NEW YORK (BP) — North American Mission Board (NAMB) trustees meeting Oct. 1-2 in New York City were the first to hear that Southern Baptists gave an all-time record high to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions in 2018. Kevin Ezell, NAMB’s president, announced the record $61.1 million offering to the group Monday evening (Oct. 1).
“We are so thankful to not only break $60 million but to break $61 million at the same time,” Ezell told trustees. “We are indebted to you and to your pastors and what an incredible thing that is.” See Baptist Press report on the record Annie Offering.
Since the Cooperative Program provides a substantive portion of NAMB’s overall budget, everything given to the offering goes directly to support missionaries on the field.
At their full board meeting Tuesday, trustees approved Johnny Hunt as NAMB’s new senior vice president of evangelism and leadership. Hunt is currently transitioning from his role as senior pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, Ga., and will begin serving at NAMB full time at the beginning of January 2019.
“I really feel like he is the person in the Southern Baptist Convention that can awaken us when it comes to evangelism,” Ezell said. “I am so thankful and honored that you were open to this, brother,” Ezell told Hunt.
Addressing trustees, Hunt said, “My heart has been evangelism. When you are saved out of the poolroom, basically, my friends just wanted to know what changed. So, before I had a course, I just had a heart to tell people what Jesus did.”
Hunt shared his vision and prayer for Southern Baptists when it comes to evangelism.
“I pray that God will recapture our heart,” he said. “That we would literally be a Great Commission denomination that shares the Gospel with the intent of inviting people to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. It will never happen without the grace of God.”
Trustees also voted to make Dhati Lewis vice president of Send Network, NAMB’s church planting ministry arm. Lewis has served in Send Network for several years under the leadership of Jeff Christopherson who is relocating to Canada to be closer to his ailing mother.
“Jeff will continue to be a vital part of NAMB as chief missiologist making sure that everything we do is missionally focused and part of the very center of our strategy,” Ezell said. Christopherson will also serve as co-executive director of Send Institute, NAMB’s partnership with Wheaton College that shares church planting resources across denominational and international lines.
In his comments to trustees, Lewis emphasized the key role of discipleship in the church planting process.
“We have often said you can plant churches and not make any disciples, but if you make disciples, you will ultimately plant churches,” Lewis said. “That has been the heartbeat from the very beginning, that we wanted to make disciples, and that’s part of my story, my journey.”
Lewis planted Blueprint Church in the midst of one of Atlanta’s urban centers in 2010. In that time, the church has planted five new churches.
“I had a heartbeat to create a place I could invite my friends to that was both culturally relevant, doctrinally sound but also missionally engaged and at the core was about discipleship,” Lewis said.
Also at the meeting trustees:
— Approved Matt Smith as chief financial officer. Smith has been serving as controller. Carlos Ferrer continues to serve as executive vice president.
— Approved a financial report indicating that through the end of August, NAMB revenue ran 6.8 percent above expenses.
— Voted to make George McCallum, NAMB’s general counsel, recording secretary for the board.
In his address to trustees, Ezell highlighted a partnership with retiring LifeWay Christian Resources president Thom Rainer’s new Revitalize Network that will benefit struggling churches outside the South. Ezell said NAMB’s Send Relief ministry is a sponsor of David Jeremiah’s current Overcomer Tour, an effort to introduce more people to the compassion ministry.
Ezell also provided an update on the construction of new worship and education buildings NAMB is providing for First Baptist Church Sutherland Springs, Texas, the church where a gunman killed 26 church members in November 2017.
While expressing gratitude and encouragement for the record Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, Ezell laid out the challenge NAMB faces in helping Southern Baptist increase the number of churches in North America.
Ezell reminded trustees that in order to start gaining ground in North America, Southern Baptists need to be planting 1,200 new churches each year.
“That means we need 1,200 church planting missionaries each year,” Ezell said. “By comparison, on average, the International Mission Board has commissioned 150 new missionary units to the field each year for the last five years. It’s an apples to oranges comparison, but it gives you an idea of the challenge we face.”
Only half of applicants who complete NAMB’s online church planter assessment score high enough to receive an invitation to one of NAMB’s assessment retreats. Of those who attend an assessment, 62 percent are approved for moving forward as a church planter.
“In order to end up with 1,200 church planting missionaries each year, we need 4,000 applicants,” Ezell said. “This is why we have to help our churches cultivate more missionaries.”
Ezell ended his address with an exhortation from Romans 12:9-21, a passage that outlines the marks of a true Christian and how one reacts to criticism.
“We have an incredible amount to celebrate,” Ezell said. “We cannot be distracted. God has His hand on what we are doing. We have to keep our hands on the plow, focused on the vision He has set before us and respond in a way that He would have us respond. I am incredibly grateful to serve you.”