextual fit, not the number of church plants. It appears that church planters are being recruited and used up like commodities. If they survive and thrive, NAMB writes about them for their own purposes, often without their knowledge. If the plant does not become viable, the planters once touted, and doted on and taken to sporting events and sent gift cards become soon to be forgotten causalities. They are left alone to fend for themselves as they pick up the pieces and their families and return to safer grounds. Let me be clear… all the leaders involved will have to give an account for how we treat people, not how many of them we can recruit and use. I am confident the planters get this figured out in spite of the positive PR along with small gifts.
All financial gifts to non-profits are expressions of trust and that should be guarded. Agency trustees, leaders and staff are stewards of the trust and the financial resources. Southern Baptists on the ground expect their leaders to please Jesus and honor their stewardship. Are these the types of decisions and actions that indicate that NAMB is working well in the use of the finances entrusted to them?
What would be discovered if the checkbooks of NAMB were examined? Could we find additional situations which would raise more concerns about the buying of favors or SBC money being used to reward desired behaviors and support, while punishing others? How much more information and documentation is needed to determine there is a problem and that it begins at the top?
If the lack of character of our current leader enables him to use SBC money to damage people and buy influence, then there is no end to opportunities for him to do so. The money and influence demands high accountability and oversight by trustees on behalf of Southern Baptists. That is NOT happening.
Interestingly, in church planting assessments, it is widely accepted that “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” Let’s apply that church planting wisdom to Dr. Ezell himself. Has trust been violated? Do we want more of these behaviors? NO!