September 2010

Ezell meets staff,
 emphasizes church planting

September 17 2010 by Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — The first person North American Mission Board employees saw at the front door of the building on Wednesday morning was NAMB’s newest employee, who greeted each of them with a smile and a handshake.

It was the mission board’s new president, Kevin Ezell. Later that afternoon (Sept. 15), despite a sudden bout with laryngitis, Ezell met with NAMB’s 250-member staff.

While he couldn’t say much, Ezell made them laugh and briefly outlined his vision for NAMB.

Ezell was introduced by trustee chairman Tim Dowdy, pastor of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga. The introduction came a day after Ezell was elected as NAMB president in a called meeting of the trustees, effective immediately.

“On behalf of the trustees, I want to thank you for taking the time to pray for us over the last 10 months,” Dowdy said. “We call it a search (for president) but it’s more of a discovery process. God knows what He’s doing. We don’t always know what He’s doing or where He is leading. So it’s not our job to search, it’s our job to discover His will. And that’s what we did over the last 10 months. It’s been a very methodical, prayer-saturated discovery.”

Photo by John Swain

New North American Mission Board (NAMB) president Kevin Ezell meets with some 250 NAMB staff members Sept. 15, outlining his vision for the mission board’s work.

Before welcoming him with a rousing standing ovation, NAMB staffers watched a video introducing the 48-year-old Ezell, his wife Lynette and his five children. The Ezells’ two oldest daughters — Anna and Shelly — are students at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. They also have son Taylor, 14; son John Michael, 11, whom they adopted from the Philippines; daughter Libby, 7, adopted from China; and daughter Micah Lyn, 5, adopted from Ethiopia.

Also featured in the video were SBC seminary presidents Paige Patterson, R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Daniel Akin, Union University President David S. Dockery and David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.

“One of the greatest things we can do as Christian leaders is to recognize that people are our greatest resource,” Ezell told NAMB’s staff.

“There are pastors and laypeople who want to invest and engage in church planting,” said Ezell, who is known for his intense passion for church planting. “We need to allow them to be part of missions and do missions. That is what’s going to ignite the Southern Baptist Convention.

“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,” Ezell said.

Insisting that NAMB staffers call him “Kevin” and not “Dr. Ezell,” the mission board’s new president said, “I want you to know that I’m here because I absolutely feel God has called me here. But I don’t have a cape with an ‘S’ on it. I have no white horse. I just want to do the right thing.

“I want to earn your trust and I don’t mind that,” he said. “Just give me a chance. Let’s test each other and let the results be our grading card.”

Ezell told the NAMB staff that “we do what we do — not because we work for NAMB or for Southern Baptists, or because we’re trying to get people to write or say nice things about us. We have to remember who we’re doing it for. You don’t work for NAMB, you work for Him. We’re going to work together and be a team. It’s more fun that way.”

Ezell had served as senior pastor of Highview Baptist Church, a multi-campus 6,000-member church in Louisville, Ky., since 1996.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)
9/17/2010 3:54:00 AM by Mickey Noah, North American Mission Board | with 3 comments

Report finds spike in U.S. poverty levels

September 17 2010 by Whitney Jones, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — The number of people in poverty in America increased to its highest recorded point last year, and the poverty rate rose to its highest level since 1994, new statistics show.

The Census Bureau released data Thursday (Sept. 16) that showed a significant annual increase in poverty, rising 1.1 percentage points to 14.3 percent in 2009. A total of 43.6 million live in poverty – the highest since recording began in 1959 — and up from 39.8 million in 2008.

As result of the ongoing financial crisis, social service programs such as Catholic Charities USA are faced with the challenge of increased needs from individuals and working families, budget cuts and a decrease in individual donations.

Catholics Charities served more than 9 million people in 2009, and reported a 10 percent increase in need for nutrition, housing and financial services.

Larry Snyder, president and CEO of Catholics Charities, said that while the statistics were staggering, they did not come as a surprise to those who work with people in poverty on a daily basis.

“These numbers are further proof that as a nation it is time to re-examine our failing system of safety nets,” said Snyder.

David Beckmann, president of the anti-hunger group Bread for the World, echoed Snyder’s concern, calling “the faithful to get off the couch and change the politics of hunger and poverty.”

While government leaders are eager to support the rich and middle class, they are leaving the poor behind, said Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches.

“Our political leaders’ calculated neglect of the poor while courting the votes of the comfortable offends the Creator of the universe,” Kinnamon said. “Any measures taken should not only stimulate the economy but benefit everyone, especially those living on the economic margins.”  
9/17/2010 3:53:00 AM by Whitney Jones, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

LifeWay leadership reports challenge, growth

September 16 2010 by Micah Carter and Russ Rankin, LifeWay

GLORIETA, N.M. — Executive leadership of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention reported that LifeWay is positioned for continued health and growth despite the global economic downturn that has affected the way churches and individuals select programs and resources for spiritual growth and discipleship.  

