This post comes from an IMB worker whose is based in an area that requires security and prevents him from using his real name in public, especially on a blog such as this.
A quick review seems necessary for late arrivers to the party.
– The IMB has been running on an annual deficit for the past few years. We’re allocating funds from reserves and worldwide property sales in order to keep people on the field, but we just cannot keep it up.
– The finance department identified two problematic areas: cash flow and cash reserves. Flow is simply money in/money out. For now, we have more going out than coming in. Reserves shrink steadily in order to overcome the in/out inequity.
– We must find a way to restore short-term financial solvency in order to ensure long-term financial health. Long-term financial stability must exist if the IMB hopes to continue.
IMB leadership examined at least 4 different ideas for resolving the issues: increased giving, altering support models for current missionaries, a hiring freeze, and property sales. In no particular order, here are some reasons that easily spring to mind for rejecting these ideas:
- Increased giving, besides being something uncontrollable, would be insufficient to improve the short-term financial health and thus falls short of solving the problem. With Lottie Moon giving at $160 million annually, covering a $39 million annual shortfall would require a 25% increase beginning right now and never letting up. Churches already give sacrificially as it is.
- References were made to changing support structures, something that usually implies reducing full support from field missionaries. If they were to ask current field workers to make up the shortfall, each individual on the field would need to find about $8,000 annually for his own support ($16,000-ish a couple) in order to avoid overspending by the IMB. This would not solve the problem in the short-term (since fund-raising takes time), would require a massive philosophical shift, and would likely result in reduced giving through LMCO and the Cooperative Program (where else would the money come from?).
- A hiring freeze only keeps us from spending more and more. It does nothing for slashing short-term costs. It would reduce our workforce by 240 people annually, something that would take too long to be effective. (I’ll revisit the numbers behind a hiring freeze further down.) As well, churches view the IMB as a sending agency; a freeze on sending tends to cause problems. I remember the outcry a few years ago when we began severely limiting appointments. An absolute freeze is out of the question.
- Property sales are great, but we will eventually run out of property that we can wisely sell. As well, local laws often prohibit the removal of large amounts of capital. Example: a unit moved from one continent to another continent. Their home and car were sold, earning roughly $100,000 that cannot be used outside of their original country.
While the VRI program obviously falls short of perfection, leadership obviously believes the program remains the best option we can pull off with the greatest probability of immediate financial impact.
The VRI program is exactly that: voluntary retirement. We’ve been told in precise, loving, firm terms that every step will be taken to ensure that no one is encouraged or discouraged from making whatever decision they choose. The home office will likely provide a contact person to answer questions, but I suspect it will be a confidential process that removes all pressure from the individuals considering their options. Make no mistake, though: the goal is for VRI to have an immediate impact on our situation.
You may ask, “Just how immediate can it be?”
End of the year, 2015.
Richmond hopes to establish a short (4 months or so) time frame for people to retire with the usual benefits along with some sort of incentive package. Folks will have time to make their decisions and will receive support throughout the transition. The organization will care for their VRI folks as best as we can. While the time frame seems to be a rush job, consider it from this perspective: every month that passes reduces the IMB’s ability to care for these retirees as they deserve. That’s the urgency under which we are operating.
Before I go into a downward spiral of personal introspection, let me address the numerical confusion around the attrition rate, VRI goal of 800, and the appointment of new workers in the next 2 years.
We currently have 4,800 field personnel (numbers are rounded). If we freeze new appointments, we will lose roughly 20 people a month (240 a year, or a max of 5%). At that rate, we would need to wait more than 40 months to reduce IMB field workers by 800. This takes too long to reduce costs sufficiently to avoid depleting our reserve cash. A slow drawdown has been the philosophy over the last few years and has been ineffective.
“But how,” the question goes, “are we reducing field personnel by 800 and then appointing 600 more with a net loss of 200, yet that is supposed to work out to reducing from 4,800 to 4,000 workers?”
August 28, 2015: Total – 4,800 This includes 250 of the expected 300 appointments in 2015.
October 2015: Add the last of our 300 for 2015, nearly 50 new people, with the rest of that 300 mentioned by Platt already on the field. Total – 4,850
December 2015: Normal attrition reduces personnel by 80 over 4 months. VRI drops another 800 folks. Total – 3,970
December 2016: We will add 300 new workers in 2016 while losing roughly the same amount through normal attrition. Total – 3,970.
There you have it. We add 300 total in 2015 (not 300 between now and the end of the year) and another 300 in 2016, yet the VRI works its magic and gets our numbers down to a manageable level while still taking into account the usual annual attrition rate.
Now for the angst and hand-wringing.
Those who depart must do so in response to the Lord’s calling. This is the spiritual component to all of this – calling. If these plans by leadership are in response to the Spirit’s guidance, then God will carry to plan to fruition by calling workers away from their places of service with the IMB. I can hardly fathom how difficult it will be to answer His call to leave.
As I look at those with whom I work, I cannot imagine what the loss would do to our colleagues. Any theoretical mental list I work up involves losing valuable men and women who do so much for the IMB and for our Lord. The loss in knowledge and skill would be bad, but the attendant hemorrhaging of wisdom and guidance would hurt.
If this were not enough, the decision to retire usually takes months to work out. People learn to say good bye to national friends and favorite foods. They pick and choose which furniture items will make the trip back to the US. They sell their children’s stuff or give it to those in need, saying good-bye one last time to their grown former MKs who are back in the US. They prepare to lose a portion of their identity that has been growing and changing for decades, that of an SBC entity worker. Rushing folks through a decision and process like this will not be fun.
And yet…what choice do we have? Short of winning the lottery annually, how else do we survive as an organization?
I had a Muslim-turned-Christian friend years ago, a taxi driver in the Middle East. He used to tell me, “Remember, my friend: trust in God, but lock your door.” Rely on the supremacy of God, but use the wisdom and sense He gives us along the way.
I think that’s exactly what is happening here, painful though it may be.