The New NAMB: 90 Days Goes By Fast!

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!

7 comments for “The New NAMB: 90 Days Goes By Fast!

  1. October 4, 2010 at 6:21 AM

    Howell: I know you have bigger bear to roast in the SBC, but I do want to take on one of your building block analogies in this piece.
    Not your immediate concern, but with the 1972 Nixon analogy lot going on there that inflects the SBC in myriad of ways.
    Tony Cartledge had a grand insight last year about the way Billy Graham “insinuated” himself into SBC politics.
    Long story short and we’ll come back to it later; Steven Miller’s recent work on Nixon, Graham, Race and the Rise of the Southern GOP is a must read for you.
    Right after Nixon’s 72 win, Harry Dent’s daughter–Dent, Nixon’s Southern Strategist and Graham’s Columbia SC crusade chair in 80–came to the same small University in which I was enrolled; and later her sister was IMB trustee.

    Two in 1983, at a family Reunion in East Tennessee, my Dad Preached to George McGovern, at a small UMC church where 80 percent of the gathering that day I’m fairly certain voted for Nixon in 72.
    And the son of Nixon’s barber was my University Chaplain.
    UBama Coach Nick Saban was on the grounds and witnessed the Kent State massacre in early May 1970. Two weeks later Nixon was on the dais of a Billy Graham Crusade service at Vol Stadium in Knoxville, Tn.

  2. Katie
    October 4, 2010 at 8:03 AM

    Hi Howell,

    First, let me say I’m glad you are blogging! I resonate with much of what you have posted in the last few weeks! The SBC seems to be at a critical juncture; the more people are aware of what is going on, the more likely we can corporately make good decisions about the future.

    Here’s what Ezell told NAMB staff according to Baptist Press (“NAMB’s Ezell: ‘Considerable Change’ Coming”):

    “There are a lot of changes and some things coming down the road. I don’t know what all of those are,” Ezell told the NAMB staff at the mission board’s offices in Alpharetta, Ga. “Knowing that there are changes coming and not knowing who exactly that would involve, we wanted to offer an incentive to those who might already be thinking about retirement.”

    The fact that Ezell announces major change and simultaneously confesses he doesn’t know exactly what those changes will be is a little disconcerting. If he doesn’t know, who does? The trustees? GCR Task Force members? Why doesn’t he know (other than the fact that it’s pretty early to expect him to know much about NAMB’s inner workings)?

    The IMB recently underwent a major structural change that has been both positive and negative for those of us on the field. It was unveiled in a similar way. We all knew that things would change but no one, in Richmond, in the newly established support centers, in the old regional offices, could adequately answer questions about new policies and procedures. For 12 months it seemed that the only answer anyone could give was “We don’t know yet.” I hope NAMB won’t go down the same road, because it has been frustrating!

    It’s hard to guess from the lack of specifics Ezell offered. But, do you think NAMB’s new modus operandi will be to work more independently of State Conventions and Associations?


    • October 4, 2010 at 9:20 AM


      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate your interest in what I have written. You make a good observation about what Ezell said he knew and then what he said he didn’t know. I think that the establishment leaders, including some (but perhaps not all) of those who were on the GCR Task Force, know exactly what is coming. While we thought that we were voting to create a Task Force that would help all Southern Baptists more effectively carry out the Great Commission, what we in fact elected was a radical reorganization committee that did all their work behind closed doors. And then, after the fact, they sealed all their records so Southern Baptists won’t know the plans that were discussed about NAMB and IMB and the rest of the Convention.

      If you read the actual body of the GCR Report, you will see clearly that NAMB wants to have more centralized control. I think that NAMB will most definitely work more independently of the State and Associations. They have talked about setting up 7 Regional NAMB offices to “oversee” NAMB missionaries. I thought NAMB already had 42 State Conventions/Fellowships that could do that. When people in leadership at IMB and NAMB say they do not “know” what is going to happen, I find that hard to believe. Someone — trustees, leadership, establishment — knows what they want to happen. They just don’t want to let rank and file Southern Baptists or on-the-field missionaries know. As you say, very disconcerting. Hope all is well where you are. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by. God bless,


      • October 5, 2010 at 9:02 AM

        Not to mix Mohlerism with the NAMB unnecesarily, but I do think this key passage from the Cover Story at CToday easily googled does go to the heart of not only the NAMB but also the entire SBC.
        And for a greater conundrum, see my comment at blog on competition

        In meantime, see the the CT Reform article of Mohler:

        The conservatives who led the revolution of the 1980s were unprepared for this. “They thought they’d get rid of 200,000 moderates, then would have a great majority who were inerrantists, and their theology would keep them as the largest and most thriving denomination,” says Leonard. “The thing that’s worrying them is the newer generation of pastors, bloggers, and laity, the postmodern evangelical types who do not toe the line on the things they agree on.”

        Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a longtime friend of Mohler, sees the problem as structural rather than ideological. “We exchanged a moderate, neo-orthodox, liberal bureaucracy for a more conservative, even fundamentalist bureaucracy. But I think some of the folks who are part of the bureaucracy would have been part of it regardless of who won. They are bureaucrats at heart, atheological …. That’s something we didn’t see, and now we have to deal with it.”

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