MIAMI (BP) – Ken Whitten, recently retired pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., will become national director of pastoral leadership at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), beginning in March. NAMB president Kevin Ezell shared the news at NAMB’s Board of Trustees meeting in Miami, February 7.
“Ken is humble, intentional and he loves pastors,” Ezell said in comments before the announcement. “Every pastor could use a friend like Ken and that’s how he will lead in this effort—as a friend and a fellow servant.”
In an interview, Whitten described his vision for the role as being a “minister of encouragement” to pastors across the Southern Baptist Convention.
“How do you know a pastor needs encouragement?” Whitten asked. “Here’s what I say: check his pulse. Does he have a pulse? Yes. I’m telling you he needs encouragement.”
Whitten aspires to be a connector, a counselor and a comforter for ministry leaders no matter what stage or season of ministry they find themselves in, with the goal of boosting both them and their churches toward a place of health and vitality.
One way he aims to connect pastors will be through prayer, to connect them to other pastors and introduce them to resources and ideas. One aspect of what he hopes to do is break down barriers of comparison between pastors that often culminate in distinctions between different sized churches.
“When we compare the lostness of North America, every one of us pastor a small church. Every one of us, and we need each other,” said Whitten. “We need to depend on each other. So, I see myself as a connector.”
Whitten served as senior pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church for 33 years, which Tommy Green, executive director for Florida Baptists, said has prepared for the new role with NAMB.
“Ken Whitten has an incredible heart for pastors and churches. He has faithfully invested in other pastors throughout his ministry,” Green said. “I am thankful for the encouragement and blessing that he is in my life. Ken has the heart of a shepherd who cares for others. Southern Baptist pastors will be strengthened through the ministry of Ken Whitten.”
Many pastors routinely stare down a spirit of isolation in their ministries, and Whitten plans to bring pastors in the SBC together in a way that reminds those who feel alone that there are thousands of leaders who can be a blessing and a resource.
“I think what pastors need right now is—they need clarity, and they need identity for the mission of their church, the measurements for that church, for the values in that church and the strategy,” Whitten said. “Once they get some clarity for their church’s identity, then the pastor begins to understand his congregation. Pastors need unity, clarity and identity of what God has called them to do and that they’re not alone in doing it.”
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., shared their enthusiasm for Whitten’s next step in ministry.
“I am excited to hear Ken will be taking a role at NAMB,” said Traylor. “No one has been a greater friend to this pastor than Ken Whitten. His Barnabas spirit will bless many leaders in the days ahead.”
“Ken Whitten is a lifelong friend and brother,” Graham said. “His loving devotion to Christ, impeccable character, commitment to evangelism and church health and growth, strong pastoral gifts, and relational skills will be a huge blessing to pastors and church leaders. What a great move for NAMB as we advance the mission of the church together!”
For Whitten, his desire is to help Southern Baptist pastors come together, encourage pastors and churches toward health and from that foundation make an impact for the sake of the gospel. “I want pastors to feel like, to the North American Mission Board, they’re heroes. That’s how NAMB sees you,” said Whitten. “You’re who we want to serve. If we serve you well, you’re going to be able to serve your family well. Then, you’ll be able to serve your staff well, your church well. And if you do all that, you’ll be able to serve your community and your nation well.”