(1). Missionaries who are actually on the field planting churches and sharing Christ have little or no resources to do ministry.
According to several field missionaries who emailed me or phoned me, money for Bibles, special mission projects, and materials needed to help witness and evangelize has not been received from the IMB for months. Churches that make their way overseas to participate in prayer walks, street evangelism, or church planting efforts must bring their own money for materials like Bibles, books and other resources for native converts and pastors. IMB field missionaries are often asked by Southern Baptists from the States, "You mean we have to buy the Bibles we use in evangelism? What about Lottie Moon funds going for special projects?"
What's worse, say these field missionaries, is that those on the front lines of the mission field have now been told that money normally given for expense reimbursement is being withheld. This support money, used to reimburse missionaries for gas in making trips to new church plants or Bible studies, or other expenses associated with the ongoing mission of establishing new churches, is being withheld due to the budgetary crises. One field missionary with a wife and kids has over $2,500 in unreimbursed ministry expenses. The question before IMB field missionaries at this time is simply, "Do we continue funding our ministry ourselves, or do we buy our kids Christmas presents?"
Field office budgets are being slashed by 50% for 2010. Field missionaries are discouraged because there is a feeling among many that Lottie Moon funds are being used to support an ever-increasing overhead budget and an ill-timed reorganization causing little or no money to reach the front lines for ministry projects and field missionary support. In short, the IMB presents itself as a large, beautiful, and impressive missions sending agency--but there are no funds to actually work the mission of the organization.
(2). The current reorganization of the International Mission Board, intended to make the organization flat and lean, has in reality made the IMB fat and deep.
Rather than IMB having "regional offices," the IMB is restucturing the organization to have eight Affinity Offices among eight affinity people groups, nine if you include the deaf people of the world. Each people group has an identifiable office in Richmond and an overseas office that works closely with the staff at the Office of Global Strategy, all headed by Dr. Gordon Fort, VP of the IMB in Richmond, Virginia. There are an additional four IMB Support Offices overseas, offices that "support" the eight Affinity Offices. These four overseas Support Offices work closely with the home offices in Richmond that carry the same names. The offices in Richmond and those overseas include the aforementioned Office of Global Strategy, the Office(s) of Global Personnel, the Office(s) of Financial Services, the Office(s) of Global Logistics, and the Office(s) of Personnel Support and Mobilization Support. For example, the "Support Office" for the European Peoples Affinity Group is located in London. Twenty missionary personnel work in that particular office of Financial Services. That's just one of four offices in the London Support Office (one of four "Support Offices" worldwide) that report to both their respective "Affinity Offices" (one of eight worldwide) and then to corresponding offices in Richmond. You will have a hard time finding any of these offices on the official IMB website
Let me simplify it.
A field missionary (either career, ISC, Masters or Journeymen) is one who is on the front lines sharing the gospel and planting churches. These field missionaries report to a team leader who is also a field missionary. Again, all these field missionaries are what we would call the front lines. They are the ones who need the money, the supplies, the support of the Southern Baptist Convention. But these are the missionaries who seem to be receiving the financial cuts. Ironically, if the average Southern Baptist were to call the International Mission Board and ask " Can you tell me the number of SBC field missionaries on the field who are actually responsible for sharing Christ and planting churches?" you would not be given a direct answer. Why? The standard response is "All our personnel are missionaries!" That's true, but when we give to Lottie Moon, we are thinking about the person on the field sharing Christ and planting churches. Sure, we need the support personnel. Nobody is suggesting any differently. But the question is: Does this current reorganization of the IMB make it leaner and more efficient so that more funds, not less, reach the front lines of the mission field?
