“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..” (Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities) were words ringing in my mind as I recently traveled to Phoenix for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) annual winter meeting for state evangelist directors and NAMB staff. A flurry of emails from numerous state directors of evangelism (SDOEs)accompanied my anticipation for this meeting regarding what the new NAMB President, Kevin Ezell, would have to say to us, and our initial understanding of what a restructured NAMB might look like. We had already learned that nearly 100 of the staff of 240 at NAMB headquarters in Atlanta were leaving by year’s end because of early retirement incentives, several being those we work closely with in the evangelism department.
Ezell brought a challenging, warm-hearted, soul-winning message to us on Tuesday evening, and promised to return Wednesday morning for a question and answer time. The Q & A time began with Ezell (he prefers to be called Kevin) giving an overview of his first two months as president; then he fielded numerous queries that were addressed to him. One of the first was for him to state his three top priorities for a restructured NAMB. After his five to 10-minute answer, he asked if he answered the question. The questioner said he had not and asked him the same question. This time I discerned one priority, church planting, but struggled to understand what the others were. He was asked about God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS) and the 10-year plan of “Every Believer Sharing and Every Person Hearing” across North America. He assured us he fully supported GPS and the 10-year endeavor. I asked him why he has offered the early retirement incentives that some one-third are taking. He responded citing GuideStones notice that the Annuity funding rate for retirees, as of Jan. 1, would no longer be set at a 6 percent floor, but by July 1 would drop to 3.75 percent. Each 1 percent drop would translate into a 10 percent drop in one’s monthly benefit. His offer would obviously benefit those taking retirement now. Other questions followed as the room reeked with tension. I felt Kevin was very open and being very honest with us. I also sensed he has not yet charted the course NAMB will take.
The next morning, only the SDOEs were present and we discussed what we had heard. SDOEs from smaller Conventions who receive 75-90 percent of their salaries from NAMB, expressed dismay that their funding could be coming to an end. Sensing the negative direction the meeting was taking, Sonny Tucker from Arkansas made a wise statement. “Gentlemen, the train has left the station and there is nothing we can do about it. Why don’t we focus on what we can do given the present circumstances?” The atmosphere in the room changed quickly and two very positive suggestions took shape. One had to do with those of us in larger state conventions making ourselves available to our fellow SDOEs in smaller conventions, providing resources and personnel we may have to enable them to continue to reach their areas for Christ. The other suggestion that met with unanimous accord was to offer our assistance to the severely reduced NAMB evangelism staff in Atlanta.
My final reflections: Southern Baptists are not winning America to Christ at the rate we once did. Is it NAMB’S fault? No. Can Kevin Ezell or NAMB turn things around by themselves? No. I told Ezell I wanted him to succeed. For him to succeed he needs our prayers and our efforts to share the GOOD NEWS around Missouri.
GARY TAYLOR / MBC Director of Evangelism