DALLAS (BP) — “We are here for you,” Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, said in opening his presentation to messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention. “We are grateful for you. We are eager to partner with you to push back lostness in North America.”
NAMB celebrated the work of missionaries and shared new mission opportunities at the SBC annual meeting in Dallas on Tuesday afternoon (June 12). Ezell provided updates about collegiate church planting and a new resource NAMB has created to help churches foster racial reconciliation in their communities, then closed by speaking about military chaplaincy.
“We are about sharing the hope of the Gospel, sharing that hope of blessed assurance,” Ezell said of NAMB’s mission to equip churches to share their faith. “You are helping to send the hope of the Gospel to North America.”
The presentation opened with a celebration of the work God has been doing in Toronto by tracing the roots of a 2013 church plant back to Collierville, Tenn., just outside of Memphis. First Baptist Collierville sent Matt Hess to Toronto as a church planting missionary, and Hess partnered with a core team to plant Fellowship Pickering.
A few years later, Fellowship Pickering would plant Fellowship Church Rogue Park, sending out Kesavan Balasingham as the lead church planter. After sharing a video telling Balasingham’s story of coming to faith, Ezell transitioned to discuss collegiate church planting.
Ezell invited Tom Nesbitt, retired pastor of Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa, and Jack Owens, a member of a collegiate church planting team in Lawrence, Kan., to the stage to discuss the recent boom of new churches in college communities.
“God was so gracious to give my wife and me three children,” Nesbitt said. “He put His hand of leadership on our youngest boy, Troy, and Troy got a vision for God and for ministry and emerged as a leader under Jack’s leadership at the Grand Avenue Baptist Church.”
Troy Nesbitt now leads the Salt Network in planting collegiate churches throughout the Midwest. Owens, a retired campus minister who began serving the Baptist Student Union at Iowa State University in 1972, will be moving to Lawrence to serve a Salt Network church plant.
“I talked to my wife about moving out of Ames after being there for 46 years,” Owens said. “I thought at first that they wouldn’t want any old people there [at the church plant], but they, I found out, had been praying for elders. I said, ‘I will be an elder for your church.’ So, we are moving there next month.”
Ezell said of Nesbitt and Owens, “They saw beyond themselves and had a vision of what God could do right in Ames, Iowa.”
Ezell described college campuses as one of the most underserved areas of the nation. Enrollment has increased by 5 million since 2000, and NAMB has started emphasizing 403 of the largest campuses where 70 percent of the 22 million college students are enrolled in the United States and Canada.
“The fact is the Gospel is for everyone…. We can’t just reach people who look like us or who talk like us,” Ezell said in transitioning to the discussion on race. “Racial reconciliation is a missional issue. We have been called, and we must reach the people within the shadow of our own steeple.”
J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and newly elected president of the SBC, and Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta and executive director of community restoration for NAMB, joined Ezell on the stage to discuss the resource “Undivided: Your Church and Racial Reconciliation.”
Greear commented on the idea that people may not think they need this resource because they are not racist. “To listen to somebody is to love them,” he said. “Listening is the first act of loving, and when our brothers and sisters of color tell us that there’s a problem and there are differences of experience and perception, then the way that we love is to listen.”
The resource, Undivided, helps lead a church through four phases: ignorance, awareness, intentionality and Gospel community. It is free from NAMB and can be downloaded at undivided.net.
“When you talk about the racial issue, it is a missional issue. We live in the most diverse country in the world,” Lewis said. “We have to begin asking the question, ‘How do we reach our neighbors?'”
“Quite honestly on this issue,” Ezell said, “we’re all tired of talking about it and not seeing any movement. It’s really time that we talk about it and see something happen.”
The presentation then shifted to NAMB’s military chaplaincy work, with Ezell reporting that chaplains presented the Gospel nearly 90,000 times and saw more than 22,000 professions of faith in 2017.
Retired Gen. Douglas Carver, executive director of chaplaincy with NAMB, and Army Maj. Scott Squires, a chaplain at Fort Bragg, N.C., joined Ezell on the platform. Squires has been under investigation for allegedly violating the Army’s equal opportunity policy when he declined to lead a marriage retreat for a same-sex couple.
“Chaplain Scott Squires represents all of our endorsed Southern Baptist chaplains — that they are going to hold true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and their own personal faith beliefs and practices as a Southern Baptist,” Carver said of Squires.
When Squires was asked to lead the marriage retreat, he stated that he could not perform the task personally. Instead, a chaplain of another denomination was provided to lead the retreat, thereby accommodating the couple and allowing Squires to uphold SBC chaplaincy policy.
“We work in a culture that is changing, but we still love those soldiers even though we don’t agree with the cultural shift,” Squires said. “We’re still charged with upholding their rights, their constitutional rights.”
Ezell thanked Squires for his service and the way he took a stand for his faith.
The presentation then closed with Carver praying for Squires and all Southern Baptist chaplains. Carver then led the convention in a rendition of “Blessed Assurance.” Messengers stood to their feet and joined Carver in singing a cappella: “This is my story. This is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”