At the semiannual meeting of LifeWay’s board of trustees, held Sept. 13-14, 2010, at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico, executive leaders updated trustees on the following areas of ministry:

Finance and Business Services
Vice President and CFO Jerry Rhyne reported that LifeWay continues to manage effectively the realities of the “new normal” economic climate, keeping operations on solid footing with a strong bottom line for the 2010 fiscal year. The finance and business services division experienced an overall strong year with cost-saving initiatives that will continue to benefit LifeWay in 2011 and beyond.

Rhyne shared that financial challenges and cost increases will likely be met through real revenue growth, slight price increases of resources and reduced operational costs and expenses.

“We must keep in mind that LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model,” Rhyne said. “And that means that for us to make the most of our ministry assignment we need to be productive and effective with our business operations to lead LifeWay into greater ministry impact in the days and months to come.”

Rhyne also shared that LifeWay’s conference centers continue to feel the impact of a tough economy, yet continue to attract guests with new and renovated facilities. Both LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina and LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico have seen a decrease in overall event attendance, which was expected as churches scaled back in response to the economic downturn, according to Rhyne.

Rhyne emphasized that LifeWay camps at both conference centers remain very popular, with some sold out well in advance. “I am grateful to see consistent and strong participation in our camp options,” Rhyne said, noting that updates and renovations to camp facilities continue to attract attendees.

Vice President and CIO Tim Vineyard reported that the technology division is leading LifeWay into new areas of ministry, especially regarding digital resources and solutions.

“A more efficient IT operation and an environmentally responsible management of technology assets are key components for moving LifeWay forward to increased productivity and efficiency across the organization,” Vineyard said.

Vineyard noted that LifeWay’s technology division is seeking to make the most of digital capabilities and solutions that create possibilities to strengthen and support both ministry and business needs.

Photo by Russ Rankin

From left: Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, is joined by Selma Wilson, LifeWay’s new B&H Publishing Group vice president; Brad Waggoner, new executive vice president; and Ed Stetzer, elected by trustees as vice president of research and ministry development.

“Almost every ministry and business activity at LifeWay is enabled by technology,” he said. “We must utilize all capabilities at our disposal for advancing our mission to be the No. 1 Christian resource provider in the world.”

Vineyard told trustees that LifeWay is currently rated 126th out of top 500 U.S. internet retailers as reported in the 2010 Internet Retailing Top 500 Guide.

LifeWay also is pursuing an e-publishing strategy that provides the capability to deliver content in virtually any format customers may demand, he shared, most notably via iPad and iPhone apps and also digital curriculum downloads.

“We are making significant investments with new technologies that will enable LifeWay to better serve our customers,” said Vineyard. “Our goal is to provide multiple ways for customers to search, find, select and purchase LifeWay resources to assist them in their ministry.”

Some of these new solutions include recently released iPad apps such as “Breaking Free” by Beth Moore and the HCSB Study Bible — both available in the iTunes AppStore.

LifeWay also launched on Sept. 1 as a new online Bible study resource for users. Vineyard told trustees that churches may also find digital services at to assist them in ministry.

Executive Communications and Relations
Vice President Tom Hellams highlighted multiple ways his division carries the story of LifeWay ministries further through community relations, ministry ventures, Holman Bible Outreach International, and news and information services.

“Our purpose is to support LifeWay employees and ministries by speaking, serving and sending,” said Hellams. “Through our communications efforts, we speak on behalf of many in our organization. Through corporate relations, we organize employee resources and serve the community on their behalf. And through ministry ventures we mobilize employees and send them out on LifeWay-sponsored mission trips.”

Hellams recalled the May 1, 2010, flooding in Nashville, Tenn., that affected so many people, including dozens of LifeWay employees. He shared with trustees the generosity of employees to donate money and time to serve and support those within the LifeWay family who had suffered loss.

“It is a joy to work among people who genuinely seek to live out the gospel in time of need,” Hellams said. “I’m extremely pleased with the concern and service in Christian love I’ve seen that LifeWay employees have for others.”

LifeWay Christian Stores
Vice President Mark Scott reported solid ministry results for 2010 in a “not-so-solid marketplace” reflected in both the retail industry and economy. 

“We don’t know where the economy will go, but we do know that consumers and churches are concerned and careful about spending,” he said.

Scott shared that sales of Bibles, books and other key product lines continued to grow through LifeWay stores. “We have solid strategies and sound operating plans,” Scott said. “We are performing well, and we have very strong relationships with our customers. We are extremely grateful for each and every one.”

