The announcement of Dr. Kevin Ezell to be nominated as President of the North American Mission Board is one of encouragement and confusion. I agree with our current president as he stated on August 16 on Twitter:
Dr. Bryant Wright tweeted on August 16 “Please join me in praying 4 the search committees 4 pres. Of NAMB and IMB. No decision 4 future of SBC is more important than these.”
The position of President of NAMB is one of importance and one that calls for a statesman like leader. With that in mind the Presidential Search Committee appears to have found someone that people could rally around. According to the tweets from leaders in one area of our convention we certainly have found that person. Notice the following tweets after the announcement.
Dr. Denny Burk tweeted
“Ezell to NAMB: This is the happiest SBC news I’ve heard in a long time. I can’t imagine a better leader for NAMB. ..”
Dr. Al Mohler tweeted back-to-back
“Need some great news? Here is truly great news. Kevin Ezell is nominated as President of the North American Mission Board
I have known Kevin Ezell [ @kevezell ] for over 15 years as pastor, friend, & visionary leader. He is a man of honor, truth, & conviction.”
Dr Danny Akin tweeted
Thrilled about Kevin Ezell going 2 NAMB! This is great news 4 the SBC! A great leader with a great heart and vision! I am pumped!
Dr. Thom Rainer tweeted
@KevEzell nominated to be pres of NAMB. That’s one great decision to choose one great leader serving the one great God.
Dr. Jimmy Scroggins tweeted
SBC just put one of it’s best leaders in one of it’s most influential posts. The future is looking better all the time.
From the press Martin King tweeted
“Fromr IL pastor K Ezell grt nominee 4 NAMB pres
Dr. Al Mohler said concerning a person’s theology, during a chapel service group discussion last year ; ‘Show me what you do and I will show you your theology’. Of course I would agree with Dr. Mohler that actions reveal what one believes. Also, we have been consistently reminded by our leaders on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force that our funds will follow our desires.
Thus, I would like to briefly follow the funds given by Highview Baptist Church to reveal the reason I ask the question that is the title of this post–Will Dr. Kevin Ezell Support NAMB’s Entire Ministry? NAMB is more than just church planting. According to the purpose Statement at NAMB the entity is to “assist Southern Baptist in their task…sharing Christ, Starting Churches, and sending Missionaries”. With this in mind let’s look at the following time period and the statistics that Highview Baptist Church reported.
1996–Sunday School Attendance: 2719; Worship Attendance: 1902; Annie Armstrong Giving: $8326.00; Cooperative Program Giving: $74,766.
2001–Sunday School Attendance: 1685; Worship Attendance: 2324; Annie Armstrong Giving: $18,062.00; Cooperative Program Giving: $146,000.
2006–Sunday School Attendance: 2460; Worship Attendance: 3315; Annie Armstrong Giving: $0; Cooperative Program Giving; $167,917.
2007–Sunday School Attendance: 2635; Worship Attendance: 3042; Annie Armstrong Giving: $13,751; Cooperative Program Giving; $143, 123.
2008–Sunday School Attendance: 2509; Worship Attendance: 3165; Annie Armstrong Giving: $0; Cooperative Program Giving: $226,467.
2009–Sunday School Attendance: 2603; Worship Attendance: 3260; Annie Armstrong Giving: $10,000; Cooperative Program Giving: $140,100
The above stats begin in the year that Dr. Ezell assumed the position of Sr. Pastor. While the first couple of years is not really indicative of any Pastor’s leadership, one would agree that after 5 years the congregation begins following the direction of the Pastor. Therefore you will see the next set of data is at the 5 year mark of Dr. Ezell’s ministry. Now, do not get me wrong I am not saying that all congregations will follow the pastors leadership after 5 years. However, as a rule of thumb most people understand that it is the 7 year mark before the congregation majority refers to the Sr. Pastor as “Pastor” and really mean it. If one observes the data one can see that an increase is observed in the financial portion and somewhat in the Worship attendance. Thus, at the 10 year mark the church is certainly following the leadership of her pastor. One other thing that needs to be brought into the mix. Under Dr. Ezell’s tenure Highview Baptist has a Pastor-Led, Deacon-served, Committee-functioned, and Congregationally-approved church polity. This is their description:
In accordance with Colossians 1:18 and Acts 13 and 15, Christ is the Head of the church. Under His direction, Highview is Pastor-led, Deacon-served, Committee-functioned, and Congregationally-approved. The congregation, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, is the most basic unit of church government. Through prayerful submission to God and His Word, members are responsible for selecting their leaders, developing the church constitution, preserving unity and purity in the body, as well as exacting church discipline when necessary.
What does this mean? According to their polity Dr. Ezell could have presented his conviction that NAMB needed support and a voice and the committee responsible would have implemented that strategy. Of course the opposite is the case here. Dr. Ezell is apparently very close to the faculty at SBTS as many of them serve as Teaching Pastors at Highview Baptist. Thus, they would have been able to direct him in giving a voice to help NAMB navigate the troubled waters she has endured. What did Highview do when NAMB was in her throes of leadership frustration? Cut off the funds! Notice the giving pattern to NAMB. 2006 we had the revelation of leadership issues. Notice that Highview chose to give $0 for that agency. Notice that in 2007 NAMB called a new President. How does Highview respond in 2008? They give $0. Then when the NAMB trustees fire the president Highview responds by giving a set amount of $10k.
