Must you go to China? How much nicer it would be to stay here and serve the Lord at home!" She made it plain at last that she would not go to China." – J. Hudson Taylor's new ex-girlfriend link
Although I no longer attend an SBC church, opting for a more liturgical flavor in my worship, there is one thing that I always admired about the SBC and that was its support of missionaries through their International Missions Board. My husband and I have supported more than a few missionaries who are not with the SBC. Many of them spend an inordinate amount of time, both before entering the mission field and while on the mission field, raising money. It has always seemed to me to be an incredible waste of time when they could be performing such vital services in underserved areas. In this respect, the IMB has done it right, removing from the missionary the need to constantly raise funds.
David Platt, who was appointed to lead the IMB in August or 2014, released an open letter which has become the source of much controversy. I have highlighted portions of the letter which are of particular interest to the Deebs, particularly in light of our MBAs. Some of our observations might be controversial but, if we think it, we bet others are thinking the same thing.
September 4, 2015
Dear SBC Family,
By now many of you may have heard that last week, IMB announced a plan to reduce the total number of our personnel (both here and overseas) by 600-800 people over the next six months. Since the moment this announcement was made, we have sought to communicate the details of this decision as clearly as possible to churches, state conventions, and national entities across the SBC (see this article and this FAQ document, in particular). In the middle of it all, though, I simply want to take a moment to share my heart with you.
This is certainly not an announcement that I, in any way, wanted to make. At the most recent meeting of the SBC in Columbus, I shared with messengers how IMB spent tens of millions more dollars than we received last year. In our budgeting process over the last couple of months, other leaders and I have recognized that we will have a similar shortfall this year, and we are projecting another shortfall of like magnitude next year. In fact, when we stepped back and looked at IMB finances since 2010, we realized that IMB has spent a combined $210 million more than people have given to us. By God’s grace, we have been able to cover these costs through reserves and global property sales. But we don’t have an endless supply of global property to sell, and our cash reserves are no longer at a desirable level for good stewardship going forward.
When staff leadership realized the severity of our financial situation, we knew that we needed to take significant action. We spent hours on our knees praying and at tables discussing potential options for balancing our budget, ranging from sending fewer missionaries to cutting various costs. We poured over financial models and looked at the long-term impact of each of our options. However, with 80% of our budget being devoted to personnel salary, benefits, and support expenses, we inevitably realized that any effort to balance our budget would require major adjustments in the number of our personnel. When we gathered with our trustees at our most recent meeting, the same conclusion was clear. Though board policy did not require an official trustee vote, and though these brothers and sisters agonized over the thought of many missionaries stepping off of the field, there was resolute and resounding recognition across the room that our financial situation required such action.
Some pastors have asked me over this last week, “Why doesn’t the IMB just ask the churches to give more money?” This sounds like a simple solution, but the IMB has been asking churches to give more money for many years. In many ways, we have told the church about our need and called the church to give to meet that need. Here’s just a small sampling of headlines and articles we have published:
2008 – “IMB reports cautionary finance news that could have a significant impact on the Board’s work around the world next year.” Later that year, our trustee chair said to churches, “I am sounding the alarm. The IMB budget is under strain to support growth in our missionary force.”
2009 – “Economic challenges…IMB anticipating another tough financial year…IMB in budget shortfall crisis [that] could affect 600 positions.”
2010 – “IMB lamenting financial declines, trying to balance budget…IMB sending 30 percent fewer long-term personnel than would be sent if there were no financial constraints.”
2011 – “IMB having difficulty balancing budget…IMB lowering the missionary force.”
2012 – “IMB preparing for another sobering financial report…IMB working through a painfully difficult process of trying to balance the budget.”
2013 – “IMB urging for greater support from churches…IMB laments Christian callousness…IMB trustees vote for substantive proposal changes across the SBC.”
