MIAMI — Against a backdrop of Miami’s vast diversity and vibrancy, trustees with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) met to celebrate church planters and other missionaries who are reaching a region whose residents are, in some areas, nearly 60 percent foreign born. Trustees also welcomed news that recently retired pastor Ken Whitten will head up NAMB’s leadership ministry.
Announcing Whitten’s role as national director of pastoral leadership, NAMB president Kevin Ezell said, “We need someone focused on pastors. We want a pastor to pastors. I can’t think of anyone better than Ken Whitten.”
In the role, Whitten, who recently retired after 33 years as pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, will create equipping and training opportunities for pastors, oversee NAMB leadership labs and assist pastors in crisis or transition. See related story.
NAMB trustees met Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 6-7. On Monday, trustees worked in committees before traveling together to Grace Church in Miami Shores. Eric Bancroft planted the church in 2019. The church will launch a new congregation—Faith Church—on March 5. Trevor Doles, who will pastor the new church in the nearby Aventura-Hallandale region of Miami, has just completed a residency at Grace.
Next, trustees ventured to the University of Miami’s campus to make their first visit to a Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM) since messengers at the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting gave NAMB a new ministry assignment for collegiate work to NAMB. Trustees also heard from Gus Hernandez, who leads NAMB’s GenSend work in South Florida. GenSend gives college students hands-on ministry experience during summer and semester service times, cultivating a heart for missions in the next generation.
At a celebration dinner Monday evening, trustees hosted 15 church planters and their wives. The dinner included several interviews and panel discussions led by Ezell. One panel showcased the close partnership between NAMB and the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) through the Send South Florida initiative and Send Network Florida. Tommy Green, the FBC’s executive director, welcomed trustees in a video message.
Al Fernandez, the FBC’s regional catalyst for Southeast Florida, spoke about the challenges and opportunities for ministry in Miami and South Florida.
“It’s a place where people are coming from all over the world, and we can impact the world for Jesus right here,” Fernandez said. He pointed to recent news stories reporting that 10,000 new students have enrolled in Miami-Dade schools since the previous school year. Some 4,000 of those students are from Cuba, with most of the rest coming from Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
In another panel discussion, Send Network president Vance Pitman and Dean Inserra, pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, joined Ezell to discuss the urgent need for more churches to actively engage in church planting.
“When I talk to guys in my peer group, my age group, what makes us excited is church planting,” Inserra said. “The International Mission Board, our seminaries and church planting are the big three that get people excited, and we also want to see church plants succeed. And a church plant is going to be better off, not just if City Church starts it, but if five other churches can come on board as well.”
Pitman said any size or age church can plant.
“At Hope in Las Vegas, the church I planted 22 years ago, we planted our first church when we were a year-and-a-half old and had 300 people. So, you don’t have to be a big church or an old church to multiply.”
During their full Board session Tuesday afternoon, trustees received several reports:
- Matt Smith, NAMB’s chief financial officer, reported that year-to-date revenue is outpacing spending, giving NAMB a positive balance going into the Spring.
- Finance Committee chairman Clark Reynolds, who serves as missions pastor at Houston’s First Baptist in Houston, Texas, reported that the finance committee met with auditors from the independent accounting firm of Batts, Morrison, Wales and Lee, who gave NAMB an “unqualified” rating, the highest, most favorable audit rating possible.
- Other committees sharing reports included those overseeing Evangelism, Send Relief, Send Network, Chaplaincy, Abuse Prevention and Compensation.
In addition to sharing about Whitten’s role as national director of pastoral leadership, Ezell emphasized in his president’s report to trustees that NAMB must continue to press forward with the priority of church planting.
“But planting is hard, and it’s expensive,” Ezell told trustees, outlining the anticipated cost to expand into higher church planting numbers each year.
“This is achievable,” Ezell said. “By 2026, we will need Annie giving to be at $80.6 million. It is achievable.”
“We are incredibly grateful,” Ezell said. “We have accomplished so much more than we ever expected. But there are more churches to plant, more people to serve and more people to share Jesus with.”
Published February 8, 2023