Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary president, Jeff Iorg, joins the chorus of high profile Southern Baptists (see here and here) who are publicly insisting the reason for the recent announcement of budgetary problems at the nation's largest and most prestigious missionary-sending agency in the United States, The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (IMB), is that rank-and-file1 Southern Baptists are "robbing God." In a short but pungent piece on the seminary president's blog entitled "Missionaries Are Coming Home," Dr. Iorg was anything but vague.
"The basic problem causing up to 800 IMB missionaries to be called home is the failure of rank-and-file Southern Baptists to discipline their finances and adequately steward the resources God has given them."
For Iorg, Southern Baptists are "undisciplined (at best) or selfish (at worst) with their money," since Southern Baptists give only "between 2.5-3.0% of their household income to Christian ministries." Alluding to Malachi 3:10, Southern Baptists are "robbing God." Nothing could be plainer Iorg insists. "As long as this many people continue to give a pittance… we will continue to experience funding shortfalls in our missionary programs, as well as all other ministry endeavors."
In addition to pouring all responsibility for IMB's deficit spending into the pan of rank-and-file Southern Baptists, Iorg also sprinkles on top a layer of confident denial that any IMB leader shoulders blame for IMB's deficit spending. "Some have put misplaced blame on IMB leaders for their decision, or past leaders for past leadership decisions." In fact, while Iorg insists the reduction in missionary personnel recently publicized and explained by the IMB was both "frustrating" and "disheartening" as well as "simply not acceptable," nonetheless the "decision to reduce the number of missionaries is prudent and responsible."
I'd like the reader to consider some comments in response to Dr. Iorg if I may.
First, to broad-brush all Southern Baptists (and by implication, SBC churches) as undisciplined, selfish, and therefore, "robbing God" because the IMB irresponsibly outspent any reasonably projected budgetary income is as misguided as it is absurd. The IMB had every available piece of reliable fiscal information it required beforehand to make responsible decisions as to whether or not to commission new missionaries, hire new personnel, expand gospel reach, program new ventures, etc. based upon clearly communicated, highly predictable patterns of both Cooperative Program giving and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO).
In what way is this the fault of Southern Baptists generally?
Yes, Southern Baptist churches could have sent more. Granted. But how is it blameworthy toward those who gave the monies that instead of spending according to what was actually given, the IMB consciously, deliberately, and knowingly far outspent Southern Baptist gifts by a whopping $210,000,000 since 2010? As one can easily observe in this chart of recorded SBC annual reports concerning the IMB (2007-2015), fiscal projections repeatedly included contingent income not only to balance the budget on paper, but also to substantiate spending much much more than predictable income could reasonably justify.
As one example, included in IMB's income/expense budget is the LMCO, the amount of which is invariably well beyond what could reasonably be projected. Though actual gifts to Lottie Moon capped out around $154 million, projections for budgetary purposes were consistently well beyond that amount, peaking in 2014 at $180,000,000, a goal of which no amount of rationalization could justify IMB to validly budget as projectable income to expect.
Someone might ask, "What's wrong with challenging people to meet the need?" Nothing. Thousands of churches have dream budgets and building goals existing far beyond what could reasonably be projected as "doable" for the congregation. I've served within similar fiscal models several times. Do it. Dream bigger!
But the problem is not the $175 million LMCO goal or even the larger $180 million goal per se. Rather fiscal irresponsibility appears when a person or organization spends as if the goal was and is met. How hard can this be to understand? To ignore reasonably predictable income and spend wildly as if desirable cash goals equate to definite revenue income is, plainly put, a nicely worded formula for fiscal bankruptcy and annihilation of an entity. No home, no church, no business, no organization...no matter either the sincerity or passion to honor our Lord, can long last impetuously driven decision-makers like this.
Hence, from what I can tell, what the IMB essentially did was spend according to budgetary allowances rather than reasonably projected income, the budgetary allowances of which were grossly over-projected when gauged in light of easily observable fiscal income patterns. To complicate matters further, IMB leaders offset the grossly over-projected incomes by not only draining tens of millions from cash reserves, they sold off millions of dollars of real estate to soften the impact of the undisciplined deficit spending.
So far as I am concerned, Dr. Iorg makes no sense whatsoever in his insistence the IMB should receive a free pass here. What's curious is, Iorg implies as much in his piece.
In defense of David Platt's announcement to call for voluntary retirement of up to 800 field personnel,2 Iorg flatly asserts, "The first rule of fiscal management is expenses must match revenue." Granted. But why Dr. Iorg would cite this principle in defense of the IMB I cannot understand. Anyone who examines the written record can surely but conclude the IMB disgracefully ignored the first rule that Iorg cites-- expenses must match revenue. Year after year after year the IMB overspent its revenue totaling into the hundreds of millions of dollars. And, the only reason it was not even more deficit spending, the IMB sold off tens of millions of dollars of real estate owned by Southern Baptists only to use the capital gains in its regular operating budget.
