In my humble and plodding view, nothing in recent SBC history deserves as much attention, discussion, and prayer as does our International Mission Board’s announcement that 600-800 missionary positions must be cut. So…
1. The IMB has moved from a high water mark of 5,600 missions personnel to the present 4,800 between 2006 and now, about ten years time. As presently outlined by the IMB, the long term plan for sustainability has the numbers reduced by the same number (or perhaps temporarily by 600 as a stopgap measure) by the end of the year. While I understand that this adequately communicates the crisis mode of the IMB to Southern Baptists who might not have been watching closely, it disturbs me that we came to the place where this fat boy was dropped and exploded rather than actions taken that made incremental reductions spread over the past five years or so. It has been no mystery that IMB revenue streams have been flat or declining.
2. While we like to think of the SBC as exceptional relative to other denominations, we eventually see the same chickens coming home to roost as do the Presbyterians, Methodists, and others. Overseas mission work is not as heavily supported as in the past. I believe I am correct in noting that denominational sending agencies, especially in regard to fully funded overseas personnel, have all suffered in the past couple of generations as well as since the recession.
3. In the competition for the church’s mission dollars the IMB has lost ground relative to churches funding their own missionaries, short term and long term. Churches market themselves by touting the fact that they have “their own” people overseas and that they send teams all over the world. It used to be that “we” all had people overseas.
4. One complaint about the IMB that probably ought to be deep-sixed is the criticism of their goal of restoring financial reserves equivalent to six months operating expenses. One of our strengths is in having the resources to handle emergencies like currency changes, deep recessions, and overseas crises. We don’t do this on the cheap and I’d rather have the IMB be prepared for such things.
5. It also makes better sense to me that we would support fewer overseas personnel adequately than greater numbers inadequately. The overall average, budgeted cost of a single missionary is around $62,000 (total budget/missions personnel), a figure generally consistent over the past few years though rising. I am aware, anecdotally, that since the recession, some IMB personnel decisions have put people at risk in ways that should have and could have been avoided.
6. It is a legitimate question to ask how we got where we are today. I don’t know how profitable the discussion of such might be but every SBCer has a right to ask questions. To wit: what is the rationale for projecting Lottie Moon revenues as being the equivalent of the goal rather than projections based on earlier year’s actual receipts? The difference has been about $20 million accumulating year-after-year. Makes no sense at all.
7. David Platt’s motivational and visionary statement to “blow open the funnel” is appreciated but at this stage is just a clever and undefined metaphor. He has my support even if I don’t understand everything he says.
8. It is well-known that some megachurches partner with IMB to place their own church personnel, not appointed IMB personnel, overseas but with some level of IMB cooperation and support. I don’t know exactly how this works or what the money flow is in regard to the IMB on this. I would like to know.
9. Any good idea for increasing the Lottie Moon offering will have my support. We have this offering around Christmas because the WMU borrowed the idea from Methodists in the late 19th century. It has worked well. I hate to mess with success but some churches do budget and give regularly to LM rather than once during the year.
10. I see no SBC leaders talking about changes in the IMB revenue streams (mainly Lottie and the Cooperative Program) that will yield significantly larger sums for the future.
11. Merging IMB and NAMB is not an idea that will solve anything, in my view. If the SBC wants to examine redundancies with the idea of freeing up money for international missions, we can start with the six seminaries which have six campuses, six administrations, six sets of professors many of whom teach the same subjects, six support staffs, six boards of trustees, and, significantly, six powerful constituencies that will resist change.
12. The balance of new appointments and incentivized retirements is a legitimate question to ask. Which people should be sacrificed to make the budget?
I don’t know enough to ask all the questions that ought to be asked. Someone else is welcome to jump in and do so.