At the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Kevin Ezell, the President of the North American Mission Board spoke to SBC Messengers. He asked the question: “Is the New NAMB Working? Dr. Ezell answered the question with anecdotes, stories about good things happening in the lives of individuals and families who were connecting with Christ through the ministries of new churches. His answer to the question he raised was “YES!”
Yet, while we rejoice that people have come to Christ through new church plants, deeper questions need to be asked. Questions that are answered by analysis, not anecdotes. When 47,000 Southern Baptist churches, by their mission giving, entrust $120 million per year to NAMB, and when actions by the NAMB leadership can have a deep and broad impact on the life of the SBC and its mission, we need to evaluate the New NAMB by taking a serious look at its actual performance compared to the years before “the New NAMB” was put in place. And we need to seriously evaluate its impact on the cooperative spirit that has been the genius of SBC mission efforts.
In this series of articles I have tried to ask serious questions and take an intelligent look at the actual results of the New NAMB.
SBC baptisms have dropped by 45,000 per year after NAMB virtually eliminated our national Evangelism Team, slashed evangelism budget by two-thirds, and stopped the historic practice of jointly funding evangelism staff with state partners. These ministry areas were focused on helping local churches to evangelize. NAMB justified the cuts by saying that by focusing on church planting, greater evangelism would be done because new church starts are 3 to 4 times more effective in evangelism than existing churches. I demonstrated by data and analysis how that idea simply is not factual.
- Baptisms have dropped 18.7% per church during the last six years.
- Investing 2 times more in 2017 in purchasing homes for planters than we are nationally on evangelism ($12 million to $6.3 million).
In spite of successful public relations campaigns and public releases, the church planting results and the baptism results of the church plants are quite troubling and on a steep decline.
- The SBC under the New NAMB is planting 444 LESS churches per year over the last six years than the previous NAMB—while SPENDING THREE and HALF TIMES more ANNUALLY than what the previous NAMB spent.
- Church planting in non-southern states has been taken over by NAMB in ever increasing nationalization and centralization efforts moving the staffing, financial, and strategic decision making responsibilities to NAMB as opposed to state and local leaders who are closer to the mission field. Joint funding and partnership for church planting at the local and state levels has been eliminated for the “NAMB Knows Best” approach.
In the arena of Partnerships and Cooperation in SBC relationships, there is strong evidence that NAMB has…
- Used its financial assets to buy favors, threaten people who raise questions, and undermine the ministries and careers of leaders who will not “bow” to its demands—which eats away the cooperative spirit that has helped the SBC mission efforts flourish. My own case was merely one of those.
- Replaced the cooperative spirit characteristic of the previous NAMB with strong-arm moves to dominate State Conventions and Associations.
- Eaten away the cooperative culture built in the SBC over generations. One State Executive Director said to me, referring to the actions of NAMB leaders: “Partnership is dead in the SBC.”
In the arena of financial stewardship, questionable new realities have emerged.
- While sending some money on to the mission field the New NAMB has kept back large amounts, swelling its “unrestricted reserves” from $204 million in 2010 when the New NAMB was installed, to about $285 million in 2014. By its operating guidelines, it should only carry $60.5 (1/2 of annual budget) in reserves. Why has this massive amount of money been accumulated when the current mission need is so high and SBC experiencing such declines?
- Around $62 million has been committed to buy “houses for church planters” in various states, effectually putting NAMB into the real estate business. Some have questioned if this is actually an attempt to hang onto large amounts of money without it being accounted for as part of the NAMB reserve holdings.
Because we serve a Holy God who is intimately engaged in our lives and ministry efforts, the character of our leaders is of utmost importance. The reverse of a biblical passage is true: if God be against us, it does not matter who is for us or what strategies we employ. It pleases Jesus to have righteous leaders who lead righteously. In the arena of the Character of our NAMB President, he…
- Communicated with deception and falsely about himself, others and church planting
- Violated his word and Strategic Partnership Agreements
- Abused and Misused Power, Position and SBC Money
- Demonstrated Punitive, Vindictive and other related behaviors against fellow servants
Factual evidence has been presented that Dr. Ezell lied in writing multiple times, made false accusations against a sister SBC State Executive Director, and made public and then secret financial threats against a State Convention (staff, planters, and evangelistic ministries and mission efforts). Ezell secretly tied the withholding of $1 million annually to the BCMD on my removal as the Executive Director which was later revealed in personal and public settings by the BCMD President Bill Warren. Warren was privy to Ezell’s threat.
Financial records and BCMD minutes reveal that Ezell virtually immediately paid off the BCMD after my termination. These actions serve as part of the basis of legal complaints of libel and contractual interference filed against Dr. Ezell/NAMB.
As Pastor Wolverton exhorted, “Dr. McRaney is telling the truth….Please don’t continue to sweep this under the rug.”
Off the record, national leaders verbally acknowledge it. The SBC Trustee system is broken. The Trustee men and women who are serving are not broken and are people of goodwill, but the systems and the climates that surround their work is broken.
- It is apparent that the NAMB Trustees were too trusting of Dr. Ezell’s accounts and “asleep at the wheel” initially. However, when the Trustee officers wrote a full denial 20 hours after receiving my “Letter of Concern” they moved into neglect of their duties as Trustees functioning on behalf of all Southern Baptists. When the entire Trustee Board released a public statement in June 2016 that they had completed a “thorough examination and review” and found nothing of concern without a single conversation with me or cross examination of Dr. Ezell’s testimony, they moved into realms of cover-up and public damages to me. As BCMD Pastor Steve Wolverton wrote Dr. Ezell and the Chairman Herring, NAMB Trustees’ claims of a complete investigation a “charade”.
- Regarding the declines in baptisms and church planting, along with damages to local and state partnerships, cooperation, and financial stewardship, and their own oversight and accountability, concerns are glaring. The negative impact will affect both the short-run and the long-term effectiveness and mission capacity as the New NAMB has contributed to the dismantling of the SBC mission supporting ecosystem.
- Informed SBC leaders recognize once the local, state, and national arms are separated or eliminated, they will never be put back together again. As times surely get tougher in North America, local and regional will matter more than national on the frontlines.
Many SBC leaders are aware of the New NAMB’s problems. They see the deteriorating trust and the possibility of serious damage to the SBC cause.
When will the leaders who see the damage compounding finally speak up? I know that some do not want to “create a mess” and others simply fear the consequences of raising their voice. They have seen others damaged who have spoken up.
But, how many more hundreds of millions of SBC mission money must be used to prop up NAMB prestige amid its failing strategies?
How many more millions must be used to destroy the SBC cooperate spirit as the money is used to pay for the threats, “pay offs” and subterfuge that are advancing domination from a national level rather than cooperation across all levels?
Since the publication of this series began, more and more stories have come to me about the damage done to ministry leaders by the actions of the New NAMB and its leader, Dr. Kevin Ezell.
When will SBC leaders who “know the score” finally have the courage to call for a serious outside investigation of the actions of the NAMB President and his subordinates? When will they finally call for an accounting by the New NAMB for its stewardship of money and people?
Proverbs 24:11-12 reminds us that when we see the damage being done to others, pretending not to see will not satisfy God.
Prov 24:11-12 Deliver those who are being taken away to death,
And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back.
12 If you say, “See, we did not know this,”
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his work?
May God grant us men of goodwill who will courageously exercise the stewardship that has been entrusted to them by Southern Baptists—and the Lord!
Series of Articles – “Is the New NAMB Really Working”
The Rest of the Story: The Why’s of Our Legal Complaint Against NAMB President Kevin Ezell – article and video by McRaneys