Nevertheless, Dr. Iorg lays the responsibility for IMB's money woes at the feet of rank-and-file Southern Baptists. On the other hand, IMB leadership which blatantly ignored Iorg's first principle of fiscal management--expenses must match revenue—holds no responsibility whatsoever.
I don't think so. Not today.
Do we nonetheless send missionaries when no reason exists we have sufficient funds to support the missionaries we formally commission?
Second, Dr. Iorg rightly laments the millions upon millions who have yet neither heard nor have had opportunity to respond to the gospel. All of us are deeply disturbed by the increasing number of people on this planet who will never hear the name of Jesus. Such stirring empathies about unreached people, coupled with the Great Commission our Lord gave, has for a century and three quarters now, driven Southern Baptists to keep sending gospel witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Nonetheless, while we together mourn with Dr. Iorg over the tragedy of an unreached hour for global evangelism, we find his solution grossly inadequate and entirely misguided. "Millions have not yet heard the gospel, yet we are shrinking our missionary force – not expanding it. This is simply not acceptable." Contrary to Dr. Iorg, it's not only acceptable, it may very well be the only responsible course of action. Indeed Dr. Iorg seems to agree when he stated, "The decision to reduce the number of missionaries is prudent and responsible." I'm unsure how Dr. Iorg plans to have it both ways.
Here's reality: while we all acknowledge and grieve the increasing number of unreached people, and the stark reality that if someone doesn't reach them with the gospel, hell will enlarge herself, the fact remains we cannot send missionaries out when we have no funding to support them. Period. It's neither fair to the missionaries, their families, nor to Southern Baptists. Neither do such irresponsible decisions complement the Great Commission but instead skews it. If we ought to send as many missionaries as we are capable, whether or not we presently have cash to do so, why don't we borrow a billion dollars or more against our collective assets so we can fund more missionaries?
One rightly scoffs at such a proposal. But unless I am mistaken, that's virtually the same or similar spending principle upon which our IMB has been operating!
As Southern Baptists, we have what we have. We give to missions what we give. The agencies use what's given. They regularly ask for more. They routinely share what they believe are the needs. But we can only spend what we've got (or are responsibly capable of paying back). Recall again Iorg's first principle of fiscal management: expenses must match revenue.
Consequently, for either the IMB, NAMB, ERLC, GGBTS, SWBTS, SBTS, SEBTS, NOBTS, MWBTS, SBCExCm or any other entity or agency commissioned and owned by the Southern Baptist Convention to develop and maintain fiscally irresponsible patterns of spending outside their revenue income and even far beyond their revenue income, threatens the very existence of our entire cooperative missionary enterprise as Southern Baptists. We sacrifice the future of missions by running into fiscal and organizational bankruptcy our very means of cooperative missions all because we did not "count the cost" as our Lord indicated (Luke 14:28).
Dr. Iorg is spot on pertaining to our passion and goal as a convention of New Testament churches. Southern Baptists must stay on target in reaching the world for Christ. No argument.
But for churches to turn even more monies over to "bloated bureaucracies" (what another seminary president called Baptist state conventions a few years back), organizations whose leaders do not follow the first basic principle of fiscal responsibility—expenses must match revenue; not holding those organizations or persons accountable for responsible spending remains far too much to ask.
Now is the time for every entity and/or agency of both the Southern Baptist Convention and the state convention of which our individual churches are respectively a cooperating member to become fiscally transparent or risk losing support.
That's the bottom line.
Nor do I think I'm the only Southern Baptist who possesses similar reservations.
1According to standard definitions, rank-and-file denotes "the members of a group or organization apart from its leaders or officers." As used in cultural contexts, rank-and-file points to people who form the major portion of any group or organization "excluding the leaders." This phrase comes from "military usage" referring to enlisted men marching in "ranks" and "files" whereas officers march outside the common formations. We'd like to give Dr. Iorg the benefit of doubt in using "rank-and-file" Southern Baptists as not meaning to imply that "leaders and officers" amongst Southern Baptists are exempt from responsibility. The way he deflected any blame for fiscal mismanagement from IMB leaders and instead blamed "rank-and-file" Southern Baptists for not giving unfortunately argues against it.
2We must be clear about what Dr. Platt proposed. He proposes not, as Iorg seems to imply, reducing the missionary personnel by some 800 positions. Instead, the IMB wants to replace older missionaries with newer missionaries, a strategy few understand is going to significantly address IMB's pressing problem of funding. Thus while missionaries are coming home as Iorg suggested, they are succeeded by a similar number of newly appointed missionaries being sent.