Troubling Times at NAMB under Dr. Ezell

April 21, 2016

Will McRaney | Former Executive Director
Maryland/Delaware Baptist Convention

The mission field complexities and challenges are increasing almost daily in North America.  Southern Baptists have a strong historic past, but I am troubled about our current levels of effectiveness and the diminishing mission capacities of Southern Baptists going forward.

We are all stakeholders and part owners of the SBC, which includes the North American Mission Board entity.  Through the work of our trustees, collective voices and financial resources, we can help to shape the priorities and the use of our resources in advancing the gospel both in North American and around the globe.  Through our elected trustees, we also engage with the leaders of our NAMB and other mission agencies.

Questions to Consider…
As stakeholders of NAMB, several summary questions should be asked periodically…

  • How is the President of NAMB conducting himself in representing Christ and us with the various SBC partners and stakeholders?
  • Are the current strategies and leadership enhancing the totality of mission efforts and strengthening SBC mission partners for increased mission capacity?
  • How is business… how are the ministry and mission strategies doing currently beyond the positive PR, particularly in evangelistic missions, which includes church planting?
  • What is the forecast for the future?
    1. Are we expanding the cooperative mission spirit and base?
    2. What is the forecast for the future cooperative mission efforts and support given the current patterns?

The answers to these questions and others are troubling.  My concerns regarding Dr. Kevin Ezell’s actions as NAMB President are based on personal experience as the former Executive Director of the Maryland/Delaware Baptist Convention, my extensive experience, research, writing and teaching in both evangelism and church planting, and from many conversations with other SBC leaders at national, state, associational levels.

I have laid out detailed concerns related to Dr. Ezell on my website in both an Open Letter to the SBC (http://willmcraney.com/open-letter/) and a Letter of Concern to the NAMB trustees.  I encourage you to explore the docs on my website, ask questions of various SBC leaders around you, read, do some investigating and draw your own conclusions.  I lived these matters and have 149 pages of interlinked documents on my website supporting these claims.  I would not dare make these statements knowing I will give an account to Jesus for the words unless I could and in this case, already have supported these hard claims.

The short answers to the above questions …

  1. The unbiblical and unethical actions of Dr. Ezell are quite troubling.
  2. The cooperative spirit of partnerships and the ecosystem which produces our missionaries and funding for our mission efforts around North American continues to be significantly weakened and/or dismantled under and by Dr. Ezell’s strategies and tactics.
  3. The mission efforts (by numbers of baptisms and church plants) are much less effective under Dr. Ezell’s tenure than in the years immediately preceding him despite investing twice as much money in church planting than years past.
  4. In several key areas the forecast is for less mission effectiveness, less cooperative sprit, less connectedness, less local and state ownership of the mission field, but more nationalistic, independent cannibalizing efforts that are void of meaningful cooperative spirit and partnership which helps make us a strong collective of Southern Baptists.

From my perspective, several significant matters are at stake regarding Dr. Ezell’s leadership of our North American Mission Board.

