We have published articles by missionaries, former missionaries, retired missionaries, missions professors, and other personnel with far more expertise than I have in international missions. They have discussed strategies and philosophies and missions approaches – interesting discussions. It is evident that there is discouragement, frustration, and confusion in our missionary force – as well as passion and resolve! Most seem to appreciate Dr. David Platt’s desire to put the IMB back on solid financial footing but also were confused by some of the management strategies and reorganizational approaches taken in recent years.
I generally listen more than I talk in these discussions because I do not have a strong expertise in missions strategy. I guess I think that career missionaries are probably more effective in the long run than short-term missionaries and that missions partnerships are better than one-and-done missions trips. That’s my theory. I hope the IMB search committee will listen to the people it serves – both the SBC people and the mission force they manage – and find a top-notch man of God to lead the IMB – one that shares some of Dr. Platt’s qualities and one perhaps different in other ways.
But there is one thing I know, for sure. And this one thing is at the root of all of the struggles we are talking about. It is the reason we had to have the VRI and reduce our mission force. It is the reason that we are having to make decisions about whether we should minister in this country or that, to this people-group or that. The problem is dramatically simple.
The IMB is not authorized to print money.
They can only spend what they receive. I remember reading the Great Commission Resurgence report and being struck by the opening paragraphs. We can argue as to whether the GCR was a good idea another time, but the facts are the facts. At that time, Baptists gave less than 3% of their income to all charity causes, including their church. That means we keep over 97% of our income for ourselves. At that time, the average Baptist church was giving about 6% to missions through the Cooperative Program. If the estimable Rev. Dr. William Thornton is to be believed, that number is now in danger of crashing through the 5% barrier in the wrong direction.
What can we say when people keep 97%+ of their incomes for themselves and churches keep 95% of their offerings for themselves? (Yes, I know there are other ministries than CP churches may support, but I doubt that changes these figures substantially). What conclusion do we draw about a people who keep over 97% for themselves and churches that do almost the same?
It is hard to argue that they are committed to world evangelization.
I heard a statistic at a recent denominational meeting. I have no desire to debate whether tithing is incumbent in the NT era, but here are the facts. If Southern Baptists tithed and SBC churches gave 10% to missions through the CP (not such a problem if people are tithing!) there would be ONE BILLION DOLLARS entering the CP pipeline about every 22 to 30 days. That’s a billion a month! Twelve to fifteen billion a year. Can we agree that trustee meetings at IMB and NAMB would be very different under those circumstances?
Pie in the sky? Okay. What if Baptists gave 4% and churches gave 6%? Or 5% and 7%?
The math is pretty simple.
- If we give more and our churches give more the pie will be bigger.
- If we continue to give less and our churches continue to give less the pie will be smaller and tough choices will have to be made.
Does anyone think there is anyone at the IMB who wouldn’t GLADLY double or triple our mission force if Southern Baptists doubled or tripled our missions support? It is because the pie is shrinking that tough questions have to be asked.
- Must we shrink our full-time staff?
- Should we abandon areas where there is significant Christian presence to witness in unreached areas?
- Should we use missionaries more and more as volunteer and partnership coordinators?
It is fair game to question the strategies employed by David Platt and to suggest that a new mission philosophy may be needed at the board. I’ve heard more than one missionary say that they would like for there to be experienced field personnel (let’s ignore Dr. Terry’s reference to dysentery!) in Richmond. That seems reasonable. We can bemoan staff reductions and our dwindling mission force. Many valid points have been made.
But let us remember the basic truth here folks.
Our mission force is down is because our GIVING IS DOWN. David Platt didn’t reduce our mission force. Our giving did! Southern Baptists are giving an amount that supports a smaller mission force.
And all the strategizing in the world won’t turn things around unless we fix the root cause.
There’s only one real solution.
People must give more to church and churches must give more to missions.
Shall we pass the plate?