Thursday, May 21, 2009

IMB cuts and the GCR call

What is the relationship between the recent call for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) and the vote this week by International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention to scale back missionary appointments for this year? Just this: both make the case that Southern Baptist churches desperately need to reexamine and retool their priorities and the latter heightens the importance of the former.

The GCR encourages us to face up to the fact that biblical Christianity requires more than strong affirmations of biblical authority. Certainly we should not ever back away from our commitment to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, but neither should we think that such a commitment is enough. In fact, fidelity to Jesus Christ demands that we measure our lives and values by the Word of God. Where we are found wanting, Christ calls us to repent--to change.

The GCR emphasizes the Lordship of Christ, centrality of the gospel, priority to the Great Commandments and the health and mission of local churches. It also calls for "A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure" (article IX), stating specifically,
We call upon all Southern Baptists, through our valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This commitment recognizes the great strength of our partnership, which has been enabled by the Cooperative Program and enhanced by a belief that we can do more together than we can separately (emphasis added).
I do not understand why any informed Southern Baptist would disagree with this statement. The SBC is in dire need of reexamining the way that we do things, including the way that we allocate our financial resources. Every Christian and every church ought to be concerned that they are getting the most "bang-for-the-buck" with their financial investments in kingdom work. That fact alone should make Southern Baptists welcome a healthy evaluation of the current structures of SBC life to see how we can do what we ought to be doing in increasingly better ways.

This is simply a matter of stewardship, and I am grateful that the framers of the GCR included this article in the document.

The IMB announcement that financial shortfalls are forcing a reduction in the number of missionaries that we will send to hard places this year highlights the timeliness of the GCR call. I first wrote about this in December 2008, noting that it is time for Southern Baptists to get serious about the allocation of Cooperative Program dollars. Three years prior to that, I showed how money given through state conventions to the Cooperative Program (CP) actually is allocated. The little-known fact is that most CP dollars are used by the state conventions through which they are given. Less that 40% actually reaches Nashville and less than 20% gets to the IMB.

Now the trustees of the IMB are forced to announce (through tears, according to the BP report) that there is not enough money to appoint all of those who are willing, equipped and ready to be sent by their churches. Can we sit back and let this happen?

Isn't it past time for Southern Baptists to reevaluate the structures of our convention organization and see how we can improve our financial stewardship?

I agree with SBC President, Johnny Hunt, who responded to the IMB announcement with these words, "We need to take the gloves off in Jesus' name and tell the truth so the people will know." Baptist Press goes on to quote Dr. Hunt as saying, "I think Southern Baptists are going to say there are some things we can cut, but sending missionaries is not one of them....That is not an option."


Though there are many reasons to support the GCR, the need to reexamine the structures of the convention should be a rallying call to all Southern Baptists who want to see the sacrificial gifts of their churches make it to the places where it is needed most.


Matt Hartzell said...

How about we cut the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission? Why should CP dollars finance a Rush Limbaugh wanna-be? I have no clue how the ERLC is funded. But if it in fact is funded by CP dollars, it should be first on the list of cuts.

The unholy alliance of right-wing politics and our denomination must end.

Tom said...


The ERLC is funded through the CP. I hope that if anything is reevaluated then everything will be. We need to take honest, serious looks at everything we are doing as a convention and be willing to retool for gospel advance.

Matt Hartzell said...

I agree that EVERYTHING should be evaluated. I am greatly heartened that Dr. Akin even mentioned in his "Axioms" message that review should include the seminaries as well, not that I think the seminaries should be eliminated, but because of the humble spirit and the hunger for the GCR to be a reality that statement shows.

Sometimes I think we are guilty of letting the foxes run the hen house.

You mentioned a study you did on how CP dollars are allocated. Can you provide a link to that information?

all4hisrenown said...

May God help us align our priorities with His Word.

Tom said...


That post is found here.


PastorJasonNRBC said...

great post! amen!

Pastor Randy said...

