Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Proposed New Year's Resolution for the Southern Baptist Convention: Integrity in Numbers

There is often a feeling among trustees of the International Mission Board that they have been given the "plum" assignment in the Southern Baptist Convention. To many trustees, the IMB appointment is more valuable than personal ministry, as evidenced by the request of one Oklahoma IMB trustee in 2005 that I recommend him to pastor search committees in Oklahoma only, lest he lose his coveted position on the IMB. With at least six all expense paid trips a year, and with one international trip per trustee last year (2008), the eight years trustees serve at the IMB amount to nearly 50 weeks of all expense travel. By the time IMB adds rental cars, airfare, hotel costs, food reimbursement and other costs associated with convening eighty-nine trustees from around the nation for bi-monthly trustee meetings, the costs are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The waste associated with such an archaic system of oversight caused me and a handful of other trustees to advocate the reduction of trustees meetings to two a year; the first would be in January and held in Richmond and the second would be in June in conjuction with the Southern Baptist Convention. I further argued that the "commissioning" service for each missionary should be held at missionary's "home" church, and that the "selection" of qualified Southern Baptist applicants should be up to the professional missiologists at the IMB who are paid to interview, train, and support missionaries across the Convention. It would cost a great deal less to fly a Candidate Consultant to the missionaries home church for an appointment service than to fly every missionary and his or her respective family to locations around the United States for joint commissioning services that are held in conjuction with "trustee" meetings.

As one might imagine, such proposals did not get far when I served as a trustee. I could compare the reaction of trustee leaders to such proposals to Gracie's reaction, our great dane, when we gave her a bone from the steak restaurant where we ate on my birthday, only to try to get it back from her when we feared she would soil our living room carpet as she gnawed on the bone. As one could imagine, once the bone has been given and tasted, the attempt to get it back becomes very trying and territorial. Trustees opposed to such a radical reduction in trustee meetings and numbers argued against it by spiritualizing, as is the Southern Baptist habit, by saying: "We have such a HUGE ministry at the IMB that we have to constantly meet to provide proper oversight." I propose in this post that "numbers" game at the IMB, like it is at most Southern Baptist institutions, is a very hollow system that lacks integrity.

In order to justify such large expenditures for both IMB mission work and large trustee oversight (well over $300 million dollars a year), there has been some increasing pressure on Southern Baptist missionaries to post extraordinary numbers. Flowing straight from Richmond, and then filtering down through IMB supervisors, SBC missionary personnel on the field are pressured to report ever increasing numbers of "new" church starts, and "baptisms" on the SBC Annual Statistical Report. I don't fault our missionary personnel. They are doing excellent work. I fault the system that we Southern Baptists have created that puts more emphasis on "numbering" than faithfulness, and more emphasis on "statistics" than actual "people." For example, in the Fast Facts posted on the International Mission Board web site, one reads that 5,551 missionaries were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 25,497new church starts in 2007, and 609,968 baptisms. These statistics are gathered by the supervisors of our missionary field staff, turned into Richmond, Virginia headquarters, and are first revealed to IMB trustees at the trustee meeting prior to the Southern Baptist Convention - to a chorus of "amens" and "hallelujahs" and much self-congragulatory backslapping.

The Problem With the Numbers

Think about those numbers. Any of us who have actually planted a church, like we did Emanuela Baptista here in Enid, understand the extraordinary amount of time, money and energy needed to plant a single church. Every single missionary unit for the IMB would have had to have planted an average of FIVE new churches in 2007 to reach the 25,497 new church starts. Further, Gordon Fort, IMB Vice-President of Overseas Operations for the IMB, has reported on his blog that Southern Baptists have planted over 130,000 churches overseas in the last 10 years. I want everyone to pause and consider this statement. We have been in existence in the United States as a Convention for 163 years and we have approximately 45,000 churches in the United States. 130,000 churches is a mind-boggling number, and frankly, I would like to see the print out that verifies the number. In other words, in our day of computer technology, it ought to be easy for a trustee ask questions like "Where do these churches exist?", "How many people attend?", "Who pastors them?", "How many are still in existence?" etc . . .

The problem is, those answers are not available. You see, all that IMB field missionary personnel have to do is simply say they started a church, and it is recorded as a "new" church start. Or, sometimes, as reported to me by several field missionaries, they report on some excellent Bible study groups they have started, and "presto" - several new churches are born and wind up being reported by their supervisors on the Annual Statistical Report. Or, as has happened in various regions, statistics are given about "new" church starts that have nothing to do with SBC personnel; they have been started by indigenous people groups that have absolutely no connection with SBC personnel in the area. I have had missionary personnel from different regions in the world write me with concerns about the reporting process and ask "When is somebody going to challenge the numbers?"