  • First, the glory of God demands that we live out the commands of Scripture not just hold doctrinal statements about the Bible.  Southern Baptists expect basic honesty and Christian living from their leaders. God hates these types of sins against Him and people. (Prov. 6:16-19)
    • Ezell’s actions are not ‘he said, she said’. Dr. Ezell has verifiably lied multiple times in writing, lied against me to my leadership in a libelous manner and then threated to withhold financial resources from the MD/DE Convention and its staff with SBC entrusted money as long as I remained as the Exec. Director when I and our Convention did not give into his earlier threats.
    • Finally, Dr. Ezell delivered on those threats and it has helped silence other State Executive Directors with fear of similar treatment against them. Many State Conventions are once again under new agreements, but this time with GAG orders tied to money provided by Southern Baptists.  If you are in a small or mid-size state convention, your Executive Director is probably under written GAG orders in two or more ways.  You can check with your Executive Director or request the actual written agreement between NAMB and your state either through your state office or a NAMB trustee.  These leaders work for the churches and collectively they steward the resources we as Southern Baptist entrust to them from both the past and the present.
  • Second, allowing bullying tactics, financial threats, gag orders against state executive directors in Cooperative Agreements and other ungodly behaviors will continue to cripple trust, goodwill and the effectiveness of NAMB and Southern Baptists.
  • Third, the historic, foundational, essential cooperative spirit for all of our missions efforts past and future is being damaged by Dr. Ezell as he uses ungodly tactics to apply parts of the GCR. (see my article “Dealing with Decline: The Future of Southern Baptist Cooperation” ) Several national leaders recognized the dangers to the cooperative spirit and the regenerating mission support system of the SBC brought about through parts of the GCR.  Ezell’s unethical and unbiblical tactical applications of the GCR seem to be dismissed by some individuals as collateral damage and acceptable.
  • Fourth, either we learn to confront injustices, wrongs and ungodly behavior in our leaders or we will suffer the consequences. No one wins nor is any Godly purpose advanced with looking the other way.  If Jesus is not pleased, not much else matters.
  • Finally, the current strategies of NAMB are both fundamentally flawed and undeniably failing while the SBC ecosystem from the local up is being systematically and intentionally dismantled.
    • Baptisms at 70 year low, church plants down 592/year the last 5 years compared to the previous 5 years according to SBC Annual while spending twice as much money and making it THE national emphasis while discontinuing other approaches to evangelism and mission.
    • Strategic actions have been taken to weaken and/or eliminate associations and state conventions in favor of a “nationalistic” approach. For many, being connected locally and with their state ARE their connecting points to the SBC and its mission efforts.  Nationalization is bad for the US politically and will be terrible for Southern Baptists.  This is not Southern Baptist.  As one state executive said it, “partnership is dead” in the SBC.  It appears we are cannibalizing ourselves and our future, while at the same time failing in our mission.

 

My gifting, wiring, and experience is that of a strategist as I seek to see and analyze the interconnected parts and unintended consequences.  In addition to my personal experience, I have done extensive research in SBC evangelism and church planting as a tenured professor, and served in many other aspects of SBC life.  I have experienced Dr. Ezell’s work on the ground in MD/DE as the Executive Director after seeing the work from the FL Convention Evangelism and Church Planting staff.  This approach cannot continue with these behaviors.

My conclusion is that …(1) we fail under Dr. Ezell, either now as we are, or (2) we fail in the next few years because of Dr. Ezell’s damaged relationships, tactics and dismantling strategies.  If current plans were succeeding, the SBC will experience delayed failure, but we are currently not making progress.  Actually we are experiencing Great Commission Regression.  The necessary local trust, goodwill and resolve of Southern Baptists to cooperate in mission efforts are all being hurt, and most state and national leaders know and state this privately, as do many associational leaders.

Whatever the past shortcomings of NAMB may have been, they were not of this nature.  The sins of the current NAMB President are against people and are damaging our future mission capacity.  These are offensive to God and are more damaging to our future than shortcomings of the past.  Wrongs are wrongs and right is right, all the time.  An organization gets what it tolerates.

Responses…
Baptist leaders are responding in different ways.  Some national leaders believe we have passed a point of no return and beyond repair.  Some faithful already have and others will just walk away and be done with the SBC.  Others will ignore current challenges and let the widespread behaviors continue.  However, others are beginning to rise up and call attention to the current realities in spite of the constant positive national PR.  Each man will have to seek the Lord as to His role.  Part of my assignment as an informed leader with firsthand experience has been to bring exposure in keeping with Mt. 5 & 18, and Eph. 5 in an honorable way.

Southern Baptists deserve better from their NAMB President and financial investments.  We need an overhaul of the existing culture created under Dr. Ezell.  Southern Baptists and its national, state, and associational leaders are operating in fear, intimidation, and under financial threats to keep them silent.  This is absent of the Spirit of God and must change.

