By David Roach
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Restoring the International Mission Board to full financial health will be a long process that requires patience among Southern Baptists and the cooperation of local churches through a variety of avenues, IMB President David Platt said Oct. 27 during a live stream question and answer session.
Addressing a live audience that tuned in using more than 1,500 separate electronic devices, Platt reiterated the IMB’s need to reduce by 600-800 its total number of field personnel and staff in light of spending $210 million more than Southern Baptists have given since 2010. Reserve funds and proceeds from property sales made up the difference, he said, and no debt was incurred.
Despite the sobering financial report, Platt said the future of Southern Baptist missions is not “a dismal picture.”
“I want to reframe” negative prognostications “based on reality,” Platt said. “When I think about [the] SBC, I don’t think decline. Yes, we’ve got challenges in the culture we’re in and when it comes to reaching people in the culture and seeing them baptized. …At the same time, know this: the global witness that God is providing the nations through the SBC right now is nothing short of awesome.”
He expressed appreciation that “churches’ giving to the IMB through [the] Lottie Moon [Christmas Offering for International Missions] and [the] Cooperative Program actually increased over the last couple of years.” Platt’s goal, he said, “is in no way to shame the churches and say, ‘If you just gave more, we wouldn’t have to do this.'”
Still, as the IMB downsizes its missionary force through a voluntary retirement program and other voluntary resignation options, Platt answered questions submitted via Twitter and Facebook about how local churches can help improve the organization’s financial situation. Among the questions submitted:
— “How would you advise our church to consider its missions budget allocation in light of the IMB needs?”
Platt replied, “I would encourage your church…to give sacrificially for the spread of the Gospel to the nations and specifically for the spread of the Gospel to people who have never heard it. And I hope that your church sees IMB as a valuable partner in seeing that happen.”
— “I struggle because I feel like our local church should send teams, not just give money. How do we balance?”
Platt noted that giving and sending teams should be a “both/and” proposition rather than an “either/or” scenario.
“Send money and send people,” he said. “As more people are going out from churches to get the Gospel to the nations, then more people are going to want to give to see more people going out to get the Gospel to the nations. If people aren’t going out and people are just sending money, there’s a disconnect.”
— “Has any thought been given to changing the funding model of IMB missionaries?”
Platt said he hopes some IMB missionaries will be “totally self-funded,” travelling overseas as students in international universities, business professionals employed by corporations and retirees funded by their own savings and U.S. government programs. He also raised the possibility of fully-funded IMB church planters expanding to a mobilization model where business professionals on their church planting teams “begin to pull together” and “actually begin to support the fulltime church planter much like we support a pastor here.”
Another possibility is for churches to utilize the IMB’s existing GC2 (Great Commission Global Connect) and SBC Direct programs to fund specific missionaries outside traditional cooperative funding channels.
“I know as soon as I mention that,” Platt said, “there are a lot of questions that come up just along the lines of: What does that do when it comes to Cooperative Program or Lottie Moon or your giving? We have closely monitored that. The churches that are sending people through those pathways have actually increased their giving to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon as they’ve sent more missionaries.
“So we want more churches to be sending more people,” he said.
Every method of funding IMB missionaries should be consistent with a model that “bolsters and fuels the cooperative giving that goes on among Southern Baptist churches,” Platt said. “And I’m convinced there’s a way to do that. We’ve just got to think wisely through it.”
Platt closed by requesting prayer for the IMB family and the churches it serves. He asked Southern Baptists to help returning missionaries by providing extra houses, vehicles and jobs.
Giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, he said, is one important step Southern Baptists can take to help the IMB in the days ahead.
“I want to see less missionaries coming off the field, more missionaries getting the Gospel to the nations in the days ahead,” Platt said.
To view a recording of the live stream event, visit www.imb.org and click on “David Platt live stream replay.”