In recent days, I have had a number of people both inside and outside the church I serve who asked me my thoughts on the well-publicized financial issues at the International Mission Board. I decided to share them here in hopes that it will encourage people to become more informed and prayerful.
First of all, the International Mission Board must balance its books, and new IMB President David Platt is to be commended for dealing with the situation. Like just about every other Southern Baptist, it was news to me when Platt announced that IMB had run an operating deficit in excess of $200 million over the last several years. This deficit had been covered through reserves and the sale of overseas assets. To be honest, I was floored to learn of this situation. As a senior pastor of a church that gives very generously to SBC missions, our local church would never operate in this manner. Certainly, every church from time to time dips into reserves due to lean years in giving or unexpected expenses. That is why you have reserves in the first place. However, living off of reserves cannot be a continual way of life for a church or any organization. Eventually what comes in must match what goes out.
The IMB is dealing with hard realities and it is not easy. For years, we have heard that we have more people willing to go than we have money to send. The reality is that we do not have the money for those we have already sent. It pains me greatly to write these words, but that is the truth. In excess of 80% of the IMB budget is personnel; no surprise given that it is an organization that sends missionaries. My understanding is that IMB is going through the process of offering buyouts and early retirement to a substantial number of field missionaries and staff at IMB headquarters in Richmond, Virginia all in an effort to get to a financially sustainable level of personnel. I personally know IMB missionaries who are making agonizing choices about their futures. It is extremely painful for all involved.
Furthermore, David Platt has made clear that he intends to change much of the way IMB operates and its missions philosophy. The specifics of exactly what that looks like are still unclear to me as an outside observer. Some have questioned his election to the position, his missions philosophy, and support of the Cooperative Program. No one questions Platt’s passion for taking the gospel to the nations. Personally, I believe it is past time to stop rehashing those issues. David Platt is the leader of IMB regardless of how anyone feels about how he got there. Count me as one pastor who is willing to support him and give him a chance. I am praying that he leads IMB and Southern Baptists to our greatest days of missions and gospel advance.
I am a strong believer in and supporter of the SBC Cooperative Program. Hopefully, what will eventually come out of all of this is a leaner, healthier, stronger IMB and a renewed vision for funding missions in our churches. Now is not the time to cut back. Uncertainty and a little controversy is not the time to withdraw. It is the time to set our hands to the plow and stay faithful in the work. I will attempt to lead the church I serve to give more to the Cooperative Program and more to the special missions offerings (Lottie & Annie) in 2016 than we have this year.