The number of LifeWay Christian Stores across the nation now stands at 163.

LifeWay Research
Ed Stetzer, newly elected vice president for research and ministry development, highlighted the strategic focus of the new division through a growing number of media through which LifeWay Research is sharing information, reaching churches and broadening LifeWay’s reach.

The digital media world enables users to “go straight to the content they need” and “use our content in ways we could not imagine just a few years ago,” Stetzer said. He cited recent stories on LifeWay Research data that appeared in USA Today and other secular media, as well as Christian magazines and news services, local news outlets and a variety of social media.

Stetzer said that LifeWay Research helps people to understand their contexts and churches for more effective ministry. 

“Facts are our friends,” he said. “As we help people know, that helps them do — and as a result churches are more effective as they live on mission.”

Stetzer also shared with trustees that the research and ministry development division will strive to be the premier knowledge-based resource leader.

B&H Publishing Group
Brad Waggoner, newly elected executive vice president and COO for LifeWay, reported positive financial closing for B&H Publishing Group at the end of fiscal year 2010, due in part to the continued strength of Bible sales, which will be further bolstered with the release of the HCSB Study Bible.

Waggoner praised the collaborative synergy among LifeWay divisions for the success of key initiatives that involve B&H, such as Transformational Church, CrossBooks, “The Love Dare” and a large collection of digital products and resources.

He also shared with trustees the strong relationship LifeWay has with Sherwood Baptist Church, producers of “Fireproof” and an upcoming film on biblical fatherhood called “Courageous.”

B&H has secured a publishing partnership with Michael Catt, pastor of Sherwood Baptist, and the Kendrick brothers of Sherwood Pictures to broaden the ministry reach of the movie.

“Having worked with Sherwood on ‘The Love Dare’ products, we are thrilled to partner once again with them to see what God might do to honor His name through this message on fatherhood,” Waggoner said. “Our prayer is that many homes and churches are strengthened through the resources that will arise from the relationship that God has formed between us.” Waggoner concluded his report by detailing B&H’s current digital presence and its ministry strategy to release books on the Kindle, Nook and iPad devices. B&H simultaneously releases new books across platforms, digitally and traditionally.

“I believe B&H is well-positioned for success in the digital future,” Waggoner said. “I’m excited to see what God will continue to do in this area through the leadership of B&H’s new vice president, Selma Wilson.”

Church Resources
John Kramp, vice president of church resources, shared with trustees the challenges the division has experienced as a result of the global financial recession. For individuals, families, churches and for LifeWay, the recession changed the rules, he said, but CRD has “responded when the rules changed. We must keep going forward.”

The focus of church resources remains unchanged, Kramp said, noting that LifeWay’s Transformational Church initiative provides a message of hope to churches desperate for answers in these tough times and provides a bedrock to CRD’s emphasis of providing focused ministry and discipleship resources for age groups from early childhood to senior adults.

In addition to a division-wide emphasis on Transformational Church, Kramp noted that church resources will focus on digital emphases, the partnership with Sherwood Pictures’ upcoming “Courageous” movie, and the restructuring of

Kramp described an array of products, events and services offered by the church resources division, including plans for a new preteen resource and three simulcast events, one with Beth Moore, one with Priscilla Shirer and one with Vicki Courtney. In 2011, the division will expand its camps for children and teenagers; help churches begin girls’ ministries; launch effective ministries to young adults; and connect people in groups, either through Sunday school or small-group ministry.

Kramp also noted that church resources continues its work to assist black and Hispanic churches in their ministries and continues to expand its ministry through LifeWay International.

“While the economic downturn has changed the rules for many churches,” Kramp said, “our confidence is in the One who rules and who is building His church.”  

Other business
In other business the trustees:
  • Passed a proposed amendment to bylaw Article II to better reflect the purposes and functions of LifeWay’s publishing and distribution of resources.
  • Filled board vacancies with the elections of Timothy Turner, senior associate pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., to replace Larry Purcell as Kentucky trustee; and Steve McNeil, team leader for Church Health and Communications at the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, to replace Joe Mays as Indiana trustee.
9/16/2010 8:25:00 AM by Micah Carter and Russ Rankin, LifeWay | with 2 comments

Campbell Divinity installs Wakefield as dean

September 15 2010 by Campbell Divinity School

The Campbell Divinity School celebrated the installation of Andrew Wakefield as dean at the commissioning service for new students Sept. 14.

Wakefield becomes only the second dean to lead the Divinity School since its founding in 1996. At that time there were 35 students enrolled in the founding class. Today, 220 students attend Campbell Divinity School.