Amen! I love the focus of the GCR and I am thankful to be a student at SEBTS under the leadership of Dr. Akin. As a young pastor (31), this gives me hope in the future of the SBC.

James Hunt said...


I'm a little confused why we need the ERLC. I say let this arm of our convention be scaled back and send the funds to the IMB earmarked specifically for sending missionaries on the field.

Matt Hartzell said...

James -

Me too. Sounds like a good plan to me!

Tom said...

Good thinking Tom. I support a thorough and systematic examination & publication of how all funds in the CP are allocated. Not a witch hunt but a credible honest audit that is published for all SB people to review. Tom Fillinger, IgniteUS

Man of the West said...

With the greatest respect, I think that just possibly, both you and Johnny Hunt may well be whistling past the graveyard.

My consistent approach to teaching Sunday School has been to ask aggravatingly thought-provoking questions and then to moderate the discussion. Often I have learned something about the class that I would never have learned had I focused more on lecture-style teaching, or just sticking strictly with the material provided by Lifeway.

Within the last year, I asked a question--can't remember what it was--that revealed that the majority of my Sunday School class members (50+ years of age) did not think that international missions should currently be the emphasis of the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of them thought that the United States was too much in spiritual disarray to justify sending resources and manpower overseas.

My class is made up of fairly typical middle-aged Oklahomans. You can disagree with them; I did, and do, but I can't help but wonder if it isn't really the case that when push comes to shove, you might find that there isn't the enthusiasm for maintaining IMB funding that you think there is. And if that's the case, mark it: IMB funding will not recover. As Edmund Burke said, there is no such thing as governing contrary to the will of the whole people.

It may well be that some time has to be spent rekindling missionary fervor before we can do with the IMB what we would like to do. I don't like the situation any better than I expect you do, but it may be the reality.

Just a thought.

DoGLover said...

Tom, I'm not so sure that scaling back the number of appointees is a bad thing. When I served with the IMB, I saw the effects of sending people who weren't necessarily called by God or qualified to serve. In Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul..." not "whosoever will." The point is not to have a larger or smaller missions force, but to be faithful & wise in sending & supporting those whom God is calling to serve.

That said, I agree that Southern Baptists need to re-examine how we do things.

By grace,

Tom Bryant said...

Let me make this half hearted attempt at explaining the possible opposition to Article IX.

1. We thought , or were told, that the "Covenant for a new Century" or whatever it was called would do exactly that. It hasn't.

2. The most re-organized part of our set up is NAMB, and it is the least effective to the point that the Trustee Pres has said it needs to be folded into the IMB.

3. Even if the SBC is reorganized, that does not mean that state conventions will change the percentages they give.

4. While I am all for mission trips and church partnerships with localities, I am afraid that this re-organization will in fact lead to a destruction of the CP because more mission dollars will go to a particular group and leave some of the less "attractive" go. Would more money go places where churches can go as groups rather than be spread around to fund missionaries who are serving in the difficult spots of the world? Personally, this is something that bothers me. We are being headed by men who pastor churches who give small percentages to the CP (Here in FL, our state President's church gives 1.2%). No one disputes that a church can give whatever God leads them to give. But I am concerned that this movement to re-organize is led by people whose percentage giving is small. (I pastor a church that goes on mission trips, supports a few independent missionaries and gives 10% to the CP, so you can do all.)

I too share the frustration of how massive a bureaucracy we have developed. Something needs to be done, just would want it spelled out more.

I am not going to try to defend any opposition to this portion of the GCR. I am not among them. I am more in the wait and see mode.

Tom said...

Man of the west:
I don't doubt you at all. It is certain that we need to do a much better job educating people about the realities that exist in parts of the world where the gospel is not being preached. The video I linked to at the end of the post highlights that need.

I would like to think that your class is not the norm, but that may simply be wishful thinking on my part. I can say that there are many, many in the 50+ crowd (myself included) who do not share their view. In fact, one of the motivations of my heart for wanting to biblical reformation in our churches here is for the sake of the nations. Whether we like it or not, American Christianity continues to be exported all over the world. And, whether we recognize it or not, the SBC is in a position to have a significant impact on American Christianity. The healthier our churches are, the healthier will be the Christianity that we "export."

