ST. LOUIS, Missouri—For more than 170 years, God has blessed the IMB for the spread of the gospel among the nations — and by God’s grace, 170 years later, the IMB is “standing strong,” IMB President David Platt reported to SBC messengers June 15.
“I am confident that not every one of [those years] has been easy,” Platt said. “But that’s the beauty of Proverbs 3:5-6. As Southern Baptists have trusted in God, as Southern Baptists have acknowledged Him year after year, God has made our paths straight for the spread of His glory among the nations.”
Ten months ago, in the course of IMB’s normal budgeting process, leaders addressed the reality that the organization has overspent by $210 million over the past six years. Knowing that 80 percent of IMB’s budget is devoted to personnel costs, a diverse group of leaders — including missionaries with collective decades of experience — concluded that for IMB to be in a healthy financial position, the IMB needed to reduce the total number of personnel, both overseas and stateside.
“We called every member of the IMB family to go before the Lord in a fresh way and to ask, ‘Are You leading me to make a transition during this time?’” Platt said. “We wanted this process to be as voluntary as possible, and by God’s grace, I can say to you that it was entirely voluntary for every one of our missionaries overseas. For anyone who believed the Lord was leading them to stay overseas, they were able to stay overseas. And for anyone who believed the Lord was leading them to make a transition, we were able to help them generously in that transition.”
Hundreds of personnel transitioned from overseas and stateside roles during the process, Platt said. He thanked Southern Baptists for the outpouring of support they have shown the IMB personnel in transition.
“I praise God for churches, associations, state conventions, the WMU and other entities who have rallied around these retirees and others, helping them redeploy into meaningful ministry across North America,” Platt said. “During a time in which I know the adversary has wanted and worked to divide Southern Baptists, you as a convention have come together in a powerful display of cooperative unity.”
“Thank you, Southern Baptists, for saying, ‘We believe in the IMB. We care about people who’ve never heard the gospel. And we want to get the gospel to them.’” —David Platt
Platt praised God for Southern Baptists’ commitment to stand beside IMB, evidenced by increased giving to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® for International Missions. LMCO giving reached a record $165.8 million this year. Platt projected that IMB will be operating with a balanced budget for 2017, with the stage set for a healthy financial future.
“Thank you, Southern Baptists, for saying, ‘We believe in the IMB. We care about people who’ve never heard the gospel. And we want to get the gospel to them,’” Platt said.
Pathways, people, places
Thousands of missionaries and seasoned leaders with thousands of years of collective experience remain on the field, he said. This mission force maintains IMB as the largest missions organization of its kind in the world, with potential for the force to grow to thousands more in the days to come.
“Now some might say, ‘You just said goodbye to hundreds of missionaries for financial reasons; what’s the IMB’s strategy for sending thousands more in their place?’” Platt said. “In the months ahead, we are going to be talking with you across this convention of churches about creating more pathways for more people with the Spirit of God to go to more places with the gospel of God.”
Platt reflected on the staggering world population growth, noting that it wasn’t until 1800 that the world’s population hit 1 billion people. Through exponential growth, the global population is projected to triple to 9 billion people by 2048. Billions remain unreached with the gospel, and without change, that number will increase.
With Lottie Moon Christmas Offering gifts increasing, and the cost of sending a missionary being about $50,000, “then we can send a couple of hundred more missionaries,” Platt said. “That’s the kind of thinking we must avoid. Our goal as a group of 40,000 churches is not just to send a couple of hundred more missionaries. We want to send thousands more missionaries, and the potential for doing that is real if we’ll create the pathways for that to happen.”
“Let me be crystal clear: the IMB is still going to send full-time, fully-funded career missionaries just like we’ve always sent,” he said. “They are the priceless, precious, critical core of our mission force.”
Those career missionaries will be surrounded with professionals, students, retirees and others who collectively show that global mission “is not just for a select few people in the church, but for multitudes of Spirit-filled men and women across the church,” he said.
“God, give us a vision of thousands more people going from all of our churches through all kinds of pathways for Your glory in all kinds of places all over the world,” he implored.
From the floor
At the end IMB’s report, two messengers asked questions from the floor: the first inquired how missionaries who have retired can be contacted for possible interim or part-time mission service in churches, and Platt answered they can contact their state WMU, their state convention, or IMB. The second messenger asked how professionals going overseas to work can be trained to join a mission team, and Platt answered they can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit IMB’s Training Team online to register for more information on new training resources.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® is a registered trademark of Woman’s Missionary Union.