Again, I am not faulting our missionary personnel. They are doing an excellent job in their respective ministries. In the past year I have been to China, Singapore, India, and communicated with people in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and South America. Our missionaries are called, committed Southern Baptists who deserve our support. The fault lies with the system we have constructed that puts such an ungodly emphasis on numbers. We Southern Baptists do such great job of puffing ourselves up, that I sometimes wonder when somebody is going to stand up and shout, "Hey, the king is naked!"

Take the baptism number for 2007 as an example - 609,968. For our missionaries to be involved in that number of baptisms - either directly or indirectly - would require each and every missionary to know the names of 120 people baptized in 2007 under their care. Our church, which averages 1500 in attendance, baptized a little less than 100 people in 2007. I was not directly involved in the conversion of all those baptized in 2007, but I can sure provide for you a list of names, tell you where they are in terms of their walk with Christ, and how they are involved in Christian ministry. I have asked some of our SBC missionary personnel to give me the names of those baptized under their care as reported on the Annual Statistical Report - only to be given a blank stare by many. It seems there is no record of either the names of those baptized or churches they attend. The baptism number is simply that - a number.

The SBC and Inflated Numbers

The baptism number reminds me of the number 16 million. This is the exaggerated number most often given by SBC denominational leaders regarding the number of Southern Baptists in the United States. When I came to Emmanuel nearly seventeen years ago we had 3,800 people on roll and about 700 in attendance. I told the church my goal was to lower the membership and raise the attendance. Seventeen years later we have reduced membership to 2400 and doubled average attendance. We didn't half-hazardly purge the rolls. We made personal visits, wrote personal letters, and sought to identify every single person affiliated with our church. Every number tells a story, and we are not pastors worth our salt if we can't tell you the story of the person represented by the number. Our church is a stronger church because the shepherds know the sheep by name and are uninterested in boasting about membership. Unfortunately, the temptation for us as a Convention is to continue to exaggerate our numbers so we can have "political" influence in Washington. When Richard Land walks into a Senator's office, it helps to be able to say, "I represent the largest protestant denomination in the country." When we are more focused on curryig man's favor than we are simply resting in God's favor, we might find ourselves uniquely powerless in terms of Kingdom advancement.

It's not easy to have integrity in numbers. But for our Convention to redefine herself, we would be wise to begin within. I realize a large problem with integrity in numbers resides within the local church, but as long as our denominational agencies continue to put such an inordinate emphasis on "statistics," there is little incentive for the local Southern Baptist pastor to report his membership as declining in 2009.

It's time that people like Jerry Rankin and Morris Chapman display the character of leadership I know them both to have and correct a growing problem within our Southern Baptist Convention. Nobody likes the numbers going down during their watch, but it is far worse to have one's legacy tempered by future historians who can do math.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Anonymous said...

As one who is on the field...I agree. There is frustration with the pressure of reporting numbers, but there is greater frustration when the numbers we report aren't always the same when they work their way through the system. But, I think I speak for many on this side who write down the numbers and realize the need for accountability in that, but also know that is not at all motivation or reward for what we do. It's his work, his harvest!

Anonymous said...

I heard Dr. Rankin speak only once. It was at a mission rally for The Franklin Baptist Association in Missouri. His plane was late. He came into the venue about 60 seconds before he was to speak. His text: Matthew 24:11.

His CIT/CIS (Central Idea of the Text/Sermon): Let's HURRY and get the Gospel to every people group so that Jesus will come. (in essence of course)

I was appaulled that the leader of our World Missions Agency actually believed that we could effect the return of Christ. How arrogant.

Your proposals are spot on Wade.

Chasing numbers is foolish.

Following the Spirit even when numbers are low seems much more wise to this young in experienced preacher.

I think maybe Dr. Rankin has served his time. I am ready to see something else. Someone who does not use the word "urgent" nor thinks pragmatically.

Maybe its is time for Dr. Rankin to step aside. I vote for Dr. David Sills.


Anonymous said...

We are seeing the same problem in the work of Baptist life that we have seen in corporate America. We are so focused upon our quarterly earning reports or quarterly statistical reports that we no longer have a long term vision. We have to increase our reports every quarter so we can convince people to increase giving to match the work. The result has been a colapse on Wall Street and main street in our economics and if we are not careful we will see the same in Baptist life.

Jack Maddox said...


Glad to start the year of without you and I disagreeing! My question is this, are you saying that there is outright fabrication of church plant and baptismal numbers? If this is so then this is a much larger issue than what a lot of the discussions going on among those of us who frequent blogs are talking about. How can you substantiate your claim? Is Dr. Rankin aware of this and if so why no address of it? Is it simply a regional issue and are the RS's responsible? If what you are saying is so then we have a MASSIVE integrity issue that needs to be addressed.

