I recently expressed my lament over the recent announcement of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (IMB). Not only is it hard to accept that at least since 2010, our missions-sending agency has outspent its predictable income by close to a quarter of a billion dollars, it also remains gut-wrenching to know IMB both sold off tens of millions of dollars of real estate and properties and depleted its cash reserves just to keep the doors open. Adding insult to injury, IMB officials announced it expects seasoned missionaries, most of whom are undoubtedly poised for the greatest effectiveness on their respective people-groups in their entire tenure, to voluntarily retire so IMB can appoint newly appointed but inexperienced missionaries to replace them.
And, as I mentioned in my lament, it remains organizationally unforgivable for an agency's trustees and administration to allow itself to get into the dismal fiscal condition it has. "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."
What remains just as concerning to me is the public response of many high profile Southern Baptists to IMB's discouraging announcement. I mentioned two in my earlier piece. Below are a few more (embolden added for emphasis):
- "We all should shoulder the blame for what has happened. This is unacceptable! We need to lead our churches to sacrifice and give more so we can send more. As a pastor, I understand financial realities and the challenges churches face when making a budget. However, it is possible – no matter what your church’s situation – to lead your church to sacrifice and give more for missions" -- Jon Akin, son of Danny Akin and Senior Pastor at Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN.
- "One is that, as with any large organization, it is easy for expenses and personnel to slowly grow beyond a sustainable level,” Kidd says. “The second, more concerning level,” Kidd notes, “is that Southern Baptists’ giving to missions has simply not kept up with the aspirations of the IMB” --Thomas Kidd, Professor at History, Baylor University.
- '"I don’t think it [the IMB staff reduction] signals decline. I think it signals a different approach for positioning Southern Baptists for long term effectiveness,” Coppenger says.'-- Jeb Coppenger, son of Mark Coppenger and Pastor at Redemption City Church in Franklin, Tennessee.
As before, these statements duplicate almost in toto what appears to be the absence of fiduciary obligation at IMB. Apparently for Akin, IMB's reckless spending patterns are no big deal. Rather, all Southern Baptists share blame in this. What's unacceptable for Akin is, we don't sacrifice and give more. Give and sacrifice more to an agency that grossly overspends its clearly predictable income, and has done so for at least five years totaling close to a quarter billion dollars? Give and sacrifice more to an agency which, against its own policies, depleted its cash reserves and sold off SBC property to keep the operation afloat? Not to mention Akin apparently didn't get the memo--For years both the annual missions offering and CP giving to IMB has increased. Also forget mentioning the approval of the GCRTF proactive to raise IMB's cut of the CP pie exceeding 50% of total CP gifts.
Baylor's history professor seems no more sober in his estimation than Akin. On a more concerning level, Kidd indicates, Southern Baptists just simply failed to keep up with the "aspirations of the IMB." Failed to keep up with IMB's aspirations? Excuse me? Is that not like the old worn proverb about the tail wagging the dog? Who owns whom here? Who represents the interests and convictions of whom here? Southern Baptists do not answer to the IMB. IMB dictates to Southern Baptists neither its mission nor its aspirations. Rather, the IMB is charged as a missions-sending agency to send to the uttermost parts of the earth missionaries that Southern Baptists support and fund, not missionaries and strategies to send missionaries that Southern Baptists cannot support and cannot fund. And given the deplorable deficit spending IMB recklessly observed, IMB sent missionaries Southern Baptists did not and predictably could not support at the level of giving we are and were. I wonder if Kidd would argue that his university president should spend according to his aspirations for Baylor regardless of the projected budgetary income to Baylor. Should Baylor's history department of which Kidd is a member spend according to its aspirations or according to the projected income and allotment the history department receives?
What is more, what pastor would long survive in any church if he, year after year, overspent receipts according to his aspirations, dipping into and depleting cash reserves until the bank was broke and then suggesting they sell off property in order to keep going? On top of this, the Chairman of the Deacons stands and says, "This is all our fault. We need to be giving more and sacrificing more!" This is prima facie nonsensical.
Finally, Coppenger sees no decline signaled by IMB's staff reduction. Instead he sees a "different approach" to poise Southern Baptists for long term effectiveness. Like both Akin and Kidd and along with many other high profile Southern Baptists, Coppenger dismisses carte blanche the fiduciary obligation of IMB administration and trustees to over 40,000 Southern Baptist churches for the hundreds of millions of dollars given to it every year and instead conveniently focuses on long-term strategies for effective global missions, an indisputable assumption of which most all Southern Baptists presume. Is it not obvious and even expected that IMB leaders would routinely, day-in-day-out, focus and poise themselves for long-term effectiveness? Coppenger ignores the problem at the IMB by citing the obvious.
If this recent announcement coming from the IMB is not a wake-up call to grassroots Southern Baptists that hands-off, top-down, elite-driven leadership models cannot work in a convention of free churches hopelessly wed to the time-tested, time-honored Baptist principle of ecclesial voluntarism, the 170 year old Southern Baptist Convention is, for all practical purposes, finished. We're done.