Process Toward the Light…
I do not share this lightly or as a first step.  I have had strong, wise biblical counsel throughout this process.  In Feb. 2016 I provided a 5 page Letter of Concern to the NAMB trustees.  20 hrs. later I received a letter from the NAMB Trustee Officers denying all my claims.  Shortly after I then received a letter from the NAMB attorneys that was similar in nature.  (all of these can be found on my website)  I have made myself available to friends who are trustees.  I also began receiving counsel from 3 SBC statesmen on God-honoring ways to bring these matters to the light.

After these efforts, I then added the website to speak to a wider SBC audience.  My position is…it is up to Southern Baptists to determine what they (we) will do, but they (we) have the right to be informed.  It should not take a court to address the libelous type actions of Dr. Ezell, his continued threats and gag orders across the SBC, and the Missional ineffectiveness we are experiencing under Dr. Ezell.  Southern Baptists are a grassroots, field up people.  This is our SBC and our NAMB and you have the right to know and act.

Next…
I encourage you to not just take my claims, but investigate these and other claims, talk with your State Executive Director regarding the gag orders and other matters, and then both contact your NAMB trustee (see SBC 2015 annual or PDF list on my website under Supporting Documents) and encourage others to do the same.  

My prayer is for God to be glorified, men to repent, and for you to consider whether our current leader is leading us in a Biblical fashion, with high integrity, building the cooperative spirit, and setting and implementing effective strategies that are advancing the mission now and toward the future.  If not, seek the Lord about what you should do.

Thank you for taking the time to read these concerns.

Will McRaney

McRaney Website

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Rick Patrick

Thank you, Dr. McRaney, for your courage in coming forward to expose these threats and gag orders. I am appalled by the notion that a national SBC entity president might use the Cooperative Program funds forwarded to his organization from my church as a bargaining chip to intimidate state entity leadership into compliance with an unbalanced partnership agreement. That CP money belongs to all Southern Baptists at all levels of our partnership. It was not given to be a weapon used to nationalize and centralize church planting authority in the SBC.

I hope most readers will take the time to explore the website link and documents made available by Dr. McRaney. It is too much information to process in one sitting. However, if you are looking for a concise place to zero in on the alleged threats and pressure of a state convention leader by a national entity leader, you can find that information here: http://willmcraney.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Statements-of-Fact-Detailed-Version.pdf.

Finally, I am sick of “gag orders” in SBC life. Gag orders have been a bad idea for Christians ever since they were tried on Peter and John. I want the trustees of every single agency to talk until they are hoarse. I want employees like Dr. Will McRaney to talk. I want to open the sealed GCR proceedings. Let us dispense with all these Southern Baptist secrets already. We are children of the light.

    Lydia

    ‘Finally, I am sick of “gag orders” in SBC life. Gag orders have been a bad idea for Christians ever since they were tried on Peter and John. I want the trustees of every single agency to talk until they are hoarse. I want employees like Dr. Will McRaney to talk. I want to open the sealed GCR proceedings. Let us dispense with all these Southern Baptist secrets already. We are children of the light.”

    One reason the stealth takeovers worked is because those who sensed things were not right did not want to appear “mean’ by daring to ask uncomfortable questions. Why would they fear that? Because there is this whole fakey nice thing going on in our churches and a deceiver takes advantage of that by implying disagreement or questioning is an attack. Driscoll popularized it with the “sinning by questioning me” teaching. They’re YRR boys ate that up. Or, you can google CJ’s last Sunday sermon to see another variation of ‘don’t question the King’.

    You have to wonder if thinking adults are in these churches. They actually pay someone to think for them. It is mind boggling.

      Scott Shaver

      Lydia:

      Can you enlighten me as to the specific purpose, rationale and mechanics for the “gag-orders” (GCR)?

      Guess that was a segment of SBC evolving history that vacationed from :)

        Lydia

        “Can you enlighten me as to the specific purpose, rationale and mechanics for the “gag-orders” (GCR)?”

