With the election of Kevin Ezell, Senior Pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, as the new President of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Program moves ever closer to its ultimate demise as SBC “leaders” march our great Convention toward a radical and complete redefinition. I would like to say that I am surprised by the choice, but for anyone who has closely followed the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s deliberations (as much as one could follow closed and sealed meetings), including the debate and implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations at the SBC Convention this past June and for anyone who has clearly comprehended SBC President Bryant Wright’s thoughts on radically redefining the SBC, the election of Kevin Ezell is consistent with the reigning philosophy of certain elites who are in positions of power within the Convention.
Shortly after moving to Louisville in the late summer of 1994, my wife and I began searching for a church where we could grow and serve. After visiting a few churches in the area, we made our way to Highview Baptist Church one Sunday morning. After our first visit, we knew that Highview would be our new home church. Even though we grew up in a medium-sized Southern Baptist church in Florida, we were immediately comfortable with the large size (around 1,500 in worship) of the church. Even more importantly, we fell in love with the people that we met. After a few weeks attending, we felt led to join this body of believers and we moved our membership to Highview.
We quickly became involved in a young couples Sunday School class where we met other couples our age, some who attended seminary and some who did not. It was at Highview that we met Len and Missy, who remain dear friends to this day. After about six months, my wife and I were asked to help teach a Special Needs Sunday School class for adults. Wanting to plug in and serve, we said yes. For the next year, we had the joy and privilege of teaching these wonderful people. I hope that we were a blessing to those in our class, but I truly believe that Brenda and I received the greater blessing through our experience. In March of 1996, we left Highview to answer God’s call to pastor Guston Baptist Church, about one hour outside of Louisville.
Kevin Ezell had not yet arrived at Highview when my wife and I left. We therefore did not have any experience at Highview after Dr. Ezell was called as pastor. I have no doubt that Highview, under Pastor Ezell’s leadership, continues to have a tremendous Kingdom impact in Louisville and the world. I have never met Kevin Ezell, although I have in recent days talked with those who know he and his wife. I do not know any of the NAMB trustees who served on the Presidential Search Committee that recommended Dr. Ezell for this position. Therefore, I will not comment upon the personal merits of Dr. Ezell’s nomination and election as President of the North American Mission Board. However, that does not mean that as a pastor of a cooperating Southern Baptist church that I cannot comment on the wisdom of choosing someone like Dr. Ezell to serve ALL Southern Baptists as the leader of one of the greatest missions agencies in the world.
There will be some who will defend Dr. Ezell’s election by saying, “God spoke; the trustees listened; case closed; no questions will be taken; end of story; get over it.” Well, before we get over it, we perhaps need to ask some questions of those trustees who are supposed to represent Southern Baptists. Sometimes, like certain Senators and Congressmen, the trustees of OUR Southern Baptist agencies need to be reminded that the people still have a voice in what happens in our Convention. Trustees and leaders within the SBC hierarchy ignore grass-roots Southern Baptists at their own peril. Maybe some leaders have forgotten that it was grass-roots pastors and the people in the pews of small and medium-sized churches throughout the Convention that helped the CR succeed. If these same leaders continue head-long down the path of the GCR, they may one day wake up and find the most enthusiastic supporters of the CR are no longer following.
And just where is the ruling class within the SBC leading? Exactly where they told us they would take us — to radically redefining what it means to be a cooperating Southern Baptist church. While many people thought that the Cooperative Program was saved and strengthened when the GCRTF magnanimously agreed to revised language regarding “Great Commission Giving,” the reality is that the Cooperative Program, as we know it today, will cease to exist if the philosophy of the GCRTF continues to dominate within the SBC. What, exactly, is that philosophy?
It is a philosophy that thinks that the pastor of a church whose budget is $6.2 million, but who led his church to contribute only $10,000 in 2009 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, is the best person to lead the North American Mission Board. It is a philosophy which believes that small and medium-sized SBC churches, many of whom give sacrificially at levels of 10% or more to the Cooperative Program, should not dare question why certain mega-churches, whose pastors serve in key leadership positions within the SBC, only give less than 3% to CP. It is a philosophy that shows its disdain for State Conventions by promoting and encouraging direct giving to SBC entities and agencies outside of CP channels. It is a philosophy which tells churches to keep sending your money to the SBC, but refuses to divulge the salaries and benefits of those who are serving the Convention. Even Congress doesn’t do that! It is a philosophy that says the agencies and entities are accountable to the churches of the Convention, but in reality has created a ruling class that thinks they are no longer accountable to rank and file Southern Baptists.
For years, many politicians thought that they could vote one way in Washington and tell their constituents back home something different. And for years they got away with it. Not anymore. Witness the defeat of many long-time elected leaders who have been thrown of out office by a weary and fed-up electorate. Over time, the politicians simply lost touch with the people they were supposed to represent and it finally caught up with them.
For many leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention, they have lost touch with the average Southern Baptist. With their words they say one thing — “we support the Cooperative Program” — while with their actions they demonstrate a level of cooperative giving that most Southern Baptists, including this one, find quite the opposite of “support.” Maybe I’m alone in how I view the radical redefinition taking place before our very eyes. I don’t think that I am. Surely there are others, in churches of all sizes, who see what is happening to our Convention. Only time will tell, but I believe grass-roots Southern Baptists are beginning to see the dis-connect between what our leaders are saying and what they are doing. And when those same leaders overreach because they think they have a mandate for radical change, they just may find that the people and churches they represent aren’t buying the hope and change that they’re selling!