IMB trustees evaluate missions strategy shift, respond to criticism by seminary official and adopt $258.9M budget

LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP)--A 1997 shift in missions strategy has more than doubled the number of people groups hearing the Gospel and jump-started explosive church growth in as many as 49 places around the world, trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board learned during a Nov. 10-12 meeting in Lexington, Ky.

The trustees also responded to recent criticism of board leadership and strategy; adopted a trimmed-back $258.9 million basic budget for 2004; and elected a new executive vice president.

The meeting also included the Nov. 11 appointment of 67 new missionaries headed for overseas service in 29 countries. The appointment service was held in Lexington's Rupp Arena in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

SD-21 EVALUATION

Trustees heard a five-year evaluation of the "New Directions" emphasis that shifted the board's missions focus from geographical countries to ethno-linguistic people groups. A trustee committee compiled the information from a survey of overseas personnel.

Now called "Strategic Directions for the 21st Century" (SD-21), the emphasis organized missionaries into teams focused on specific people groups, with a goal of taking the Gospel to peoples previously neglected by Christian missions efforts and sparking church-planting movements, a work of the Holy Spirit in which the number of congregations begins to rapidly multiply among a people.

Among the key findings of the survey:

-- The number of people groups engaged by IMB personnel has more than doubled to 1,371 and, with the cooperation of Baptist partners and other Great Commission Christians, it is possible to actually engage all the world's 6,614 unreached people groups.

-- Seven church-planting movements have been confirmed and 42 others reported, with the result that CPMs among previously unreached people groups now are generating more new believers and new congregations than even traditional "harvest field" countries like Nigeria and Brazil.

-- A 29 percent growth in the IMB missionary force over the past five years is the greatest in board history, and 70 percent of the unfilled requests for long-term missionaries are for evangelists/church planters and strategy coordinators.

-- The board is forging innovative approaches to help Southern Baptists understand God's heart for the nations and become personally involved with their missionaries, as well developing effective missions teamwork with Baptist partners and Great Commission Christians.

-- Strategy coordinators and team members are tailoring their own strategies for reaching their particular peoples, trying creative approaches and planning for the day the work will be turned over to indigenous Christians.

-- IMB missionaries are starting churches with a clear Baptist identity in terms of both doctrine and organization.

-- The focus on multiplying churches within people groups has resulted in amazing progress in just five years: an increase of almost 71 percent in the number of churches worldwide, a 95 percent increase in the number of outreach groups and the baptism of more than 1.8 million new believers.

Among the concerns identified by the research:

-- A need for improved supervision and more thorough training of strategy coordinators.

-- A need for closer matching between strategy coordinator candidates and field needs.

-- A need for more comprehensive training about the "nuts and bolts" of starting churches and church-planting movements.

"The challenge today is greater than five years ago," the report said. "It will take a more determined effort to reach all the people groups who are still unreached, initiate church-planting movements in more people groups, equip indigenous believers to be missionaries and be Kingdom-focused catalysts for accomplishing the Great Commission in our generation.

"We are now positioned to do this with missionaries passionate to reach their peoples, newly discovered ways to work, time-tested missiological principles and a biblically sound foundation."

RESPONSE TO CRITICISM

Trustees adopted two statements in response to criticism of the International Mission Board voiced by Keith Eitel, a missions professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and mailed to the board's trustees under a cover letter by Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

The first statement, which was adopted without discussion or dissent, affirmed "the strategies and leadership" of the board and resolved "to review the concerns and the issues raised and take appropriate action to guarantee that the vision to lead Southern Baptists to reach the world for Christ is not compromised."

The statement also said trustees "give thanks to God for what He is doing around the world through the International Mission Board and encourage all Southern Baptists to continue to give sacrificially through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and to intentionally increase their gifts through the Cooperative Program."

The second statement, also adopted unanimously, affirmed an initiative by Jerry Rankin to arrange for a meeting of IMB staff and trustees with Eitel and Patterson "to resolve misunderstandings and perceptions communicated in Eitel's assessment of the International Mission Board vision and strategy."

