Against a backdrop of Miami’s diversity and vibrancy, trustees of the North American Mission Board met to celebrate church planters and other missionaries who are reaching a region with, in some areas, nearly 60% foreign-born residents.
Trustees also heard that recently retired pastor Ken Whitten will head up NAMB’s leadership ministry.
‘A pastor to pastors’
Announcing Whitten’s role as national director of pastoral leadership, NAMB President Kevin Ezell noted, “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 retired after 33 years at Idlewild Baptist Church, Tampa — will create equipping and training opportunities for pastors, oversee NAMB leadership labs and assist pastors in crisis or transition.
Trustees met Feb. 6–7, working in committees before traveling to Grace Church, Miami. Eric Bancroft, who planted the church in 2019, said they plan to launch a new congregation — Faith Church — on March 5. Trevor Doles, who will pastor the new congregation in Miami, recently completed a residency at Grace.
Next, trustees went to the University of Miami to make their first visit to a Baptist Campus Ministry since messengers at the 2022 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting gave NAMB a new ministry assignment for collegiate work.
Trustees also heard from Gus Hernandez, who leads NAMB’s GenSend work in South Florida, providing college students with hands-on ministry experience to help cultivate a heart for missions in the next generation.
Challenges and opportunities
At a celebration dinner Monday evening (Feb. 6), trustees hosted 15 church planters and their wives, and included several interviews and panel discussions led by Ezell. One panel showcased the close partnership between NAMB and the Florida Baptist Convention through the Send South Florida initiative and Send Network Florida.
Al Fernandez, FBC 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 declared. He highlighted recent news stories reporting that 10,000 new students have enrolled in Miami-Dade schools since the previous school year, some 4,000 of whom are from Cuba; most of the rest are from Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Need for more church planting
In another panel discussion, Vance Pitman, Send Network president, and Dean Inserra, lead pastor of City Church, Tallahassee, joined Ezell to discuss the 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 noted churches of any size or age 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,” he said. “So you don’t have to be a big church or an old church to multiply.”
In addition to sharing about Whitten’s new role, Ezell emphasized in his president’s report 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,” he declared. “By 2026, we will need Annie [Armstrong Easter Offering] giving to be at $80.6 million. It is achievable.
“We are incredibly grateful,” Ezell added. “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.”