North American Mission Board trustees will vote Tuesday on naming Kentucky Pastor Kevin Ezell as its next president amid concerns about his church’s mission donation history.
Executives of the Louisiana and Arkansas state convention recently expressed opposition to Ezell’s nomination, pointing out that his church gave funding directly to mission instead of through the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program.
In an open letter last week, David E. Hankins of the Louisiana Baptist Convention wrote that although local churches can do what they want, Southern Baptists who want to lead a denominational entity “ought to have a track record of supporting those entities.”
He noted that the 2010 Great Commission Resurgence report called Southern Baptists “to honor and affirm the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach.”
Emil Turner of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention affirmed Hankins’ concern. Turner told the Arkansas Baptist news: “It seems surprising to me that the search committee would recommend someone whose level of support the North American Mission Board through the CP and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering could not sustain the work of NAMB were it to be duplicated widely across the convention.”
“I would hope that the new president of NAMB could be an example of commitment to the Cooperative Program,” he said.
But NAMB trustee chairman Tim Dowdy defended Ezell in a statement Sept. 10. Dowdy said the search committee was attracted to the Kentucky megachurch pastor because “it is clear that he has a heart for SBC missions and a heart for reaching North America for Christ,” as reported by Baptist Press.
“This passion has been demonstrated through the millions of dollars he has led his church to give to church planting and other Southern Baptist mission causes in the years he has been at Highview.”
Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., plans to give $1.4 million this year to mission. But only about two percent of its budget will go to the Cooperative Program. According to the Annual Church Profile by LifeWay Christian Resources, Highview church gave only $140,100 through the Cooperative Program in 2009.
Ed Stetzer, president of SBC’s LifeWay Research, however, praised Ezell on his blog earlier this month for his congregation’s generosity in supporting church plants. Highview, Stetzer recalled, sent $1,000 each month for four years to support a Philadelphia church plant and also sent a team of 100 students to help distribute service invitations.
“Kevin has a heart for church planting and has led out from his local church,” Stetzer remarked.
Ezell, 48, became pastor of Highview Baptist Church in 1996 when the congregation was meeting on one campus and averaged 1,200 worshippers on Sunday. Today, the church has grown to seven campuses in two states with more than 4,740 worshippers for Sunday services.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and one of the most prominent figures in his denomination, is a member of Highview church.
The seven members of the trustees search team will meet in Atlanta Tuesday to make their decision on whether Ezell will become the next NAMB president.
The NAMB is the domestic missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination. The Cooperative Program was launched in 1925 to enhance and channel giving to missions and to other denominational programs and entities.