International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt has asked Baptist state papers to encourage unity among Southern Baptists following the announcement next week of how many IMB personnel have left the board through a series of voluntary resignation programs.
Addressing a gathering of Baptist state paper leaders Feb. 16 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Platt also detailed what he deemed some of the most exciting work God is doing through IMB missionaries across the globe.
“As we announce a number next week” at a Feb. 23-24 IMB trustee meeting in Richmond, Va., Platt said, “I know that the reality of so many IMB missionaries making transitions will set in in a fresh way across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). And I know there’s an adversary who would love to use that to breed discouragement and division and disunity. And I just want to ask you brothers and sisters for your help in encouraging the churches.”
In response to a $210 million difference between gifts from churches and expenditures since 2010, the IMB launched a two-phase “organizational reset” in August, which included a voluntary retirement incentive (VRI) for personnel 50 and older with five or more years of service and a “hand raising opportunity” (HRO) for all remaining staff and missionaries to voluntarily resign and receive a benefits package.
Platt had previously said a combined total of at least 600-800 missionaries and stateside personnel would need to accept the offers. He told the state paper leaders no involuntary reductions of overseas missionaries have been necessary as part of the reset and none are anticipated, though some overseas missionaries may have their duties adjusted.
“For all our missionaries overseas, every step of this process has been voluntary,” he said.
The “one area of our staff in Richmond that has been affected in a more involuntary way,” Platt said, is the communications center, which is slated to close April 29. Of the 40 Richmond communications employees, 10 were offered positions on the newly formed mobilization team. The remaining 30 were eligible to apply for other IMB positions or accept the HRO.
“This decision to remove various positions in Richmond was not driven by financial needs as much as it was driven by stewardship of responsibility,” Platt said. “We have a responsibility to Southern Baptists to [ensure] that every position we have is a position we need. We have a responsibility to use the resources entrusted to us in the wisest way possible for the spread of the gospel to the nations.”
He added, “At the same time, we obviously want to honor these brothers and sisters whose positions were eliminated, through generosity, through expressions of gratitude for the pivotal role many of them have played for decades in service to the IMB…. These are some of the kindest servants and leaders in the Richmond office.”
The decision to close the Richmond Communications Center was made following internal and external audits of the IMB’s communications effectiveness and extensive meetings with stateside and overseas communications staff, Platt said.
The closure stemmed from the fact that “our mobilization efforts” – presumably including the communications strategy – “have not kept up with our times,” Platt said. “We are way behind in the development of a digital mindset that builds on customization and flexibility rather than predictability and uniformity. Our field and stateside communicators struggle with employing new methods for reaching a changing audience.
“In all of this, our home office mobilization efforts have been disconnected from our field strategy. And as a result, looking across the IMB after months and months, it’s clear we’re sorely missing a culture of growth in which silos are broken down, mobilization needs are adequately addressed and mobilization goals are actually accomplished,” he said.
Platt invited Baptist journalists to participate in an overseas trip later this year to visit the IMB’s global communications teams, which will assume some duties formerly performed by the Richmond communications office, and learn about the new communications strategy.
The board’s two overseas communications teams are based in Eurasia and Asia, with the Eurasia team primarily relaying news from IMB personnel in Europe and Africa and the Asia team reporting primarily on personnel in Asia.
Some communications functions likely will be outsourced in keeping with a longstanding IMB practice, Platt said.
In response to a question about encouraging work occurring among IMB missionaries, Platt referenced “multiplication of churches” in South Asia, “miraculous things happening through the spread of the gospel in Southeast Asia” and “unprecedented opportunity” for evangelism associated with the Mideast refugee crisis.
Platt referenced “people being martyred” among IMB national partners in Southeast Asia and said “the Lord [is] blessing even that … in an Acts 7 kind of way for the spread of the gospel.” One IMB partner was stabbed, Platt said, and the alleged assailants were saved in prison through the witness of the victim’s wife, as were police officers investigating the incident.
“It’s awesome,” Platt said. “That’s happening all around the world every day.”
Among other points noted by Platt:
The team of advisers helping Platt make major decisions includes John Brady, vice president of global engagement; Zane Pratt, vice president of training; Rodney Freeman, treasurer and vice president of support services; Sebastian Traeger, executive vice president; and Clyde Meador, executive adviser to the president.
The IMB’s GC2 initiative, which allows congregations to fund missionaries directly, currently has 14 participating churches. “In order for a church to do this,” Platt said, “they are required to keep their giving through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon [Christmas Offering for International Missions] both strong.”
On average, churches participating in GC2 have increased their CP giving by 6 percent and their Lottie Moon giving by more than 20 percent since entering the program, Platt said.
Reports that the IMB actually has a budget surplus are inaccurate, Platt said. “I, our treasurer and our financial team are totally confident in the numbers we have used/are using. In addition, we have communicated fully with our auditors. We have received from them consistently … the highest ratings.”
Platt asked Southern Baptists to pray for the ministries of IMB missionaries whenever they hear about international crises in the news.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Baptist Press managing editor and director of operations Shawn Hendricks contributed to this report. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)