Southern Religion

Ezell must overcome a mismatch of experience and personality to NAMB restoration

Arkansas Baptist News Editor Charlie Warren welcomes Kevin Ezell aboard as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s troubled, sprawling North American Mission Board. After two successive failed administrations and a discussion of merging it with the foreign-missions-focused International Mission Board, the NAMB is on the ropes.

All Ezell lacks for the job of restoration is appropriate experience and diplomatic skills.


[Emil] Turner, executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, commented prior to Ezell’s election, “It seems surprising to me that the search committee would recommend someone whose level of support for the North American Mission Board through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering could not sustain the work of NAMB were it to be duplicated widely across the convention…. I would hope that the new president of NAMB could be an example of commitment to the Cooperative Program as called for by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.”

Ezell’s flippant, sarcastic response about concerns raised by David Hankins, Louisiana Baptists’ executive, and Turner fails the diplomacy test.


Complicating matters for Ezell, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations, approved by messengers to the SBC annual meeting in June, ripped apart the cooperative agreements NAMB has with state conventions without suggesting an alternative means for NAMB to cooperate with state conventions in the future. Ezell will have to figure out how those cooperative relationships will be redefined.

Good luck with that, and may the GCR cadre [force?] be with you, it seems.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , , | Comments Off on Ezell must overcome a mismatch of experience and personality to NAMB restoration

Yes, Al Mohler’s pastor was elected head of SBC’s NAMB

Kevin Ezell, pastor of Louisville, Kentucky’s, Highview Baptist Church, has according to the Louisville Courier-Journal “been elected president of the North American Mission Board, a vast network of more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries and other church workers.”

Pastor to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, Ezell was elected by some undisclosed margin of the NAMB trustees, “despite public opposition from Baptist state executives from Louisiana and Arkansas. They lauded Ezell as a pastor and a person, but cited Highview’s approach to missions funding.”


The church directs most of its mission funding to specific causes and gives relatively small amounts through the Cooperative Program — the denomination’s unified budget that funds the board, international missions, education and other causes — and through an annual Easter offering to the board.

Opponents said Ezell would have a difficult time persuading other churches to support the Cooperative Program and the Easter offering, which provided two-thirds of the board’s revenue in 2009, according to its annual report.

NAMB has been troubled and a focus of controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention. For example, the possibility of merger with the similarly troubled International Mission Board was recently noised about, and dropped.

Ezell is of course restrained, logical and analytical in his approach to problems and criticisms. In responding to those who raised questions about his nomination, he said:

Because of the visibility of the position, there are people across the United States who want to look for things that perhaps I do not do as well or they think we should do different, and perhaps be critical of myself or of Highview, just to try to get their name in the paper. Typically those are bloggers who live with their mother and wear a housecoat during the day. Just ignore them, but I apologize if you are hurt by anything that they might say about me or indirectly about you.

What do you think? Can the SBC expect Ezell to create the free flow of valid data required to restore general confidence in NAMB policies, procedures and claims?

September 15, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , , | 2 Comments

What IMB message did the SBC messengers stay away from in droves on Wednesday?

Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, told the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on June 15:

…there are 11,000-plus distinct, ethnic people groups in the world, and more than 6,400 of those are still unreached with less than 2 percent of them who have heard the gospel. … [and] after sending out more than 900 new missionaries in 2008 and reaching a record level of 5,624 missionary personnel overseas, the IMB is having to cut back to no more than 5,000 missionaries by the end of 2010 due to budget restrictions.

Read the complete account by Lonnie Wilkey of the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector [here].

June 16, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , | Comments Off on What IMB message did the SBC messengers stay away from in droves on Wednesday?

Farewell NAMB/IMB merger

Merger of the big, troubled North American Mission Board (NAMB) with the big, troubled International Mission Board (IMB) is apparently off the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) drawing boards.

Thus spake the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) Chairman Ronnie Floyd in a speech Monday at a Florida pastor’s conference. Although SBC President Johnny Hunt once called stories reporting the possibility of such a merger “ludicrous,” Floyd confessed:

There was great, great, great discussion studying, planning and even to the point of having strategic formation of the possibility of the other. But we just really sensed in our heart that wasn’t right at this time.

“Sensed” presumably means heard the uproar set off by the GCRTF’s fog-enshrouded considerations of merger and objection by SBC elder statesman Duke K. McCall and others to the further concentration of SBC executive authority such a merger would entail.

February 3, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , , , | Comments Off on Farewell NAMB/IMB merger

Is IMB taking missionaries in the field and people in the pews for granted?

Former Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board (IMB) member Wade Burleson persuasively argues that the IMB has its cost-cutting strategy upside down.