The field missionaries are telling me "no" in response to this question. They say that their team leaders must now report to supervisory "Cluster Leaders" who are in charge of missionary teams in a handful of countries. These "Cluster Leaders" then report to their respective Affinity Leaders, who then report to the Office of Global Strategy. All the other IMB personnel in the overseas Affinity Offices, overseas Support Offices, Richmond home offices, etc are technically there for the "support" of the field missionaries. Yet, the field missionaries feel like nobody is listening to them for the following reasons:
(1). When "tours" are made of regions, it is the upper echelon IMB management and IMB supervisors who lead the SBC dignitaries (i.e. SBC President, trustees, etc...) on those tours.
(2). When the last two reorganizations occured at the IMB (i.e. New Directions and Affinity People Groups), the instructions for reorganization came from the top down. Field missionaries were not asked for their input. (Edit: David Rogers, former IMB field missionary to Spain points out in the comment section that he received an email about possible impending changes in 2008, asking for input. The field missionaries who have contacted me did not mention the email, just their belief that the changes were being implemented with or without direction from the field missionaries. I do not believe it is accurate to represent that all field missionaries were not asked for their input. Some, including David Rogers, obviously were).
(3). The cuts to ministry, expense accounts, and salaries are being felt by the field missionaries--frustrating them in their efforts to share Christ and plant churches.
(4). There is a feeling that any complaining about the situation will cause someone to be labeled a "malcontent." Rather than feeling empowered to speak up and to offer helpful suggestions, many field missionaries are either quitting, retiring, or contemplating getting out.
If top level management of the IMB wants to prevent a wholesale collapse of missions as Southern Baptists know it, then there should be a long-term hiring freeze and reserves should be tapped to get MORE MONEY ON THE FRONT lines--not less. It would be better for Southern Baptists to do the work we are now doing well, than to continue to build a huge organization to try to reach every people group in the world and do it all very poorly.
(3). The statistics on the Annual Statistical Report cause IMB missionaries on the field to question the wisdom of their superiors.
There has been a healthy amount of skepticism related to the numbers of baptisms and church plants reported by the International Mission Board in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Field missionaries report constant pressure to "get the numbers up." The International Mission Board's Office of Global Strategy reports that field missionaries in the IMB had a direct hand in starting over 50,000 Baptist churches in 2007 and 2008. If you counted every single missionary that is employed by the IMB, including support personnel, every IMB employee would have had to singlehandedly begun 10 churches in the past 24 monhts.
The IMB has reported over 1.1 million baptisms through the work of our missionaries these past two years. The field missionaries believe that organizational management has succombed to the temptation of inflating or fudging numbers to justify the extraordinary expansion and expense of reaching more and more people groups. Unfortunately, when money is spent on public relations and slick presentations--in order to raise more money--all the while using numbers that the field missionaries raise their eyebrows over, we have constructed a Potemkin Village. We build to impress, but we neglect the actual things required to do the real work.
It's time we stopped trying to impress everybody and simply gave our missionaries in the deserts of the Middle East, the islands of the Pacific, the far reaches of China and other remote areas around the world those things they actually need to do the work.
It's not too late for the IMB to respond. Word has it that a secular company has been hired to implement the new reorganziation of the IMB around the world. I have been unable to confirm whether or not this is true, but I've confirmed enough to make a prophetic statement.
Our missionaries are great people--both those on the front lines and those in the offices of support. It's not their fault there is no money reaching the front. It's the fault of leadership--both trustees and upper management. We've been so focused on silly tertiery things, so enraptured by telling people "We are the largest missions sending agency in the world!" and so consumed with personal agendas that we have lost sight of our mission to care for those who have gone to the front lines.
If we Southern Baptists don't stop trying to impress people as to how big we are, and if we don't start taking care of our missionaries on the front lines by meeting their requests for ministry funds, reimbursing their expense needs, and helping them accomplish the tasks to which they were called, we will find our beloved missions organization eventually collapsing like a house of cards.
It's time to buckle up and get them money. I suggest the IMB tap into the millions of dollars in reserves and pay our missionaries what we promised them. And I would also put a clamp on any consideration of future appointments until the morale of those missionaries already on the field is what it should be.
In His Grace,