        Controlling people. It is Orwellian and Americans are falling for it like crazy. Its happening in business and govt, too.

        A friend of mine called me this afternoon about layoffs at a university where she works. Those who were not laid off were told that they cannot discuss any of the layoffs or it would be considered spreading gossip. They were told this in a meeting by the president!

        Academia!!!! No free speech. Negative truth=gossip!

        I am hearing this from many quarters of society. Americans had better wake up.

        When did we become so ignorant?

          Scott Shaver

          No…what exactly are the “gag orders”?

            Lydia

            Oh, the 15 year lockbox of secret meeting minutes?

              Scott Shaver

              Like “minutes” on plans for the direction of the NAMB?…..top secret for a decade-and-a-half?

              Is that about the size of it?

                Lydia

                It’s a secret. :o)

                Will McRaney

                On the current Partnership Agreements between NAMB and the mid-size and smaller state conventions, by multiple accounts from state executive directors, they (1) cannot reveal the terms of the agreement between them and NAMB, and (2) they cannot speak negatively about NAMB or Kevin Ezell. Based on what I have been told and had written to me, the terms are all similar in nature, but I don’t have the exact language for any one state. If state or its leaders speak negative, even the truth, about NAMB or if they share the terms of the agreement, financial funding from NAMB will be at risk of been pulled or reduced. I can tell you Ezell sent a threatening text to a Board member during our meeting in Feb. 2015 when they were considering these matters. I have a transcript.

                Here is what happened from my perspective, 2010 – GCR and/or then Ezell wanted state conventions and associations to go away, especially in mid-size states in favor of a centralize approach. (imagine only a Washington government) Since Ezell could not make this happen, he has systematically developed strategies and tactics to weaken or marginalize state conventions and associations, which includes the churches connected to them.
                So, finally someone convinced Ezell he could not lead NAMB w/o any partnership with the southern states. So, a basic agreement was reached in 2012 for all the states for NAMB to provide a base of support for mid-size and small state conventions could count on. But, NAMB has not fully honored that agreement.

                Southern states — considered options to pull all funding the N.Am. mission efforts more directly and collectively, disconnected from NAMB because some were completely outdone with Kevin Ezell. In other words, the states, if they voted to do so, could pool their money and then fund mission efforts without NAMB’s controls and tactics. Instead, they agreed (regrettably for some now) to several things, including the basic agreement. In addition to dramatic loss of partnership between NAMB and the 17 Southern state conventions in which everyone loses, where is a summary of what developed.

                1. 2012 – Southern states — each state sends millions to NAMB thru CP and AA. NAMB would send a flat $300,000 back to each southern state convention to be used by the states in the areas of evangelism and church planting. Southern execs and states made very significant adjustments to their work, which provides mission efforts and the funding for the other mission efforts. (ex. Univ. AL football pays a significant amount of the expenses for all the other sports at AL, football suffers, so does every other team)

                2. 2012-2014 — Mid-size state conventions (about 7-8) and Small state conventions operate under 2012 agreement. They do this reluctantly (again more or less for some states), and then watch NAMB follow the terms as they desire and then begin to write new policies and new agreements, expecting everyone to follow. This led to summer of 2014 in the Northeast Region (probably others as well), NAMB required that we remove the 3% church plants were required to reinvest in missions through their local Associations. And, NAMB pulled funding from missionaries serving in the Associations. We objected and asked questions. Either Ezell or VP Christopherson (not sure which) told us that “associations need to earn theirs” or something very similar to that. NAMB pulled funding for the DOM in small and some mid-size conventions, and then pull funding from planters to associations, and THEN say “earn yours”. I substituted requiring the planters to reinvest 2% to our state mission offering “GoFwd” which could be designated for future church plants. Ezell wrote me of his displeasure with that action.

