IMB considers pulling away from cooperative funding effortcomment (1)
June 12, 2014
Southern Baptists have been having difficult conversations and making tough decisions related to giving toward missions for the past four years, but the discussion is about to be kicked up a notch. The International Mission Board (IMB) president is urging Southern Baptists to break from tradition and embrace new opportunities to send and support their global missionary force. But some question what this does to the longtime cooperative spirit that makes Southern Baptists who they are.
Speaking to IMB trustees May 13–14 in Spartanburg, S.C., Tom Elliff warned that IMB “must come to grips” with the unsustainable demand placed on the organization’s resources from years of declining Cooperative Program (CP) receipts and sluggish Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) giving — revenue streams that provide the bulk of IMB’s annual budget. But even if CP and LMCO giving remained steady, IMB would still be hard-pressed to continue supporting the 4,900 missionaries serving today, much less meet multiple field requests for hundreds of new personnel, Elliff said.
‘Same message ... only louder’
“We have not substantively addressed the issue of missionary support for 89 years,” Elliff said. “For all practical purposes, IMB’s only answer has been to encourage Southern Baptists to increase their giving. [It’s been] the same message — only louder.”
Elliff said that’s why he believes IMB must make significant changes and make them soon.
“The world is not waiting for Southern Baptists to ‘catch on and catch up,’” Elliff stressed. “The world is moving on while the ranks of hell are rapidly swelling with men and women, boys and girls, and their only hope is that their lives might be intercepted by people who are chasing the darkness.”
While Elliff stopped short of suggesting specific changes, deferring that responsibility to the IMB’s next president, he chose instead to highlight areas where change is most critical — starting with an imperative to help missionaries better connect and communicate with Southern Baptist churches.
“I have heard individuals say that the beauty of working with IMB is that our missionaries don’t have to raise their own financial support ... [allowing them] to fully focus on the tasks of evangelism, discipleship and the planting of healthy, reproducing churches,” Elliff said.
“But our strength will become our weakness if at any time our support is taken for granted or when it breeds an air of ingratitude.”
The failure to connect sometimes works both ways, he added, lamenting some Southern Baptist churches send their members through IMB yet take minimal financial responsibility to keep them on the field.
“We know we can do more together than we can apart,” he said. “But it is a gross misunderstanding of the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to imagine that the Lord is honored when churches take advantage of others’ generosity by failing to be generous themselves.”
Elliff also said IMB’s missionary-sending models could be expanded to enhance its partnership with churches. The idea is that churches would provide financial support for missionaries while IMB would provide the administrative and supervisory responsibilities.
‘Don’t want to go backwards’
But Mike Shaw, immediate past president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, only senses danger with the IMB’s move.
“We did this almost a century ago and it was the societal method,” he said. “Every entity had to garner support from the churches, so they had a designated representative going out and raising money for the entity. Churches were constantly being hit by representatives wanting to come and make an appeal.
“The beauty of the Cooperative Program was that it stopped all that,” said Shaw, recently retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Pelham. “If we go back to the societal method, then that will be the death blow to the CP.
“Once we take that step, it will be extremely detrimental,” he noted. “We don’t want to go backwards.”
In other business, IMB trustees:
Appointed 59 new missionaries.
Elected new officers. John Edie, a member of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo., was elected trustee chairman.
Heard preliminary news on the results of the 2013 LMCO, which closed May 31. The final figure of $154,057,852.36 was released June 5 after the trustee meeting (see story, page 6). The total represents the largest total given to LMCO in its 125-year history.
Asked for continued prayer as the presidential search team seeks Elliff’s successor.
EDITOR’S NOTE — To read Tom Elliff’s full report presented May 14 to the IMB board of trustees, visit www.bpnews.net/42589/elliffs-report-chasing-the-darkness.
Alabama Acts 1:8 Connections missions strategy
Alabama Baptists have been partnering directly with missionaries on the field since 2012 through the Alabama Acts 1:8 Connections missions strategy.
Sponsored by the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, the strategy allows Alabama Baptists to connect with International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) representatives, according to state missionary Scotty Goldman. It is a shift from a geographic partnership model to a partnership with individual representatives from Alabama, no matter where they serve, he said.
There are more than 400 representatives from Alabama currently serving with the IMB and NAMB.
For more information, call Goldman at 1-800-264-1225, ext. 387, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.