2014 – Just two months before I stepped into my role, one article read: “IMB must soon come to grips with the demands placed on us by years of declining Cooperative Program receipts and Lottie Moon giving. We will be hard-pressed to continue supporting a mission force of our current number, much less see a greatly needed increase in the number of fully supported career missionaries on the field.”
I share all of this simply to say that we haven’t kept our financial position a secret. By God’s grace, the church has responded in many ways, including various special offerings like “Christmas in August” in 2009 and increased giving to the IMB through both the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering over the last four years. Yet while IMB has been asking churches to give and setting aggressive goals accordingly, the reality remains unchanged: IMB has spent $210 million more than we have been given. Simply put, we cannot keep operating like this.
Do I hope that churches give more to the IMB through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this year? Absolutely, and we are working zealously with churches, state conventions, and national entities toward this end. But I want to be crystal clear: I don’t blame the church for putting IMB in our current position. I love the church, we as IMB want to serve the church, and we believe the best way for us to do that right now is by operating within the means provided to us by the church.
Similarly, no blame should be assigned to previous IMB leadership. Previous leaders knew these financial realities, and they put in place a plan to slowly reduce our mission force (through normal attrition and reduced appointments) while using reserves and global property sales to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible. I praise God for the resources He provided to make that plan possible, and I praise God for leaders who chose not to sit on those resources, but to spend them for the spread of the gospel among the unreached. Ultimately, I praise God for the people who came to Christ over these last years because missionaries stayed on the field, and because we used our resources to keep them there.
Yet when staff and trustee leaders alike looked at the realities before us, we realized that plan is no longer viable, for we cannot continue to overspend as we have. For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability, we must put ourselves in a position in which we can operate within our budget, which necessarily means reducing the number of our personnel.
Words really can’t describe how much a sentence like that pains me to write, and pained me to communicate last week. For “600” and “800” are not just figures on a page; they are people around the world. For many of you, they are your family, friends, and fellow church members. They are brothers and sisters whom I love, and brothers and sisters whom I want to serve and support. I not only want as many of them as possible to stay on the field; I want multitudes more to join them on the field. But in order to even have a conversation about how to mobilize more people in the future, IMB must get to a healthy financial place in the present.
I hope that all of this information helps give you a small glimpse into why IMB is taking these steps at this time. You can go to the links I referenced above to learn more about the two-phase process we are walking through over the next six months to reduce the number of our personnel. Our aim is to make this process as voluntary as possible, starting with a Voluntary Retirement Incentive, and then moving to an opportunity for other personnel to say voluntarily, “I believe the Lord may be leading me to a new assignment.” As the Lord leads 600-800 brothers and sisters into new places and positions over these days, we want to honor every single one of them with generous support, realizing that the longer we wait to take this action, the less generous we can be.
The comment I have appreciated most from pastors and church members during these days has been, “How can we help?” One way is obviously to give. To be sure, IMB is committed to operating within our means in the days ahead, yet we are praying that those means might increase so that we can stop pulling missionaries off of the field and start sending multitudes onto the field. Indeed, the field is ripe for harvest, and the time is now to take the gospel to those who have never heard it. Further, in light of all that I have shared, I would also encourage your church to consider how you might care for one of these missionaries who will soon be moving back to the United States. I am trusting that our Southern Baptist family will welcome these brothers and sisters with open arms as they integrate into our churches here, making disciples of the nations God has brought to our own backyard.
Finally, and most importantly, I would ask you to pray for the IMB during these days. Please pray that God will provide grace, wisdom, strength, and unity across the IMB family as we navigate the various challenges that we are walking through together over the next six months. Ultimately, please pray that God will use these days to set the stage for this 170-year-old missions organization to thrive for decades to come or until Jesus returns. In this historic coalition of churches called the Southern Baptist Convention, may we strive together toward that end.
For His Glory, David Platt
Was David Platt the best choice for the head of the International Missions Board in light of the dire financial situation?
