TEST the Trustees!

August 31, 2015

Dr. Rick Patrick | Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL

Southern Baptists now have 210 million reasons to adopt the slogan, “TEST the Trustees” rather than “TRUST the Trustees.” When reporting the recent Voluntary Retirement Incentive to remove 600 to 800 missionaries and staff members from the IMB payroll, IMB leaders referenced a six-year deficit spending total of $210 million. Neither this $210 million deficit, nor the resulting 15% reduction in staff, was mentioned at the SBC annual meeting in Columbus just two months ago. 

Even national news magazines noticed the difference in tone from the Columbus report to this week’s news, as evidenced by the lead of one Christianity Today article: “Two months after promoting plans to send out ‘limitless’ numbers of missionaries, the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) faces a financial crisis.” [1]

What I heard in Columbus was a lot of positive talk about blowing up funnels and removing caps in order to get more missionaries to the field. It was like a pep rally. In fairness, there was the brief mention of an annual $21 million deficit, a problem we were told could be rectified by sending unfunded SBC laypersons—students, professionals and retirees—to serve in teams to help our missionaries on the field. This endeavor will certainly result in more people overseas—some of whom will be missionaries and others of whom will be laypersons. However, in Columbus, there was no talk at all of solving this deficit by laying off existing missionaries.

Two months later, our ditty has become a dirge. In order to compensate for this $210 million shortfall—an average of $35 million per year over the last six years—IMB leaders have been spending from reserves and selling off real estate property. While the annual deficit of $21 million was briefly mentioned in the IMB annual report in Columbus, the full depth of this problem was not at all emphasized. If IMB leadership was already contemplating a reduction of 15% of our overall missionary force, this represents a situation that should have occupied the majority of the report’s time. We should have stopped and held special prayer for these faithful missionaries whose lives and ministries will be affected by the drawdown.

We should have had time to evaluate the possibility of (a) a two-year hiring freeze that would not require any of our missionaries to retire, or (b) at least a one-year hiring freeze that would only result in the need to draw down 300-400 experienced missionaries. We should have seen this coming. We should have been informed.

I know some will say, “TRUST the Trustees!” They believe we owe them a certain loyalty for their faithful service to Southern Baptists. With all due respect, while I appreciate the fine men and women who serve, the debt of loyalty and respect and information sharing is entirely in the other direction. The Trustees EARN our trust by trusting us with information we have no access to unless they tell us. We trust the trustees to tell us the whole truth, the big picture—the $210 million problems. A thing like this should not sneak up on us. More information about such a plan shared much sooner will go a long way to establishing greater trust in the future.

 

 

[1] “Southern Baptists Will Cut 600 to 800 Missionaries and Staff.” Bob Smietana. Christianity Today. August 27, 2015.

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Kyle Gulledge

You are absolutely correct. Though as succinct as you have put it, I’ve been saying the same thing for a while now. Throughout the convention we have a good ‘ole boy network that looks out for one another.
When the executive committee takes a vow of silence with regards to the salaries of all of our entity heads and keeps “Billy Baptist” in the dark about such things there is a problem. There is no accountability to the common sbc member. Now, I don’t pretend to think that David Platt’s salary would solve the financial crisis at the IMB. But when there is an annual shortfall of at least $21 million there ought to be more accountability about where ALL of the CP money to the IMB is going.
So I say, “Yes! Test the trustees.” Or to quote Ronald Reagan, “Trust. But Verify.”

Scott Shaver

“Trust the Trustees” is the kind of sloganeering which provides cover for mismanagement of all shapes and sizes.

What do the IMB and the State of Wisconsin now have in common? A 210 million dollar structural deficit built on “trust”.

David R. Brumbelow

Rick,
Thanks for your views and information.

It bothers me that the IMB spends beyond their means, then blames it on the churches not caring enough about missions.
Perhaps the IMB owes the SBC churches an apology.

“Traeger said budget shortfalls have been the result of revenue projections that exceeded actual income, including projections related to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Data reported in Baptist Press and Southern Baptist Convention Annuals indicates IMB budgets projected Lottie Moon revenue equivalent to the goal even when the previous year’s Lottie Moon revenue was millions less.”
http://bpnews.net/45383/platt-no-gospel-drawdown-despite-personnel-cuts

And it continues to concern me that the IMB is in the process of ridding itself of older leadership.
What kind of newer leadership will the IMB bring on board?

David R. Brumbelow

    Scott Shaver

    You might want to ask Al Mohler as I believe he had a hand in previous appointments?

Lydia

Here are a few others that are used to snow people: “Believe the best” and “Trust positive intentions”. These are basically shaming “positives” so people won’t question. One reason why it is not wise to trust the trustees is because they approved of Platt in the first place. Was he a celeb choice to attract more YRR foreign missionaries? If we look at credentials for the job we have a problem. He only “saw the beauty of the CP” AFTER he was chosen. Huh? And we know his church where he was “Radical” did not give much at all toward the CP. So, it would have to be real world experience in foreign missions, right? Nope.
So what were the compelling reasons for Platt? Name recognition? See, in my view, the trustees were not taking the long term problems into consideration in the first place. One thing we have seen happen in the corporate world are the slick marketing guys are not becoming CEO’s these days. The accountants are. And there is a reason.