In his inaugural remarks, Campbell President Jerry Wallace praised the performance of Michael Cogdill, the Divinity School’s first dean, saying that Cogdill, Campbell founder Archibald Campbell and Professor of Theology Charles Howard were three “wonderful men of God who wrote large on Campbell’s tradition of excellence.”

Photo by Bennett Scarborough

Andrew Wakefield, right, is installed as the new dean of the Campbell Divinity School by President Jerry M. Wallace.

“Dr. Wakefield, I want to affirm to you and everyone here that you are qualified to lead this divinity school and that the same qualities of these three great leaders reside in you,” Wallace said. “Everyone who has ever sat in Andy’s class has been inspired by his passion for teaching and Christian leadership. I know you will provide outstanding guidance and vision for the Divinity School, and you will have the support of all who love Campbell University.”

Andrew Wakefield has served on the Divinity School faculty since 1997, most recently as associate professor of New Testament and Greek. In 2008, he was appointed to the Lewis Edward and Martha Barnes Tyner Chair of Bible and was recognized with the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003. He is the author of numerous publications and has served on the board and as the associate editor for the Review & Expositor, a consortium Baptist theological journal.

Wakefield grew up in Southeast Asia, the son of missionaries. He earned a bachelor of arts from Wake Forest University and a master of divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned a Ph.D. in New Testament at Duke University. He has served as the interim pastor of eight churches and is a frequent preacher, Bible study teacher and retreat leader in churches across North Carolina.      
9/15/2010 11:35:00 AM by Campbell Divinity School | with 0 comments

N.C. trustees pleased with Ezell election

September 15 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor, and Mike Ebert, NAMB

ATLANTA — Kevin Ezell, pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., was elected president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in a special called meeting of NAMB trustees Sept. 14.

“I am honored and humbled that the trustees put this confidence in me,” Ezell said immediately following his interview and election by a 37-12 vote, all conducted in executive session. “I will do everything I possibly can to honor the Lord in this and to lead the board to a place where it is as effective as it possibly can be.”

Ezell’s selection had become controversial in the weeks after his nomination was announced Aug. 31. David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, urged trustees to continue searching for a candidate whose church exhibited a greater commitment to the two primary funding streams of NAMB work: the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

North Carolina NAMB trustees Todd Garren and Bruce Franklin both confessed to having some concerns going into the meeting, but both were emphatically positive when contacted afterwards.

“I had some concerns, but I’m proud to have a new president,” said Garren, pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in South Fork Association. “He’ll do a fantastic job … the hand of God is on him.”

Franklin, a lay leader at New Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Henderson, confirmed Garren’s assessment and said, “I can’t say enough about how God’s Spirit moved among us,” during the meeting.

A third trustee, Bud Parrish, had a family funeral and was unavailable for comment Sept. 15. North Carolina’s trustees said the concerns raised by Hankins earlier prompted questions in the board meeting and Ezell thanked those who asked the questions, saying they needed to be asked.

What “sealed the deal” for Franklin, he said, was the transparent, tearful statement Ezell made when the questioning was complete. According to Franklin, Ezell said he wasn’t running for the NAMB presidency but was concerned with reaching North America for Christ because he knew that’s what God was concerned with.

“The board represented the bulk of the Convention,” Garren said. “They raised the questions the people in the pew would have raised, which was good, because he’s going to be dealing with those questions.”

Garren said it is “not fair to categorize (Ezell) as an independent or a maverick” because of missions work and church planting conducted outside the traditional avenues of the Southern Baptist Convention. As a local pastor, Ezell was just trying to do what he saw to be most effective, Garren said.

Franklin and Garren both said Ezell’s election is a step toward fulfilling Great Commission Resurgence Task Force goals that will eventually see 50 percent of NAMB resources dedicated to church planting.

“What’s happening is going to be good for the Kingdom,” Garren said. “Will it be good for those who work at NAMB or at the International Mission Board under the former model? Maybe not so much.”

Ezell said he sensed God’s call to the role partly because of what can be accomplished through the North American Mission Board.

“I see the potential NAMB has if its energies and resources are focused in the right direction,” Ezell said. “I am looking forward to being able to give a very clear vision for it. You rarely have the opportunity to have this big of a Kingdom impact.”

Tim Dowdy, chairman of NAMB’s trustees and pastor of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., said Ezell’s leadership abilities, integrity and passion for church planting and missions are what led trustees to him.

“He has demonstrated faithful leadership and character and he has a passion for reaching the world,” Dowdy said. “One banner he will consistently wave is that our greatest resource in the SBC is not money, but people. We want to help mobilize our people and partner with them to reach North America for Christ.”

