As we continue to work through the issue of the IMB drawdown of its personnel there are a couple of issues which I think need further attention.
Based on the material that is being presented it would seem that 80% of the IMB budget is spent on personnel while 20% is spent in support of those missionaries and the organization. The IMB budget figure that has been used in the blogs is 300 million. This would mean that 240 million is spent on personnel and 60 million on administration (Although some may be spent on “ministry”, my guess is that the “missionaries” are the ministry of the IMB leaving little or nothing for what might be called ministry.). I am not sure that this is accurate, but it will do as a starting point for this discussion.
Years ago there was a discussion held with the senior leadership of the IMB (then FMB) about salaries and administrative cost. The Board was insisting that the salaries be raised for the senior leadership. The president baulked because his highest value was making sure that resources went to the mission field. It was important for him to keep stateside administrative cost down to around 10%. In order to do this, he “froze” his compensation package, much to the chagrin, I am sure, of those who were part of his administration.
Some years later as stateside administrative cost continued to rise the IMB Board changed another long held tenet. Historically, when missionaries left the field to work at “the Board” they resigned their “missionary commission” and were “hired” by the Board. This was a transition that was often painful and traumatic for missionaries since so much of their identity was tied to that word. The idea was to differentiate between administration and missions. This has now changed. Administrative staff that have a direct supervisory relationship with missionaries continue to carry the title missionaries. Others who work in equipping areas also carry this title. The purpose of this change is to move expenses from the administrative side of the budget to the missionary side of the budget. It would be helpful to know what the administrative (stateside cost of running the organization) versus the cost of keeping missionaries on the field is. I would not be surprised if the amount did not come close to 20%.
Some time back a query went out asking the senior leadership of SBC entities what their compensation packages were. This same series of questions suggested that it should be capped at around $150,000. (By the way, this is about twice the amount the previously mentioned FMB administrator earned when he capped his salary.) I don’t know what the current IMB senior leadership makes, but it might be interesting to know. I am not suggesting that Platt and the other senior vice presidents need to share their salaries, but it might be interesting to know what the group is paid and what percentage that amount is of the total budget.
Using the 80/20 divide, if we were to return to the 10% level of yesteryear it would provide another 30 million for overseas missionaries. I am not suggesting that 30 million would solve our problem, but if we have overspent 210 million over the course of the last seven years that 30 million per year would have covered the deficit and we would not have the problem we currently are experiencing.
The other issue that has been discussed is the missionary personnel under appointment. There are several important issues which need to be clarified and discussed.
Historically, the FMB/IMB has had a turnover of about 4 to 5 percent of its missionary force annually. This is phenomenal and speaks to the high caliber of our missionary personnel and the stringent appointment process. This figure refers to those who leave the field before their assignment is completed. Those who retire or leave after completing their commitment are not included in this figure. As we have shifted to appointing more people who serve in a variety of different capacities it behooves us to analyze this information more in detail.
Besides those who are appointed as “career” missionaries, we now have other categories with different termination points. We have those appointed for two year terms in the two plus two program related to our seminaries. Others are appointed for two and three year terms for specific roles. Finally, there is a growing number of “career” missionaries who understand that four years is a “career”.
One of the other bloggers has indicated that it takes 7-10 years for a missionary to become effective. Most pastors understand that it takes 5-7 years for them to really become the “pastor” of a church. This relationship is made more complicated when you throw language, culture, and distance into the mix. I would not dispute the 7-10 year figure. Furthermore, the first five years of missionary experience are the most expensive. It is during this time that they go through “orientation” and language learning. These can take from 15 months to two years of this initial time frame. Once they begin to learn the language they begin to adapt to the culture and learn to relate to the people. This takes even more time. Their effectiveness during this timeframe is rather limited. Historically, the idea was that this initial cost would be amortized over a twenty to thirty year career. Obviously this does not happen if they leave after just a few years.
With the new paradigm of missionaries serving shorter tenures, missions becomes much more expensive. I think that this is part of the dynamic that we are facing and, at least, part of the reason for the shortfall. Obviously, as stated above I think another part is the continued rise in the cost of administration as a percentage of the budget.
Some of David Platt’s material would indicate that we are going further in the direction of this new paradigm. One figure that has been mentioned is that he envisions a time when we would have 10,000 missionaries. It would seem that many, if not most, of these would be short term missionaries. This brings up another question which has been mentioned elsewhere that the drawdown may exacerbate. Short term missionaries are only as effective as the career missionaries with whom they work. In other words, it requires a career missionary on the field laying the groundwork for a short term missionary to be able to come in and have an effective tenure.
One of the issues in the drawdown is who will remain. Career missionaries generally go out between ages of 25 and 35. Stateside job opportunities peak for most people between 45-55. Currently, missionaries who are 55 and have 25 years on the field can retire. I would hope that the leadership does not offer a blanket process whereby those over a certain age and number of years’ service are offered a package. I would hope that they would pick and choose those whom to let go based on criterion of usefulness to the ministry in which they are involved. If we are simply trading older more experienced missionaries for fewer younger cheaper missionaries we are creating some serious problems for the future. But another aspect of this is that after the offers go out there may be some who decide to “retire” even if they do not get the VRI because they are unsure as to whether other changes may be coming from IMB. These two issues may mean that we lose the most valuable elements of our missionary team.
The decisions being made now will have a profound effect on our ability to do mission in the years to come. It is imperative that we ask all of the appropriate questions and search out all of the viable alternatives before we do something which will have a terrible negative effect on what has been a tremendous heritage.
Thomas L. Law, III
August 31, 2015