By David Roach, Baptist Press
NASHVILLE (BP) – In response to the International Mission Board’s announcement of a personnel reduction, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee has adopted a resolution urging Southern Baptist churches to give “more than ever before” through the Cooperative Program.
The resolution, which was adopted without opposition, stated, “At this urgent hour of desperate need in our nation and around the world, we, the members of the SBC Executive Committee, pledge to encourage and lead our churches to give more than ever before through the Cooperative Program in 2015 and beyond. We also call upon all cooperating Southern Baptist churches prayerfully to join us in doing more than ever before.”
The resolution was adopted during the Executive Committee’s Sept. 21-22 meeting in Nashville, where President David Platt and other IMB leaders addressed questions from EC members. The IMB had announced previously that it would reduce its total number of missionaries and staff by 600-800 in light of expenditures that exceeded revenues by $210 million over the past six years.
Platt’s extended report to the EC Sept. 21 preceded 10 minutes of questions and answers. EC President Frank S. Page then led in prayer for Platt and the IMB. Earlier that day, IMB chief financial officer David Steverson answered questions in an EC workgroup meeting.
SBC President Ronnie Floyd proposed adoption of the resolution during a Sept. 22 meeting of the body’s administrative committee.
“We are not backing up on getting the Gospel to the world,” Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, told the full EC. “And that is what this body must resolve and clearly send across the Southern Baptist Convention. We are not backing up on pushing back the lostness in this world.”
According to printed EC background materials, Floyd cited reaffirmation of giving through CP as “the most effective means to provide both long-term sustainability and financial flexibility to address pressing crises as they emerge.” One-time gifts, including gifts through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, “may allay IMB’s present need to keep a larger number of its missionary force on the field,” but they do not “address the full range of both IMB and other SBC entities’ needs to maintain long-term sustainability,” the background materials noted.
EC chairman Mike Routt promised to urge the congregation he pastors, Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., to increase its giving through Southern Baptists’ unified program of supporting missions and ministries across North America and around the globe.
Circle Drive “has adjusted our Cooperative Program giving three times in the last six years,” Routt said. “As a result of what I have experienced this week, these two days, I’m going back, and we’re raising it again.”
Routt urged EC members to “lead by example” and “be upset that we’re keeping 90-95 percent of our income in our buildings.”
In light of the IMB financial situation, the EC’s business and finance committee discussed its process of reviewing the financial audits presented to SBC entities. No EC member questioned the integrity of the IMB’s reporting of financial data, and Steverson told Baptist Press the IMB’s audits are “clean.”
Platt told EC members the “voluntary retirement incentive” offered to all IMB personnel at least 50 years old with at least five years of service is truly voluntary. It represents a way of discerning God’s work in employees’ lives, he said.
Those who opt to accept the retirement incentive must indicate their choice by Nov. 2.
Phase two of the IMB’s plan, to be implemented after Jan. 1, will involve asking all other employees to discern whether God is leading them to another ministry opportunity, Platt said. Phase two will occur regardless of how many people accept the voluntary retirement incentive, he said.
“That entire plan is based on the premise that God knows what He is doing and He’s sovereign over even this,” Platt said. “And so we wanted to start by putting all decisions in the hands of men and women who are seeking Him.”
During his Q&A with EC members, Platt was asked about the possibility of a “less voluntary” process of reducing employees in the future. He responded that is a “bridge” the IMB hopes it does not need to cross, trusting God to direct through voluntary means those He is calling to other service.
Platt said in an interview the IMB has neither announced publicly how many people were offered the retirement incentive nor stated specific projections regarding what percentage is likely to accept. Platt cited “pastoral reasons” for keeping that information confidential, noting the IMB does not want to exert undue pressure on employees considering the offer.
Presently, the IMB has approximately 4,780 missionaries, Steverson said. He added the board has committed to send 300 new missionaries in 2016 and anticipates resignations and retirements of approximately 300 missionaries in an average year.
In total, the 5,250 missionaries and stateside staff members must be reduced by 600-800, Platt said, an approximate decrease of between 11 and 15 percent.
Platt and Steverson both said IMB leaders did not begin to formulate their two-phase plan until after the SBC’s June annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
Platt told EC members about a letter he received claiming the IMB is “letting Satan win” by reducing its number of fully funded missionaries. That claim, he said, is wrong.
“I want to be clear: Satan does not win,” Platt said. “… If Romans 8:28 is true, Satan never wins. God works together all things for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.”
He continued, “Brothers and sisters, let’s be aware Satan is at work. But let us also be assured that even he cannot prevent God from using all these things for good. So we do not fear. In God’s sovereign plan to make the Gospel known among the nations, He saw even this coming. And so we rest assured, brothers and sisters, our God wins always.”