Platt surprised by number, but financial position called ‘much healthier’
Richmond, Va. | David Platt’s report to the International Mission Board’s Board (IMB) of Trustees was the culmination of six month’s worth of efforts to undo the six year’s worth of overspending.
The IMB president, told trustees 1,132 total IMB personnel had accepted the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) or Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO). The numbers broke down to 702 missionaries and 109 staff personnel accepting the VRI, and 281 missionaries and 40 staff accepting the HRO. The positions of 30 personnel in IMB’s Richmond communications office were eliminated in its mobilization restructure.
The total was nearly twice the minimum number the mission board needed to depart to balance its budget. As a result, the number of missionaries on the field are down to around 3,800, a number not seen 1992 when, according to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual reports, the year ended with 3,893 international missionaries were serving.
Platt told reporters participating in a press conference via telephone February 24, “The numbers surprised me, for which I don’t have an explanation. We’ve put it in the hands of missionaries as much as possible… This a larger number than I or anyone else was anticipating. We called on people to pray so we’re going to trust in the Lord and his decision.”
While the press conference was taking place, Platt told reporters a severe storm was passing through and noted the lights were flickering on and off. A few minutes later the lights went out and a Tornado Warning Alert could be heard. The press conference was stopped for a half hour until the storm passed.
After discussing the numbers, Platt told the gathered media, “I want to talk about the number of missionaries who are left. Thousands of missionaries remain on the field, with thousands of years of collective experience. Everyone of them on the field has been placed there by God.”
IMB reported it had “consistently spent more money than it has received — a combined $210 million more since 2010…Because 80 percent of IMB’s budget is devoted to personnel salary, benefits and support expenses, leaders determined a need to reduce the total number of personnel by approximately 600-800 people to get to a healthy financial place in the present for sustained growth and engagement in the future.”
The Illinois Baptist asked what his reaction was to receiving almost double the number of resignations needed? “My heart is heavy but hopeful,” he answered. “Heavy in a sense that my heart is not to see less people on the field. My heart is heavy seeing the effects…It’s a hopeful confidence mingled with that heaviness.”
“What does this say about the confidence the missions force has in the new leadership?” the Illinois Baptist asked in a follow-up. Platt replied, “I’m very encouraged to see God working in the middle of all this. I have a hopeful confidence in what the IMB will be able to do in the future.
“I hope Southern Baptists see a serious desire to love and lead the IMB well…This is in no way a commentary on past leadership. Past leadership made a bold decision to put people on the field.”
Platt also addressed a question he said people have been asking, “How can you send thousands more when you just sent a thousand off the field?” His answer focused on what some would describe as marketplace missions, “limitless opportunities for people to work overseas and retire overseas.” In turn they would be funded by their paychecks and pensions. He also noted mission opportunities for students studying abroad.
One reporter expressed concerns from churches about the departure of so many missionaries leaving a “brain drain” on the field. Platt responded, “We encouraged missionaries returning to take their last days on the field to pour into our national partners and other IMB missionaries that were still there.”
Another reporter asked Platt if he saw this proposed use of self-funded missionaries as the IMB taking a societal approach to missions.
In his answer Platt noted, people who get jobs overseas and are paid by their businesses, universities provide scholarships to students, and countries in southeast Asia are seeking Westerners to retire there “rolling out the red carpet.” With these opportunities, he asked, “How can we not support the core paid missionaries with those around them that can help?”
He continued, “I can’t pray Matthew 7:9 and then tell people who want to serve with the IMB, ‘no.’ God’s created these other avenues…”
Platt also responded to a question regarding what kind of response he has heard from Southern Baptists. “I’ve not been surprised by the feedback from Southern Baptist pastors and church leaders,” he shared. “They’re thankful we’ve chosen to stewardship resources in the way we have…They’ve been very encouraging. Once they hear the big picture they say that makes sense, thank you for making that decision.”
He went on to say, “People aren’t happy about it. I’m not happy about it. It’s a hard reality for Southern Baptists to face that we don’t have the resources to keep more people on the field….I expect people to be upset that people are leaving the field but God’s leading us to greater financial stewardship.”
SBC President Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press, “This reset is not regress or retreat. Southern Baptist churches must see this as a fresh calling to reaching the world for Christ. Now is the time to go forward with a clear vision and an aggressive strategy to make disciples of all the nations for Christ.”
Twenty-six new missionaries were appointed to the International Mission Board Feb. 23, in a service that was the first to be live-streamed.
The IMB Board of Trustees met February 22-24 in Richmond, Virginia.
IMB will host a livestream focused on “The Future of the IMB” Thursday, March 3, at 11 a.m. EST. For more information, visit IMB.org/live.