At the 2016 SBC Annual Convention in St. Louis, President Kevin Ezell declared by word and video, “It Is Working”. The “It” he was referencing the NEW NAMB directing of “increasing amount of its resources to church planting”. But, is it really? Is the post-Great Commission Resurgence NEW NAMB producing the results as advertised in press releases?
Before this conclusion can be reached, Southern Baptists must determine the questions to ask and the results to examine. A thorough exploration of the results based upon carefully chosen research questions must be completed at this critical time in the life of our country, the SBC, and the New NAMB.
Determining IF the SBC’s National Missions Agency is Really Working
Southern Baptists can and should determine if our national mission agency is working well and stewarding the trust of Southern Baptists wisely. This is particularly important in light of the termination of some *37% of NAMB staff missionaries, the radical changes to NAMB priorities, the elimination of the vast majority of NAMB evangelism efforts, the reworking of cooperation agreements with state conventions on two separate occasions, the defunding of partnerships with associations through our state conventions, and the defunding of missionaries. These drastic change measures were made after Southern Baptists adopted the Great Commission Resurgence Report in June 2010 and elected Dr. Kevin Ezell to serve as NAMB President in September 2010.
Enormous Inherited Trust to be Stewarded
Southern Baptist churches are the owners of NAMB and have cared for it through decades of sacrificial investments, engagements and prayers. Annually Southern Baptists support with their money and their energy the work assigned to the North American Mission Board. Southern Baptists contribute some $120 million annually through a combination of the Cooperative Program, Annie Armstrong and donations directly given to NAMB to fund the work assigned to them by Southern Baptists. May I remind you that the net assets of the NEW NAMB are $320 million?
Southern Baptists were “sold a bill of goods” that if NAMB focused almost exclusively on church planting, the benefits would be seen in several areas of ministry, particularly in baptisms. This factor, along with increasing the number of church plants were stated as primary reasons to make such radical changes to NAMB.
Weaker and Nonessential Questions
- Are there good stories of the positive activities in church plants or in certain churches around North America?
- Are there lost people being reached through churches and plants in North America?
- Are some people excited or enthused about NAMB and mission efforts?
- Are people engaging with mission efforts in various venues around North America?
- How are the financial reserves?
While each of these questions may be interesting and provide a measure of insight, it is apparent that the current challenges and opportunities in front of Southern Baptist demand better and more revealing questions. The Christian church in North America, and particularly in the SBC, has historically been a strong base of support for mission and ministry across the US and around the world. The church today is under persistent and increasingly damaging attacks, both culturally and spiritually.
Southern Baptists are known to have been a leader in evangelism, church planting, and other mission efforts, in addition to our Sunday School emphasis. Southern Baptists have functioned well and expanded greatly under the essential values of cooperation and partnership that were built on trust and goodwill. Instead of requiring churches to participate in the cooperative missions effort of the Cooperative Program, we have relied on a strong trust.
Better and Essential Questions
In an effort to evaluate the radical change strategy implemented by NAMB, let us compare the results of our mission to reach North America during the past six years with the results of our mission to reach North America during the previous six years.
- How are Southern Baptists doing in evangelism as seen in baptism reports in correlating comparisons?
- What are the numbers and types of church plants and what are the evangelistic results of those plants?
- Have essential partnerships and the spirit of cooperation been enhanced or damaged? In other words, are all parts (national, state and local) of the SBC, the mission and financial regenerating ecosystem of Southern Baptists, stronger or weaker? Are we better positioned to see increasing support or to see decreasing support in the future?
- What is the practical impact of the second new Partnership Agreement in a State Convention and what are the ways this is likely to impact local and state ministry?
- Have the financial and human resources entrusted to NAMB been wisely and appropriately stewarded?
- Have NAMB staff leaders been provided with oversight by trustees in keeping with their responsibilities as entrusted to them by SBC churches and members?
- 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?
Answering these questions, among others, will provide Southern Baptists with the facts and insights they need to determine how their national missions agency is actually doing in this critical period of time for Southern Baptists. In a six-part series of articles, I plan to explore and address each of these questions.
No Spin Factual Reviews
I will provide readers with “no spin” answers. I cannot be dispassionate since I am a debtor who is deeply invested in the SBC tribe over the past thirty years of ministry. However, my accounts will be factual and will reflect my training and experience—even when the findings are not in keeping with the popularly told story. I have experience both as a pastor and a planter, along with eleven years as a tenured SBC professor of evangelism and church planting. I have experience consulting with SBC churches, along with conducting research and writing reports. I served the Florida Baptist Convention for six years in evangelism and church planting before serving as the Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware for two years.
Stay tuned for a factual review of the NEW NAMB strategy and the It Is Working claim.
Series of Articles – “Is the New NAMB Really Working”
(*37% was previously reported during 1st 17 hrs. of posting as 325 staff missionaries, but revised to reflect Dr. Ezell’s published figures – edited 4/18/17 1:14 AM)