                3. 2014 (NAMB targets SMALL STATES)– NAMB in what I would describe as financial strong-arm tactics, force (lessor or more) those conventions to sign a new agreement, in which NAMB takes over church planting at 100% funding (which means or will mean control, Golden Rule), and the other items which previously helped support local missionaries, DOMs and evangelism were dramatically cut and/or eliminated. In other words, more NATIONALIZED approach (Obama Care type approach). NOTE – this makes the state Church Planting staff really NAMB employees, not state employees and eliminates support for other vital positions to help churches and church plants grow in their mission capacities. All types of problems with this.

                4. 2015 (NAMB targets MID-SIZE) Having new agreements with small states in 2014 and secured agreements with southern states in 2012. Southern states and NAMB would mostly stay out of the other’s way (bad for the SBC). Ezell then set out to coerce Mid-Size conventions with additional financial pressures over a strawman matter related to insurance – Ezell then set their eyes on forcing the mid-size state conventions into new agreements. They first made available, then asked, then pressured, and then MD/DE and my case, Ezell threatened, then Ezell made false accusations and lied that I was not following the current Agreement, then threaten by cancelling agreement with 1 year notice to further pressure, then Board voted support of me and not to take NAMB “new deal”, so Ezell threatens to the President in secret around me to withdraw NAMB support as long as I remained exec director. Got me terminated on June 8 before the SBC in rush, ungodly, unexamined fashion (see Schofner letter on my website), AND THEN after my termination, all the other mid-size state conventions were further strong-armed into new agreements with NAMB giving NAMB more control over money, priorities, staffing, etc. (read my Timeline doc under Supporting Documents to see how I laid this out)

                HOWEVER, to date, the NW convention under Dr. Randy Adams has refused NAMB and Ezell’s bullying threats and strong-arm approaches. Let me add, ungodly approaches as this does not reflect Christ, even if you disagree strategically.

                That is my take from one who experienced, not just the strategies of Ezell, but ruthless and ungodly tactics. This is the application of part of the GCR, although I am not speaking to their original intent. I said ‘no’, and we were considering options for self-funding, but….

    Paul

    In the link you recommended I came across the following

    Chairman Herring came as the sole NAMB trustee. Herring in his
    opening statement expressed his complete trust in Kevin Ezell and his
    integrity. In fact, Herring stated to all 9 other people in the room, “If
    Kevin said the sky was purple, I would believe him.” While the intent
    could be admired, the application lacks oversight or good judgment

    If this isn’t true, then it’s a terrible libel; but if it’s true, why should we trust the trustees?

      Will McRaney

      This is true, which will be my defense for this and all my other related statements. Please recognize the reply I received and this particular statement came from one trustee. There are trustees who are considering these matters, in spite of the chairman’s statement. NAMB trustees have a meeting in May. I might encourage you contact your NAMB trustees and possibly your state execs office in advance of their meeting.

      I have received 5 calls from the same NAMB connected leader in the last 11 days. 3 over a 24 hr. period this morning. I am not being critical of this man and valued his ministry and our limited but supportive relationship for years. Here are some questions I was asked and some statements made to me. Again, these were freely spoken exchanges, so I don’t want misrepresent the conversation by pulling these out, but they are telling… In no particular order….
      1. What do I really want out of this? (I wrote what the Bible says in my Response to the NAMB trustees, and this answer has not changed.)
      2. If the Baptist Press and the state papers don’t run the story, will I then just let it go?
      3. Would I consider just letting God handle this?
      4. A promise to help me find a position if i would stop talking.
      5. What are you planning to do at the SBC. Please don’t bring this to the floor of the SBC in St. Louis.
      6. Please don’t be the type of person that would take this matter to court.

      This man highly affirmed me on a personal and ministry level, I would be remiss if I did not share this. However, there are some national leaders who want me and this mess to just go away. At some point, people need to look at the evidence, the alleged perpetrator, and then yield a verdict on whether he is providing Godly leadership that represents Him and Southern Baptists in an honorable way. God has and can bless the SBC, but revival must begin in the hearts of leaders with such sacred trust. Until there is public repentance for these public sins against me and against the pastors and churches of the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, NAMB and the SBC is not in a blessable position before the Lord. God break some hearts and then mend them.

