International Mission Board recently stated that there would be a "15% reduction in IMB personnel." In a town hall meeting joined by Southern Baptist missionaries from around the world, President Platt said, "If we are going to balance our budget, we must reduce approximately 600 to 800 of our staff and field personnel."
In a follow-up press release, an IMB spokesperson said, "The IMB plans to reduce the total number of missionaries and staff by 600-800 people — or approximately 15 percent of its total personnel. Currently, approximately 4,800 personnel serve as missionaries and 450 as staff."
Several people have written me and asked what I thought of President Platt's plan. A few have sent me the criticism of others for the plan, asking me to comment publicly. There seems to be only three possible reactions Platt's vision for "balancing the budget' of the IMB - (1). praise, (2). anger, or (3). indifference.
Count me as a person in the first category. I praise David Platt for his decision. Here's why.
For years I have known that there has been a fiscal crisis in the International Mission Board. I was appointed a trustee of the International Mission Board in 2005. In essence, the board has spent more money than it has taken in for many, many years. The fiscal irresponsibility of the IMB can be attributed to a philosophy of a previous IMB President who believed Jesus was returning soon and it mattered not whether or not bills could be paid, and by David Platt's immediate predecessor who, as a friend of mine opined to me yesterday, "ran the IMB into the ground."
In other words, David Platt was handed a Platt-full of fiscal trouble when he became IMB President.
For the past twenty years, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has been selling capital assets and using those funds for "operational" expenses, a practice outside the radar of average Southern Baptists. The IMB owned hundreds of millions of dollars of land, office buildings, homes, hospitals, and other hard assets (capital) in foreign countries which the board had accumulated over the decades. Land bought cheap years ago in places like Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong and other exotic locations were sold in the 2000's and turned a tidy profit for the IMB.
When the philosophy of the IMB turned from its historic and traditional missionary care (e.g. leprosy colonies, hospitals, shelters, food centers, etc...) into solely "church planting," the IMB began to "sell" their hard assets and use the proceeds for operating expenses.
Let me say that again to let it sink in. For years the IMB has been selling hard assets to fund annual operating expenses. There is an important caveat to the preceding statement. For tax and legal reasons, the revenue the IMB gleaned from the sale of hard assets in a foreign country would never show up as "revenue" for annual operational expenses in the United States. What would happen is that the money would be placed in "slush funds," similar to what Congress does with money used for "black operations" or for covert agencies that they wish to keep out of public scrutiny.
For example, revenue from the sale of a multi-million dollar office building in a far eastern country was placed in an overseas designated account. Credit cards expenses, hotel bills, plane fares and entertainment expenses for upper level management of the IMB were paid from the slush fund. The accountants in the Far East responsible for overseeing finances would receive communication from Richmond to "pay for" this plane ticket, or this hotel bill, or this credit card, etc.... Some of the accountants were bothered by the practice, but they were not sure what could be done about it.
One thing is certain. An organization can never operate indefinitely on revenue from the sale of capital assets. At some point, someone in leadership will have to face the cold, hard facts that the money will soon be gone. David Platt was handed the International Mission Board at the tail end of a spending spree that would have made Croesus blush. Not only do I not fault David Platt for getting control of the fiscal budget of the Southern Baptist Convention's missions sending agency, I call upon every Southern Baptist leader, including Frank Page, to stop the their pleas for Southern Baptists to "just give more money to the SBC." It's time SBC leadership became transparent in our financial practices, beginning with what has actually happened to all the revenue from the sale of the IMB's capital assets.
Again, don't blame David Platt for the IMB's fiscal crisis. His predecessors created the problem.