Smaller staff, greater efficiency key to NAMB
    October 22 2010 by Joe Westbury, The Christian Index

    LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Things will never be the same again.

    And, they will be better.

    That’s the sober two-edged message that newly elected North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell sent to state convention partners, Alpharetta staff, and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during his first board meeting Oct. 20.

    Citing the urgent but inevitably painful need to set aside what is good in order to achieve what is great, Ezell cast his vision for the future of the agency which has struggled with its identify since its founding in 1997.

    Trustees gathered in Los Angeles, Calif., Oct. 17-20 to hear the new president, commission missionaries, and tour area ministry sites to better understand what is occurring in a multicultural field as diverse as Southern California.

    Ezell sounded a somber note about staff reductions but said the step was necessary to be more effective stewards of money Southern Baptists are channeling to the agency. At the urging of Georgia Trustee Chairman Tim Dowdy, trustees established a Vision Committee whose members will be appointed by Ezell to help him shape the agency in coming months.

    Early in his comments Ezell established the mantra that being good is the enemy of being great. He expressed gratitude for NAMB’s heritage to that point in history but admitted that little is being done to effectively penetrate lostness.

    “Our intent is to do it and our hearts are in the right place but not our results,” he said.

    “NAMB has the primary task to assist churches, not to employ people. Therefore we have to very objectively evaluate (differentiate) what is good from what is great. We cannot sacrifice what is great so we can do many things that are average-to-good (on a scale),” he continued.  

    ‘Very difficult decisions’
    Ezell said there would be some “very difficult decisions that he will be called on to make and he said he would call on the trustees to stand by him in eliminating some things in order to focus on the right thing.

    Some of that staff reduction, which Ezell has pegged at 25 percent or about 70 positions initially, will be offset by employees who are taking advantage of an enhanced retirement package.

    Last month the retirement threshold was lowered to age 55 and would have applied to about 107 employees, or nearly a third of NAMB’s Alpharetta staff. But it was recently lowered again to age 54 to help those who were interested but did not quite qualify. That increased the pool of eligible candidates to about 124, newly elected Vice President for Communications Mike Ebert explained.

    Initial accounts are that about 30 individuals have accepted the retirement offer and several others are still considering the incentive. They have until Nov. 23 to make their decision for severance pay and generous medical benefits until age 65.

    “We can absolutely do better,” Ezell said about helping the agency redefine its focus. “I am very excited about the years to come but we have got to bring focus to the agency and narrow the credibility gap. The younger the minister, the greater the credibility gap that we have.”

    Joe Westbury/Christian Index

    Early in his first report to NAMB’s trustees Kevin Ezell set the tone of radical change coming to the agency. He stated forthrightly that substantial change in staffing levels and organizational structure is on the horizon but the lostness of North America required no less.

    Ezell said the agency has begun a self-audit, going through every area “very meticulously to examine everything that we do and realign the structure — not just to change it for the sake of change but to do it in the most effective way possible.”

    Regarding how NAMB operates in the future through partnerships, he said “the table (of decision making) will not be small and those around it will not be few; rather, the table will be increased and the team will all be focused on our shared objectives.

    “We absolutely can do this together,” he said about reaching North America through better relationships with state conventions, associations, and local churches.  

    States frustrated by unknowns
    The new president acknowledged that many in state conventions are concerned and frustrated by forthcoming changes, many recommended by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report. Most important is the seven-year phase out of the Cooperative Agreements.

    “It’s a fearful time for many state conventions and they want answers. I have observed in human nature that whenever there are questions followed by empty blanks, people fill in the blanks with answers that are much worse than reality.”

    Ezell said he is assuring state conventions that NAMB is committed to working with the entities.

    “We absolutely want a relationship with associations and state conventions and to mobilize them even greater than in the past.

    “Anytime you have 42 state conventions and NAMB and others at the table it is going to take some time. Discussions with each state convention will result in a strategy that is unique to their situation,” he added.

    “As I told one state convention executive director, ‘We can still do this (negotiate the phase out and new funding options) and be friends. We may not agree but we can sit down, have a conversation, and love one another through this. The best way to accomplish our goals is to do it together and not work against each other.

    “Those days (of confrontation) are over; it’s a new day and we’re going to work with people and not against them,” he stressed.  

    Adding staff not necessary to reach goals
    Regarding staffing levels, Ezell said it will not always be necessary to add staff to accomplish the agency’s goals. In fact, he said, some church planting groups with less than a tenth of NAMB’s purchasing power are showing themselves to be more effective.

    Ezell acknowledged that income from the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering have been declining for several years and the agency needs to take that into consideration when it comes to evaluating staffing levels. But declining revenue doesn’t necessarily mean that the agency will be poised to do less in coming years.

    “We are going to do the very best with every dollar that Southern Baptists send us. We are going to provide a compelling vision that will encourage them to give with even greater sacrifice. But money will not drive our efforts to reach North America for Christ; what will drive this is the passion of the church, the passion of the people.

    “I’m not discouraged or feel like when we have less money that we have less resources. We just have to look at our resources as being painted in different colors than green (signifying money).” Regarding regional church planting, Ezell said that most Southern Baptists assume that mainline and established state conventions have plenty of churches, but that is not always the case.

    “As a result of the Task Force recommendations some pastors assumed we were not going to focus on mainline states. In reality we will shift a priority of resources to the less-reached sections of the nation such as the West, Northeast, and Canada. But that does not mean we are going to disregard other areas.

    “In Florida, for example, there are 18 million people but fewer churches than Kentucky or Tennessee. We will not stop planting churches in those two states, but we will need to focus on those other areas where the population needs are the greatest.”

    Ezell then rhetorically asked, “Where do we go from here?”  

