"We are going to work together better. I promise you," Ezell told those attending the meeting. "We're going to work together and get this done. It's the most God-honoring thing for us to do."
Addressing a broad array of issues and taking questions from those in attendance, Ezell focused primarily on the importance of NAMB's relationship with state Baptist partners.
"NAMB will be working with every state that wants to work with us, and there will be a working understanding of how to do that. It's our hope and my desire that we have a written understanding of how we are going to connect and operate. what you want to do, what we jointly do, and we are going to work on those together."
Ezell assured the audience that before any decisions are made that would impact jointly funded missionaries and ministries, state leaders would be participants in the process.
"It seems like people are filling in the blanks with the absolute worst-case scenarios and we're not going to do it that way," Ezell said.
The meetings with state leaders, according to Ezell, have been fair and straightforward. He has several more group and individual meetings scheduled with state leaders, including time with them at their annual meeting in February 2011.
"Every time I sit down with a state exec I say, 'You tell me how this would best work for your state. You know what was voted on in June June , but how can we get to that end together?'"
Ezell told the evangelism leaders that NAMB will continue to have working agreements with state Baptist conventions.
"There is some thought out there that there are not going to be any type of agreements or NAMB is not going to be involved in some of the states," Ezell said. "That has never been on the table at all. It has never been a consideration that we would not have some type of working understanding with each state."
Ezell said one issue he's looking at closely is developing standard guidelines for missionary accountability.
"I would dare say everybody is accountable, but we have 42 different levels of accountability. So if everybody's not accountable to the same degree, then there's not the same expectation all across the board," Ezell said. He added he's also asking the question, "What can we agree on that would be a level of expectation ?"
Asked how much of a priority evangelism would play in a newly restructured NAMB with at least half its resources focused on church planting, Ezell said, "Evangelism is a part of everything. It's why we do what we do. It's the reason you plant churches."
But Ezell challenged the group not to gauge NAMB's commitment to evangelism solely on a budget line item or the size of the mission board's evangelism department.
"That's compartmentalizing it. You're right that we are looking at shifting 50 percent of our resources to church planting. Now if you totally extract evangelism out of church planting, then obviously I'm toast in your mind. But that's not the way we look at it. I fully believe that church planting is a very effective evangelistic tool."
Ezell added that he remains fully committed to "GPS: God's Plan for Sharing," the 10-year evangelism initiative NAMB currently is implementing in partnership with state Baptist conventions.
The annual NAMB-sponsored meeting also featured other speakers and resources, and state evangelism leaders met to chart out Southern Baptist evangelism strategies for the coming years.
Ed Stetzer, vice president for research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources, shared results from LifeWay's Transformational Church research project and book. Stetzer emphasized that in order for Southern Baptist churches to play a transformational role in the world around them, personal evangelism must be emphasized.
"The phrase 'soul-winning' has fallen on hard times," Stetzer said. "People talk about 'sharing Christ' and I'm fine with that, but I think part of the reality is that the words 'personal' and 'evangelism' have become far too separated in our lives right now. We have 'church evangelism' and 'event evangelism,' and I'm all in favor of both.
"But I think we have to recognize that people have to be trained that we go on mission. It's not just the pastor and it's not just the church."
Christian author and apologist Lee Strobel told the gathering that apologetics needs a new emphasis because so many people in today's society have no knowledge of religion and say they have no faith.
"The percentage of Americans who claim they have no religion has almost doubled during the past two decades to 15 percent," Strobel said. "If you study the demographic of 18-to-29-year-olds, it's 22 percent. That's more than one out of every five young adults who says, 'I have no religion.' I really do believe that the key to evangelism in the 21st century goes through the door of apologetics."
NAMB sponsors the meeting each year to provide state directors of evangelism with the opportunity to receive training and information and to share strategies with each other.
"It's a time for them to share ideas they've used in their states that have been very successful," said Thomas Hammond, interim vice president of evangelization for NAMB. "We also included training for new state DOE's and spent time working out the next steps for GPS."
Mike Ebert is vice president of communications for the North American Mission Board.
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