EDITORIAL: Why are IMB leaders not answering questions?

June 7, 2016

Will Hall | Editor
Baptist Message, Louisiana

**This article was originally posted HERE and is used by permission**
For more information on Will Hall click HERE and www.baptistmessage.com

Fifteen questions about the management practices and philosophy of the International Mission Board remain unanswered despite multiple attempts through several channels to get specific details about how Southern Baptists’ $300 million cooperative overseas evangelistic effort is being led.

These questions, the first of which were submitted March 16 by the Louisiana Baptist Message, seek to find out what operational analysis had been done in the decision to downsize the SBC’s largest cooperative outreach to the lost around the world. Some also address issues raised by comments made by IMB missionaries and staff, indicating suspicions that something is afoot, besides fixing a budget shortfall, by IMB leaders’ recent layoff of 1,132 personnel.

Importantly, all of the questions already are being discussed to varying degrees on a number of levels among Southern Baptists who simply want to know the facts.

LINGERING QUESTIONS

Perhaps the most troubling issue about the termination of 1,132 missionaries and staff is not just the human tragedy of uprooting so many men and women who God called to the mission field – a calling Southern Baptists confirmed by commissioning them.

Instead, it is the almost lackadaisical attitude or lack of awareness or concern about what this exodus of trained soul-winners means spiritually to our efforts to share the Gospel around the world.

The IMB was emphatic that it had followed financial due diligence to correct its deficit spending.

In fact, it issued a lengthy Frequently Asked Questions document that asserted the organization had conducted an extensive “quantitative analysis of how an option would impact cash flow and reserves” to the extent that they “modeled the financial impact to our cash flow and reserves through 2020.”

The IMB made its case by noting “the need to reduce the total number of personnel by at least 600 people” because of a 2016 deficit of “$22,850,000” (expenses more than receipts); and, it projected these minimal staff reductions would produce “cost savings in 2016 of $38.6 million” – nearly $16 million more than needed to balance the budget.

Still, while it made the point that it had analyzed the financial impact of these moves, the IMB did not mention what it projected the impact would be on reaching the lost.

There was not a single assessment about losing certain specialties that are needed on the field – linguists in critical languages; individuals with long-term relationships with key government leaders who allow us entry into key areas; and soul-winners who are catalyzing a revival movement.

Nor did IMB offer any reassurance to Southern Baptists that it was not jeopardizing decades of efforts to gain entry into restricted countries and acceptance among resistant people groups.

Moreover, IMB leaders apparently met the budget need, and more, with the first round of layoffs, known as Phase 1 or Voluntary Retirement Incentives (targeted at missionaries who were at least 50 years old with five years of experience) – there were a total of 811 IMB departures (702 field workers and 109 professional staff), then, well above the 600 minimum needed.

Extrapolating IMB’s numbers, this would suggest cost savings of more than $52 million in 2016, a cash bonanza of more than 2.25 times the expected deficit.

But, again, there was no discussion of what the additional departures would mean to our ability and opportunity to reach the lost – especially because IMB had taken aim at reducing its most experienced personnel.

Then, inexplicably, the IMB continued with Phase 2, called a Hand Raising Opportunity – essentially, a less generous package of severance payouts (typically, two weeks of pay for every year of service) – and another 321 individuals chose to exit the IMB, despite the lack of need given that the financial crunch had been averted by the first round of cuts.

Now, it would seem IMB is cash rich but people poor:

– the 2016 cost savings for the departing 1,132 should amount to about $73 million (calculated by extrapolating IMB’s projections of $38.6 million in 2016 cost savings for 600 layoffs);

– the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee recently published a financial summary showing the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is more than $10 million above the total for last year (looking at past trends, this amount might double by the time all monies are collected); plus,

– the North American Mission Board pledged $4 million to the IMB, and the South Carolina Baptist Convention made a one-time $1 million gift to the IMB to augment its churches’ contributions through the 2016 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

In the end, IMB will enjoy a cash windfall (before VRI and HRO payouts) of $75 million – $100 million in 2016, but have a void of field-experienced missionaries.

IMB projected 600 terminations would cost $23.1 million in one-time payments, so the 1,132 actual departures likely will incur an outlay of about $43.6 million.

