NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – The Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board, which is charged with leading the denomination's churches in reaching the United States and Canada, has indicated its intention to leverage military chaplains endorsed by Southern Baptists to expand into international missions.
The request to move into an area assigned to the denomination's International Mission Board was approved by members of the SBC Executive Committee, Feb. 16, according to Baptist Press. The next step will be to present the request to messengers at the national body's upcoming annual meeting scheduled for June 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.
Baptist Press reported earlier about the likelihood of the ministry assignment expansion in a Feb. 11 article.
In that dispatch, NAMB President Kevin Ezell was quoted as saying it would plant overseas churches near U.S. military bases, leveraging Southern Baptist chaplains in the military and providing funds for U.S. church planters to adopt and visit unreached people groups around the world, but "only with IMB's support" and "through IMB's process for this."
NAMB did not explain what permissions would be needed for military chaplains to participate.
NAMB's request to expand into international missions comes as Southern Baptists prepare to celebrate the five-year mark of both the Great Commission Resurgence reforms and Ezell's tenure.
In 2010, after a contentious period of debate in the months leading up to the annual meeting, SBC messengers at Orlando, Florida, approved a seven-point plan to revitalize the denomination, including a component for reaching North America where "evangelical Christians are falling behind the level of population growth."
The Great Commission Task Force Final Report, "Penetrating the Lostness," emphasized "Lostness is not only our concern when it is found across oceans -- it must be our concern when it is across the street. North America represents a vast continent of lostness, where millions still have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
The recommendations included a proposed "reinvention" of a "refocused" NAMB with a "missional strategy for planting churches in North America."
The task force also convinced messengers to redirect $62 million from state conventions to NAMB, replacing previous state commitments and control of this budget for church planting and evangelization "with a more appropriate structure and pattern of cooperation ... to reach North America with the Gospel and plant thriving, reproducing churches."
Ezell was elected NAMB's president three months later to lead the transition in domestic missions.
Researchers note it takes 3-4 years for strategic changes to take effect, and it is expected messengers to the 2015 annual meeting in Columbus will take stock of the GCR strategy to this point.
In that regard, in 2009, the year before the Great Commission Resurgence initiative was approved and Ezell was elected to serve at NAMB, Southern Baptists reported 1,364 new congregations (church plants plus new affiliates) and 349,737 baptisms in North America. Last year, reporting 2013 numbers, the denomination disclosed a drop to 1,105 new congregations and 310,368 baptisms.
Ezell, however, remains upbeat about penetrating the "staggering" lostness of North America.
Commenting on the "class of 2010" of church planters, who came on board before or shortly after Ezell took office in September 2010, he said the future looks bright.
In a report published at the end of 2014, Ezell said "the news is good" for this group.
Overall, "91 percent are surviving and on average attendance is up, baptism ratios are healthy and our church plants are giving to SBC missions," Ezell announced.
IMB & NAMB COOPERATION
The NAMB expansion into overseas missions, in a limited role, also hinges on approval of the International Mission Board which has the primary assignment for evangelization and church planting outside of the United States and Canada. The GCR recommendations also granted IMB limited responsibility within those countries to use their "language and culture" expertise to help NAMB evangelize an estimated 586 immigration groups.
IMB's new leader David Platt indicated NAMB's request is agreeable to the larger missions body, according to excerpts from a January 15 letter published in Baptist Press:
"The leadership of IMB gladly affirms and supports this recommendation as a step toward further cooperation between the two entities, for the sake of the spread of the gospel throughout the world."