An Experienced Perspective of the IMB's New Financial Plan2
Last week the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) revealed plans “to address IMB’s revenue shortfalls and complete a reset of the organization in order to move forward into the future with innovative vision, wise stewardship and high accountability.” An in-house report of that announcement may be viewed at: http://www.imb.org/updates/storyview-3489.aspx#.VehQXSjdtjM. You are encouraged to read that report.
In brief and perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the report was the announcement that “The IMB plans to reduce the total number of missionaries and staff by 600 to 800 people--or approximately 15 percent of its total personnel.” The reactions have been predictable, some labeling the SBC “a denomination in decline.” Others have seen the move as a sign of “retreat” and possibly even “defeat.” Not surprisingly, David Platt who was elected President of the IMB a year ago, has absorbed much of the criticism.
Granted, the press release could have been better worded to represent the decision of the board, but that does not warrant knee-jerk reactions on the part of church leaders and field workers. Many will be affected--either directly or indirectly--by the proposed cuts. For some, this will mean a difficult and painful transition. But it is not a time to lose heart or abandon the call. It is instead an opportunity to refocus our efforts for the cause of Christ, to re-examine our role in Godʼs global plan, to recognize that He remains the sovereign Lord, and that we are those who have been charged with doing His bidding. It is His ministry, and not our own.
I have had the opportunity to discuss the current IMB situation with several pastors, church leaders, missionaries, and former missionaries over the past several days. Reactions are mixed, but no single response has been more transparently hopeful than the “sound off” that came to me this morning from one presently serving the Lord in a predominantly Muslim context. The following is understandably fraught with emotion, but it shares a perspective that few in the pews can see. (The name has been withheld and the content edited for security reasons):
“As I read reactions to the news last week that the IMB is recalling 600-800 due to budget shortfalls I am shocked as well as heart broken. But maybe not in the ways you would expect.
- David Platt first asked the missionaries to seek the Lord for what He would have us do as individuals. Some have reacted negatively to the loss of our organization’s best and brightest. That was not my first reaction. After years of service to the King, would not a better response have been to ask, “What new work would you now have me look for, Lord?” Or “Is there a new way you are opening for us to remain on the field?”
- Perhaps an appropriate first response would have been for each of us who serve with the IMB to ask what responsibility we may have in creating this $210 million shortfall. It is quite apparent that we have not best stewarded the resources that the Lord made available to us. That had to change! But before we lay all of the blame at the feet of the IMB, should not each appointed missionary be held to the same standard of financial responsibility and accountability as the main office. I think so.
- Even in terms of ministry, some missionaries have not become involved in their communities and built relationships to the degree that they should. In other words, they are not utilizing their gifted and acquired talents and skills to impact the community and create inroads for the Gospel. It is as if being a “missionary” is a separate calling from working among the people we hope to reach. Our family is in the community every single day with numerous lost people THROUGH our secular work. In fact, it is our platform for ministry. This approach has given us more opportunity to share than in three previous years of language study! Too many missionaries are appointed who have earned degrees in secular fields and yet when they come to the field they choose instead to “live off” the IMB rather than work a secular job. The New Testament tells us that Paul used his trade to build his ministry. Clearly the IMB has recognized that the traditional approach has failed. In fact, in closed or many limited access countries a “Christian missionary” is denied a visa; whereas someone with a viable trade or occupational skill is able to enter more easily.
- When we profess to write a “blank check” to the Lord, it is just that...a blank check. That means that we are to fully utilize what God has given us in terms of skills and talents, and fulfill the work that he calls us to do. Missionaries do not have a sense of entitlement because God has called them to the field. Churches owe us nothing...we are instead privileged to have been called to go and blessed to have their support. The test of whether we have truly surrendered it all is to ask ourselves what we are entitled to. The answer, of course, is nothing. Our reward is to be able to serve our King. If that means having to get a job to support ourselves, that is not only a small price to pay but it is also likely to be the means through which we reach the people we have been called to serve. We are not entitled to anything, not a good salary, benefits, logistical support, etc. God-glorifying work is just that. It is for HIS glory and HIS alone. He owns it all.
It is foolish and naive for us to think that the recent decisions made by the IMB and the future vision the leadership has proposed were made without hours of deliberate discussion and agonizing prayer. While it seems tragic to have to “recall” so many, I do agree that every single person should truly seek the Lord and ask what he would have them do in light of these recent events. What new doors is He opening? Which are He closing? How can we become better stewards as a whole? Not only the churches, but each and every individual Southern Baptist.
We have been privileged for years to have 100% support and that has been wonderful. But the times are changing and if God is sovereign over all, then we have to embrace the new thing He is doing and where He is leading. My plea is that we come together stronger than ever and find the new doors the Lord is opening. Paul did it. Numerous agencies and independent mission organizations have done it for years. The 600-to-800 that are to be “recalled” have an amazing opportunity! They now have the freedom to step into the unknown as followers of Christ and try something new! They don’t have to leave the field! They can work. They can raise support. They can partner. They can use their experience to train others. All of these choices will test our faith and force us to lean more heavily on our Savior.
There are days of conflict ahead and we need to avoid distractions in order to honestly assess what the Lord is doing. We surrender all and submit to Him first. I encourage those in our churches--leaders and members alike--to keep hoping, keep praying, and keep giving. Advocate. Learn. Share! The battle is still raging and we are still fighting! Everyday we get up, knowing whose we are, and whom we serve and we try to obey as best we can through His Son.”
This is the voice of one who does daily battle in the trenches of spiritual warfare and senses what is at stake better than most. The plea is to get behind the IMB plan and to put on anew “the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). Rather than the sound of retreat, let us believe that this reset will spur the advancement of Christʼs Kingdom and prepare the way for His soon return. In the interim, let us pray, let us give, and let us go as He so leads.
“Thus says the LORD to you, ʻDo not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great
horde, for the battle is not yours but Godʼsʼ” (2 Chronicles 20:15).
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