When I was younger, time seemed to stand still. As I have gotten older (44 next month), time goes by faster. Talking with senior adults, they tell me that the older they get, the faster time flies by. Here we are in October, with Thanksgiving and Christmas less than 90 days away. Three months, depending on your vantage point, may or may not seem like a long time. For my boys, Christmas can’t get here fast enough. For others, Christmas was just last week. Perspective matters.
It will be around Christmas-time this year that Kevin Ezell will have completed his first 90 days as the new President of the North American Mission Board. Recently, Dr. Ezell told the staff of NAMB that “considerable change” was coming down the pike. As part of that change, some employees of NAMB will be offered early retirement. Apparently, downsizing at Alpharetta will be necessary in order to free up 50% of NAMB’s budget for church planting. In a recent talk to employees of the Mission Board, Dr. Ezell said,
“Today, we’ve got the potential of entering a golden age of church planting. The GCR (Great Commission Resurgence) and Southern Baptists made it very clear that they want us to be about church planting. Fifty percent of NAMB’s budget is to be for church planting. So we need to be building the greatest church planting network in the world. God has given us the resources. We will have the passion. But we must focus and get it done. We can be the greatest church planting network the world has ever seen—to God’s glory, not our own.
The changes that Ezell envisions for the North American Mission Board will be of such magnitude that he “compared it to company that had been making washing machines and now will be making cars.” I don’t know. That sounds pretty radical to me. While I agree that the GCRTF Report made it clear that it wanted NAMB to focus on church planting, I would beg to differ that “Southern Baptists” spoke as clearly as Ezell and the rest of the SBC establishment thinks it did. That is, unless you consider 75% of voting messengers from 10% of the 42,000+ SBC churches as speaking clearly for ALL Southern Baptists.
In the radical re-prioritization that Ezell and others within the ruling class of the Convention are advocating, they are increasingly like the liberal Manhattan elites of the early 1970s. After Richard Nixon was overwhelmingly re-elected as President of the United States in 1972, there were many liberals in posh areas of NYC that were stunned. When asked how this could have happened, they were dumbfounded because they didn’t know anyone who had voted for Nixon. Likewise, many within the SBC establishment do not know anyone who is against turning NAMB into a church planting network. In fact, I’ve had that very same online conversation with one of the younger establishment leaders who in essence said that he didn’t know anyone who wasn’t in favor of church planting being the main focus of the new NAMB.
Maybe Ezell and others should get out more among the grassroots Southern Baptists that NAMB serves. Maybe the new President of NAMB should spend his first few months in office listening to Baptist State Convention Executive Directors and other NAMB partner entities. Oh wait. That’s exactly what Dr. Ezell said that he would do. In one of his first interviews after his election, Ezell told Lifeway’s Ed Stetzer:
I know there are a lot of expectations, but I want to take the first 90 days and just listen. I don’t want to be someone who starts talking about how to fix the car without even lifting up the hood to get a look inside. That’s what I’d be doing if I tried to outline a strategy for NAMB right now.
That interview, posted on Dr. Stetzer’s blog on September 24, was conducted during the first week of Ezell’s tenure as the new President of the North American Mission Board. If Dr. Ezell wanted to take the “first 90 days and just listen,” that would mean that his listening tour would conclude sometime in the middle of December. Now, less than two weeks in, Southern Baptists are told that “considerable change” and “a lot of changes” will be coming. What changed in the last few weeks? How did we go from “just listening” during the first 90 days to all these changes, including an incentive for early retirement?
Don’t misunderstand. I am not at all surprised by these considerable radical changes coming to NAMB. Everyone should have known by reading the GCRTF’s Final Report and Recommendations what changes would be coming. But, even more tellingly, some of us suspected what would be coming by what we were not told. For those of you who may be new readers to my blog, I would encourage you to read two of my earlier posts, Radically Redefining Transparency Within the SBC (Part 1 and Part 2). The GCR Task Force unilaterally sealed ALL their records for 15 years. Why? I don’t mean what the spokesmen for the Task Force told us was the reason why. I mean the real reason why ANY and ALL records, including any minutes or summation of proceedings from any of the Task Force’s meetings are unavailable for review by rank and file Southern Baptists.
For many Southern Baptists, there is a weariness to the “say one thing and then do another thing” mentality that characterizes so much of the establishment within the SBC. There is a growing discontent with leaders who call for a new day of transparency in our Convention, but then practice what only President Obama would consider transparency. If one of our leaders doesn’t have any intention of “just listening” for the first 90 days of his tenure, just say so. Otherwise, I might think that I’m older than I really am because those last 90 days were a blur!