Recently, International Mission Board (IMB) leaders announced a plan to scale back Southern Baptists' global mission effort by cutting personnel by approximately 15%. The plan was presented by President David Platt and his senior leadership team during an Aug. 27 "town hall" meeting, a meeting which included missionaries and staff and was available both on and off site (i.e. digitally). According to Baptist Press
"Platt said the urgency of the plan is based in the reality that while Southern Baptist giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has increased in recent years, the IMB projects it will fall $21 million short of its current annual budget, marking several consecutive years of budget shortfalls for the 170-year-old organization. Over the past six years, the organization's expenditures have totaled $210 million more than has been given to it each year."
Consequently, "If we are going to balance our budget," Platt reasoned, "we must reduce approximately 600 to 800 of our staff and field personnel."
If I understand the report, Southern Baptists have "in recent years" increased their giving to both the Cooperative Program (regularly consistent missions monies contributed mostly through percentages of 40k+ individual church budget receipts) as well as special IMB offerings for global missions (namely, The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions) collected annually from virtually the same churches. Even so, the IMB will fall approximately $21 million short of what's needed to remain on budget.
What is more, apparently the only reason the IMB will not show more of an annual deficit is because it sold off tens of millions of dollars worth of physical assets to substantially lower the budgetary overages to the $21 million shortfall announced by Platt. In the Q/A section of the Baptist Press article, consider the following question and subsequent answer IMB gave:
A: Despite increased giving to the IMB over the last four years, the organization has consistently spent more money than it has received. For example, looking at the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, a goal of $175 million was set for several years, but each year the amount received fell short. In 2014, IMB budgeted $21 million more than it received, so it drew from contingency reserves and global property sales to cover the shortfall. Not only did IMB fall $21 million short of budgeted revenue in 2014, but it also utilized global property sales to cover $18 million of budgeted expenses. In total in 2014, the organization spent $39 million more than it received. Since 2010, the organization has spent $210 million more than it has received. Fortunately, with contingency reserves and global property sales, the organization has been able to cover these shortfalls each year (embolden added).
So, even though Southern Baptists increased both their regular giving and their annual special giving, IMB nonetheless still operated on a $39 million deficit (2014), approximately half of which was subsidized by selling off Southern Baptists' assets.
Am I the only one who's missing something here?
I mean, come on. Outside the Federal Government, what organization runs on such a fiscally reckless basis for any year much less four consecutive years? And the only way it stays in the game is by massively depleting its cash reserves and selling off its physical assets?
Where under the clear blue sky were the trustees? Isn't this one substantial reason why we have trustees? To represent Southern Baptists' interests? We now learn our properties are being sold to offset a $39 million shortfall?
I fully realize I've served neither in mega-churches with budgets exceeding $10 million nor organizations like the IMB demanding hundreds of millions of dollars. Nonetheless, it seems to me there remains a very simple principle which predictably keeps one out of this type of fiduciary fiasco regardless of the size of the organization; namely, no matter the budgeted amounts, we spend within our means and not beyond our means.*
IMB financial problems result from churches' spiritual problems
To compound the issue, we have some high profile leaders who are suggesting what seems on any reasonable basis the fiscal irresponsibility of IMB remains a burden of guilt that 40k+ Southern Baptist churches must bear. It grieves me to mention this because some of ones suggesting Southern Baptists by and large remain responsible for IMB's woes I call without reservation my friends. I fellowship with them, dine with them, dialog with them, publicly support and defend them. Even so, I do not and will not stand by while they lay the onus of blame exclusively on the back of Southern Baptist churches, and especially not when IMB itself concedes Southern Baptist giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has increased in recent years.
