PITTSBURGH (BP) – Trustees for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) had much to celebrate in their meetings that took place Oct. 4-5. Their time in Pittsburgh started with a vision tour that included visits with church planters and the city’s Send Relief Ministry Center. Then, Monday evening, the group gathered for a celebration dinner and heard the news that in 2021, Southern Baptists gave a record high amount to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
“The hard part about this year is we didn’t really know exactly what to expect,” Ezell told trustees, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic and other unrest. “But thank goodness, Southern Baptists love their missionaries and give sacrificially, and that’s why it’s humbling and with a great sense of gratitude that we can share the total this year is $66.5 million.”
The 2021 offering represented an 8 percent gain over 2019’s record total of $61.6 million and a 22 percent increase from the $54.3 million Southern Baptist’s gave in 2010. The offering is spent in the year it is given and all of it goes to support missionaries and ministry on the field.
On their vision tour earlier in the day, trustees heard church planters share some of the challenges of ministry outside the Bible Belt. Recruiting church planters has been a challenge, with some lean years in the mid-2010’s. But in 2019 Rob Wilton came to the city to plant Vintage Church Pittsburgh and serve as NAMB’s Send City Missionary there. In the last three years, Pittsburgh’s church plant count has grown to 14 with a goal of having 25 plants by 2025.
“Of all our 32 Send Cities, Pittsburgh was the most challenging,” Ezell told trustees Monday night. “We couldn’t figure out why because it’s beautiful and has a great history. We had eight plants at one point and went down to four, and we needed a pastor to focus on this city.”
That pastor ended up being George Wright, who led Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., at the time. Wright joined Ezell to talk about planting efforts in Pittsburgh. Although it was established in 1907, Shandon had never planted a church out of its congregation.
“There was a great culture of generosity and giving to the mission, but not a culture of going,” Wright said. “We heard there was a need in Pittsburgh and came up here and saw there was a tremendous opportunity. It changed our culture in a major way. We sent a whole group of people here to plant. That led to some incredible stories of God at work that Shandon didn’t really experience before.”
Wright has led vision tours in Pittsburgh with other pastors as he recruits additional churches to support the work in Pittsburgh. Eventually, 23 people came from Shandon to plant the church. After a strong launch, the plant soon faced a leadership crisis.
Ezell said having a strong sending church like Shandon made all the difference.
“What I so appreciate is that George and Shandon were all about planting a church, not planting a planter,” Ezell said. “They said, ‘We are all in with Pittsburgh, with or without the person who we thought was going to lead it.’”
Wright sees his involvement in Pittsburgh as practicing good stewardship.
“As a pastor who has received a lot of great blessings from pastoring in the South, I feel a sense of responsibility,” said Wright. “We have to be involved in a city where it is a challenge because the Lord has entrusted us with a lot of great blessings, and they are not to stay with us.”
Wright now serves as senior pastor of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
At NAMB’s full board meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Tanya York, a member of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky., and chairperson of NAMB’s Send Relief committee, said Send Relief is expanding its Children and Families emphasis so it will now include ministry to protect human life and dignity from conception to death.
“This will start with crisis pregnancy and go all the way up through the aging and elderly,” York said.
Ezell said Send Relief will focus on the ministry side of protecting life while the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will continue to advocate on the political and policy side.
“We need to come alongside young ladies who are walking through that and minister to them,” Ezell said. “Shame on us if we just preach something and don’t actually put a hand out to meet a need and help change a life.”
Other highlights from the meeting included:
- NAMB’s Chaplain Commission reported that Southern Baptist chaplains are seeing strong salvation numbers despite ongoing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the end of 2021’s second quarter, chaplains reported 45,470 Gospel presentations with 5,137 professions of faith and 854 baptisms.
- Trustees unanimously approved a Fiscal Year 2022 operating budget of $122.8 million. The budget reflects a return to pre-COVID-19 levels.
- Two trustees who are leaving the board because of location changes were recognized for their years of service. Jon Anderson, who served from the Maryland-Delaware Baptist Convention, has relocated to Maine. Randy Bradley, who served from South Carolina, is retiring as an associational mission strategist and deploying to the mission field with the International Mission Board in early 2022. Ezell thanked both men for their years of leadership on the board.
Ezell closed the meeting with a call to stay focused on NAMB’s ultimate mission.
“We need to go back up to 30,000 feet and remind ourselves that it’s all about planting churches everywhere for everyone, whether it is in an urban area or a rural area,” Ezell told trustees. “It’s about meeting needs and changing lives everywhere through Send Relief. And ultimately, it’s all about the Gospel. I don’t want to ever take for granted the opportunities we have that God gives us. What an incredible opportunity that God lets us do this.”