Ezell has been pastor of Highview Baptist Church since 1996 and was president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference in Orlando in June. 

Ezell said one of his first priorities as North American Mission Board president will be to spend time with church planters.

“They are on the front lines and I want to do everything I possibly can to free resources and direct resources to them and help them succeed,” Ezell said. “I love church planters. I like being around people who get in the ditch and do the work. That’s who I operate best with. So I look forward to connecting and investing in them.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ebert is team leader of communications for the North American Mission Board.)  
9/15/2010 9:50:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor, and Mike Ebert, NAMB | with 4 comments

Schaeffer collection given to Southeastern

September 15 2010 by Jason Hall, SEBTS Communications

WAKE FOREST — Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) announced Sept. 14 the addition of a voluminous collection of papers and correspondence of the late apologist Francis A. Schaeffer to Southeastern’s libary, thanks to the generosity of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation.

The collection is given to the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture for Southeastern Seminary. The collection includes select unpublished papers and correspondence, source materials, notes and recorded discussions of Schaeffer, one of evangelical Christianity’s most prominent 20th century voices and the author of 27 books.

SEBTS photo

Bruce Little, left, professor of Christian philosophy and director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary holds the Bible given to him by the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation. Deborah Middelmann, center, Schaeffer’s daughter, and her husband Udo, who heads up the foundation, presented the Bible during Southeastern’s chapel service Sept. 14.

The collection, of which Southeastern has custody, will be placed under the direction of Bruce Little, professor of Christian philosophy and director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, a ministry of Southeastern.

The foundation is overseen by its president, Udo Middelmann, who is Schaeffer’s son-in-law. Middelmann said the foundation is pleased to entrust these materials to Southeastern, in the hopes that Schaeffer’s work will continue to be influential for years to come. 

“A lifetime spent in the pursuit of truth, and its relationship to society, philosophy and culture, is found in the collected papers and correspondence of Francis Schaeffer,” Middelmann said.

Little said he is grateful for the opportunity to serve as custodian of the collection. “We are thankful to the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation for entrusting us with this priceless treasure of historical significance,” Little said.

“Every now and then, God gives his Church a unique voice for His people. Schaeffer was such a voice. It is our privilege to have a part in preserving and promoting this legacy for the generations to come.”

Schaeffer was born in the United States but spent most of his life in Switzerland with his wife Edith and their four children. In 1955, Francis and Edith Schaeffer opened their chalet/home to those who were seeking answers to life’s many questions and from that the ministry known as L’Abri began.

The Schaeffers welcomed thousands of visitors during several decades who learned from Schaeffer how the inerrant Scriptures gave the only fitting understanding of the real world. In addition to his more than two dozen books, Schaeffer also recorded the influential series of videos called How Should We Then Live? revealing the rise and decline of Western thought and culture.

“It is my hope that the spirit of Francis Schaeffer, with his mind for truth and heart of love, will pervade our campus,” said Southeastern President Danny Akin. “I pray that this collection will allow Southeastern to serve the Church by extending the legacy of this great man of faith.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hall directs Southeastern Seminary’s office of communications.)  
9/15/2010 4:23:00 AM by Jason Hall, SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments

NAMB board elects Ezell president

September 14 2010 by Mike Ebert, North American Mission Board

ATLANTA — Kevin Ezell has been elected president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). NAMB’s board of trustees approved the nomination in a special called meeting Sept. 14 in Atlanta.

Photo by John Swain

Bryant Wright, right, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., greets Kevin Ezell, left, pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., and his wife, Lynette, during a break in the Sept. 14 trustee meeting where Ezell was elected as NAMB’s next president.

Ezell’s nomination was announced Aug. 31 after NAMB’s seven-member presidential search committee voted unanimously to recommend him as president. Today’s meeting began at 8 a.m. Eastern Time and ended at noon with the announcement of the vote to approve Ezell.

Ezell has pastored Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., since 1996. He served as president of the SBC Pastor’s Conference this June in Orlando. He and his wife, Lynette, met with NAMB trustees for about an hour Tuesday morning in a closed session to discuss his nomination.

Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., attended the meeting. Wright delivered a devotion to NAMB trustees this morning before they entered into executive session to consider the vote.

“Today is an historic day in the life of NAMB,” Wright told trustees. “Today your big decision is to follow God’s will with a man the search committee clearly feels is God’s man for leading our churches as they go about the harvest.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ebert is team leader of communications for the North American Mission Board.)
9/14/2010 6:56:00 AM by Mike Ebert, North American Mission Board | with 4 comments

Ezell defends church’s giving record

September 13 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky pastor nominated to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) North American Mission Board (NAMB) says the search committee viewed his congregation’s emphasis on direct funding of missions — as opposed to funding through denominational channels — as an asset and not a liability.