    NAMB’s blueprint for the future
    “First, we will determine NAMB’s focus, then build a strategy to support that focus, and then develop a staffing strategy.

    “Everyone wants to know ‘who’ and ‘where ‘ (in this staffing scenario) but we really will not know until we have a strategy; then we will add or reduce staff according to that strategy.

    “What I do know is that not all NAMB staff will need to be fulltime and based in Alpharetta. We will decentralize but new positions will not necessarily be fulltime staff. We will use pastors and others who are doing a wonderful job where they are but can advise us in our efforts. We are now living in 2010; (due to technology) you do not have to have everyone (living) in Alpharetta in order to work together.

    Ezell said the agency’s focus will be mobilizing Southern Baptists for evangelism that results in church planting. He then quoted Peter Wagner, who said “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.”

    Ezell then affirmed the agency’s dependence on the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for its livelihood.

    “I have repeatedly been asked ‘Are you going to strongly support the CP and Annie Armstrong offerings?’ and my answer has always been ‘Absolutely.’

    Ezell then said NAMB has “an incredible opportunity” to tap into those pastors who, like himself, had disengaged from Southern Baptist life because they saw that the system was broken.  

    Regret over disengaging
    “One of the things that I regret is that I disengaged from the Kentucky Baptist Convention as a pastor. Very soon the KBC will be voting to move toward a 50/50 goal with their CP giving and it will happen with no help from me.

    “Years ago when I examined the system I became very frustrated and disengaged. We still gave to the Convention but I did not attend many meetings and distanced myself from it. In fact, I told a good friend, Herschel York, that he would never change that machine (the way the state convention operated). Next week at their annual meeting he will prove me wrong, and I am thankful for men like Herschel York who stayed engaged.

    “I believe there are thousands of pastors who are ready to become re-engaged if we provide them with a compelling vision and show them how we are effectively using the money that they encourage their people to give to the two offerings.

    In other business trustees learned of the retirements of three vice presidents — Richard Harris, vice president of missionary sending and former interim president; Harry Lewis, vice president of partnership missions and mobilization and David Meacham, vice president of associational strategies.

    Harris and Lewis will remain for an undetermined amount of time in a limited role to assist state conventions in the phase-out of the Cooperative Agreements.

    Trustees also created two new vice president positions. Mike Ebert, communications team leader, was elevated to vice president of communications and Clark Logan, currently with LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, was hired as vice president of ministry controls.
    10/22/2010 5:43:00 AM by Joe Westbury, The Christian Index | with 8 comments

Glenna Stopa
I know this is really boring and you are skipping to the next comment, but I just wanted to throw you a big thanks – you cleared up some things for me!
11/14/2010 11:29:34 AM

Kevin C
I guess the obvious question would be....who are his mentors? It seems clear to me that you don't like Ezell in his position. That's fine, you are entitled to your opinion. I don't see how I stuck my head in the sand when you made the jump from saying that since he quoted a secular business book, everything will be ran like it is a secular business. I don't really see how you can justify that claim. Time will tell if you are correct or not. The fact that the HQ is in Alpharetta means nothing to many of us. Maybe you can explain why that makes us more of a "religion business" and shows that we don't care about missions. Jesus is not proud because the HQ is in Alpharetta? I guess I'm just confused.
11/1/2010 3:18:06 PM

James Howard
Actually, Kevin, you provided no assistance at all. You simply stuck your head in the sand and said what is expected. I submit, based on his initial personnel actions, that he is following raw, secular management principles. After all, his mentors have more in common with the board room than the upper room.
10/27/2010 5:51:14 PM

Kevin C
James, The answer to your question is no. One should not reasonably conclude that the new leader of NAMB intends to do that. Glad I could be of assistance.
10/27/2010 11:30:04 AM

James Howard
In the article it was reported that "Ezell established the mantra that being good is the enemy of being great." Sorry, but Mr. Ezell did not "establish" that phrase; he lifted it from Jim Collins' book "Good To Great," a secular business management book written several years ago. Should one reasonably conclude that the new leader of the North American Mission Board intends to reorganize that agency according to secular business management principles rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At least that would be honest. It would help make some sense of the "headquarters" campus in Alpharetta and will proclaim to North America that Southern Baptists are in the religion business, rather than the Christian missions movement. I'm sure Jesus is proud.
10/24/2010 1:46:55 PM

Gene Scarborough
Brent--[b]I respectfuly disagree!!![/b]

[b]What would be the problem with offering this deal:[/b] [i]"All staff stays! We simply reduce by the appropriate percentage, starting with my triple-digit salary, the income of everyone to what is NOT BEING GIVEN by mega churches like mine."[/i]

The alternative would be that those churches whose leaders are now key decision-makers for the SBC, get off their selfish budgets and get the money to missionaries as we used to. A highly paid staff on a super expensive ornate campus in "Affluent Alpharetta" hardly reflects our Saviour walking dusty roads to meet the poor and needy where they sit in the corner of society!
10/23/2010 9:24:47 AM

Brent Hobbs
I'm sure that Bill and others will continue to try and paint Kevin Ezell as a one-man demolition crew. The fact is that the messengers of the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention made clear that this is what we believe needs to happen. Ezell was selected precisely because he would carry out those wishes and lead NAMB into a new paradigm of ministry.
10/22/2010 4:35:50 PM

How sad, that for the first time that I can remember we (through our Trustees) have hired an agency leader who led his church to reduce funding to the CP, and by his own admission had stepped away from being involved in our denominational work. It is interesting to note that as they are cutting staff and forcing people out, one of the first things they did was hire a new staff member (currently an employ of Lifeway). Furthermore, he was allowed to appoint the members of the Vision Committee. I think we all know what the results of that study will be. They will simply radify what Mr. Ezell wants.
10/22/2010 12:25:59 PM

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