ATLANTA (BP) — Ten months into his role as North American Mission Board president, Kevin Ezell told state Baptist leaders and missionaries he is happy with the progress being made in shifting Southern Baptist mission priorities in North America.
“I’m very encouraged about what God is going to do,” Ezell said at the Send North America Regional Conference, July 31-Aug. 3, in Atlanta. “Great things are happening, and we want to see God do even more.”
Ezell challenged the participants to have patience and not succumb to over-generalizing about others or other ministries.
“We can’t paint with a broad brush and say it’s all broken, but we also can’t paint with a broad brush that it’s all fixed,” Ezell said during the closing night of the conference.
“Anytime there’s transition it takes some time to get there. We’re not going to do this overnight as we’ve already proven. We have to stay focused and do this the right way and, in doing that, I realize we have to earn trust. We’ve got to do whatever it takes to get people to Jesus.”
Ezell singled out state convention executive leaders for a special thank you.
“I’m indebted to those guys,” Ezell said. “They’ve been incredibly patient with me.”
At the time of the same meeting exactly a year ago, NAMB trustees were working through how to fill the then-vacant position of president.
The 2011 Send North America Regional Conference is the new title for what formerly was known as NAMB’s Summer State Leadership Meeting. The meeting in future years will take place in regional venues, as its name implies. This shift aims to provide training and gatherings contextually appropriate to NAMB’s five ministry regions.
More than 320 leaders attended this year sessions which focused on reaching cities and planting churches, highlighted by practitioners whose work is made possible by churches willing to send or partner with them.
Aaron Coe, NAMB’s vice president of mobilization, noted to the group, “Sometimes we can get overwhelmed with the numbers, but the reality is, God’s given us a tremendous gift and we are positioned like no other to make an incredible dent in lostness in North America.
“What it’s going to take now to reach North America is that every man, woman and child has access to the Gospel. New churches give people the best opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel.”
HEALTHY CHURCHES, SENDING CHURCHES
During breakout sessions, leaders joined discussion groups in church planting and evangelism as well as affinity groups based on the regions they serve.
“What we’re talking about is evangelistic church planting,” Coe said. “What we’re not talking about is church planting as a program.
“What we recognize in the midst of all this is, in order to have evangelism going on we’ve got to have healthy churches. Church health and church strengthening are the beginning of a process that helps healthy churches to be planted. If we have high decision rates but the number of churches doesn’t go up in an area, we have reason for concern.”
This vision for healthy churches involved in church planting was woven throughout workshops on evangelism, including NAMB’s God’s Plan for Sharing national strategy, and church renewal.
A key component of mobilizing churches through the NAMB’s overarching Send North America strategy is assessing their health. Partnering with a planter too soon could be detrimental to both the church and the planter. That’s why NAMB’s mobilization process first takes churches through an online assessment tool that helps them determine their readiness to be a sending or partner church. A NAMB mobilization specialist will then help connect them with a church plant or planter on the field.
GOD’S PLAN FOR SHARING
Leaders were introduced to future plans for God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS) as the evangelism initiative gears up for a 2012 emphasis on event evangelism with “GPS: Reaching Across North America,” which will be launched with a three-week media saturation leading up to Easter 2012. The media campaign — TV, radio, billboards and newspapers — will feature as its tagline: “Hope. Find It Here.”
Thomas Hammond, GPS team leader, told state convention leaders, “Together we can fulfill the Great Commission in North America as we continue to pray for God’s guidance and wisdom and continue to put together the plans to be intentional with this effort.”
The 2012 initiative will emphasize evangelistic outreach activities such as block parties, family events, sportsman dinners and other types of gatherings. Churches will engage their communities through evangelistic events using media saturation and resources provided through NAMB and state conventions.
NAMB’s evangelization group met to finalize the details for the 2012 initiative “Reaching Across North America” and to begin development of the 2014 “Serving Across North America.” In 2014, churches will focus on ways to reach outside the walls of the church through seasons of service.
Each initiative leading up to 2020 is intended to help churches connect with their communities in meaningful ways that will lay the groundwork for evangelistic efforts and church planting.
RAISING LEADERS & NEW CHURCHES
J.D. Greear and Larry Grays were among the leaders of general sessions underscoring the challenge of reaching the cities of North America through evangelistic church planting.
“New churches raise the evangelistic climate in the city,” said Greear, lead pastor, The Summit Church, Durham, N.C. “It’s not about seating capacity but sending capacity. [Churches are] not a group of people gathered around a leader but a leadership factory.
“We’ve got to help churches develop a sending culture,” Greear added.
Larry Grays, founding pastor of The Bridge Church in Atlanta, told attendees how truth conveyed in love has been the key to unlock the city.
“What Atlanta needs is a move of God,” Grays said. “My best strategy and your best strategy and all the wisdom collectively of this room is not enough to generate a move of God.”
Grays encouraged leaders to seize the day through vigilant, intentional prayer, by displaying a Christ-like life and speaking the truth in love.
“There’s no place God sends you or puts you that’s not an opportunity to share Jesus with somebody,” Grays said. “My goal is that nobody would show God’s love in tangible ways more than our church does in our community.”
WHATEVER IT TAKES
Ezell closed the conference retelling a favorite story from Jesus’ ministry about four men who carried their paralytic friend to Jesus.
“Those four men wanted to get their friend to Jesus, but they couldn’t get him in — at least not using the usual route,” Ezell said. “Too many people were crowding them out. The four men could’ve just gone home at that point. They had done their job. They brought their friend to the house where Jesus was. It wasn’t their fault he couldn’t get in.
“But they didn’t do that. They loved their friend too much,” Ezell continued. “Instead, the four did whatever it took to get their friend to Jesus. They went through the roof to do it!
“As Southern Baptists we need to have that kind of attitude, too. We may not agree on everything. We may frustrate one another at times. But I hope we can agree to do whatever it takes to get people to Jesus.”
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.