The Eitel paper contended that "pervasive" theological error is reflected in the board's approach to strategic planning, in partnerships with other Great Commission Christians, in a perceived lessening of theological training requirements for new missionaries and in the role of women serving overseas as strategy coordinators. The paper concluded with a nine-point plan to "synchronize the IMB with the theological convictions of the SBC," beginning with a recommendation to "recruit administrators committed to theological renewal" of the board.

A letter of reply from Rankin countered the criticisms as "unfounded" and wondered why they were circulated without first coming to board leadership for a response. It defended IMB trustees as men and women who are "firmly grounded in an absolute conviction about the authority of God's inerrant and infallible Word" and rejected the implication that they have "overseen and embraced a failure that represents an aberrant theology."

$258.9M BASIC BUDGET

Trustees also approved a $258.9 million basic budget for 2004 that cuts almost $20 million in operating expenses from the previous year's spending plan. Additional budget funds are allocated to capital needs that will not be spent unless funds are received. The strategic financial plan also sets a "Lottie Moon Challenge" budget of $17 million.

The budget anticipates receiving $96.2 million through the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist Convention's unified budget. It also anticipates receipts of $133 million through the 2003 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and projects $16.4 million from investment income.

To protect missionary outreach from budget cuts, the financial plan reduces stateside spending by 14 percent and overseas spending by 2.12 percent. The budget includes no salary increases for missionary personnel or stateside employees.

In June, the board eliminated 61 fulltime and part-time stateside staff positions and announced limits on the number of new workers who will be sent overseas in 2003 and 2004. Both steps were taken after the 2002 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering fell almost $10 million short of its $125 million goal, complicating a financial situation already stressed by declining investment income and a rapidly increasing missionary force.

The appointments of about 100 new long-term missionaries were delayed this year and as many as 500 prospective workers may be held off in 2004 because growing support from Southern Baptist churches has not kept pace with the record numbers of new missionaries coming forward for service.

To send all the missionaries willing to go, IMB President Jerry Rankin has challenged Southern Baptist congregations to increase their gifts the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering by 33 percent and meet a challenge goal of $150 million.

Last year, Southern Baptist families received income totaling an estimated $300 billion and gave an average 2.5 percent of it to their churches, which allocated 93 percent of their receipts to local spending. Of the 7 percent passed along to Baptist state conventions, an average of 35 percent is sent to the Southern Baptist Convention, which allocates 50 percent of Cooperative Program receipts to international causes.

The result is that, out of every $100 in Southern Baptist family income, about 8 cents is invested in overseas missions through the IMB.

EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT ELECTED

Trustees elected veteran missionary and administrator Clyde Meador to fill the executive vice president's position vacated by the resignation of John White in June.

Meador is exceptionally well-suited for a role in which he will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the board, said IMB President Jerry Rankin.

"In almost 30 years of service, Clyde Meador has demonstrated superb administrative and organizational abilities that are driven by a passion for missions," Rankin said. "His wisdom and insights are always valuable. He has proven he can work very effectively in relationships with missionaries. We are delighted that he will be serving in this role."

While it has been a "wrenching" experience to leave the field, serving the past two years in the board's home office has broadened his perspective on what God is doing all over the world to draw the nations to Himself, Meador said.

"We are beginning to see a glimpse of that great day when ... the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea," Meador said. "It is in that spirit that God calls us to this responsibility.

"Through the power of the Spirit, we will see what God will do in this world. Whatever He has given us, ... we give to Him in this task. It's not about me or us or you; it's about Him and the lost world He calls to Himself that He might be glorified."

The International Mission Board appointed Meador, an Arkansas native who grew up in New Mexico, and his wife, Elaine, in 1974. He served as a general evangelist, theological teacher and mission administrator in Indonesia before accepting leadership of a team of itinerant missionaries that looked for opportunities to share the Gospel in countries closed to traditional missionary presence. In September 2001, Meador accepted the position of IMB associate vice president for administration after 10 years leading IMB work in various parts of Asia.


The next meeting of International Mission Board trustees is scheduled for Feb. 2-4, 2004, in Richmond, Va. The meeting will include a missionary appointment service at 7 p.m., Feb. 3, at Bethany Place Baptist Church.

(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GOOD NEWS.

Download Story