In a Dec. 2 blog entry A Recommendation to IMB Administrators and Trustees in the Midst of a Financial Shortfall, he reviews the IMB plans to cut as many as 600 missionaries “in 2010 if the current 8% to 10% decline in revenues through the Lottie Moon Offering and Cooperative Program gifts continue.” And make cuts in benefits to those already in the field:

The IMB administration in Richmond has informed all International Service Corp, Journeymen, and Masters missionaries that they will no longer be reimbursed by the IMB for dryers, cell phones, or air conditioning while on the field. These missionaries will be allowed to have heat in the winter, but the IMB will no longer be able to pay for air conditioning. Phones for communication (an essential in foreign countries) will now be paid for by the aforementioned missionaries themselves. Clothes will need to be dried by air or the missionaries will pay the cost for drying their own clothes. This information has not been publicized except through emails sent to the supervisors of the ISC’ers, Journeymen, and Masters affected. It is hoped by Richmond that these cost saving measures among the front-line staff will allow for more missionaries to be appointed in the short term.

The natural consequence of making those cuts without making equivalent cuts back at the home office, where career administrators are well-paid and board members enjoy meetings under unnecessarily privileged circumstances, will be a crash in missionary morale. As a result, he proposes equivalent cuts for board members and among staff in the Richmond, Va., headquarters offices. Along with curtailments in travel and other sensible adjustments.

Reading down his list of recommendations you will come to:

(4). Let the missionaries ON THE FIELD determine the kind of ministry that is needed. Allow for the creation and adoption of reports that count “conversions” and “church planting” in the various countries by reflecting the different cultural and demographic make-ups of those respective countries. We must resist the cookie cutter approach that forces every missionary in every country to do the same thing the same way. Resisting perpetual world-wide reorganization of the IMB (every five years) will save huge amounts of money in the long term.

True, and his passing reference to reports is of much more than passing interest, because this year’s IMB numbers look a lot like previous years’ (padded, inflated, manufactured) numbers. In a Dec. 1 story on the 2008 IMB numbers, the Biblical Recorder reports:

Bershi’s baptism is among the more than 506,000 recorded by the International Mission Board in 2008 — an average of one baptism per minute. Southern Baptist missionaries and their partners also reported starting more than 24,650 new churches last year. (Baptisms were 10.6 percent below the 2007 total; new churches, 8.6 percent below.) Meanwhile, the total number of overseas churches topped 204,000, up from 111,000 just five years ago.

Those are very much like the 2007 numbers, which Burleson found to be essentially made up. On Jan. 2 he wrote:

For example, in the Fast Facts posted on the International Mission Board web site, one reads that 5,551 missionaries were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 25,497 new church starts in 2007, and 609,968 baptisms.

Burleson explained that "planting" a church is a complex, time-consuming, typically expensive process. Just as the conversion and Christian nurture process which attends baptism is complex and time-consuming.

Yet those IMB numbers suggested that each of the 5,551 missionaries in the field:

  • Plants an average of five new churches per missionary in 2007.
  • Baptises an average of 120 new members per missionary in 2007.

Those numbers defied belief in January, he and some of those who commented on the blog suggested.

The most recent numbers are little changed, you can see from the table below. Absent compelling explanation with documented answers to the questions raised in January, the latest figures are also difficult to accept.

Year 2007 2008
Church Starts 25,497 24,650
Baptisms 609,968 506,000
Missionaries 5,551 5,512

Read January’s Inflated and fabricated Southern Baptist Mission numbers for the full, thorough dissection.

Publishing another set of numbers so similar as to be similarly questionable, and doing so without compelling explanation, seems to suggest to the folks in the pews that they are regarded as numbskulls.

Watch. It is they from whom cometh the contributions.

They are as acutely aware of being taken for granted as are the missionaries in the field.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Is IMB taking missionaries in the field and people in the pews for granted?

SBC’s North American Mission Board and conservative control

Broken at creation, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) North American Mission Board is a “wasteful funding mechanism” that “has served as a pressure device to keep state conventions in line with Southern Baptist Convention programs,” wrote SBC elder statesman Duke K. McCall.

North American Mission Board

McCall, who was SBC Executive Committee chief executive officer and president of two SBC seminaries, wrote in an essay in the recently published book Against The Wind by Carl L. Kell that:

The state conventions are a better alternative for domestic missions than a central organization. This has been obvious for at least 50 years in that most of the Cooperative Program funds sent to Atlanta for the North American Mission Board have actually been spent by the state conventions through various kinds of ‘partnership’ programs.

