Today, David Platt released an open letter to Southern Baptists. In it he described the process which led him to his "painful decision" announced this week about balancing the budget and the dismal spending patterns of the International Mission Board.
"This is certainly not an announcement that I, in any way, wanted to make. At the most recent meeting of the SBC in Columbus, I shared with messengers how IMB spent tens of millions more dollars than we received last year. In our budgeting process over the last couple of months, other leaders and I have recognized that we will have a similar shortfall this year, and we are projecting another shortfall of like magnitude next year. In fact, when we stepped back and looked at IMB finances since 2010, we realized that IMB has spent a combined $210 million more than people have given to us. By God’s grace, we have been able to cover these costs through reserves and global property sales. But we don’t have an endless supply of global property to sell, and our cash reserves are no longer at a desirable level for good stewardship going forward."
Platt goes on to record that during the budgeting process over the last couple of months, he and his staff leadership "realized the severity of our financial situation," and consequently, "significant action" became the sole solution. "We inevitably realized that any effort to balance our budget would require major adjustments in the number of our personnel." According to Platt, personnel salary, benefits, and support expenses account for 80% of the budget.
Platt makes it clear that IMB's financial difficulties have been no secret by citing public statements to that effect for the last seven consecutive years (2007-2014). Furthermore, Platt cites himself telling the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio how "IMB spent tens of millions more dollars than we received last year."
Platt also knew of the same $21 million shortfall in February of this year during the same time trustees approved a $301 million Fiscal Resources Strategy Plan for 2015. However, in neither of the instances when the shortfall was mentioned does there seem to be the crisis alarm Platt now reveals. In fact, when Platt stood before the 2015 convention, he minimized the shortfall by suggesting it wouldn't matter if Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon gifts increased dramatically, we would still "keep a cap" on global missions as he sees it.
Note carefully the following section from Platt's address to the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention as recorded by Baptist Press (embolden added):
"In 2009, IMB had a record-high 5,600 missionaries overseas. Today, the number has dropped to 4,700 and is fast on its way to 4,200, primarily because IMB is not financially able to support their missionary force on the field. Last year, IMB operated with expenses nearly $21 million more than income.
The decreasing number of missionaries "is not tolerable when two billion people still haven't heard the name of Jesus," Platt said. "Consequently, we are evaluating all of our structures and systems in order to discern how we can more efficiently and effectively use the resources Southern Baptists churches have entrusted to us."
As long as fully financially supported missionaries are the only way IMB can send Southern Baptists, Platt said -- even if the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering both increase dramatically -- "we will keep a cap" on Southern Baptists' missions involvement.
"I want to lead the IMB to blow open that funnel to create as many pathways as possible for Southern Baptists to get the Gospel to unreached people," Platt said.
God is divinely opening the doors to take the Gospel around the world not just through traditional missionary routes, he said, but also through nontraditional roles including the globalization of the marketplace. He challenged messengers to imagine a team led by a traditional missionary and surrounded by students, professionals and retirees -- potentially supporting themselves financially -- working alongside him or her, all focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached."
If I am understanding what Platt was suggesting, the way to blow the lid off our limited involvement in global missions is to create an army of nontraditional roles in global missions.
Is this visionary impetus the driving mechanism behind pulling 600-800 traditional missionaries fully supported by IMB only to replace them with 600-800 nontraditional missionaries "potentially supporting themselves financially" rather than taxing the IMB?
I've been a Southern Baptist since I was saved and baptized in 1977. For my part, the last five to ten years has been hands down the most confusing era trying to figure out who or what being a Southern Baptist means. The more I read of this the more Advil I'm beginning to take.
Why or why did I start reading about my denomination again?