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Louisville pastor to lead NAMB


John Swain/NAMB

Kevin Ezell, left, and his wife, Lynette, talk with trustee chairman Tim Dowdy during a break in the Sept. 14 trustee meeting where Ezell was elected as NAMB’s president.

ALPHARETTA — After more than four hours in closed-door executive session, trustees of the North American Mission Board voted Sept 14 to approve Kentucky pastor Kevin Ezell as the organization’s next president.

“Today is an historic day in the life of NAMB,” Southern Baptist Convention president and Johnson Ferry, Marietta pastor Bryant Wright told trustees following the election. “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.”

Held at the Westin Atlanta near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, board chairman Tim Dowdy issued a roll call of trustees before the board went into closed-door executive session to discuss the nomination of Ezell. The pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ezell had been a consensus pick by NAMB’s seven-member presidential search team to lead the Alpharetta-based agency.

NAMB reported a “strong vote” in favor of Ezell with no official tally released. However, multiple sources close to the board gave the vote count as 37-12.

Leading up to the election, critics had panned Highview’s giving record to the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. Among them were state convention leaders Emil Turner (Arkansas) and David Hankins (Louisiana), the latter penning an unprecedented three-page letter to trustees Sept. 9 outlining his opposition to Ezell’s nomination.

Hankins said in his letter that his intent wasn’t a “personal attack” on Ezell but expressed concerns that the then-candidate’s church’s giving record was indicative of a larger modus operandi among SBC leaders, one where giving a paltry amount to CP was the norm and should thereby dismiss them from denominational leadership.

“There are many excellent pastors with an SBC affiliation who have chosen to go a more independent route with their churches’ mission spending,” Hankins wrote. “I am thankful for every success they have brought to the Kingdom but I believe, by their negligible cooperative denominational giving, they have removed themselves from consideration as SBC entity leaders.”

Concord Baptist Church in Cumming pastor Lester Cooper, right, visits with fellow NAMB trustee Ric Camp, pastor of First Baptist Church in Florence, Ala., during a break in the Sept. 14 special meeting to elect Kevin Ezell as the agency’s next president.

Days later on Sunday, Ezell fired back during his sermon at Highview.

“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.”

The day before the vote Baptist Press released a look at the financial support from Highview to NAMB during Ezell’s time as pastor. The information, garnered from surveys submitted to the Annual Church Profile, showed Highview giving 2.3 percent to CP and $10,000 to the AAEO out of a budget of more than $6 million during 2009. Since 2001, when Highview gave 5 percent to CP, that figure has steadily dropped each year.

Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) records show the church gave $10,000 annually to the CP through the KBC during both 2008-09 and 2009-10. The State Convention of Baptists in Indiana reported Highview gave $140,100.04 to the CP. Highview has reported having seven campuses, one located in Indiana.

Tim Dowdy, chairman of NAMB’s board of trustees, called the vote a culmination of a 10-month process. “It has at times been discouraging and at times encouraging, but along the way, God has been faithful to give us guidance. When He introduced us to Kevin, it was evident through the interview process that this was the man.”

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

Trustee Lester Cooper, pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Cumming, had his own concerns prior to the meeting, but expressed a desire to focus on NAMB’s objective of spreading the Gospel.

“He’s an exciting individual,” Cooper said of Ezell. “It’s a new day [for NAMB]. I wish Dr. Ezell well in his position as president. I think he’ll make a great leader.

Georgia trustee Ferrell Wiley, a layman at Schomburg Road Baptist Church in Columbus, said that whatever differences trustees and Southern Baptist leaders had prior to the vote, it was time to move forward.

“It’s time to work together,” he said. “I had concerns beforehand but support the decision wholeheartedly and look forward to this exciting future of missions work that awaits us all.”

Pastors of churches located near NAMB headquarters gave their views of the election.

“Dr. Ezell is a proven leader and highly respected by his peers,” said James Walker, pastor of First Baptist Church in Alpharetta. “Throughout his leadership as a senior pastor he has demonstrated a strong commitment to missions both in North America and internationally. I look forward to giving him my support.”

Jerry Dockery, pastor of Crabapple Baptist Church, expressed a desire for Ezell’s presidency at NAMB to usher in a new era of encouraging Southern Baptists to become personally involved in missions.

“I’d like for us to get beyond our walls,” he said. “My burden for missions is that we strive to get people mobilized and not just send an entity a check for missions.”

North Lanier Baptist pastor Hutch Matteson said one church member who works at NAMB said the morning after the vote Ezell was greeting workers at NAMB’s building.

“Demonstrations like that bode well for him as a leader,” said Matteson. “And from his track record of church planting and missions, it shows creativity and innovation.”

Dockery noted a North America growing in the number of cultures represented and the challenge it poses to Southern Baptists.

John Swain/NAMB

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

“The missions field has come to our front door,” he said. “We’re in a new day and crossing new lines. The world is shrinking. We need as big a missionary force as we can get together. That involves every evangelical getting serious with the Gospel.

“We need to get busy with the task before us and quit making excuses. Quit sparring over the wedges that divide. By talking about them we make them a lot bigger than they are.

“Let’s focus on the things that compel us to share Jesus.”

First Baptist Cumming pastor Bob Jolly echoed that sentiment.

“Local churches will be diverse because we live in a diverse world and nation,” he said. “Strategies will vary because of the diversity of people we’re reaching.

“First Baptist is seeking to be one of those churches by giving to the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, State Missions and Associational missions offerings and going on mission trips.

“I am praying and anticipating that Dr. Ezell will want to meet regularly with SBC church pastors who have been intentional about missions support through CP and AAEO to effectively reach the lost.”