AUSTIN?”We must be vision-driven with our eyes always on the goal of bringing into the kingdom of God those who from every tribe, people, tongue and nation will one day be gathered around the throne worshipping our Lord,” declared International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin in his report to trustees gathered in Austin, Sept. 9-10. The Great Commission task cannot be resource-driven nor limited to “simply doing whatever we can do for whatever may result,” Rankin added.
Trustees heard Rankin express the struggle the IMB faces in continuing to move forward during a time of financial and personnel restraints, global challenges and obstacles. Although giving by Southern Baptists exceeds previous records, it has not kept pace with the overwhelming response of individuals willing to go as missionaries.
Board chairman Doug Sager of Knoxville, Tenn., expressed confidence that God would provide a solution that would allow the IMB to further spread the gospel despite financial challenges. “We’re about to see something that’s a God thing. The thing that’s going to bring it to pass is prayer. That’s when we get focused, when we come into the presence of the Almighty,” Sager said. “I am excited about what God is up to in his world.”
Trustees approved a major change in the way all new candidates for long-term missionary service are appointed. They will complete a three-year apprenticeship before before gaining career or associate status. As experienced missionaries mentor apprentices, adaptation to cross-cultural ministry will improve, trustee Tom Hatley of Rogers, Ark., said.
A report on the 2004 budget recommendation reflected a $20 million reduction, anticipating lower income and delay of $10 million in capital expenditures until the operating budget is met. No salary increases are included for missionaries or stateside personnel and missionary operating budgets are reduced by seven percent.
Reaction to the recent decision to limit the number of new missionary appointments surfaced during strategy discussions in plenary sessions.
Trustees and IMB administrators shared a similar hope that grassroots Southern Baptists would respond to the dire needs by meeting the $133 million goal of this year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Trustees offered solutions, which included:
challenging the 95 percent of Southern Baptist churches that give less than $10,000 to the Lottie Moon offering by utilizing creative methods to encourage raising that level of support this year;
asking pastors to gain a passion for worldwide missions;
encouraging Woman’s Missionary Union to raise awareness of the tremendous financial need;
personalizing missions by adopting people groups and participating in mission partnerships; and
trimming state convention budgets to increase the portion going out of state to fund Southern Baptist ministries.
“My concern is that no army ever won a war in retreat,” stated Kyle Cox, director of missions of Galveston Baptist Association. “Sometimes, against all odds and against all better judgment they press forward and that’s all it takes to tip the scales and win the war.” Cox admitted his discouragement over “the ease at which we have talked about the fact that this year we will be under five thousand missionaries and we are going to accept without complaint, hardly, that we are going to limit ourselves from over one thousand missionaries [each of] the last two years to six hundred this year.”
While the number of Southern Baptist overseas personnel peaked at 5,607 in July, the anticipated rate of attrition and limit on new missionaries is already taking its toll with a level of 5,000 projected in 2004. The 61 new missionaries appointed Sept. 9 at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin represent a 40 percent reduction in the number typically appointed. (See page 10 for coverage of appointment service.)
“I see the [IMB] staff doing all they can to make the dollar stretch. Mobilization is doing all they can to get the word out. I don’t see us as a board of trustees doing very much to tip the scales and keep pressing forward. I’m disappointed in myself and I’m disappointed in us as a board,” Cox stated. “We seem to be accepting this retreat, however tactical it may be, so easily