Category Archives for Missions

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.   Continue reading

Trust: The Irreplaceable Currency of Voluntary Missionary Movements

March 22, 2016

Randy Adams | Executive Director
Northwest Baptist Convention

**This article was previously posted by Randy Adams on his website randyadams.org and is used by permission.

High trust societies prosper; low trust societies don’t. Nearly 20 years ago my wife started an import business to help missionaries in South Asia secure business visas. She imported from a country that manufactured unique jewelry, carpets and clothing. The business was successful in that several missionaries received long-term visas. Financially, though, it was not profitable. A primary reason behind the lack of profit was that the people from whom she imported always skimmed some of the products.

Economists know that prosperous nations have high levels of trust, enabling them to develop banks, stock markets and legal systems that operate with an integrity that builds trust. Poor nations are generally low in trust, often extending little trust of anyone beyond family, ethnic group, or religion.

When I think about the work we do together as Baptists, I am amazed that a voluntary missionary movement such as ours has prospered in miraculous ways – and that is what the Southern Baptist (SB) denomination is – a voluntary missionary movement – an incredibly successful one at that. While we grieve the recent downsizing of the International Mission Board (983 missionaries have left the field, plus 149 stateside staff), it’s remarkable that 3,941 international missionaries are being sustained through the voluntary missions support of Southern Baptists (as of 2/23/16).

In addition, more than 900 churches are being planted each year in North America, 18,000 seminary students are being trained, and thousands more are sharpening their skills and strengthening their hearts through training and events, and so much more. The SB voluntary missionary movement includes dozens of colleges and universities, collegiate ministries, children’s homes, and, at one time, hospitals. The currency that has been irreplaceable in moving our missionary movement forward is trust and good will. More than the almighty dollar, Southern Baptists, and our Northwest Baptist network, have enjoyed a level of trust that has enabled our now 46,000 churches to do Kingdom work together, even during difficult days.

However, while God’s work through the SB voluntary missionary movement has been remarkable, it is not inevitable that God will continue to bless us and use us to bring the gospel to our nation and our world. Jesus said that the gates of Hades will not prevail against His Church, and we believe this absolutely, but local churches do die, and denominations and missionary movements have died as well. The Church continues, but local expressions of the Church have no such guarantee. Have you ever visited the churches that Paul founded in Ephesus, Corinth, or Philippi? Neither have I because those churches no longer exist. In 1776 the Congregationalists had the greatest number of churches in America. Today they are blip on the screen of American church life.

Glossy optimism about the voluntary missionary movement that is Southern Baptist is not warranted. The facts (baptisms, missionaries on the field, new churches planted) indicate that our missionary movement has not only ceased moving forward, but we have actually taken steps backward. Some become uncomfortable when such things are pointed out, but I believe that we must face things as they really are, including how we got to where we are, if we hope to regain momentum in our grand mission endeavor.

For effectiveness to continue and grow, we must build and grow the “trust bank.” How do we do that? Here is a thesis statement for you to consider: Trust results from the credibility of the leader, and the confidence that the leader acts in the best interest of the organization. Believing this to be true, I want to offer several essentials for building and maintaining trust. Please note, though I have referenced the larger missionary movement that we call the SBC, these principles apply to any voluntary missionary movement, including the regional convention that I lead, or that of the local church.

The key to a missionary movement is leadership. Voluntary missionary movements require leaders who:

1. Believe in the missionary movement that they lead. This may seem obvious, but some leaders only believe in the movement “when they are the leader.” The most effective, trust-building leaders are chosen to lead because they demonstrated belief in the movement even before they came to lead it. We see this in the Bible over and again (Acts 6:3; 1 Thess. 2; 1 Tim. 3; many Old Testament examples, with David being one of the best because he fought a giant for his God and country before he became king). Southern Baptists hearts are united by a cause, the Great Commission, but we are also united by the means we have chosen to engage our cause, namely working together cooperatively, which includes the Cooperative Program. To be a Southern Baptist means we believe that the Great Commission is our commission, and that a primary method to fulfilling it is through CP missions.

2. Develop strong and healthy relationships with others who lead the missionary movement. Voluntary missionary movements require trust, and trust is built through relationship. We see an example of this in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and we see it throughout Paul’s letters.

3. Are transparent and open to inquiry and accountability. In a voluntary missionary movement, no one is more accountable than the leader. Strong, secure leaders invite inquiry and discussion. Restricting speech will destroy a voluntary missionary movement. “Trust the Lord and tell the people” is an old Baptist saying.

4. Always keep their word and act with integrity. Always.

5. Explain their actions, giving the “why?” as well as the “what?” Knowing “why” a particular course of action was taken, especially if the decision is controversial, will preserve and build trust because it demonstrates respect toward others in the missionary movement. Again, we see this in Acts 15. We see it throughout Paul’s communication with various churches as he explained himself and his teaching.

6. Admit and explain failure. Repent and ask forgiveness when they sin.

7. Think and plan for the long-term. Christopher Columbus, yes, the one who “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492, believed that he was extending Christianity, and that through his efforts and those of others, Jesus could return in about 150 years. Jonathan Edwards, the great revivalist and preacher, wrote in the 1740s that the last people he expected to be reached for Christ were the Muslims, and that by the year 2,000 Jesus could return. He was looking forward 250 years. Leaders of voluntary missionary movements serve as though Jesus could return tomorrow, but they don’t “sell the farm,” trading tomorrow for today.

Those of us who lead aspects of the Southern Baptist missionary movement, whether we are local church pastors, associational or denominational leaders, inherited the trust and good will built by our forefathers. Just as inherited wealth tends to dissipate over time, trust and good will can easily be eroded over time if it is not stewarded well. When a voluntary missionary movement loses these, it loses everything.

Many years ago I read Jay Winik’s book titled April 1865: The Month that Saved America, which focused on the final month of the American Civil War. It was a fascinating book, the thesis of which was that it was not inevitable that the war ended the way that it did, allowing for the United States to reunite and eventually become one again. To paraphrase, he said that great men did great things, at the right time. Had Lincoln, Lee and Grant chosen differently, we would live in a different world today.

God is sovereign. He will accomplish His agenda. But it would be presumption, not faith, to say that God has to bless us and use us to get His work done. As leaders of a Bible class, a church, or an agency that serves churches, we must do all we can to build trust, so that God alone gets the glory as He uses us in ways greater than ever.

Continue reading

IMB Baptisms Hit Lowest Level Since 1969

March 21, 2016

Will Hall | Editor
Baptist Message, Louisiana

**This article was originally posted HERE and is used by permission**
For more information on Will Hall click HERE and www.baptistmessage.com

Overseas baptisms for 2015 dropped to 54,762 from the 190,957 reported for 2014, according to information submitted by the International Mission Board in response to a request by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Likewise, the number of new churches fell from 13,824 to 3,842 over the same one-year period. Continue reading