McCall is apparently recommending a return of power to and retention of funding by the state Baptist organizations – a view that is echoed complaints voiced recently at at Hardin Baptist Church in Dallas. Norman Jameson of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder wrote of that session:

Unfortunately, the church planter funding process through NAMB is cumbersome, even “stupid” as Jeff Long from Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia labeled it.

Host pastor Austin Rammell said there is “massive replication” in the process of identifying, training, placing and funding church plants and planters. “Either the state convention needs to go away or NAMB needs to go away,” said Rammell, who is on the Baptist State Convention board of directors. “I think the obvious answer is NAMB.”

Also arguing that the NAMB was a mistake from the moment of creation is Larry Lewis. He was president of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1995 when it was merged with the SBC Radio and Television Commission and the SBC Brotherhood Commission to create the NAMB. The NAMB was not created for the sake of efficiecy, Lewis said in an Aug. 13 interview with the Biblical Recorder:

Lewis said he has been told that the real reason behind the reorganization was that leaders of the “conservative resurgence” were displeased with him because he wasn’t aggressive enough about weeding out what they viewed as vestiges of liberalism at the HMB, but they didn’t want to fire him because they had supported his election and he affirmed biblical inerrancy. The solution, the story goes, was to reorganize the agency in a way that didn’t leave a place for Lewis.

It seems nonetheless clear that the GCR Task Force strategies will not involve the return of authority to state conventions that McCall implies and Lewis might accept. If there is a reorganization, it will almost inevitably involve further concentration of SBC executive authority through the merger of the troubled NAMB, whose focus is domestic ministries, with the SBC’s also troubled, missionary-sending, International Mission Board.

October 22, 2009 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , | Comments Off on SBC’s North American Mission Board and conservative control

Lost Shepherd Ted Haggard’s lessons for SBC leadership

Wade Burleson is able defender of the faith as he reviews Newsweek’s profile of Ted Haggard

It is when he turns to leadership that the Oklahoma Southern Baptist pastor is most eloquent:

We Christians should take an honest look at what it is we think qualifies a person to lead. I sometimes wonder if one of the problems of modern Christianity is that we have created such a false sense of super-spirituality that we succumb to a certain mode of pretending that we never struggle. Christians, especially we who lead, sometimes try to act as if we are perfect. We have pastors who bully those who question them, denominational leaders who call those who oppose their decisions “liberals” and other actions that lead me to believe we have a God-complex among some of our leaders. This false sense of moral invincibility has led to a climate where transparency, honesty, and personal integrity are no longer a part of our corporate faith. … .

Southern Baptist International Mission Board inflated, sometimes fabricated statistics of missionary accomplishment certainly raise those issues. Former IMB Trustee Burleson is expert on those matters. But his point is more general.

Burleson concludes:

The SBC church, institution or agency that believes the “leader” is beyond simple accountablity will find that leader has the capability to ruin the organization. When and if that happens, the fault will reside not only with the leader, but those laymen who were unable to see that a lack of transparency is the first indication that something is wrong.

Will his call to Southern Baptist reform be answered?

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , | Comments Off on Lost Shepherd Ted Haggard’s lessons for SBC leadership

IMB trustees refused money-saving reform

Enid, Okla., Southern Baptist Pastor Wade Burleson argues that the International Mission Board (IMB) system of trustee oversight is unnecessarily expensive in structure and process.

Frink summarizes:

The 89 IMB Trustees who are ultimately responsible for the statistics serve, Burleson reports, eight-year terms rich in expense-paid travel whose “costs are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”

Burleson, a vocal former IMB trustee who has blogged about the Southern Baptist Convention agency for years, recently wrote that during his tenure:

The waste associated with such an archaic system of oversight caused me and a handful of other trustees to advocate the reduction of trustees meetings to two a year; the first would be in January and held in Richmond and the second would be in June in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention. I further argued that the “commissioning” service for each missionary should be held at missionary’s “home” church, and that the “selection” of qualified Southern Baptist applicants should be up to the professional missiologists at the IMB who are paid to interview, train, and support missionaries across the Convention.

The money-saving proposals got nowhere:

Trustees opposed to such a radical reduction in trustee meetings and numbers argued against it by spiritualizing, as is the Southern Baptist habit, by saying: “We have such a HUGE ministry at the IMB that we have to constantly meet to provide proper oversight.”

This from a board whose “key mission numbers are inflated and some are fabricated” as a result of the pressure of a long-standing SBC drive to reverse decline.

With their budget tight and tightening, making such logical changes toward greater efficiency of board operation seems like the least they could do.

January 7, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , | Comments Off on IMB trustees refused money-saving reform

Inflated and fabricated Southern Baptist mission numbers

Former Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board member Wade Burleson persuasively argues that key mission numbers are inflated and some are fabricated.