So, they could have chosen more wisely…perhaps someone with much more experience in some area that would affect the long term viability mission of IMB. But no, instead you got a lot of rah rah but not a lot of real substance. But celebs are the focus these days. But don’t dare disagree with his view or question anything he says because that will mean you are attacking, etc. See, that is how they control the information and message. They will never like your tone or method if you disagree. Get used to it.

Tim G

Rick,
I think this article is fair. The information and lack of information while being led into a pep rally of sorts have left me searching for words that describe my frustrations and initial thoughts. And while I am pondering the whole mess I cannot but help to think of our other agencies who have escalating deferred maintenance issues while construction new buildings while promoting more pep rally’s. How in the world has this been kept silent for so long?

Kudos to Platt and his team for hitting this straight on. Though I question the solution due to an absence of a freeze, at least we now know.

George

You are assuming that the trustees had any say in this. They were informed of the plan, they did not vote on the plan nor did the come up with the plan.

    Rick Patrick

    Thank you, George. Frankly, your statement describing a more or less unilateral process on the part of Platt and his executive leadership team is a possibility that never even entered my mind. It is a chilling thought. Anything like this that I would seek to do at church would go through a Personnel Committee, a Finance Committee, a Deacon Body and the congregation as a whole.

    Is it truly possible that this decision, affecting hundreds of missionaries supported by millions of Southern Baptists, was made without ANY SIGNIFICANT TRUSTEE INPUT at all? If the trustees did not even vote to approve it or have any say in the decision itself, then they are right to demand such oversight from the administrative team. They may even need to exercise the one decision they do have the power to make. David Platt is the President of the International Mission Board. He is not the Emperor of it.

    George, do you have information that this is really the case, or are you just speculating? The trustees were never consulted about this, other than to inform them it would be done? Is that really true?

    Rick Patrick

    George,
    Although your email address came back undeliverable, and your name may indeed be pseudonymous, whoever you are, thank you for leaving this comment the other day and informing Southern Baptists of the decision making process now being followed within our International Mission Board. One Southern Baptist Pastor and blogger considered your name and email to be “fraudulent.” I took a bit of flak even for entertaining your statement. In fact, I was called a variety of names for suggesting your claim might possibly be true—names to which my late mother would have strongly objected. As it turns out, your information has been confirmed at the highest levels by the IMB Trustee Chairman. I guess one man’s fraud is another man’s informant. Thanks again for setting the record straight.

Tad Thompson

Did you even listen to David’s report he gave to the convention? He used a graphic at the very beginning of his talked that demonstrated a steady decline in missionaries due to funding issues since 2009. Trying to make this out to be some kind of bait and switch is simply not true.

    Rick Patrick

    Tad,

    I listened to the report live and have listend to it several times since. Yes, he showed a 5,600 to 4,700 slide, saying it was “fast on its way to 4,200.” That part I understood when he said it and during the many times I have seen it since. He did mention the one year deficit of $21 million. It would have been the PERFECT opportunity to mention the $210 million cumulative deficit, but he did not do that. It would have been the PERFECT opportunity to mention the upcoming layoff of 15% of our missionaries, but he did not do that. It would have been the PERFECT opportunity to lay out the various solutions available to Southern Baptists, but he did not do that. A passionate, prayerful man who almost always has a cry in his voice could have led us to our knees to pray for these missionaries who would be affected by the upcoming layoffs if we did not do something, but he did not do that. Bottom line—the tone of the report seemed upbeat, triumphant and happy. Two months later, to hear of a $210 million deficit, and the downsizing of 15% of our experienced missionary staff, was a very different tone.

    Scott Shaver

    That “report” was more of soft shoe around the problem than an alarm bell due to the problem. Let’s face it.

    Bait and switch is not the terminology I would use but it is accurate.

norm

Rick: I surely resonate with your words. In reading your piece, I wondered whether the theological direction of the SBC has resulted in churches designating CP allocations away from the IMB. What about a 15 percent salary decrease for those at the IMB earning more than $100K? I wonder if the drawdown is driven by the wrong-headed — and I believe unbiblical — ethereal notion that the gospel needs only to get to at least one representative of “ta ethne” and not the entire ethne. Who is calling on churches to re-double their prayer and financial support? If God’s promise is to equip us to accomplish what he has called us to do, then why the shortage? Many more legitimate questions could be asked. The IMB leadership has a thing or two to learn about transparency.

Greg Roberts

Does anyone know exactly how many people at the IMB make 100k or more

    Alan Atchison

    Excellent question Greg. I’d love to know much more about the overhead at the IMB. The more one looks at the limited numbers available, the less they make sense. Why didn’t Platt and his leadership team take the step to reveal this type of information? It would go a very long way to helping assure Southern Baptists that everything is being done to deal with this fiscal mess.