        Lydia

        Thank-you for your courage. It is a rarity these days.

    Seth Dunn

    If nothing wrong is going on why is NAMB having all these gag orders signed?

Scott Shaver

Haven’t talked to you in several years Will. What have you gotten yourself into with these guys? :)

Hope you and family are doing well despite the NAMBy Pamby treatement.

    Will McRaney

    Would love to catch up. I can tell you that I cannot jump any higher, but I think my set shot is still good for a round of HORSE.

Norm

I have said this several times here, and my foundation is biblical: there is a reason men prefer darkness (or the silence of gag orders) and that is because their deeds are evil.
As for those who detest such behavior as noted in this post, their silence is not golden; it is just plain yellow. To self-gag about evil is to tacitly approve. It is past the time to sit up, stand up and speak up.

Practically and historically, no ministry I know of ever has succeeded without ties to a local church(es). Ezell’s attempts to nationalize NAMB and gag state execs is the tail wagging the dog. Plainly, it is foolish. Ezell must realize that threats to withhold funds from the people in the states who gave that money is a sinful scenarion that could be redeemed if NAMB were circumvented.

Apparently, earthly accountability means little to such leaders. What shall we surmize about their convictions regarding the Bema Seat of Christ?

And to the state execs who have succumbed to gag orders: set your faith sights on the vertical plane. And remember that yielding to denominational terrorism weakens you and strengthens it.

    Will McRaney

    I concur Norm. A couple of verses that have spoken to me are Neh. 7:2., Nehemiah appointed Hanani to oversee the city after the walls had been built because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most. Nehemiah knew Hanani could not be talked off, bought off, or scared off his duties to protect the city. Walls were useless without someone like Hanani.

    Also Prov. 281 “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” I have seen people scrambling. I certainly do not consider myself brave, but my God is BIG. I am seeking to guard my heart, walk in the counsel of several wise men, and walk in righteousness and admit it quickly when the Holy Spirit or brothers point out an error in my ways. I want to see God glorified through His people and His children, including these leaders, to experience the freedom that comes with repentance. As leaders, we must seek to live and lead righteously in the midst of our own imperfections. Blessings to you!

Lydia

I became familiar with Ezells deceptive ways back in his Highview days in the way he and his crew managed to takeover a an older church to become a Highview satellite. These guys are players. They missed their calling on Wall Street. They have excellent PR/image perception people. But God help you if you get in their way or dare dissent.

    Tom

    Lydia:

    I am sure it is frightening to be on the opposite side of the issue with folks like Ezells. It would take a strong man or woman to dissent. Thank you, Dr. McRaney for your bold dissent!

    Dean

    So Lydia… what are those deceptive ways you describe? Who was “his crew” that took over Highview? Who are “these” guys?

      Lydia

      “So Lydia… what are those deceptive ways you describe? Who was “his crew” that took over Highview? Who are “these” guys?”

      Sure Dean. I should just give you my address and list of clients, too. I know exactly what and who I am dealing with. How on Earth did you think it got to be this authoritarian, evil and dark in the first place? Because they are just such nice decent honest guys?

JD Hall

Well….Amen. Everything Will has said mirrors my own experience with regards to NAMB’s roughshod approach to state Convention affairs (especially outside the Bible Belt)

Max

I’ve been a Southern Baptist for 60+ years. I spent 45+ years in corporate America. I’ve noticed some parallels between SBC and business success/failure. There’s a business cycle that plays out time and again: start-up, growth, plateau, decline, revival or death. Based on the dismal news coming forth on several SBC fronts, it’s obvious that the denomination is on the decline and headed to either revival or death. In all the theo-political wrangling, I don’t see God’s people praying as they ought, so revival looks doubtful.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available