Monday, April 17, 2006

April/May: Focus on the IMB -- May/June --- Focus on the SBC

Over the next several days I will be giving to you some very important information regarding previous International Mission Board approved policies that are at the heart of a potential firing of a missionary couple who have dedicated eight years of their lives to work with an extremely difficult people group in an equally hazardous environment.

I received word today from the missionary couple themselves that a recommendation will be forthcoming to the trustees of the IMB at this May meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico that this missionary couple be terminated effective May 31st. I have received no privileged information regarding these events from the IMB, and all I know about the circumstances of this potential firing is what I have read in the media, the information I have received from the couple themselves, and several conversations with IMB administration. I believe every missionary (and trustee) should abide by Board approved policy, and if there is truly a "refusal to comply with Board and regional policy concerning cooperative relationships with other organizations and expectations regarding your church planting model," then obviously, the missionary couple should be terminated.

I have been made aware, however, by the pastor of this couple, several missionaries who know the couple, and the missionary couple themselves that they believe they ARE abiding by IMB policy.

Unless this decision to terminate is stopped by IMB administration between now and the May 23 BOT meeting, the trustees will either have to approve the termination or vote it down. There is no reason why we should consider this termination as "insignificant" or treat it any other way than we would treat the potential termination of the President of one of our SBC agencies. There is no reason that we as trustees should not be fully informed of this situation PRIOR to our vote.

I believe these missionaries, and the other 5,300 in the Southern Baptist fold, are the true heroes of our denomination. Since this couple has refused to resign, and since they are not guilty of any moral indescretion, doctrinal heresy, or any other behavior that impugns the character of the SBC, and since they do not believe they are violating any Board approved IMB policy, then I believe this couple should be given the dignity and grace of a trustee board fully preparing themselves with all relevant information of the situation, and they should be protected from any hasty, rash decisions that bring into reproach their character or commitment to the SBC and the IMB.

What is the truth? I think it can, and will, be discovered. However, for that to occur we must not be afraid to address all relevant questions, and we must not try to stop people from receiving answers to their questions, no matter how tough the questions may be.

Frankly, I was in a similar position just a few weeks ago. I believed I was following my conscience and abiding by every policy of the IMB. In fact, I was adamant that if I could be shown WHERE I was violating policy, I would immediately cease my blog. As you know, I adamantly insisted I was following every IMB approved policy, and though I maybe wrote some things with which others did not agree, I continued doing what I felt God called me to do because I believed it was best for the IMB, our Convention, and Christ's kingdom at large. Of course, at our last meeting, IMB policy regarding trustee responsibilities was changed to prevent any dissent of Board approved policies. I have chosen to abide by the new policy. If I feel at some point I cannot abide by this new policy, I will resign.

Let's take all these issues very seriously. In the coming few days I will give to you on my blog all the Board approved policies regarding a definition of a church, the New Directions implemented by our Board in the last decade, and the five levels of partnership approved by the Board.

I will not disclose personal information regarding this case until all trustees have been made aware of correspondence, giving them the opportunity to see the documents first.

However, all the information I will post in the next few days will be information available to Baptists via other media and press releases. In other words, it is public information and available to all.

Let's be sure and do our work well. And for the sake of the kingdom, let's not jump to rash, hasty conclusions.

Finally, remember that an official appeal has been filed, and it is possible that the vote for termination will never reach the BOT in May.

Regardless, the next four days of posts will inform all Southern Baptists about Board approved policy at the International Mission Board.

That is a healthy thing for us all --- fully informed Baptists.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Gene Brooks said...

Dear Pastor Wade,
I have read with great interest your blog since I heard about it some months ago. Thank you for keeping people in the Baptist backwater like me informed so that we can pray.

Bob Cleveland said...


Thanks for today's posting. I shall be reading each day, and will be extremely interested in seeing what develops.

Your posting reflects the absolute necessity of dealing in issues and avoiding emotional adjectives or analogies in reporting and commenting. Well done.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. B,

Thank you for stating that our IMB missionaries are heroes. Indeed they are. As such, they should not be terminated unless it is for VERY GOOD reason. If there is a conflict with the regional leadership that cannot be resolved, then some other action besides termination should be taken.

You stated that the termination would be either approved or "rescinded." Is that right? I thought it did not have to be rescinded yet, because it was not approved unless and until board approval.

Thank you for keeping us abreast of developments in this case.

Love in Christ,


P.S. To any IMB trustees who may be reading this: I will gladly read any information YOU publish on IMB matters, especially if it is in an easily-accessible format such as a web site or blog. We're listening to Dr. Burleson in part because he's the only one talking!

Micah Fries said...


Thank you for your openness and desire for communication. One of my frustrations to this point has been the fact that I know there's another side to the story other than that of the missionaries themselves, but it has been impossible to get any of this information. Although I feel like I wouldn't change my mind even if that information was public, the lack of commenting from those on the other side has taken away the option of making that decision. While I know the information that you will give out will be public information, at least it is a positive step in the right direction as we try to best understand this action.

