Friday, September 4, 2015

"Dear SBC Family" an open letter from David Platt UPDATED

As a pastor, I always thought feedback was good. David Platt has addressed many of the questions raised and discussed concerning the 600-800 personnel drawdown for IMB.

The full letter is: here.

Executive summary below:

  • Recognizing the depth of the deficit, IMB leadership and staff evaluated multiple options for getting to financial health.
  • "Board policy did not require an official trustee vote" 
  • "There was resolute and resounding recognition" by trustees that such action was "required."
  • On the announcement of such deficits being so large, Platt gave quotes from 2008 forward including this from 2014 (emphasis mine):
Just two months before I stepped into my role, one article read: “IMB must soon come to grips with the demands placed on us by years of declining Cooperative Program receipts and Lottie Moon giving. We will be hard-pressed to continue supporting a mission force of our current number, much less see a greatly needed increase in the number of fully supported career missionaries on the field.”

  •  Previous leaders implemented a plan to gradually draw down mission personnel by using property sales and reserves in order to keep a maximum number of people on the field for the maximum amount of time. That plan was no longer viable.

New FAQs here.

The response to questions and discussions since the original announcement is unprecedented in SBC life, in my memory. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

IMB sailing through an ocean of red ink

I knew things were tight at our International Mission Board. I didn't know that the extent of the financial shortfalls.

The Board puts out their plan to balance the budget here.

The Board has a helpful series of FAQs, here.

A bit of optimism is in order. We will soldier through this as a convention. Things are tight and things are tough but the one SBC entity that cannot fail is our venerable flagship IMB. We could lose a couple of seminaries and not miss a beat in theological education. NAMB has lurched through several crises the past decade or so but slogged on before straightening things out. State conventions have dealt with severe reductions in revenues the past seven years or so, have cut jobs and programs but have survived without churches noticing a lot of difference.

There is no entity that can do what IMB does. Churches cannot come close to matching the overall strategy and levels of support for overseas work. Independent organizations do not have the resources to do what the SBC does nor would they act in accord with what Southern Baptists believe is necessary and proper in reaching the world for Christ.

Our IMB has to succeed. The Cooperative Program will provide almost $100 million for the IMB and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions will fund at a level of around $150 million annually. These are not insignificant nor are they expected to disappear. The trajectories for these two major funding streams are slightly declining in regard to the CP and flat or possibly slightly increasing in regard to the LMCO. In my book a quarter billion dollars is a huge sum. Let's be thankful for that as we adjust for the future.

Absent a significant new source of revenue the IMB will have to adjust to a reality of fewer traditional, fully-funded, overseas personnel; hence, the plan to balance the budget and prepare for the future.

A few observations:

1. The previous IMB financial plan is a failure, a statement of the obvious. The press releases admitted as much. It was overly optimistic to expect to cover tens of millions in budget shortfalls by cannibalizing and selling assets overseas and by using reserves.

2. I recognize that the Board has been through the retirement of a long time leader, a short term caretaker leader, and the global recession and recovery. The severe shortfalls probably should have been addressed more seriously earlier but hindsight is a great thing. We need all our energy for the future.

3. The reduction from a high of 5,600 missionaries to the goal of a sustainable number of 4,200 is severe and depressing but reality isn't always pleasant. We do what we can and must. Thank God for the ability to put 4,200 in places where the Gospel is needed and where we can provide a permanent and secure presence.

4. The Board indicates an intent to appoint 300 new personnel annually and I trust the leadership to decide what this number should be. It would be foolhardy to close off new appointments completely and allow resignations and retirements to reduce the number to the proper level. Shut off new appointments for a several year period and the stream of new personnel would dry up.

5. The offer of incentives to motivate retirements is the proper route. Whether or not it will work is not known. I can see some unpleasantness down the road in this regard. Since 80% of the Board's expenses are for personnel, Sutton's Law applies. There's no other way to get to stability than to cut personnel.

6. The Board self-insures and provides benefits for retirees. One might see increasing burdens in this. It may be that with the changes in national health insurance policies and options that the Board will be pushed towards providing retirees an allowance to obtain their own health care.

7. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the Board could have and should have spent more time communicating with Southern Baptists on the depth and extent of the financial problems. I'm seeing longtime SBC insiders express surprise at the severity of the IMB financial crisis.

8. The Great Commission Resurgence had a marginally positive impact on IMB revenues. Those who now say the GCR movement of state conventions keeping less of a CP dollar and sending more is a failure just don't understand the math involved. Moving state conventions from 63% to 50% (if they ever get there and I don't think they will) is a good thing but would not come close to generating enough additional revenue for the IMB to cover their deficits.

David Platt has a tough job. The money part is easy: you take actions that must be taken to balance the budget, accumulate reasonable contingency reserves, and secure the future of the work. The hard job is in keeping IMB personnel away from debilitating anxiety and focused on their tasks and in keeping Southern Baptists informed.

I'd say to Platt, the IMB trustees, and all IMB people: It is imperative that you succeed. I want you to succeed in the tasks assigned. You have my prayers and support.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A little more light for the Cooperative Program

The Cooperative Program is now in its tenth decade of existence. For most Southern Baptists, their memory of it does not include any time when it was a thriving, increasing measure of Southern Baptist denominational health. The general narrative concerning it has been negative in that churches have for decades slowly dropped their CP percentages.

Here are a couple of things that offer a counterpoint to that negative narrative:

First, there has been a sub-narrative that megachurches are not helpful to the Cooperative Program and do not support it with the same dedication that smaller churches do. True enough if one looks at percentages. I do not know of many megachurches that make CP gifts above the 5.4% average percentage of undesignated gifts. I know many, many smaller churches that do so.

So, check the news on the SBC's most prominent megachurch pastor, and current SBC president, Ronnie Floyd. His Cross church is giving one million to the Cooperative Program this year. Very few churches have ever reached seven figures in CP gifts for a single year. Floyd has asked hard questions about the CP, yet continues to lead his church to give very generously to it.

We can stop, or at least slow down, the criticism of megachurches and their pastors for not being CP supporters. When churches make autonomous decisions to give generously to the CP, they should all be commended. Fact is, 4% of SBC churches give 50% of all CP gifts. Any state convention CEO, seminary president, or either of our mission board leaders will rejoice when a small church gives 20% or when a large church gives $1 million, even if there is some spread between their giving percentages.

Second, the latest Executive Committee report on CP giving shows receipts slightly above budgeted allocations. If this month and next are good months perhaps there will be a small surplus at the end of the fiscal year.

Many of the state conventions, the hardest hit SBC entities of the past decade, deserve credit for taking steps to slightly reduce the portion of the CP that is kept in-state. Leaders like Ronnie Floyd deserve credit for making significant increases in their CP support.

While no one sees churches as a group returning to anywhere near the 10% of undesignated offerings that was the standard of 35 years ago, we might see the CP level off at 5 to 6 percent.