That conviction, however, doesn't trump my passion to see the nations reached. Rather, the former is strengthened by the latter.

One more point: I think that what you experienced in your SS class--even if it is typical for that age group in the SBC--is radically different than the attitudes of the under 40s in our churches. I am encouraged, humbled, challenged and deeply grateful for the passion that the rising generation has to get the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Thanks for your comment. It is dialogue like this that needs to take place in order to move us forward in aggressively pursuing kingdom work.


Tom said...


You have a valid point. If the financial difficulties cause us to exercise more care and caution in who gets appointed, then that will be a good thing. Just because we *can* doesn't mean we should. You have experience that I do not have. Most of my experiences with missionaries have left me very encouraged by them. There are exceptions, of course, but those exceptions are far rarer today than 20 years ago.

One of the things that I would hope our IMB is regularly reviewing is their screening process. Of course, that begins with the local church and one of the needs we have in the ongoing renewal of churches is to understand the church's role in sending out workers to hard places.

Thanks for your comment.


debbiekaufman said...

Put this Southern Baptist down as strongly agreeing with Johnny Hunt.

Tom said...


That sounds like a simple, doable idea. It could even be made available electronically so as to cut down on the expense of delivery.

Tom Bryant:

Thanks for your comment and sharing your perspective. Regarding your points:

1) I agree. It seems in retrospect that most of those changes were cosmetic and motivated as much or more by wanting to shore up the conservative resurgence than by careful stewardship. If that is all that the GCR initiates, I will be very disappointed and will not hesitate saying so. But, from what I have read, from conversations I have had, and from what I know of the folks behind it, I do not believe that they would settle for merely reshuffling the deck.

2) Amen. In my mind this is a "case-in-point" to your first concern. I appreciate the boldness of the chairman of the board of NAMB to come out publicly as he has with his concerns. I don't know if NAMB should be shut down or not, but we should be willing to consider it. I think *everything* in our structure should be carefully examined--something that I don't think happened in the earlier deal.

3) I understand this but my take on it is that the CP will be strengthened if substantive changes are made to insure that we have less bureaucracy and better stewardship of the monies given. And, you are right, that nothing the SBC does can dictate what the state conventions will do. But, think what might happen if the SBC determined that CP dollars could be given directly to Nashville (and be counted as CP dollars) and not have to go through state conventions. I would bet that this one change would immediately make state conventions more responsive and willing to exercise greater care with how CP monies they keep are spent.

We may have slight disagreements about the value of the GCR at this stage, but I think we are very much on the same page when it comes to what we want to see happen in, through and beyond the SBC in reaching the nations with the gospel. Thanks for your always gracious spirit and for bringing a good perspective to this conversation.


PERSONAU said...


I wish there was more of a local church passion. The Southern Baptist Convention is great with all of its many entitites. But I want to hear more for pure local churches. What we need is strong healthy local churches, not just trying to fix the convention. We get the churches right, the convention will follow. Missions is not about the IMB. It's about healthy true churches preaching the Gospel and yes of course partnering with others. Let's get back to the church.

Jason said...

Sadly, there may be things even less important than the ERLC.

Considering the biggest hoarder of CP dollars are state conventions...and they also seem to be the least efficiently run...maybe THAT is where we should start cutting.

Andy Wayne said...

Can't churches already give directly on the national level and designate where they would like that money to go? Wouldn't that kind of grassroots movement be more "our" style?

Tom said...


No argument from me there! The kind of conversations that have been provoked in recent years in the SBC are calling attention to that very fact. I see the GCR as a response from the church's expression of concern and even discontent with the denominational structures. But if we are going to examine the convention structures, we most certainly should be willing to examine our churches and measure them by the Word of God.

Thanks for your input.

Tom said...


Yes they can. But those gifts are not counted as "CP giving." More and more churches are doing just that and are simply taking the criticism for not supporting the CP, even though they give to many SBC concerns. The reason--at least with many that I know of--is because of loss of confidence in the state conventions and not wanting the majority of their missions dollars staying in state.