Although I am not a Calvinist, I have long thought that David Platt was a thoughtful and sacrificial pastor and wrote a post on my reasons here. I have visited his former church on several occasions and found his quiet, laid back style a refreshing change from the typical hipster pastor. There is no question in my mind that Platt cares deeply about missions. He is well educated, holding a PhD from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is quite convicting about self -sacrifice,especially for himself and led a growing church in the midst of a wealthy area of Birmingham.
It is evident that the IMB has had serious fiscal problems for years. Anyone with any business sense would have seen this. The IMB is blessed with many missionaries and leaders who get the need for missions. The IMB did not need another missions' champion. It is, and has been, in dire need of a financial expert to lead them out of this quagmire.
It is our belief that the IMB should be led, for now, by an competent money manager with experience in internal auditing, budget projections and fundraising. Then, let those who love international missions get back to doing just that.
David Platt admits that while he was pastor of the Church of Brook Hill, he did not financially prioritize the Cooperative Program.
When Platt was pastor of the Church of Brook Hills, his church was not known for their donations to the Cooperative Program. Before anyone jumps down my throat by showing his church's donations in 2013, I want you to realize that even Platt admits to his failings in this area. The Baptist Reflector brings this controversy to light.
Several of the Tennessee trustees said they were concerned by The Church at Brook Hill’s lack of support for the Cooperative Program, but were reassured by comments that Platt made to the trustees.
…David Miller, director of missions for Indian Creek Baptist Association, noted he was concerned about Platt’s CP record. Miller noted that Platt was willing to say he was wrong about the Cooperative Program and that he will work to lead others to give to the SBC giving channel. “I believe that what he did is not what he will do. The Lord convinced me to put trust in him.”
…In a follow up question concerning his church’s perceived lack of support in giving through the Cooperative Program, Platt acknowledged that The Church at Brook Hills “is not a perfect model when it comes to giving” but that “it made strides.”
Platt said he desires to work closely with Baptist state conventions and other SBC entities. “I want to trumpet the Great Commission and disciples made here (North America) and among the nations. That is what we cooperate for,” he said. The Cooperative Program is the “most effective means” to do that, he said.
This seems to be at odds with Platt's statement from his open letter.
Do I hope that churches give more to the IMB through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this year? Absolutely, and we are working zealously with churches, state conventions, and national entities toward this end.
Why would we expect that a pastor, who showed little commitment to the Cooperative program, would suddenly be able to become a zealous cheerleader influencing churches to do more in this area? Trust me, with the Internet they will find out. Again, I am not saying that Platt is not committed to missions. He is. But is he the right leader for the nuts and bolts of the organization that gives him little opportunity to utilize his skills that he demonstrated at his former church?
Why should church members care about a Baptist mission organization when many of them don't even know they are Baptist?
I live in an area which is replete with SBC churches which do not have the word *Baptist* in their name. I don't think they need to have the word in their name but it should be clear to regular attendees that they are affiliated with the SBC. Not only that, if someone does not read the fine print in the documents of one of these churches (not everyone is like the Deebs who make it a habit to read church websites and documents for fun) they will not find it easily in those as well. Do you know how many people in our area attend these churches and do not realize that they are Baptist?
Here is a true story. A patient was being checked into a hospital by a technician who knows a great deal about the church scene in our area. When asked about ther religious preference, she mentioned she was a member of a well known church.T he technician said "OK, so your preference is Baptist." The patient denied it emphatically, claiming she had never been Baptist. She is Baptist but she doesn't know it. Could a lack of name identification cause a lack of dnterest in a Baptist exclusive missions group?
Is church planting (or the Baptist Ferengi plan of church acquisitions) in the United States, in upper middle class areas already served by other churches, causing money to be diverted from international missions?
Let me tell you about a Baptist church in the Southeast. This church has committed to planting a church every year for the next 10 years in cooperation with a couple of other churches. This year, they have donate $75,000 with commitments to continue to give money to help keep the church going in the coming years. At the same time, they plan to add another church each year.