All of the accolades given to Dr. Ezell are great. I would not expect anything less from those who know him. I do not know him but I have full assurance he is a Godly man and I believe a great leader. One certainly does not walk into the situation he waked into at Highview and keep the numbers balanced without leadership skills. However, we are not speaking about leadership skills only. We are speaking about someone that is taking over as head of an entity that will now have, at his disposal, 23% of CP funds. That means that Dr. Ezell will lead an agency that receives over 45 million dollars from CP funds along with approximately 40 million dollars from Annie Armstrong to be disbursed as he leads that agency. My question is a two-fold question of the one that is this article’s title. Will Dr. Ezell support NAMB’s entire ministry objectives and to what extent can we as Southern Baptist feel safe with his answer? Why do I ask such a question?
If readers remember January 2008 saw Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary throw his hat into the ring for President of the SBC. Many began questioning Dr. Mohler’s commitment to the Cooperative Program. The reason was that Highview Baptist Church, the church Dr. Mohler was listed as Teaching Pastor gave, what appeared to be a minimal amount to CP. In response, Dr. Bart Barber posted a statement from the Sr. Pastor of Highview, Dr. Kevin Ezell. When one reads that statement one will find a plausible explanation. Of course one will also find a commitment in that statement by Dr. Ezell to give $400,000.00 to the Cooperative Program in 2008. One will also find this same commitment made in this report. The previously mentioned report also contains something else significant I believe Dr. Ezell should be asked about, but more on this later. If one investigates the commitment one will find that $400,000 was never realized in their 2008 CP totals. Notice that in 2008 there is an amount of less than $250,000 reported. Then one will see in 2009 there is less than $140,000 reported. Giving the benefit of the doubt that funds reported are not on the same yearly rotation as the ACP one would accept that these two years would not show an exact amount of $400k. However if one were to add the two years together one would find that the amount should be more than the $400k. Why? Part could have been realized during the 2008 reporting year and the other part could have been realized during the 2009 reporting year. Therefore, because 2008 and 2009 contain funds from partial financial investments to missions the two years of CP income reported would be added bringing the amount over the $400,000 mark. But, if one adds the two amounts reported by Highview in the 2008 and 2009 years, respectively, one finds an amount less than the $400,000 advertised and released to the public. Let us be fair and quote from the booklet that is referenced here.
Expenditures are proposed and will be determined by offerings to Million for Missions.
Of course we understand that the economy has been hard on all churches. We also know that we need to understand any church can redirect their funds as they see fit. Highview is an autonomous body and does not owe you me or anyone else a reason for their lack of attaining their goals. However, when a statement is given to Southern Baptists concerning a commitment to funding the Cooperative Program with a set amount, Southern Baptists look to see that amount realized. The statement was made as a result of calling into question their commitment to the Cooperative Program. Dr. Ezell responded, pointing out the amount in the newly released brochure as their commitment to the CP. Thus, Southern Baptists expected to see Highview attain that amount of missions investment to the Cooperative Program. Dr. Ezell has some explaining to do to Southern Baptist.
Concerning the couirer-journal article. Dr. Ezell was Sr. Pastor of a church sitting on a state border when he was asked about his giving record. Dr. Ezell answered as a Sr. Pastor, but in his answer he positioned one state convention against another. Dr. Ezell clearly expressed that he favored giving to the Indiana Baptist State Convention over Kentucky, the state his church was physically located. His statement was one that called attention to his personal desire that he did not want to see a state convention keep 64% of his church’s funds within the state. However, he turns around and gives to a state convention that kept 67% of their funds within the state. Certainly one would agree that Indiana does not have as much of a Southern Baptist presence as Kentucky. However, Dr. Ezell isn’t required to have a physical presence in Indiana to give to the Cooperative Program through that state convention. It does seem that Dr. Ezell has a bridge that needs to be mended with Kentucky. However, as President of the NAMB he will need to be asked if he plans to position states against each other in order to get his agenda to move forward.
As I bring this article to a close allow me to say these faux pas should not derail his nomination. I am certain that he can give a valid explanation for the reason his church’s report does not reflect $400k given to CP in 2008. I also believe he should have the opportunity to mend any serious state convention tension that exists because of his statements. Some may question; Can we not have a President nominated for an entity without all of this scrutiny of the CP giving? To which I respond with a hearty, NO, NO, A THOUSAND TIMES NO! We are placing someone in a position of accountability to all Southern Baptists and when this is done there is a higher level of scrutiny. Dr. Ezell is 48 years of age and certainly is a God called preacher. However, he is now being nominated for a position where he will be accountable to all Southern Baptists, not just one autonomous congregation in seven locations. In his statement in 2008 he expressed his ignorance in the reporting process for CP. With this track record of reporting to Southern Baptists as a whole, I believe some trustees need to ask for an explanation. Dr. Ezell should also be asked his vision of how he will lead NAMB as they partner with local churches and state conventions to focus on Church Planting while maintaining the other objectives that are under the NAMB umbrella.