Tom said...

To all:

The kinds of issues raised here--and the spirit in which they have been raised--is exactly what we need more of in the SBC today. My prayer is that the GCR will continue to provoke this kind of open exchange of ideas.

Bill said...

Personally: I have never known a State Convention in the SBC worth anything (but freely admit that I am not familiar with all of them).

The amount of money spent at that level is far far far to much. They have become institutions unto themselves.

That is a good place to start!! Can we begin with Indiana? or KY?

Seriously, until the churches (read here Pastors) get serious about this issue, nothing will change.

By His Grace,

Romans 5:1

Kevin in Manila said...

If memory serves me correctly, this is the second time in a few years that the IMB has been unable to send all who are ready to go.

I think we desperately need to look at our structure and get rid of some of the duplication and bureaucracy. But with each level (church, association, state) being autonomous, I doubt it will happen.

Kerygma said...

I thought getting rid of the liberals was going to solve all the SBC's problems. I was there. I remember the rhetoric. "Once we clearly and unmistakably establish our commitment to inerrancy, God is going to bless the SBC."

So, what happened?

Russell Taylor said...

I'm sure everyone has been asked the question, "Why should we send missionaries half way around the world, when there's so many lost people right here?" I've just responded to that question on my blog at, but I agree with Man of the West, that it is an attitude that is much more common than we might think. I've assumed in the past that all Christians believe in missions, but this is not the case and I think it is vital that we spend some time teaching our people a biblical view of missions. Perhaps using the GCR as an opportunity to do that is a good idea. What are others doing to fuel a passion for missions?

Arthur Sido said...

I agree that the SBC spends far too much money on state conventions, bureaucrats, ERLC, etc. But what about closer to home? How much do local SBC churches spend on buildings, on debt servicing, on A/V systems, on staff, on programs? If you are going to put everything on the table, and I think the SBC should, the local churches need to turn that same eye on their own expenses.

Tom said...


Inerrancy isn't enough. A few voices were warning of this 25+ years ago and were largely ignored. Now the problems are so vast that they cannot be ignored.

Tom said...


As one fine IMB worker told our church years ago, "The SBC has done a great job educating people in the value of financially supporting missions and a poor job in educating them in the work of work of missions. 9Marks has an eJournal coming up on the topic of churches getting involved in missions.

Russell Taylor said...

Arthur Sido's words are convicting and true. In addition, I believe that the spiritual immaturity of our local pastors and churches as well as at the convention levels is at the heart of the issue. We measure success in all the wrong ways. We cannot expect that pastors who measure success by worldly standards, pastoring people who measure success by wordly standards, will produce a kingdom passion. We'd all love to pray in resources like George Muller, but how many of us honestly want to live by his standard of success. My own heart is constantly torn between temporary pleasures and eternal pursuits. Oh wretched man. God revive us all.

Brad Williams said...

Before I make this comment, I want everyone to know that this is without malice.

I am pastoring a new church plant, and we are dealing with how to give to the Co-op program. We have given to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong already.

Here's the problem as I see it. As I look at the State Convention, and especially the local association, I see that they are pretty salary top-heavy. I would hazard to say that the average local Associational Direction makes more, perhaps far more, than the average local pastor. He is in charge of precisely zero sheep. I have to wonder if these positions are worth our money compared to missionary endeavors of our church and supporting missionaries we already personally know. I.E. I know what these people do and I want to help them.

As I move on to look at the State Convention, I have an even more lousy understanding of what these salaried folks are up to. After all, a great portion of our giving is going to that. Where is the accountability? To whom do they answer? I know, in theory, they answer to the local churches, and that is the problem.

Here's what I mean. Our folks who are familiar with the Co-op program assume that the State and the local association are being good stewards. And, forgive me for being so blunt, are so happy with what may be the fantasy of their money going to missions and not mainly for salaries of men who are in charge of making sure that they keep giving, they do not like it when things are examined. The folks who begin to ruin the happy fantasy can very easily be castigated as trouble makers.