“I was not considered to be president of the North American Mission Board without you,” Pastor Kevin Ezell said to worshipers at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 12. “They considered me and they have asked me to be nominated to do that because of you. They looked at Highview Baptist Church and all that you have done, and therefore considered me because I was the pastor here. So in a sense you are being nominated, and I happen to be the pastor, so it’s me.”

With seven campuses and 4,740 resident members, Highview plans to give more than $1.3 million this year to missions, but just over 2 percent of its budget will be channeled through the Cooperative Program, a unified budget system that funds both state and national Southern Baptist agencies.

State-convention executives in Louisiana and Arkansas have criticized Ezell’s nomination, saying the church’s comparatively low percentage of support for the Cooperative Program sets a poor example for other congregations.

Ezell apologized to church members for criticism directed at both him and the congregation since news of his selection broke Aug. 31 in the Florida Baptist Witness.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Ezell recalled one meeting with a committee in particular where his church’s reputation was discussed.

“They said: ‘We have heard about Highview for so many years,’ and ‘We have heard about incredible, unique, creative ways that you guys do ministry,’ and ‘Explain that again; how do you guys do that?’” Ezell said.

Highview’s missions giving criticized
In June the SBC adopted a Great Commission Task Force report that recognizes a new category called “Great Commission Giving” that includes both the Cooperative Program and giving to designated gifts for special purposes. That was after messengers amended the report to reaffirm the Cooperative Program, the denomination’s primary fund-raising channel since 1925 as “the most effective means” for missions support and say designated gifts should “supplement” and not “substitute” for the cooperative model.

Highview’s “Million to Missions” campaign sets aside $582,000 for local missions, including $145,000 for a mentoring/intern program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and $340,000 for campus ministry at nearby colleges and universities.

Nearly half of $150,000 for national causes goes to church plants in New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Boise, Idaho. Another $24,000 is set aside for mission-trip supplements and $25,000 for a student mission trip, compared to $10,000 for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering that supports work of NAMB.

The plan’s international-giving component of $700,000 includes $400,000 in Cooperative Program and $100,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering that supports work of the SBC International Mission Board. Other funds include $100,000 in mission-trip supplements, $5,000 for a missionary house and $10,000 for an international-adoption ministry.

David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, wrote an open letter Sept. 9 criticizing Ezell’s “demonstrated lack of support for the mission of NAMB.”

“While each local Southern Baptist church has the right to do whatever it decides about denominational mission support, those who would presume to lead Southern Baptist entities ought to have a track record of supporting those entities,” Hankins wrote.

Hankins said the “independent model” chosen by Ezell would “send a chilling message to the thousands of Southern Baptist congregations who have been led by their pastors and their denomination to believe that generous support for our cooperative mission funding processes is the good and right thing to do.” He also said the nominee would lack “moral authority” to challenge Baptists to adopt goals of raising $100,000 million annually through the Annie Armstrong Offering.

Emil Turner, executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, said he agreed with Hankins in an Arkansas Baptist News story also carried by Associated Baptist Press.

Trustee chair responds 
Trustees will vote on Ezell at a called meeting Sept. 14. If elected, he would replace Geoff Hammond, who resigned in August 2009 over philosophical differences with trustees. Richard Harris, senior strategist for missions advancement, was named acting interim president.

Tim Dowdy, NAMB trustee chairman, said in a statement released through Baptist Press that members of the search committee were drawn to Ezell “because it is clear that he has a heart for SBC missions and a heart for reaching North America for Christ.”

“I realize there is an ongoing discussion among Southern Baptists about how we can best express our passion for missions through our giving,” said Dowdy, pastor of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga. “I am sure that will be part of our discussion this Tuesday when our trustees meet to discuss Kevin’s nomination.”

“Kevin has been a loyal Southern Baptist and I believe he will help NAMB continue to work through the long-standing partnerships we have had and help us build new partnerships and new ways of taking Christ to North America,” Dowdy said.  
9/13/2010 2:48:00 PM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 10 comments

Hunger funds crucial for Haiti, Pakistan relief

September 13 2010 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Many Southern Baptist churches will observe their annual World Hunger Sunday on Oct. 10. For resources to promote the World Hunger Fund, visit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Relief workers are able to give hope to thousands of desperate families in Haiti and Pakistan because Southern Baptists have given generously to their World Hunger Fund, the executive director of a Southern Baptist relief and development organization said Sept. 13.

An estimated 3 million people in Haiti found themselves in desperate need after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Port-au-Prince Jan. 12, and more than 15 million people were left destitute when devastating rain and floods swept through Pakistan in August.