Thus, when the dust settles, IMB will be $31 million – $56 million to the good, financially, in 2016. But Southern Baptists’ soul-winning efforts overseas will suffer because of these terminations for at least a decade.

Meanwhile, IMB downplayed news reports about the dramatic 2015 drop in overseas baptisms, which plunged to the lowest levels since 1969, and has yet to give any indication it cares what those numbers will be in 2016 and 2017 (by the lack of projections in any of its planning regarding the departure of so many seasoned missionaries – see our repeated questions about this below).

IMB leaders attributed the plunge in numbers to a 2009 change in their reporting procedures which were modified again in 2011. These changes restrict official counts to include only baptisms resulting from “work related to IMB personnel only, and no longer include reports related to partner conventions and unions.” They also cited large-scale church-planting movements which now are self-sustaining under native leadership and no longer counted in IMB’s official counts.

Still, 2,717 IMB missionaries reported 50,003 baptisms for 1969, while 4,707 missionaries tallied 54,762 baptisms in 2015. The issue is not so much about the effectiveness of our missionaries, but more of a concern about the wisdom of IMB’s strategy of placing missionaries among resistant people groups (a focus since about 1997) at the expense of reaching responsive populations.

For the record, the Message uncovered the information about IMB’s plummeting baptisms in a ministry summary of all SBC entities published by another SBC agency, not the IMB. If not for our March 18 news article, this information still might not be widely known.

Yet, the Message is not a crusading investigative news outlet.

We simply try to ask questions Southern Baptists are asking among themselves.

Go to www.baptistmessage.com to read the rest of the article!

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Steve Davis

There are a lot of concerning issues in this article, I do not doubt that. I understand how difficult it is to move an entity from the brink of financial ruin back to stability. The costs of doing so are tremendous. The only hope that we have is that the long term gain will outweigh the short-term pain. I agree that questions will still need to be asked and answered.

However, you say in your article, “Still, 2,717 IMB missionaries reported 50,003 baptisms for 1969, while 4,707 missionaries tallied 54,762 baptisms in 2015. The issue is not so much about the effectiveness of our missionaries, but more of a concern about the wisdom of IMB’s strategy of placing missionaries among resistant people groups (a focus since about 1997) at the expense of reaching responsive populations.” I am not really sure how this fits into your argument. In fact, it could be a sign of the success of the IMB without us even realizing it. Do we know how many churches were established from 1969 to the present in these regions which were “responsive populations.” Do we know how many baptisms are still going on in those regions through those established churches made up and led by indigenous people who no longer need a missionaries help? If we do not know those numbers, are we then comparing apples to oranges when it comes to comparing baptisms from one generation to the next. If we do know those numbers it would be interesting to see how effective our missionaries really were? Did they make disciples who make disciples without the aid of a missionary? It seems to me that the IMB since 1997 may have been following the missionary pattern of the Apostle Paul. He preached the gospel, established churches and then moved on to areas where the gospel was not being preached. I guess what I am saying is the effectiveness of the IMB seen in how many baptisms our missionaries have or in how many baptisms the churches we establish have going forward without our help?

    Dr. Will Hall

    Steve,

    The short answer is missionaries who have served among resistant people groups are expressing discouragement about the lack of evangelistic success when they are home on furlough.

    As for discipleship, our missionaries in the 1990’s were just as dedicated and trained in discipleship as missionaries are today, although not focused only on discipling new believers into a particular systematic theology. I do not know this is widespread, but a well-placed SBC leader shared a conversation with me during which nationals in one country complained about our people trying to force a particular view on them. Regarding self-sustaining movements established through the work of our missionaries from 1969 -2000, I will look up how many Baptist conventions were established through our work and get you the numbers of baptisms that are being reported today — but you miss the point. The drastic cuts in our overseas forces — 532 which were unnecessary — will mean fewer baptisms and church starts regardless of what system you employ.

    Finally, I disagree with your description of Paul’s methodology.

    After his first missionary trip, Paul determined to return to “visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the Word of the Lord (Acts 15:36). He only went to Europe after the Holy Spirit warned him and redirected his travel from Asia (Acts 16:6). But, he did return to his church plants in Asia and Europe on his 3rd journey and his 13 epistles were further instruction to them when he could not visit.