Somebody tell me I'm wrong here. This is a big deal to me and to my church, and I want to believe that our money is not being wasted on someone who is neither pastor nor missionary and who basically does next to nothing for kingdom enterprise.

For the record, I have served on the Board of one local association and have attended as a local church representative for other convention entities. This is why my concerns developed in the first place.

adubhigg said...

Probably repeating what everyone else is saying:

The solution is cutting redundancy in the system...the guilt of which IMHO lies mainly at the feet of the state conventions. Being a young man, I really don't see the need for a major portion of EACH state's mission money going to support retirement homes and their staff, which could all be managed from Nashville if still needed. Why can't we consolidate some of these repetitions, trim the fat from the states, and spend more money to MISSIONS, domestic or international?!?!

Jason said...

Brad, I am right there with you in your evaluation of the money going to salaries of associational and state convention employees.

This is a black hole of spending, IMO.

I am not optimistic about this ever being addressed, unfortunately.

Coty said...

One reason your average SBC church member is not particularly excited about missions is that he (and, in many cases, his pastor) misunderstands the Great Commission. In my opinion, that's a major flaw in the Great Commission Resurgence document; it never defines the Great Commission. Here's an excerpt from my blog post on this topic:

The problem is not really about what the document says, but about what it doesn’t say. It calls for a “Great Commission Resurgence” - but it never defines the Great Commission. And that lack of definition keeps the document from serving what could be a pivotal role.

Thirty-five years after Ralph Winter coined the phrase “people blindness,” and 20+ years after the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) reoriented the agency to focus on unreached people groups, most Southern Baptists still have no idea what the Great Commission means. Too many think it means something like, “I should share the Gospel with my neighbor and give $25 each year to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.”

What does the Great Commission mean?

Read the rest.

Grady Bauer said...

I am glad that there is outrage about the recent IMB cuts....I honestly believe that there alot of reasons people stop giving to the CP when times get tough...but here's a question.

How many of our mega-church pastors have been outraged enough to fund it? Most of these guys make good money and their churches have very large budgets....Most of these guys could take a special offering or even go with out pay and help make up the difference.

I see companies like Starbucks where the lead guy goes without pay and makes sacrifices because he believes in what they do. Do we feel as passionate about the Kingdom as they do about coffee?

Peacemaker said...

$14 Billion. that is the amount I recently was told by a convention leader that SBC churches placed in their church coffers in 2008. $300 million or about 2.2% went to IMB to send missionaries around the world...

Now realize some statistics...
the USA has about 300 million people todate. That is about 4% of the world's population. about 38-40% of the American population is in church on a Sunday. That leaves about 180 milion people in America that are unchurched.

Latest stats say that there are 6.7 billion people on the planet. 2.2 billion claim the name of Christ in some form (catholic, protestant combined) That leaves about 4.5 billion with no claim to Christ in any form.

SBC churches and conventions used $13.7 billion last year to reach 180 million unchurched in the country in 2008. That is approximately $77 spent per lost soul in America per year to see them come into the Kingdom.

However, they sent $300 million to IMB to send missionaries who would seek to reach the 4.5 billion in the world with no claim to Christ. That equates to about 7 cents per lost soul.

IMB is having to downsize when God has given SBC churches the resources to reach the world for Christ.

IMB leaders were quoted in 2003 as saying that after significant research, they thought that it would take about 8000-8500 missionaries to bring the gospel to all peoples.

If SBC churches gave just 10% of what they take in a year to the IMB, it would be about $1.4 billion. That would support a mission force of about 10,000 annually, plus have a couple hundred million to help the poor.

Our Biblical mandates for the use of financial resources are to help the poor, widows and orphans and to support apostolic (missionary) ministry. We are not given a mandate to build large buildings for our own use. Yet when things get tough financially, the first thing that is often cut is mission giving and benevolence.

To whom much is given, much is required. What is required of Southern Baptists? We will give an account...