In a Jan. 2 blog entry A Proposed New Year’s Resolution for the Southern Baptist Convention: Integrity in Numbers, he writes:

For example, in the Fast Facts posted on the International Mission Board web site, one reads that 5,551 missionaries were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 25,497 new church starts in 2007, and 609,968 baptisms.

He explains that "planting" a church is a complex, time-consuming, typically expensive process.

Likewise, the conversion and Christian nurture process which attends baptism is also complex and time-consuming.

Yet IMB numbers suggest that each of the 5,551 missionaries in the field:

  • Plants an average of five new churches per missionary in 2007.
  • Baptises an average of 120 new members per missionary in 2007.

The numbers defy belief, he and some of those who commented on the blog suggested, and are not supported by the documenting data required to answer questions like:

“Where do these churches exist?”, “How many people attend?”, “Who pastors them?”, “How many are still in existence?” etc . . .

He reports having inquired:

I have asked some of our SBC missionary personnel to give me the names of those baptized under their care as reported on the Annual Statistical Report – only to be given a blank stare by many. It seems there is no record of either the names of those baptized or churches they attend. The baptism number is simply that – a number.

How are the numbers padded?

. . . all that IMB field missionary personnel have to do is simply say they started a church, and it is recorded as a “new” church start. Or, sometimes, as reported to me by several field missionaries, they report on some excellent Bible study groups they have started, and “presto” – several new churches are born and wind up being reported by their supervisors on the Annual Statistical Report. Or, as has happened in various regions, statistics are given about “new” church starts that have nothing to do with SBC personnel; they have been started by indigenous people groups that have absolutely no connection with SBC personnel in the area.

He bases his views on confidential reports from those in the field:

I have had missionary personnel from different regions in the world write me with concerns about the reporting process and ask “When is somebody going to challenge the numbers?”

His view is supported by comments from Montgomery, AL., pastor Alan Cross, who wrote:

I wrote a similar post on the now defunct SBC Outpost last May. To back up what you are saying, I communicated with missionaries from 4 different regions before writing my post. None of them were connected but they all told the same story. Pressure from superiors (both administration and trustees) had created an environment where numbers were being exaggerated and sometimes fabricated.

Cross also indicated sweeping problems with the reported numbers. He wrote:

There are CPM’s (church planting movements) that have been reported that do not exist presently, or if they ever did, they are not able to be found now. There are church plants that have been reported that do not exist, or if they do, they are totally the work of indigenous believers. The baptism numbers are totally wrong.

They seem to agree about why numbers are being exaggerated and fabricated. As Burleson wrote:

The fault lies with the system we have constructed that puts such an ungodly emphasis on numbers.

Their desire for simple reform is painfully clear.

Such systems are, unfortunately, rarely self-correcting.

January 6, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mission Board should (finally) do the right thing

The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB) missed an opportunity to secure its credibility and protect the public when it failed to prosecute an embezzler, who is now accused of insurance fraud in Alabama, and concealed the incident.

We’ll see if the board’s leaders make the same mistake twice.

In 2005, the mission board decided that a judgment ordering Benton Gray Harvey to repay more than $362,000 was sufficient.

According to former IMB member Wade Burleson, the trustees took an oath of secrecy and so managed to keep the issue hidden from the public until news reports revealed investigations into the dealings of Harvey and another man at an insurance company in Alabama.

The IMB’s decision was clearly flawed. But the recent revelation gives it a second chance to make things right.

Here’s what its leaders should do immediately.

  • Release all the information (not otherwise sequestered by law) from its own investigation into Harvey’s handling of mission board money. This should have occurred three years ago.
  • Call on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to hire an independent firm paid by the mission board to conduct a thorough audit of all board finances, including those handled by Harvey.
  • When the audit is completed, allow the auditors to conduct press conferences and release all their findings. This will show that mission board leaders want all the truth to come out.
  • Release the full mission board budget, including salaries and expenses, and call on other Southern Baptist agencies to do the same. For too long, the salaries of Southern Baptist executives have been hidden from those who contribute the offerings that pay them. It has created the perception, perhaps a correct one, that the executives would be embarrassed if their high salaries were revealed.
  • Reconsider and reevaluate its mission strategy in areas where missionaries are legally not allowed. This complex issue deserves close examination.
  • Repay the insurance company in Alabama for its losses due to Harvey’s activities – activities which timely criminal prosecution by the IMB would arguably have made impossible. The owner of the insurance agency that hired Harvey is trying to repay those he swindled. The mission board should do no less.

These steps will bring the IMB closer to regaining the trust of those who pay its bills through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , | 1 Comment