It is obvious to the two of us that this will cause financial difficulties if the start up churches need much support. The money going into this project will cause money that would have flowed to the Baptist mission boards to decline. Is church planting by local churches causing a decline an interest in donating money to a cause far away. Could this be the reason why Platt's former church did not commit to the fund?
If no one is to blame, then there is no solution.
…I don’t blame the church(es)
… no blame should be assigned to previous IMB leadership.
It is implied that we shouldn't blame the current leadership either. Once again, it is obvious that the IMB is in a financial mess. Sorry, David, but the buck stops with the leadership. There have been a series of poor decisions that resulted in rising deficit spending since 2008, a time of economic decline in the US as a whole. The IMB sounds like the federal government. The debt just keeps rising and keeps getting passed off to the next generation or leaders. That sort of poor fiscal management is guaranteed to fail.
A lack of true transparency could to a sense of complacency on the part of the general membership.
I share all of this simply to say that we haven’t kept our financial position a secret.
I spoke with a well connected SBC leader who made an excellent point. He said that the IMB annually makes statements of deficits. He claimed that they never announced just how desperate the deficit was becoming.This is seen in the numbers of people who have claimed disbelief that things could have gotten that bad without anyone fully understanding it. Frankly, communication to the membership was lacking. The question is why? Did the leadership really know or were they so disengaged from thoughtful fiscal management that they couldn't tell a crisis was coming. Or did they just plain decide to keep it on the down low?
A lack of transparency could lead to an alienation of supporters.
The following statement was just a bit troubling to me.
Previous leaders knew these financial realities, and they put in place a plan to slowly reduce our mission force (through normal attrition and reduced appointments) while using reserves and global property sales to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible. I praise God for the resources He provided to make that plan possible, and I praise God for leaders who chose not to sit on those resources, but to spend them for the spread of the gospel among the unreached
When things were getting so bad that the IMB needed to sell off resources, they should have announced this to the general membership prior to the actual sale. When such actions are taken, it could be perceived by the little guy that his thoughts on the matter are not needed of wanted. The only thing needed is his money. If I were currently a member of the SBC, I would not give another dime to this fiasco until I was assured that back room rummage sales and fiscal mismanagement would not continue to rule the day.
Are church planting/church acquisition/ mission efforts always about taking the gospel to the unreached?
Now I am going to meddle.
, yet we are praying that those means might increase so that we can stop pulling missionaries off of the field and start sending multitudes onto the field. Indeed, the field is ripe for harvest, and the time is now to take the gospel to those who have never heard it
Why are so many church plants/acquisitions placed in areas in which there is a well off population base which are already served by other Bible believing churches? If we really want to reach the unreached or disenfranchised, why not plant churches in those areas? The one church I mentioned above spent that money to plant a church in a well off area which has plenty of churches. Is this really about planting the "right type" of church which emphasizes a particular doctrinal bent? Is this about spreading the gospel or spreading secondary doctrine and spreading it to well off people. Is it about sharing the gospel or merely shifting the sheep?
There are churches which plant their style of church in very wealthy countries as well. For example, one SBC church has planted not one, but two churches, in the wealthy city of Dubai which is made up of well off business people from around the world? Where are the plants in impoverished areas?
This brings me back to the IMB. So many of those missionaries serve in difficult areas that are not magnets for the hipster pastors who live very, very well and buy fog machines and expensive coffee for their well heeled
customers.members. Many of these missionaries target the poor, the hurting, and the forgotten. Some risk their lives by serving the very sick or venturing into war torn areas. They reach out to babies and children who are dying of hunger.
Let me tell you where I am at. Unless the SBC IMB turns itself around financially and targets the truly unreached and impoverished people of this world, I would not give any money directly to the agency. Instead, I would find the missionaries who are serving the poor and unreached and fund them directly. As for church plants, I wouldn't give a dime to a church plant in an area with wealthy people and a plethora of established churches. Put you money where you know it is used wisely.