Lydia

“Does anyone know exactly how many people at the IMB make 100k or more”

Exactly. How many administrative “non boots on the ground”people with IMB make six figures. Now is their leadership moment. They can live on what the average American makes, right? For the cause of Christ? Be Radical.

And take a fine tooth comb to the travel expenses of such types.

    Scott Shaver

    Now you’ve gone to meddling and overstepped your boundaries Lydia.

    Carbon footprints and travel expenses are “trusts” of the “trustees”.

David R. Brumbelow

Another view of the financial problems of the IMB:

http://peterlumpkins.typepad.com/peter_lumpkins/2015/08/six-to-800-missionaries-must-come-home-due-to-the-apathy-of-southern-baptists.html

Plus, a very interesting comment.

David R. Brumbelow

Steven

All:

I think that Dr. Platt’s report was less than eleven minutes and as I recall there were no questions. Lots of folks are complaining that there was never any information concerning the years of operating at a cash-loss, but for some asset sales. However, this information is freely and publicly available. Every year the SBC publishes its Annual for the convention. The Annual contains not only a narrative summary but also audited financial statements. The 2015 Annual clearly shows a net cash loss from operations of $12,375,000. Furthermore, the financial statements for the IMB clearly state that “Annually, as part of its normal operations, the Board sells buildings and land related to its overseas operations.” The information is there in black and white. If a messenger has questions about these issues, they should take time to ask the questions. If you have the information handed to you (or available on the SBC webpage http://www.sbcec.org/bor/2015/2015SBCAnnual.pdf) then don’t complain that the information is not available.

    Rick Patrick

    Steven,

    I will grant you that some responsibility for staying informed belongs to the recipient. Then again, the annual audit in the book of reports is boring beyond words. Nobody really pores over that except a few accountants. Do you disagree? For most messengers, we rely upon those bringing reports to HIGHLIGHT the truly important items.

    Even in the example you have given, I am more confused than I was before. Platt spoke of a $21 million annual deficit last year. You have just now referenced a “Net Cash Loss from Operations” of $12.3 million. Am I right in understanding that we spent $21M more than we took in, but offset that loss with about $9M of Property Sales, and the resultant $12M net loss was then taken out of reserves? We need CLARITY and DISCLOSURE.

    Another example would be the result of the vote in the IMB Trustee Meeting itself. Baptist Press reported no vote tally at all. Since this was a difficult decision, I would expect that the vote might be at least somewhat contested. Why did we not hear that the vote was 80%-20% (hypothetically) or whatever it was? We have a right to know.

    Again, you are right to expect listeners to pay attention. But it’s one thing to pay attention when you think the organization is blowing up funnels and removing caps and great days are ahead—Hallelujah! It’s another thing to pay attention when you think we are about to send 600 or so of our most experienced missionaries home over the next few years, in what is described as a cost cutting measure, while simultaneously continuing to send 600 or so inexperienced missionaries overseas during the same time period.

    I don’t think that’s a very good trade. In fact, it’s the worst trade I’ve heard about since Obama swapped Bergdahl for a handful of terrorists. It makes NO SENSE to me at all. If THIS TOPIC—the 15% Voluntary Retirement Incentive—had been discussed in Columbus, I believe you would have seen Southern Baptists lining up at every single microphone to ask questions. We cannot ask questions about situations when we have not been properly informed about them.

peter lumpkins

Steven quotes from the 2015 SBC Annual: “Annually, as part of its normal operations, the Board sells buildings and land related to its overseas operations.” In what part of this statement or another in the annual is it remotely implied that the “normal” selling of IMB properties for $18,000,000 was actually to offset a $39,000,000 budgetary shortfall in 2014? Sorry to say, but yours is the kind of defense that IMB does not need right now, Steven. One is better off to let this thing play out as it’s going to than to make unintelligent attempts as providing a sober rationale.

With that, I am…
Peter

Scott Shaver

This Breitbart report has me scratching my head over its treatment of the perspectives of Barber

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/09/01/international-mission-board-of-southern-baptist-convention-to-reduce-staff-by-15/

You tell me.

    Scott Shaver

    “TRUST THE TRUSTEES”. Sure thing.

    Would you like the access codes to my bank accounts for automatic withdrawal and the title to my house as well? Seeing as those of us in fly-over country can’t be trusted not to be “selfish”…..”hyenas” that we are.

Leslie Puryear

In regard to those who have made remarks about expressing our concerns to SBC leadership, the problem with that is that we don’t have an avenue to express those concerns. i have searched for the email addresses of David Platt, Frank Page, Ronnie Floyd and others to express my concerns. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate this information. It’s hard to have a dialogue with leadership without a way to contact them.

If anyone has email addresses for our leadership, please post them. Thanks.

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