"Working together, we can do more than we can do apart," said Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board, who met with Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, April 25 to brainstorm ways to partner in realizing that vision.
"We're keenly aware that Southern Baptists have two different mission boards with two different ministry statements," Elliff said, "but we're making a determined effort to forge a new and stronger relationship."
The mutual goal of the two mission boards, Ezell said, is to "work together seamlessly, because we're all trying to penetrate lostness -- just in different parts of the world. There's really no reason we can't do that together."
Elliff, a former pastor, missionary and Southern Baptist Convention leader who was elected IMB president March 1, and Ezell, also a veteran pastor who was elected to lead NAMB last September, met one-on-one and with top IMB leadership at IMB's offices in Richmond, Va.
The two executives talked about "dozens" of ideas, as Elliff put it. Both men stated that it was an exploratory starting point of discussions, but they indicated potential projects could include missionary training, sharing church-planting strategies -- and joint initiatives aimed at engaging members of unreached people groups living in North America.
"We put a lot of things on the table," Ezell said. "To me it would be foolish of the North American Mission Board not to use the expertise of the International Mission Board in helping us when significant percentages of the ethnic groups in our major cities are largely unreached.
"What we want to do is penetrate lostness. Obviously there are some things we do distinctively apart. But there are some things we need to do distinctively together," Ezell said.
NAMB's overarching goal, Ezell said recently, is to "mobilize and equip thousands of churches -- along with the associations and existing church-planting networks -- to engage in church planting."
Elliff indicated his top priority as IMB leader immediately after his March election, using part of his acceptance speech to challenge Southern Baptists to embrace all of the estimated 3,800 people groups overseas that are both unengaged and unreached by the Gospel -- and to do it in one year following the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June.
The ultimate goal: "that every people group on this globe some church committed to take specific steps to strategize, to pray over, to learn about and discover some way that the Gospel witness can be shared with those people."
According to new mission research, an additional 584 unengaged, unreached people groups can be found in North America. That number is likely to increase as people from every corner of the globe continue to immigrate to the United States and Canada.
"I can't tell you how excited I am for us to able to work together like this, to be partners in the best sense of the word," Ezell said. "Tom has always been a hero of mine. I've always looked up to him as a pastor, and I'm honored to be able to work with him."
Elliff said the respect is mutual. "Kevin's years of pastoring have given him great insights on effective ways to mobilize our churches for reaching the lost, discipling and church planting."
It will take "all hands on deck," Elliff noted, to take the Good News of Jesus Christ to the millions of spiritually lost people in the United States and around the world.
Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.
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