Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, addressed that need during his monthly webcast with Baptist directors of missions and church planter catalysts May 1.
Ezell signaled a missionary development system that will begin in 2013 to provide a way for high school, college and seminary students interested in ministry to gain experience through summer/semester missions, internships and apprenticeships for hands-on experience in North American missions.
"We're re-doing the summer mission program so actually do missions activities," Ezell said. "They're not just answering phones.
"We had some tell us they typed pastors' sermon notes the entire summer," Ezell added. "That doesn't give them a very good impression of missions or how they can help penetrate lostness themselves for a summer. We want them to have some mission experience so we can develop missionaries."
After serving as a summer missionary, a student wanting to pursue ministry in missions could apply to become an intern. These would be one-year paid positions for more focused ministry experience working directly with a pastor, church or associational leader.
Internships could lead to an apprenticeship for those who qualify and want to move further toward planting a church. These would be one-year paid positions specific to a city in which the apprentice works directly with a church planter and gains hands-on church planting experience.
"The reason we're doing that is to hopefully protect churches and associations and states as they invest in planters," Ezell said. "We would rather a planter be on the field, see if he's actually going to fit and that it's the right fit for him. Then the compensation for being a church planter and the investment churches might make would start the year later. This also means that the planter would get on the field without the worry that he has to start immediately developing something because time is running out.
"So we're very excited about developing a farm team that will hopefully help produce hundreds and hundreds of missionaries every year," Ezell said in the live webcast for the 1,200 directors of missions and church planter catalyst missionaries who serve throughout the United States and Canada. Participants have the opportunity to email or text questions in before or during the webcast. Afterward, an archive version of the program can be viewed online and shared.
Responding to a question, Ezell said NAMB's church planting strategy fits "very easily" with state or associational church planting strategies.
"In every one of our Send cities, we go to the association and the state and say, 'What is your church planting strategy for this city?' If they don't have one, we ask them if would come up with one overall master plan," Ezell said.
Ezell stressed that these 10-year strategies place a greater emphasis on need than on available funding.
"In the past, typically, we look and say 'Okay. How much money do we have? Now what can we do with this money?'" Ezell said. "That's a spending plan. What we want is a strategy of what really needs to be accomplished. Forget the resourcing. What needs to be accomplished? And then let's prioritize."
Ezell addressed another question regarding how NAMB plans to transition missionaries to under-reached and underserved areas of North America.
"I could go on and on about we do not have any -- zero -- full-time NAMB missionaries," Ezell said. "So what we are trying to do is to ... move some of those positions."
In some cases, that could mean relocating a missionary from a position in the South to a position in an under-reached region.
"If a missionary is in one particular area and ... meets the qualifications for what we're seeking in, say, a Connecticut or a Maine, then they'll have the opportunity to shift, to move and to be a church planter catalyst, say, in Maine," Ezell said. "We'll make those positions open, available and transition them where we can."
Not every missionary would be qualified for a new role or necessarily fit with work in another state, Ezell acknowledged. "But obviously, we want to go to our missionaries and if they qualify and they really want to accomplish that task in that particular state, then we absolutely would love for them to do that and be a part of that process."
SEND NORTH AMERICA
Responding to another question, Ezell said NAMB's Send North America strategy is not only about church planting. While his first 18 months at NAMB were spent bringing more focus on church planting, he said the mission board also continues to assist Southern Baptists in other evangelistic efforts, including God's Plan for Sharing, disaster relief and Love Loud ministries.
Ezell also emphasized the evangelistic nature of Southern Baptist church planting.
"When I say church planting, I'm saying evangelism. We're not talking about church splitting here," Ezell said. "We're wanting to reach people. When you go to a Boston or you go to a Connecticut or a Rhode Island ... you've got to reach people, and when we say church planting that's what we mean.
"Every mission effort we do in North America and internationally should ultimately be to reach someone so they come to know Christ," Ezell continued. "It's an evangelistic focus and strategy. You reach someone, they're discipled and they become a part of a local body of believers."
The final question Ezell addressed involved NAMB's support for bivocational pastors, whom Ezell described as key to the future of the church in North America.
"In order for the Southern Baptist Convention to see a real movement of church planting and a real movement of evangelism, we're going to have to get out of the mindset that it's going to have to be by a full-time church planter. It's absolutely going to happen through bivocational ministers, bivocational pastors."
Ezell said NAMB is working with some schools about a pilot program with educational opportunities for bivocational pastors that NAMB would help fund. He said he will share more detail about this and several other opportunities during the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, where NAMB will spotlight bivocational work and the men who tirelessly reach their communities while leading a family and working in another career.
"We're going to honor them because honor is due," Ezell said. "These are the true iron men of the Southern Baptist Convention."
A full version of the webcast and previous webcasts can be viewed namb.net/webcast.
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.
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