Troubling Times at NAMB under Dr. Ezell
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?
- Are we expanding the cooperative mission spirit and base?
- 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 …
- The unbiblical and unethical actions of Dr. Ezell are quite troubling.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.