ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–When Kevin Ezell invited Buff and Cissy McNickle on stage at the 2010 SBC Pastors’ Conference in Orlando with newborn son Jedidiah, it became an emotional highlight of the two-day event.
Ezell led the conference to establish a fund for pastors who wanted to adopt, and Buff, a Florida pastor, was the first to benefit from the fund. But the couple still had $10,000 in outstanding costs associated with the adoption of Jedidiah and his twin brother Judah.
“They don’t know this,” Ezell said to the audience with his arm around the tearful couple, “but the generous sponsors that we have for the Pastors’ Conference are going to pay your adoption off in full.”
Ezell’s family has been greatly impacted by adoption. He and his wife Lynette have adopted three children, each from different nations.
“It has made a huge impact on our biological children because it has made them more missions-minded,” he says. “And I tell people our family always has someone to cheer for when we watch the Olympics.”
On Sep. 14, trustees of the North American Mission Board will hold a special meeting in Atlanta to consider making Ezell the new president of the Southern Baptist entity. The 48-year-old currently pastors Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
Ezell first sensed God’s call to ministry when he was a high school sophomore.
“My parents and pastor didn’t really push me into it at the time,” he recalls. “They believed that if it was a true calling of God, I would pursue it on my own.”
That call was confirmed and solidified during his time as a student on a tennis scholarship at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
“I thought at the time that I would go into student ministry,” Ezell says. He had served in student ministry at First Baptist Church in Paducah, Ky. The church’s pastor at the time, J. Robert White, serves today as executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
With financial help from First Baptist, Ezell attended seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Nearing completion of seminary, God began turning Ezell toward senior pastor roles, although he says his first attempt at preaching was not exactly a success.
“It was a miserable experience,” he now recalls, laughing. “My wife called her mother and said she was praying about what kind of work she could do to support us.”
But soon after that came a call from Hilltop Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and Ezell became pastor of the congregation of seven. He specifically reached out to the growing Hispanic community near the church and by the time he left in late 1988, half of the church’s 50 members were Hispanic.
Ezell pastored First Baptist Church in Hartsville, Tenn., from early 1989 to 1991. He led First Baptist Church in Marion, Ill., from 1991-1996.
When Ezell came to Highview in 1996, the church met on a single campus and averaged 1,200 on Sunday mornings. Today, Highview consists of seven campuses, one that meets across the Ohio River in southern Indiana. Two of the campuses consist of Hispanic congregations. One meets on campus at the University of Louisville. The church now averages more than 3,000 in worship attendance.
“We realized we were not going to reach Louisville from where we were located,” Ezell remembers. “So we were faced with staying where we were or relocating. We decided to do both.”
Highview’s separate campuses each have their own teaching pastors, but weekly staff meetings and accountability from Ezell keep the Highview culture and standards present on each campus.
“What has happened at Highview is that I have surrounded myself with great people,” Ezell says. “I don’t mind being the dumbest guy in the room.”
Highview’s 2010 missions giving goal is $1.4 million, with $582,000 being spent locally, $150,000 nationally and $700,000 internationally. The church website includes a calendar with more than two-dozen mission events and trips scheduled for 2010. Last year more than 500 of Highview’s members participated in a mission trip.
Ezell has led Highview to start several new churches since becoming pastor. The church currently is funding eight church plants in Atlanta, Boise, Idaho, Clarksville, Ind. (a Louisville suburb), Cleveland, Indianapolis (two churches), New York City and Philadelphia.
“All of our church plants are in major cities,” Ezell says. “For too long Southern Baptists have put their churches in the same places while the Northeast, the West and Canada are underserved. When people have been in the same place too long, they can get stale. There is something invigorating in doing something new.”
Ezell believes church planting success is more about finding high quality planters and focusing on quality churches rather than quantity.
“I like to invest in young leaders and church planters. I like to find the right people more than invest in a particular city. We’ve focused a lot on quantity and I’m not sure Southern Baptists are buying that as the best way to measure it.”
Ezell says his heart is in finding pastors and churches who want to plant churches and finding ways to get resources to them.
“The greatest unused resource we have are the pastors and the people of the Southern Baptist Convention. We need to get them invigorated to start churches. What we should focus on is developing sending churches and finding passionate pastors and allow them to plant churches,” he says. “There are people out there who are passionate about seeing people come to know Christ and passionate about starting churches. It’s not about being a funnel but being an amplifier for those who are doing it anyway.”
Ezell says his excitement about NAMB’s new potential grew after passage of the Great Commission Resurgence recommendations at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in June.
“The messengers really sent a message that they want NAMB to be focused on church planting. That really excited me — to look at North America and get as many people engaged in this as possible and give it our best shot.”
Mike Ebert is communications team leader for the North American Mission Board.