Following the voluntary resignation of more than 1,000 missionaries and staff, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, David Platt, addressed the agency’s future in a live webcast on March 3.
Platt began by referencing the organization’s financial struggles – “some really difficult times” over which they are still grieving – but stated, “The purpose of this live stream is not to spend time talking about all of that.”
The “all of that” was the IMB’s announcement in August 2015 that 600 to 800 positions would be eliminated in order to stabilize the organization’s finances and its request that personnel consider voluntarily resigning or retiring.
The downsizing process was addressed in a live webcast in October 2015.
“We are walking through that reduction in personnel through two main phases,” Platt explained. “One is a voluntary retirement incentive … and phase two … is a kind of hand-raising initiative for everybody else who is not retirement eligible.”
As a result, the IMB reported that 983 missionaries and 149 U.S. staff have left – “702 missionaries and 109 stateside staff took the voluntary retirement incentive, and 281 missionaries and 40 stateside staff took the hand-raising opportunity.”
The organization said the reduction was necessitated by five years of budget shortfalls resulting in a $210 million spending deficit.
Brian Kaylor, EthicsDaily.com contributing editor, analyzed the IMB’s financial records in a two-part series and concluded that the organization’s audits did not match its deficit claims.
While Platt encouraged viewers to review previous publications to learn about these financial issues, he focused on the “really healthy financial place” that the IMB would be in by 2017 and shared five desires for the future of Southern Baptist missions.
1. Exalt Christ – emphasizing the importance of being guided by the Bible.
2. Mobilize ordinary Christians – expanding the understanding of missions beyond fully funded missionaries.
3. Serve and equip churches – supporting local church mission efforts with the IMB’s 170 years of experience and resources.
4. Facilitate church planting – focusing on urban areas without neglecting rural populations.
5. Play our part in the Great Commission – stressing the need for the IMB, local churches and individual Christians to more intentionally collaborate in mission endeavors.
While the IMB’s core initiative is sending fully funded missionaries, Platt stated, resources are limited and a limited number of people can be supported in this manner.
Yet, his vision was “not just thinking through how do we go from our numbers now to 500 more or 1,000 more, but [asking] how do we mobilize thousands, tens [of] thousands more brothers and sisters getting the gospel to the nations?”
To do so, Platt stressed the need to engage and mobilize ordinary Christians – a concept he emphasized in his October 2015 web stream – by helping them shift their understanding of missions and missionaries.
“Think not just people who leave their jobs to take the gospel to the nations,” Platt urged, “but think people who can leverage their jobs … to work around the world” in order to spread the gospel without requiring full salaries from the IMB.
This approach offers “limitless opportunities,” he said, but it requires a “Moravian type missional movement” through which U.S. Christians seek to find jobs, to obtain a college education and to retire outside the U.S. in order to spread the gospel.
The IMB is currently “in a process of changing our structures and systems … so that we are fueling that kind of movement from ordinary Christians,” Platt shared, in order to “surround the [fully-funded] mission force with exponentially large mission force.”
One of the live tweets to which he responded asked, “Practically, what will it look like to send ‘limitless’ people?”
Platt answered, “I wish I could point you today to go ‘click on this button’ and it will open this door for how you can be involved in this way or that way, but that is what we are working towards.”
“Hopefully the practical picture of that will play out over the next six months, nine months, the rest of this year as we put this [vision] into practice.”