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NAMB, Southern launch project for seminaries in church planting

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The North American Mission Board and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have jointly named Edward J. “Ed” Stetzer to head the first seminary center for church planting as part of the board’s Nehemiah Project.
“I am elated at the strategic alliance formed between Southern Seminary and NAMB. The Nehemiah Project puts church planting front and center as both entities step into the 21st century,” said Bob Reccord, president of NAMB.
Southern’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr., agreed “this project represents an unprecedented and historic partnership between Southern Seminary and the North American Mission Board. It demonstrates our shared vision to evangelize and congregationalize North America, and it will place trained church planters on the field to establish churches on the cutting edge of the Great Commission.”
The Nehemiah Project ultimately will establish a church-planting center on each SBC seminary campus in the United States and Canada. Each center director will be chosen through a twofold process that includes each seminary’s faculty selection procedures and NAMB’s missionary approval process.
Stetzer began his assignment at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., Sept. 16, and NAMB leaders anticipate all partnerships and directors will be in place by the fall of 1999.
“Our partnership and project offers a great opportunity to recruit, encourage and deploy strategically trained and theologically mature church planters to reach the unchurched of North America,” Stetzer said. “We plan to marry academic excellence with the latest technologies in church planting.”
Stetzer, who helped start three of the largest and most successful churches for Southern Baptists in the northeastern United States, is the professor/director of the center for church planting at Southern’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. He will develop and teach church planting-curriculum and recruit students for the church-planting track as well as arrange internships for Nehemiah Project church planters.
As the planter and pastor of a Southern Baptist church in New York, Stetzer pursued a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary. While earning his doctor of ministry degree from Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., he started and was pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Pennsylvania.
“Ed Stetzer combines superb theological training with a proven track record of planting churches,” Mohler said. “His ministry demonstrates that healthy biblical churches can be planted and will thrive in a way that fosters the birth of other churches. We are very pleased to have Ed, as he brings in spirit and in substance exactly what we needed in a director of our center for church planting.”
Reccord agreed, saying Stetzer “brings a solid biblical theology in partnership with creative ‘out-of-the-box’ strategies for the churches of tomorrow. Southern and NAMB will make a great team.”
NAMB officials intend the Nehemiah Project to help reverse the growing number of unchurched people in North America. According to researcher George Barna, the United States is the world’s third-largest unchurched nation, whose unchurched population exceeds 195 million. Only 3 to 5 percent of Canada’s population claims affiliation with evangelical Christianity and there is only one Southern Baptist church for every 225,000 people. Also, 10 to 30 percent of new Southern Baptist church plants in North America fail every year.
David Putman, recruitment development associate for NAMB and the agency’s coordinator for the Nehemiah Project, attributes the failure rate to “church planters who are ill-prepared for the task.”
“Each center will prepare church planters to start healthy churches among people who don’t know Christ,” Putman said. “In addition to seminary education, church planters will have practical, hands-on training and mentoring they need to be successful.”
By partnering with Southern Baptist seminaries and churches, students can be sent out as Nehemiah church planters into strategic church planting opportunities, Putman added. There are different internships available depending on the ability and educational level of the church planter. Interns can serve in positions that range from simple exposure to new church settings to being the lead planter with staff members that might also be interns.
The overall goal of the project is to equip students to “plant churches that plant churches that plant churches,” Putman said.

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