Missiologist and researcher Ed Stetzer is leaving after nine years as executive director of LifeWay Research to become executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, the Christian liberal arts school near Chicago announced May 16.
Stetzer — who resigned Sunday as teaching pastor at Grace Church in Hendersonville and Gallatin, Tenn., a two-campus congregation he started in 2011 to reach out to an estimated 80 percent of Sumner County residents who stay home from church on a given Sunday — will also serve in a newly created role as Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College.
Stetzer, who worked previously as senior director of the Center for Missional Research at the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, said he will continue to work with LifeWay Christian Resources — the SBC’s publishing agency — in several ways: as editor of the Gospel Project curriculum, through the NewChurches.com online portal for church multiplication, and with vice president Scott McConnell as part of the LifeWay Research team.
Born in 1966 into a nominally Irish Catholic home in Long Island, N.Y., Stetzer accepted Christ in 1977 at a camp meeting of a congregation in the evangelical wing of a mainline Protestant denomination his mother made him attend after they moved to Florida. He later was baptized by immersion and joined a Baptist church more in line with his views.
A 1994 graduate of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va., Stetzer was the first student to both start and finish a master of divinity degree from the Northeastern Baptist School of Ministry/Pittsburgh, part of a consortium created by the Southern Baptist regional conventions of Maryland/Delaware, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, New York and New England to provide theological education and ministry training in the northeastern United States. He also has a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.
Stetzer planted churches in Buffalo, N.Y., and Erie, Pa., before teaching three years at Southern Seminary. He joined NAMB in 1998 to help with planting and revitalizing churches and training pastors across North America and on five continents.
He moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 2007, to head up the newly created LifeWay Research aimed at helping church leaders understand what they must do to be relevant amid changing trends.
Recently Stetzer’s focus has moved beyond Southern Baptists to the broader evangelical community. A contributing editor for Christianity Today, Stetzer joined the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. In 2014 he moderated a panel of evangelical leaders on race and the church at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
Last year Stetzer convened the GC2 Summit on evangelical response to the Syrian refugee crisis held on the Wheaton College campus. During the 2015-2016 academic year Stetzer served at Wheaton as an adjunct professor of evangelism and senior fellow of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, named after Wheaton’s most famous graduate and founded in 1981.
“Ed Stetzer is a dynamic communicator and brilliant researcher who brings a genuine knowledge of the gospel and a deep understanding of contemporary culture to his new place of service,” said Wheaton College President Philip Ryken. “His work at Wheaton College will help raise up a new generation of passionate, generous-hearted evangelists who make a difference in the world for Jesus Christ. It will also help Wheaton build stronger networks with churches across America and around the world.”
Stetzer said he will miss friends in Nashville but is excited about his new appointment, which begins July 1.
“It is a distinct privilege to be part of the Wheaton team,” Stetzer said. “This newly created Billy Graham Chair, combined with the convening power of the Billy Graham Center, will provide us a unique opportunity to serve the Church, helping Christians know and engage their culture in the name of Christ. I look forward to being part of this family and serving the Church together.”