The recent series of articles about the IMB has raised issues about the reduction of personnel and its impact on long-term finances. I would like to address just a few of these from a field worker’s perspective.
Unless I say otherwise everything in quotes below is a faithful paraphrase or summary, not an actual quote. Oh, and get some coffee: this is a long one.
Ministry vs. business
Some readers object to the business-like approach Team Platt has taken in regards to finances. Cutting workers hardly sounds like faithful reliance on God’s provision. Offering people money to leave seems a bit too mammon-loving. “Strong-arming” people into leaving hardly reflects the fruits of the Spirit.
At every step in this process, Platt and Traeger have emphasized prayer and calling:
“Pray about your next step in faith. If God is calling you to retire, then go. The finances are there to help you in your transition. If God is calling you to stay, stay. The IMB appreciates your faithfulness. Know His calling through prayer, then faithfully obey His calling regardless of the decision.”
There is an objective business side to all of this, but there’s business in church finances and family budgets as well. Let’s replace the word “business” with the phrase “a logical evaluation of financial facts and options that leads to wise choices.”
There’s no strong-arming: we have clear directives that emphasize the need for a pressure-free decision. No one is throwing gobs of cash around to incentivize the process; the VRI is really an acceleration of the retirement schedule that is already in place.
Leave now or you’re broke.
Buried in a comment stream is the following full quote: “The only reason to have a ‘best offer you’re going to get’ is to move people to accept it – playing on the uncertainness of their future support.” The impetus for his comment came from the notion that the VRI is a great deal, but all subsequent retirement offers will be bad. If I recall correctly, the notion of “strong-arming” came up in the same thread.
- IMB has a current, non-VRI retirement package. Variations exist for age, years of service, etc. Employees who filed retirement papers prior to the announcement of the VRI will receive this package regardless of their actual retirement date, plus a small boost. They are not eligible for the VRI.
- The VRI has many of the same elements as the current plan, plus some tweaks to ease the shift.
- According to an announcement from IMB leadership, effective January 1 the IMB will apply a new retirement package. While this may not be a portion of the rationale, VP Sebastian Traeger highlighted a reality of today’s market: few people join an organization in order to retire from it. Even if the changing of work culture in the United States is irrelevant, financially-speaking the IMB must do something to preserve long-term economic health. Reducing the size of a retirement package is one way.
Yes, the retirement package from the IMB will shrink in the future. Yes, it will be smaller than the current package as well as the VRI. Yes, this IS the best package you’re going to get from the IMB for retirement.
No, this does not mean you should abandon calling in order to make sure you grab that brass ring, nor is it an attempt to scare you into leaving. They are just facts and realities.
If few workers accept the VRI we may turn the Phase Two of reductions into a quest for the elusive 800 departing workers, but in reality Phase Two is more about allowing people to chance to leave, whether they are uncomfortable with where the IMB is going or just feel called to move on. Phase Two might provide some sort of transitional support, a silver pillow on which to land more than a golden parachute to break the fall.
Yes, this part is largely opinion, but I’m a really smart guy who sharpens his own knives, so you can trust me on this.
Someone objected to “selective transparency” for Phase Two details. Platt’s team said details are light for now because those details just do not yet exist. Of course, that was when they announced the VRI so perhaps some details are being worked out.
It’s math, folks.
A repeated refrain has been, “If we appoint 300 in 2015, and another 300 in 2015, how on earth will cutting 800 people now really make a difference?” This question frustrates me because it’s just basic math. There’s no funny business or Enron-esque book-cooking. Using estimates, I’ll paraphrase from an earlier post/comment:
- August 28, 2015: Total IMB missionaries – 4,800. This includes 250 of the expected 300 appointments in 2015 already on the field.
- October 2015: Add the last of our 300 for 2015, nearly 50 new people, bringing 2015 total appointments to 300 people. Total field personnel – 4,850
- December 2015: Normal attrition (pre-planned retirements, firings, health-related departures, end of terms for short-term folks) reduces personnel by roughly 80 over 4 months. VRI drops another 800 folks. Total – 3,970
- December 2016: We will add 300 new workers in 2016 while losing somewhat fewer than we would normally lose through normal attrition. Total – roughly 4,000 people.
Yes, 2016 will see fewer retirements since so many will leave now, but health issues, firings, and end-of-terms will still reduce numbers by around 200 or so.
Why will this work?
In the short-term, we will quickly reduce our staff by 800 people. Since personnel costs (salary, benefits, medical, dental, housing, transportation, travel, visas, legal documents, MKs) account for 80% of the IMB’s operating costs, knocking 800 people off the top is a great way to cut expenses. In the long-term, we will be able to manage expenses better and balance the budget.
Something unpleasant to mention is that the older workers cost more. We have more longevity pay that pushes up the price for keeping us. Did the bean counters realize this? I imagine. How much did it drive them? Ask them, not me, because I do not know.
What’s wrong with the culture?
Someone mentioned a culture change within the IMB, prompting the question, “What’s wrong with the culture?”
In the article, “Another Blank Check” I pointed out the radical directions we are taking as evidenced by a series of decisions and styles. Refer to that list if you like. Other observers agree that business as usual cannot continue. Overspending needed to change. New funding patterns were necessary. Transparency has been praised. All these are examples of change, but there are more.
- Churches do missions. The IMB helps them.
- IMB trains churches to go themselves.
- Partnerships with church-paid independent SBC missionaries.
- Joint NAMB projects.
- Curating and collecting tools and materials instead of always producing our own.
- Providing pathways for retired missionaries to remain in place, even renting homes and cars to them.
- Re-organizing internally to provide faster cycles of creation, evaluation, and improvement. Right now we have a 5 year cycle, but I suspect this will become a 1 year or 6 month process.
- Recognition that the Cooperative Program might never be what it once was, followed by plans that account for this.
- Viewing volunteers and international expatriates as legitimate partners in missions.
- Leveling the informational playing field by including churches in news and notes normally sent only to field personnel.
Is the VRI an attempt to clear out the underbrush of old guys who refuse to change? Are the outgoing workers seen as a barrier? This is a judgment call, I realize, but my guess is “No, it isn’t.” The VRI is plan to reduce headcount in order to save us financially. Folks who do not care for the direction of the organization can certainly avail themselves of the retirement option (should God call them to it), but that is not the same as targeting these folks through early retirement.
The blank check that continuing IMB workers are being asked to sign implies a commitment to sticking with the organization as it goes through some radical changes in function, structure, and – yes – culture. If folks are cool with that shift, then they can reject the VRI or Phase Two and strap themselves in for an exciting ride.
To churches out there I say the same: Buckle up. Keep hands and head inside the vehicle at all times. But whatever you do, please at least board the ride.