As I understand it the missionary's potential dismissal is wrong, but that information comes with no input from the IMB themselves and I would very much like to hear from both sides so at the very least we can have authentic discussion rather than the current one sided communication that is occuring. Having said that, I do think that in the absence of any other information, the current communication is vital.

As I previously said, thanks again for your attempt to develop communication. We need more men and women with your irenic spirit.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the work of informing folks, even if I didn't agree, I would still feel the importance of keeping our folks informed!
Incidently, I do agree! In fact, have been praying for a M. couple who are presently on sabbatical, and I believe have been informed they are probably going to be terminated. My concern, as well as for the couple, is they have ties to several churches that may be inclined to simply adjust their mission giving to provide deputation resources so these folks can return to the field? I'll be interested in some of the definitions..... said...


The issue of termination may not come to the Board, you are correct.

However, if it does it will be in the form of a recommendation to terminate. That recommendation would have to be passes or voted down, so technically "rescinded" is not the right word.

Thanks for the comment. said...

No Ken, they are not the same couple.

art rogers said...


I am looking forward to the information. This is a serious situation on many levels.

To others who have sought to shame Wade for not standing up for Missionaries in trouble with IMB staff while defending himself: please note that he is new to the Board so past offenses were not in his ability to alter, and his current actions aquit him clearly of such an accusation.

To the IMB BOT,

If you are unhappy with this kind of publicity in such matters, please understand that you have required such action by passing a policy that demands Trustees voice their opinions at the first reasonable opportunity, since you may silence it after a soon upcoming vote.

And, as always, my words are my own.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the anonymity, but due to security concerns in where I now serve, I cannot display my identity. Please understand.

I know this couple personally. We have played together, prayed together, laughed together and cried together. Our children have played together in West Africa. We studied that VERY DIFFICULT tribal language together. I was a part of the team when we were instructed by leadership to cooperate with others who are already working there. We had a big meeting with the CMA couple and they expressed concerns that the IMB was too hard to work with and that we would end up being exclusive and overbearing in our demands. We assured them that we would not and that we would strive to build the local church to the Glory of God, not to the glory of the SBC. We had a huge meeting among all the entities that worked with that people group and were flabbergasted by one group who said that they could work with the larger group, but their sending agency REQUIRED that they have the name of their denomination in the name of the new churches.
I know the hearts of this couple. I know what their people group means to them. I know how hard it is to live in their city. I know how hard it is to speak the language. I know how hard it is to leave all the wonderful comforts of Oklahoma to live in this spiritual desert. Therefore, I know that they are not just being insubordinate for the sake of being insubordinate, if that is what they are being at all. I pray that the trustees are able to see through the politics and are able to stand up and vote down the recommendation to terminate.

Is there a way that I can stand up for them to the committee, but not be "marked" for doing so?

Anonymous said...


I agree the trustees should have the complete information ahead of time in order to be prepared to vote on something that will have such a dramatic effect on the lives of these missionaries. I also think at some time it would be good if we all heard the full story instead of rumors so that those of us in other parts of the world could understand if this will affect our ministry. Many of us find it difficult to believe this situation could go so far if the information being presented on the blogs is all there is.
At the beginning of New Directions we were instructed that we would be using a CPM strategy and would be free to work with GCCs who had the same vision we had. Of course the understanding was that they would be in line with our basic theological positions. Many of us were working with GCCs long before New Directions and have continued since then. I recall a document was signed with Campus Crusade that we would partner together with them. Many CC missionaries are more or less Baptistic but not Baptist.
In some parts of the world we dropped the ball in the poor way New Directions was presented to our long time Baptist partners. As a result, relations were damaged that have not healed to this day. We were told that if the local Baptists were not willing to get on board to move on. I am one who favors doing all we can to work with our Baptist churches as long as we both have the freedom to as Blackaby says, “see where the Lord is working and join with Him in that work.”
There is another important factor here. As you know, we have six Southern Baptist Seminaries. I am told one of the trustees on the West Africa committee teaches missions at Mid-America Seminary. That seminary may be Southern Baptistic but it is not Southern Baptist. Back in the 80s all of our missionaries were required to have a certain number of hours at a Southern Baptist seminary. Because of the lobbying from supporters of this seminary, the policy was changed so that you did not have to study at a Southern Baptist seminary. If we have a policy to plant only Baptist churches and work only with those who are Baptist and not just Baptistic, will we also reverse our policy and require all missionaries to study at Southern Baptist Seminaries and not just Southern Baptistic seminaries like Mid-America?
I look forward to reading the policies regarding New Directions on your blog. I have read them and have them in my files. I am sure many of us will enjoy commenting on them.

Anonymous said...

