The layoff of up to 800 Southern Baptist Convention mission personnel was addressed in a live webcast on Tuesday by David Platt, president of the SBC’s International Mission Board (IMB).
Calling it “an opportunity to have some dialogue about what’s going on in the IMB right now, about where we are headed as the IMB in the day to come,” Platt offered general reflections on the organization’s status, shared his vision for its mission enterprises and answered questions submitted via social media.
The hour-long event is the latest IMB follow-up to the late August announcement that 600 to 800 IMB positions would be cut to offset budget shortfalls.
Posting an FAQ answering general questions about the implications of the reduction was followed by an open letter Platt issued a week after the announcement in which he offered an overview of the past five years of IMB finances to further explain the decision.
A voluntary retirement incentive program (VRI) was announced a week after Platt’s letter under which all missionaries over 50 with at least five years of service would receive “as generous a voluntary retirement incentive as possible, while honoring the years of service of those eligible and providing smooth transitions for personnel from their current roles.”
Platt spoke about the VRI during Tuesday’s event. “We are walking through that reduction in personnel through two main phases,” he said. “One is a voluntary retirement incentive … and phase two … is a kind of hand-raising initiative for everybody else who is not retirement eligible.”
In this second phase, Platt explained, every remaining employee will be asked to consider if God is leading them to make a transition away from working at the IMB.
There was no mention of severance packages within the phase two initiative, and no information was provided about when or how cuts would be made if there weren’t enough volunteers in the two phases.
While Platt shared that the reductions would not all be on-the-field missionaries, he didn’t note what percentage would be administrative staff.
In his prepared speeches through the webcast, Platt emphasized the importance of the local church in missions and encouraged congregations “to give sacrificially for the sake of the gospel.”
He also shared an expanded understanding of missions is needed in which individual Christians shared the good news wherever they are in the global marketplace.
Platt highlighted two examples of Southern Baptist entrepreneurs with job opportunities in countries where IMB access has been limited.
Both individuals plan to use their positions to share the gospel, providing a model for expanding missionary initiatives even amid IMB funding shortfalls.
“You think about the globalization of today’s marketplace,” Platt said, “the opportunities that are available for scores of people from our churches to get the gospel to the nations through jobs, through opportunities for study … [at universities] in places where there is very little gospel access.”
He continued, “You think about students, professionals, retirees. ‘Uncle Sam’ will pay people not just to play golf in South Florida, they’ll pay people to go and make the gospel known in South Asia.”
Zach Dawes, EthicsDaily.com’s managing editor, tweeted this comment following the event, asking Platt for further explanation of his meaning. No response had been received at press time.
These initiatives are “not instead of people who leave their jobs to go overseas,” Platt clarified, “but in addition to those who leave their jobs to go overseas, people who leverage jobs to go overseas, and leverage opportunities for study, and leverage opportunities to get the gospel to the nations. We’ve got to think along those lines.”
When asked, “How can we help our church not lose confidence in the IMB? Why keep giving?” he emphasized that IMB leaders “want to prove responsible stewards” of supporters’ money and time.
“If we don’t prove ourselves a valuable partner,” he continued, “then I would say, ‘don’t give,'” while quickly adding that he doesn’t believe this will be the case.
Platt responded to a number of other questions and comments, but several inquiries submitted via Twitter were not addressed.
These included a question about how the North American Mission Board’s $4 million donation to the IMB would impact the organization, an inquiry about possible reasons why churches had been giving less to fund the IMB, as well as someone wondering if Platt’s emphasis on alternate missionary strategies meant he was “leaning more toward tent-makers with IBM facilitation vs traditional career [missionaries]?”
A recording of the webcast is available here.