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.