One had this to say:
"The only reason for this massive recall of missionaries from around the world is that Southern Baptist individuals and churches would rather spend the massive resources God has entrusted to them on other things than the most effective proven means of taking the Good News of Jesus to the nations. A high percentage of these 800 missionaries will be those with the most experience, relationships, language, cultural knowledge, and ministry expertise. This will likely be the greatest loss of mission social capital in such a short time since the beginning of the Protestant mission movement in 1792. Since it takes 7-10 years for a missionary to reach their full effectiveness potential this represents a loss from which Southern Baptist missions will likely never recover. When histories are eventually written, this will likely be a major milestone in the demise of a denomination. The only positive result that I can think of is that perhaps we will stop bragging about the biggest and richest mission program in the world." (embolden original)
Similarly, another opined:
"The International Mission Board (IMB) announcement of a budget cutback was financially prudent and long overdue. They have been overspending their income for years. However, it means cutting their personnel by 15 percent, or about 600-800 missionaries and staff. That is tragic, because it is due to Southern Baptists simply not giving sufficiently to support our international missions efforts" (embolden added)
Unless I am misreading the commentaries above on the IMB announcement, the blame remains you and me; my church and your church. Though SBC churches for years have increased gifts both to the CP and global missions, we nonetheless are charged with apathetically spending our remaining monies upon ineffective pursuits; we believe missionaries are simply not "sexy" enough for today's church; and since our "culture favors style over substance" missionaries can't keep up with "styles back home." Hence, we are to blame in toto for 600-800 missionaries being sent home.
Well, here's my response
The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has demonstrated its fiscal irresponsibility by announcing that since 2010, it has spent $210 million more than it has received. On average, that's approximately $40 million more per year than budgetary projections would reasonably indicate. Trustees obviously knew, at least on some level, this was taking place. Furthermore, in order to accommodate its massive overspending, the IMB not only sold off tens of millions of dollars of assets to subsidize the overages ($18 million worth of property in 2014 alone), it also depleted the cash reserves so much so that it's now in emergency status. And, for all this, we have leaders poking Southern Baptist churches in the eye for not giving more to IMB.
For my part, this is unmitigated nonsense. A type of don't-blame-them-blame-you game. After all, Southern Baptists voted on both IMB strategies and budgets at the annual meetings. Yes we certainly did. We voted on one amount while IMB spent another. We voted to presumably live within our means, and IMB consciously chose to spend outside our means and far beyond our means. For clarity's sake, what am I missing here?
The bottom line so far as I am concerned
I personally will not advocate one extra dollar for either the Cooperative Program or the annual global missions offering from our church. Nothing. Not a single dollar more. If the church decides to give more, it will not be due to my advocacy for more. For my part, Southern Baptists now have a serious breach of integrity in both its means of giving (Cooperative Program) and its entities' spending (IMB). Besides other issues I've cataloged on this site through the years, we now have entities announcing gargantuan deficits brought upon us by flagrant, irresponsible overspending in their budgets.
So, no. I refuse to accept it. I both refuse the personal guilt aimed at me as well as corporate guilt aimed toward my church. And in doing so, I personally think Southern Baptists in general should do similarly though each church is perfectly free and personally encouraged to respond to the dictates of its free church conscience.
Until our entities prove once again their trustworthiness as models of fiscal integrity and responsibility, I will not advocate giving more either to the Cooperative Program or special annual offerings like The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions and the Anne Armstrong Easter Offering for Home Missions.
And, though since my first church in 1981, my primary missions focus has been cooperate missions giving since I so much believed in the Cooperative Program, I will no longer make a commitment to advocate giving monies either exclusively or generally to the Cooperative Program. Indeed there seems to be enough evidence now to reasonably sustain a sort of "cafeteria approach" in giving to SBC causes. In other words, I think there may exist reasonable merit in designating gifts to certain entities rather than just giving generally through the Cooperative Program. While the jury still remains sequestered in my own mind, for the first time in my lifetime as a Southern Baptist this option may possess merit I find worth considering.
Know to even make a public concession like that tearfully rips at my soul as a Southern Baptist. Even so, this latest financial fiasco from the IMB, along with the subsequent charges that churches bear the guilt even though churches have in recent years increased their gifts to the CP, has solicited in me a response that says enough is enough.
The time comes to consider all our options for world evangelism. The spread of the gospel to the uttermost parts of the globe as our Lord commands remains much too significant for our commission as a church to do less.
*perhaps an exception is an organization which creates, develops, and introduces new products for profit which virtually always includes financial risks; but hardly an organization like the IMB which depends upon exclusively voluntary subsidy.