Count me as one who believes in our International Mission Board, trusts their judgment about personnel, and appreciates their work. There has not been a time that I have been a pastor (or semi-retired pastor) that I have not prayed for, participated in, and given to the work of the IMB.
I can be considered a realist, though. The IMB is our largest entity and may be considered to have some institutional inertia and such. It has a budget above $300 million, employs over 4,200 missions personnel plus all the folks who work in other capacities. The cost of enlisting, vetting, appointing, training, and supporting a career missions family for a four-year term is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is nothing more costly and nothing more important than this task.
All of us expect that our money, God’s money, is used wisely, especially in regard to personnel. So, when the IMB changes personnel policies it’s worth paying attention. The changes announced this week mention five areas of “specific policy regulations”. The salient sentence is:
Specific policy regulations covered issues of faith and practice such as levels of education, history of divorce, teenage children in the home, the practice of a private prayer language, and greater specificity around baptism than the Baptist Faith & Message.
We haven’t seen any amplification from trustees or IMB people but here’s a reading from the SBC hinterlands.
It used to be that a degree from one of the six SBC seminaries was a requirement. We’ve adjusted this along the way. I trust that the IMB knows the level of education necessary for the different jobs on the fields.
Private prayer language
When the trustees put the kibosh on appointment of people who had a PPL, I was not one who saw this as a huge issue. I don’t get the biblicism of speaking in some unknown tongue in prayer, in private, but someone else can sort that out. If huge numbers of individuals were kept from serving with the IMB on this account, I didn’t hear about it. I am aware of the assertion that this prayer language practice is more common among African-American Christians. If the pool of potential IMB personnel is greatly expanded by dropping this prohibition I would be greatly surprised. If large numbers of Southern Baptists pray in an unknown tongue in private, maybe we are more charismatic than it appears to me. I’d be cautious but am ambivalent about this requirement.
Greater specificity around baptism than the BFM
One of our mission workers has to be immersed, after salvation. Does the immersion have to be in a church of like faith and order? Let’s roll out the scenarios and see what is satisfactory and what is not. I’m satisfied that the IMB will see to it that we have people who are baptized in accord with the BFM. At worst, this has caused some appointees to get dunked again in a SBC church. I don’t see great numbers affected on this one.
It has long been IMB policy that couples with teenaged children must wait until they are older or out of the house. Long experience across many generations has given the Board a wealth of knowledge about attrition rates among missions personnel due to family issues. A good many families will have appointment door opened if this is changed. I presume that candidate families will still be vetted and if problems present in regard to children the appointment process will be ended or delayed. Seems like a reasonable change.
History of divorce
It is my understanding that up to now, divorce disqualified candidates for career appointment. I take it that the hard and fast rule on this is being dropped and we are moving to a case-by-case evaluation. This looks to me like the most significant change and the one that affects the most people.
Concerning the overall changes in policy but not divorce specifically, David Platt said, “To be as clear as possible, this is no lowering of the bar for potential IMB missionaries…”
Actually, in regard to divorce it has to be seen as lowering the bar. Before: no divorce. Today: maybe divorce. This is where the Board could have laid a little more groundwork. I’m presuming that divorce will make appointment more difficult but that the door is not completely closed. In certain locations and cultures, divorce is still something that would undermine the work. I trust the IMB to know where, when, and in what positions divorce will be harmful.
No doubt there are purists who believe that any divorce for any reason should disqualify one from serving. A dashed line is more difficult to handle than a bright, solid line.
What’s down the road?
It is no secret that the IMB doesn’t have the funds to put people already approved on the field and that some people have to wait to go overseas until funding is available. David Platt has notably said that we should be talking tens of thousands of mission personnel, not five thousand. These recent personnel policy changes are important but will not put a single additional person on a foreign field. We don’t have the money.
What new funding approaches will Platt and the Trustees employ to double and triple numbers? Direct funding by churches? Pay-your-own-way? Serious shifting of IMB budget priorities?
Guess we will find out in due time.
David Platt, IMB Trustees, and Missions Personnel all have my support and prayers. We have a long way to go together.