The International Mission Board, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced last week that it will be reducing its staff by “approximately 15 percent.”
“If we are going to balance our budget, we must reduce approximately 600 to 800 of our staff and field personnel,” [International Mission Board] IMB President David Platt told the organization’s 4,800 missionaries and 450 staffers, who attended a town hall meeting “either in person or through digital communication” from the group’s Richmond, Virginia headquarters, according to the Baptist Press, “the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“The IMB plans to reduce the total number of missionaries and staff by 600-800 people — or approximately 15 percent of its total personnel. Currently, approximately 4,800 personnel serve as missionaries and 450 as staff,” the IMB said in a Question and Answer statement released on August 27.
“The ‘600’ number represents the change IMB leadership has known the organization needs to make to reduce missionaries from 4,800 to 4,200. The ‘600’ number is most likely a minimum, with the larger ‘800’ number representing a more realistic picture of the reduction of missionaries and staff necessary to put IMB in a responsible and sustainable financial position,” the IMB Question and Answer continued.
Though the plan calls for “voluntary retirements,” the staff reduction was widely seen as a blow for the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second largest Christian denomination behind Roman Catholics, which has seen its membership decline over the past decade from a high of 16.6 million in 2006 to an estimated 15.5 million in 2014.
Some have called it “a denomination in decline.”
“Many have predicted that membership (an inflated statistic anyway) would soon began to decline, but the statement, ‘Southern Baptists are a declining denomination’ was not ‘officially’ accurate,” Ed Stetzer, at the time director of LifeWay Research, wrote back in 2008.
“For now, Southern Baptists are a denomination in decline,” Stetzer added.
Platt, the 36-year old former pastor of a mega-church in Birmingham Alabama, was tapped to lead the IMB in 2014.
His 2010 book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, while praised by many in leadership at the Southern Baptist Convention (Russell Moore, current head of the SBC’s public policy arm, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Johnny Hunt, then President of the SBC’s Executive Committee), has also been criticized as a not-so-subtle attack on American free market capitalism, and a straw-man mischaracterization of the “American Dream.”
“Yet in the American dream,” Platt wrote, “where self reigns as king (or queen) we have a dangerous tendency to misunderstand, minimize, and even manipulate the gospel in order to accommodate our assumptions and desires.”
Platt wrote even more disdainfully of the American dream throughout the book.
“Here we stand amid an American dream dominated by self advancement, self-esteem, and self sufficiency, by individualism, materialism, and universalism,” he asserted.
According to Platt, “the American dream radically differs from the call of Jesus and the essence of the gospel.”
“David Platt still has my full support,” Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, who had initially opposed naming Platt as head of the IMB prior to his appointment, but announced his public support subsequent to his appointment, tells Breitbart News in an exclusive interview.
“I had opposed his election,” Barber wrote on news of Platt’s appointment in August 2014. “He now has my support,” Barber added.
News of the reduction in staff has not changed Barber’s support for Platt.
“The reduction in staff [at the IMB] can be attributed to factors that predate David’s arrival,” Barber says.
In fact, giving to the IMB has increased over the past several years.
“Platt said the urgency of the plan is based in the reality that while Southern Baptist giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has increased in recent years, the IMB projects it will fall $21 million short of its current annual budget, marking several consecutive years of budget shortfalls for the 170-year-old organization. Over the past six years, the organization’s expenditures have totaled $210 million more than has been given to it each year,” the Baptist Press reported.
The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention was disappointed by the news.
“I received this word from [IMB President] David [Platt] with deep sadness. Overseas missions is the heart of why the convention exists and receives more than 50 percent of our national CP Allocation Budget,” Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee said of the staff reductions in a statement.
“This distressing news is the long-term consequence of reductions in Southern Baptist churches’ percentage giving through the Cooperative Program during the 1990s and 2000s,” he added.
“It is imperative that this generation of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders reenergize this time-honored plan of giving that sparked IMB being the premier missions-sending force it was throughout the 20th century.
“The power of systematic, proportional giving from thousands of churches can turn this thing around for IMB and all our ministries,” Page concluded.
“That organization– IMB–is something around which Southern Baptists will gather,” First Baptist Church of Farmersville pastor Barber adds.
“As the IMB faces that situation I pray that God gives them wisdom not to do anything to make it worse,” the Baptist pastor concludes.
Prior to Platt’s appointment in August 2014, Barber offered three reasons why Platt should not be named head of the IMB:
First, his election is a disastrous blow to the Cooperative Program. His church makes no Annual Church Profile report, and the strongest endorsement of the Cooperative Program he was able to make when asked was, “I’m still wrestling through how [the Cooperative Program] looks in the context of [the church I pastor].” ..
Second, His election will be a needlessly polarizing event. And our trustees ought to ask themselves whether that’s good for the IMB, good for the SBC, or good for the cause of the gospel. Think of all of the constituencies in the SBC who are going to be offended and polarized by his election:
– Pro-Cooperative-Program Southern Baptists are not going to like it.
– Anti-Calvinists are not going to like it (and this time there are not going to be non-Calvinist voices like mine speaking to mitigate them)
– Anyone who uses “The Sinner’s Prayer” is likely to have some concerns.
Third, I fear that, even after his election were over, if it were to occur, he would prove to be a polarizing personality. His statements about “The Sinner’s Prayer” are a good example. Ask yourself, how much worse would that controversy have been if the sitting president of the IMB were to make statements like that? And if the president of the IMB made statements like that, wouldn’t more than his book sales suffer from it? Should the International Mission Board be jeopardized in that way?
The budget problems at IMB evident in this staff reduction announcement may represent a more significant long term problem for the Southern Baptist Convention—a disconnect between the way rank and file members live and work and the political and theological positions of the denomination’s leadership.