Haitian children affected by the earthquake are receiving Southern Baptist help through the World Hunger Fund. World Hunger Sunday is Oct. 10.

“The magnitude of these disasters staggers the imagination. Families are wrestling with life and death issues on a daily basis,” said Jeff Palmer, who leads Baptist Global Response (BGR). “So far we have allocated $2.35 million to these two disasters and, at least in Pakistan, the need far outstrips the resources we have available.

“The only reason we can respond to hunger needs at all in disasters like these is because Southern Baptists give generously to the World Hunger Fund,” Palmer added. “While the giving response to Haiti has been amazing, donations for Pakistan are lagging far behind the need. We are praying God will move in the hearts of His people to give generously to the World Hunger Fund — not only so we can meet the needs in Pakistan, but also so the fund will not be depleted to the point that we can’t respond to new disasters.”

Many Southern Baptist churches will use the resources available at to observe their annual World Hunger Sunday on Oct. 10. Other congregations conduct world hunger campaigns at other times of the year.

A total of $4.7 million has been given through BGR and the International Mission Board for Haiti relief, Palmer said. In the early stages of the relief effort, work focused on food and emergency aid, in cooperation with Haitian, Dominican Republic and Southern Baptist partners. The work now is shifting away from hunger toward using relief funds to provide houses and beds.

Relief funds have been used to build about 60 12-by-16-foot cinderblock houses, and plans for call for 250 houses to be completed in 2010 and another 1,000 by the end of 2011, Palmer noted. BGR also plans to provide 2,200 beds and mosquito nets for Haitian orphans.

“As we look to the future, we are shifting more and more toward restoring safe weather-secure and earthquake-resistant housing,” Palmer said. “BGR has designed a simple cinderblock home with better construction specs and a tin roof that will act as a transitional home for Haitians. We are already seeing other groups beginning to leave temporary wooden housing models and move toward our BGR model house. Over the next 18 months to two years, projects in Haiti will revolve around housing construction, education projects and trauma counseling.”

A total of $50,000 has been donated toward the relief effort in Pakistan, but the projected budget needs for that response total $700,000 — before reconstruction needs even are taken into account, Palmer said.

“There are an estimated 8.5 million children in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Pakistan,” Palmer said. “The number of people affected by the flooding exceeds the combined number of people affected by the 2004 tsunami, the Haiti earthquake and the 2008 earthquake in Pakistan. Time is of the essence in delivering lifesaving supplies.”

To date, projects in the flood zone, which also includes sites in two neighboring countries, have focused on food and water, as well as some temporary shelter and cooking kits, Palmer said. A total of 80,513 people have been helped through 15 projects conducted in partnership with national and international partners.

Receipts for the World Hunger Fund have tailed off over the past decade, according to statistics available at In 2003, more than $8.6 million was given, but by 2008 donations had declined to barely $6.1 million. In 2009, just $5 million was received, while international project expenses alone totaled $8.79 million.

“We are deeply grateful to Southern Baptists who care about people in need and demonstrate that concern by giving generously to the World Hunger Fund,” Palmer said.

“They can celebrate the fact that so many people are experiencing the love of God and discovering hope for a new life through the projects funded by the World Hunger Fund. “They can celebrate the fact that 100 percent of every dollar given is used to help hungry people; nothing is taken out for administrative expenses,” Palmer added. “Practically no other relief and development organization can make that claim.

“The needs and opportunities before us are astonishing, and the economic climate we are in is very challenging,” Palmer added. “Please pray with us that praying God will move in the hearts of his people to give generously to the World Hunger Fund this year so hungry souls can be fed and experience the full and meaningful life God created them to enjoy.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. For resources to promote the World Hunger Fund, visit Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at
9/13/2010 2:38:00 PM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 4 comments

Tsunami taught Samoa about Baptists

September 13 2010 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — A year has passed since four devastating tsunami waves — each 15 to 20 feet high — crashed into Pago Pago Harbor in American Samoa, leaving death, shock and destruction on the South Pacific island.

And although Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) concluded its operations there in late July, American Samoans will not soon forget the dozens of yellow-shirted volunteers who — like the tsunami — came in waves from across the United States to rebuild their homes and share Jesus’ love and the gospel.

It was Sept. 29, 2009, when the tsunami waves — created by a powerful earthquake measuring 8.0 to 8.3 — hit the U.S. territory without warning. The tiny island, home to 65,000 people, is located about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, a six-hour flight from Honolulu.