Due to the way in which the IMB is currently structured, a decision NOT to terminate the missionary couple in question, would call for one of three scenarios:
1. the resignation of the Regional Leader;
2. the removal of the Regional Leader;
3. the missionary couple subjected to an ongoing hostile relationship with Regional leadership.

They are already in an untenable situation. There is no good solution at this point. The Regional leadership has taken a stand that poisons any sense of trust there may have been between leadership and missionaries. The process of termination does not lend itself to resolution once a Regional Leader has recommended termination.

The IMB is living a new era in which terminating missionaries is deemed as a light reduction in excessive workforce. More missionaries were terminated in 2002 than in the entire history of the Foreign Mission Board to that date. 2003 saw a much greater number terminated or forced to resign.

It is interesting to note that after several terminations in Eastern South America in 2002-2003, the Regional Leader, Regional Field Strategy Associate, and an involved Field Leader all resigned within one year of the first public termination. (All three had jobs waiting for them when they resigned.)

At issue with the termination of a couple who likely should not be terminated is the institutional culture that demands complete submission to all pronouncements from those in authority.

I pray for the missionary family in question. Even if they remain on the field, they will not be able to trust their mission family. Trust has been violated along with any spirit of cooperation on behalf of the kingdom of Christ Jesus. The aims and objectives of the institution have trumped the spirit of cooperative mission.

This missionary family is not affected in isolation. The entire field is affected by the exclusionist spirit rampant in the institutional structure. They have all heard that pronouncements by regional leadership are final. They all know that they may be next in line if they should clash with those above them.

We have lost the mission in order to retain the purity of the institution. "Sacrifice the workers to protect the authority structure." Reminds me of your post on Spiritual Abuse.

Power corrupts. Supervisory authority desperately needs to give preference to grace and forgiveness over punishment and exclusion.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your courage and willingness to communicate the full information concerning issues facing the IMB and missionary personnel.
Your efforts must be difficult as you seek to balance your responsibility as a Trustee and as a member of a Southern Baptist Church.
Without pertinent information it will be increasingly difficult for those of us outside the agency loops to make informed decisions. It is vitally important that proper evidence be published. The truth in these matters will never be harmful to anyone who has the interests of the Gospel at heart.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Wade,

I'm sorry to be writing to you anonymously, but I am also an IMB missionary serving in a high security region planting churches among an unreached people group alongside baptistic GCC partners who do not have baptist in their names.

I wish that my biggest fear of revealing my identity is because the host government would hunt me down and expell me from the country where I serve. But my biggest fear is that my identity would be known and that someone within my own organization would hunt me down and expell me from the country from where I serve for planting churches with baptistic GCC partners who do not have baptist in their name.

The irony in this whole controversy with the D family is that if they were serving in the same region where I serve, it wouldn't be a problem with the regional leader.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Wade, for keeping people informed.

If they won’t even work with other Baptists, how can they expect to work with other “Great Commission Christians”whose beliefs are less compatible?! Did I understand correctly that the missionaries from the other denomination were required to sign on to the BF&M 2000 before the SBC missionaries were allowed to work with them? What if the SBC missionaries were required in return to sign on to the other missionaries’ creed (I know the BF&M2000 is called a confession, but when it’s used for “doctrinal accountability” that makes it a creed.) before they could work together? It seems rather rude to me. Not that I’m advocating going along with anything that any Christian group does just to get something started, for example, I would find it problematic to start a church with a group who would want to baptize babies. But I can accept them as fellow Christians and work with them when necessary and in whatever way possible.

Thank you, Rex Ray, for finding that so unbaptistic quote about following “God-appointed leadership whether we necessarily understand or agree”. Following Jesus when I don’t necessarily understand at the time, I can handle, though I might reasonably doubt my perception of the situation. Following Jesus when I don’t agree, that’s my fault - I should adjust. But I tend to be cautious about a human who says they’re God-appointed and that THEY should be followed unquestioningly. I know a few people I would do that for, but they would be very unlikely to expect that, and, as well, would be too humble to say they’re God-appointed, though some others might consider them that. Maybe I’m just too much of a traditional Baptist.


Anonymous said...

Wade, I am a M in a level 1 situation but as others have said, I fear more the reprecussions of the IMB more than the govt. I have been with the IMB for a few years now and from day one at MLC I felt a tension and almost intimidating leadership style that I am yet to reconcile. i think under the surface, a bigger problem than the policies exist. It is the moral of the missionaries. in my region it is very low. But I want to also share a termination policy from the IMB manual for policy #226:

Certain conditions will be considered as career threatening in that they preclude continued employment relationship to the IMB. They may be summarized as follows, but they are not all inclusive, and the board always retains the right to terminate any field personnel (career, associate, apprentice, Journeyman, and International Service Corps) for any reason satisfactory to the board without disclosing to the person the reason for the termination.

Did you see the phrase, without disclosing to the person the reason for termination. To me that is an unbelievable if not illegal approach to employment.

Searching missionary