    Moreover I don’t think anyone can argue Paul’s methodology reflects the “2 percent and pull out” emphasis IMB has today.

    However, it is clear he followed a Mt. 28:18-20 “As you go …” Great Commission mentality (Acts 17:16-17).

    — Will

Phillip

If the 15 million Southern Baptists, each gave an extra $3 a year we wouldn’t have this “crisis”.
What if every Southern Baptist gave an extra $10, $25, $100 a month, how many resources would the IMB have at its disposal?
What if all 15 million Southern Baptists showed up at church this Sunday… America would experience revival.

    Andy

    ooh, math! Here’s my response (which totally overlooks the well-known fact that there are not 15 million southern baptists)

    1. If 15 million people each gave and extra $3 a year TO THEIR CHURCH’S GENERAL OFFERING, based on recent analysis of average church and state budgeting, it would end up being about $.02 on every dollar, or 6 cents total from each person, that would reach the IMB. This equals $900,000. No small sum, but not enough to avert the current situation.

    2. Now, and extra $100 a month would make a much bigger difference. That would be an extra $2 a month, or $24 per person per year getting to IMB. That would give us 360 million dollars! I think you may be on to something here.

Tom Fillinger 803 413 3509

15 Million? That is a myth, a lie, voodoo math, flat out deceit, a perpetual head-in-the-sand falsehood – – take your pick. On the best Sunday of the year (you pick it) there are not 7 million in attendance. Since this post is an appeal for honest and factual reporting i suggest we begin here. Perhaps when we repent of this charade we will be in a position to address other related issues. Seems reasonable!

Randall Cofield

Summary of the entire article and list of questions: The Calvinists have hijacked the IMB.

    Dr. Will Hall

    Randall,

    The question of Calvinism was not a factor in my editorial, and regardless of anyone’s theological leaning, that particular issue should not be the lens through which it is read.

    My educational background and career experience is in leadership, policy and organizational development and this is what informed my writing about the troubling lack of management and leadership due diligence by IMB leaders in developing a response to its overspending.

    What actually seems to be at play is a sort of Rehoboam Syndrome of insular advice-seeking behavior that research shows is at the heart of failure in at least half of all strategic reform efforts.

    If doctrinal dogma is a factor in the narrowing of who was involved in coming up with a plan, then it should be a discussion point.

    The Bible instructs there is wisdom in the counsel of many, but is clear this means the counsel of many perspectives — and not just the counsel of many people holding the same opinion. Similarly, Nathan was corrected for being a “yes” man and Jeremiah and Micaiah both showed “going along to get along” is not a biblical principle.

    Sincerely,
    — Will

Lydia

ttp://www.bpnews.net/43691/trustees-imbs-platt-unfolds-fivepoint-strategy

“while presiding over his first trustee meeting as head of the mission agency….Platt brought three personnel recommendations to IMB trustees…describing the moves as “high-level, 40,000-foot decisions” designed to “set the stage” for subsequent decisions in the days to come.”

Now remember you peasants, this is high level. You can’t expect us to be radically transparent. We are important people making high level decisions with your money. So don’t ask questions. When we think the time is right we will decide what you should know or not.

Just remember how courageous I was risking my life at the Dubai Marriott and follow me.

    Rick Patrick

    Lukas Naugle, one of those three high-level executives brought in to lead Southern Baptists at the IMB, was not even a member of a Southern Baptist Church at the time he became one of our leaders. He was, however, a member of a Reformed congregation and extremely active in the Gospel Coalition, a Calvinist organization that now publishes articles endorsing Hillary Clinton as President.

    It still baffles me that one can be appointed as a denominational leader of a denomination to which one does not even belong.

Lydia

“It still baffles me that one can be appointed as a denominational leader of a denomination to which one does not even belong.”

Barnabas Piper, now at LifeWay was proudly Presbyterian even publishing blog posts arguing for infant baptism until he was offered his six-figure salary at Lifeway. Then he suddenly became Baptist again.

Joe Carter at ERLC was not SBC when Moore recruited him.

It would be very interesting to see a comprehensive list across our entities which would include the pre SBC– SGM fleeing entourage and their perks at SBTS.

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