“The tsunami ... changed our lives,” said Elise Tafao, director of missions for the South Pacific Baptist Association and pastor of Pago Pago’s Happy Valley Baptist Church. “God used this disaster to pave the way for many ministry opportunities. In spite of lost lives and displaced families, the disaster relief ministry brought hope and comfort to many families. It’s proven to be a blessing. The people here now know we’re Southern Baptists, not Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Tafao said the Baptist association is grateful for the 80 North American Mission Board (NAMB) and SBDR volunteers who spent at least a week serving in American Samoa. They came from Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah/Idaho, Virginia and Washington.

Terry Henderson, NAMB disaster relief consultant, said SBDR volunteers began landing in American Samoa on Oct. 13 and worked on 25 different homes, doing block-work, masonry and rewiring.

“We had five volunteers per team ... (and) qualified for FEMA grants by agreeing to train five to eight American Samoan apprentices on each team,” Henderson said. “FEMA required us to rebuild hurricane-proof homes meeting Florida’s hurricane building code.”

Henderson called the American Samoan relief effort a “great success” but said mush more work remains.

“We also helped support the local SBC churches on the island, and helped them to be more recognized in the community,” Henderson said. “Before our response to the tsunami, our SBC churches had been in the background, compared to local Mormon and Congregational churches. That’s no longer the case.”

NAMB Mission Service Corps missionaries Randy and Ronda Corn of Horse Shoe, N.C., spent two tours on the island and, at the end, closed down the ministry July 29 during a six-week stay there. In addition to the Corns, other Southern Baptists serving as “incident commanders” in American Samoa over the last year were Russel and Clara Hohmann of Ogden, Utah; Larry and Elaine Koch of Taylorsville, Ky.; Leon and Sara White of Alabaster, Ala.; and Ed and Loretta Green of Rio Rancho, N.M. 

“The needs there are still great, and we only made a dent,” Corn said, although SBDR volunteers recorded 2,571 volunteer days, ministered to 670 children — many who lost parents — purified more than 9,000 gallons of water and prepared 1,200-plus meals. SBDR volunteers and missionaries made nearly 1,800 ministry contacts, 180 gospel presentations and led 28 people in making salvation decisions.

Half of the people on American Samoa continue to live in FEMA-provided 15-by-15-foot tents or with other family members, Corn noted.

“These are expatriates who are not American Samoan citizens, so they get no help from FEMA. Without help, they’ll be living in those tents until the tents rot.”

Corn’s wife Ronda said her 11 weeks on the island were not enough.

“I hope God allows us to go back someday. We’re still in contact with the people there. It was such a rewarding experience. We were so blessed. The people of American Samoa are a very thankful and gracious people. They love you to death and you can’t help but love them back.”

Henderson, Corn and Tafao reported that appreciation for Baptist ministry now extend to the island’s governor.

“We have a real foothold there,” Corn said. “But there’s still work to be done. It’s still a great opportunity for Southern Baptists. The pastors there now need encouragement, and that’s what we tried to do on our last trip. It was amazing to see what a pat on the back or a ‘thank you’ would do to make the pastors light up.

“It would still be a great place for a church to go for a mission trip. A group could work with one of the eight churches there, do backyard Bible studies and sports camps. Construction workers could go and continue to rebuild and repair homes. A lot of people there still need help.”

One early casualty of the tsunami was the original Pago Pago Seafarer Center, a NAMB-supported outreach that ministers to seafarers — primarily international fishermen — docked in the harbor.

The center, which was a total loss, had doubled as home for NAMB MSC missionaries Joeli and Tupe Sovea and their three children.

But a new center, about 15 minutes inland from the original site and slightly smaller, is slated to hold its grand opening with a prayer dinner for local pastors of all denominations on Sept. 25.

“The renovation of this new location is being made possible by generous gifts from our SBC family — individuals, foundations, families, churches and other seafarer ministries across the U.S.,” Sovea said. Sovea said his children Joel-Samuel, JoHannah and Joreignna now are “doing fine” a year after the tsunami.

“The children have recovered well from the tsunami’s emotional effects,” he said.

The children knew friends who, with their families, were swept away by the deadly tsunami’s waves. Sovea, a missionary for the past three years in Pago Pago, is back to visiting the crews of international fishing boats, manned by fisherman from Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and other Pacific islands.

On Sundays, he often conducts services on the ships’ decks for sailors unwilling or unable to attend church on the island. Sovea’s ministry also provides the sailors with tracts in various languages, free meals and toiletries.

The center provides up to 100 homesick sailors a month with a place to come and relax away from their ship. Seafarers are able to make free phone calls or access the Internet to contact their families back home. Sovea said the center can always use Southern Baptists’ prayers and support, from finances to toiletries as well as literature and Bibles in English, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Indonesian, Ukrainian and Spanish.

Right now, he said, the center also is in desperate need of a new or used 8-15 passenger van.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)
9/13/2010 2:31:00 PM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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