If you could could you reveal to us how you came to know of this issue? Is there a smoking gun? Names and sources Wade, who are they and how can we contact them?

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'm not sure about linking absolute accuracy in numbers to an issue of integrity.

Is the insinuation that fraud is going on if the accuracy is off? Is the intention deception or is the task just very difficult to get exact?

I think people should think twice before drawing any firm conclusions. said...


What is interesting to me is that the trustee leaders who went to extraordinary lengths to remove me from the board because I dared speak the truth about them, constantly sought to use the issue of number inflation to remove Rankin. Two things come to mind regarding your questions: (1). You and IMB leaders (mostly from Texas) seem to communicate a great deal, and (2). I have loyalty to the truth and not any particular party.

As to your questions. The names that are needed are in the book. The data that is needed is on the IMB web site.

In my opinion, the lack of integrity is caused by the system, established by trustees, that puts inordinate pressure on field missionaries to produce. If IMB administration is at fault, it is due to their desire to "prove" New Directions actually works.

I can assure you, Jack, that a lack of integrity in reporting is not even close to the lack of integrity I saw and experienced by the actions of trustee leaders, including Tom Hatley, Jerry Corbaley, Paul Chitwood, John Floyd, Chuck McAlister, Bob Pearle, and more than a dozen others.


Wade said...


You make a good point. There may be imprecise science involved in "getting" numbers, and no intentional fraud. If that is the case, then we ought to avoid collecting numbers and simply concentrate on faithfulness in ministry.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing.I Wish to stop Complaining,Comparing,Contending,Cynicism,
Criticism besides not to find faults in others and look into faults of my own and work over them to improve in all aspects.In addition to this not to be swayed by praise,blame,Censure,pleasure besides being humble to the whole world.
My heartfelt thanks to all n Wish a great joyful New Year

Gifts to India|Gifts to chennai|Gifts to Bangalore

Jack Maddox said...

WHOA!!!! You say I am IMB leaders from Texas seem to communicate a lot! What in the world man? You just lost some cred with me on that one Wade. I can assure you that I do not communicate with IMB leaders from Texas. I pastor a little church in Texas that runs a little over a 100 in attendance. I ask a genuine question and you retort with that kind of a accusation? Sorry wade, I don't talk to IMB leaders from Texas, The illuminati does not exist, there are no black helicopters

I ask a honest question and you accuse me of 'communicating' with the system. WOW!

Have a great year Wade. Good luck in the revolution. I am done with your blog. My earlier prayer and desire for you and your ministry still stands.



Anonymous said...

As an IMB missionary and a long-time reader of your blog, Wade, I'm disturbed by this post on several levels. In the end, I can either choose to say “You have manipulated numbers in this blog in the same way you are accusing the IMB of manipulating numbers.” OR I can say that you don’t understand what “direct” and “indirect” reporting means and that you didn’t purposefully manipulate numbers in this post to trash the IMB but rather you mis-spoke because of your misunderstanding. Either way, you have some explaining to do. And I hope you will explain. You have cast the IMB in such a bad light in this post, which is quite undeserved without a little more research on your part.

(1) You said "Every single missionary unit for the IMB would have had to have planted an average of FIVE new churches in 2007 to reach the 25,497 new church starts".

Manipulation or mis-speaking?

Look at the paragraph above where you said the above line Wade. It's "directly or INDIRECTLY". That means if I helped a local church start a new church, then maybe I don't lead it, but I was indirectly involved. What is indirect? What if I trained the pastor in how to start a new church? What if I just met with the pastor and challenged to plant a new church this year? What if I did some evangelism training for their people and they planted a new church as a result? Did I plant it? No, so not every unit plants churches, but most units are INVOLVED in church planting, albeit indirectly. Please correct yourself publicly for not being careful with your words and manipulating the facts, if you in fact misquoted on purpose. Otherwise, apologize for not understanding the situation completely before speaking out of your ignorance.

(2) You said: "this would require each and every missionary to know the names of 120 people baptized in 2007 under their care" Again, manipulation or mis-speaking? How? Indirectly does NOT mean I know all the people that a local pastor baptized, even if I did go to the baptism. INDIRECTLY DOES NOT MEAN “UNDER MY CARE!” Again, you set up the straw man and knock it down. If you want us to report the number of people under my care, THEN MAKE THAT THE QUESTION ON THE REPORT. BUT, that's not the question. Again, manipulation or mis-speaking? Please clarify.

You truly have not thought through or talked to people on the field about what “indirect” means? Your whole post is questionable at best and slanderous at worst because you do not understand what IMB on-the-field leadership means by that term (not VPs, not people in Richmond). Did you even try to clarify what people on the field think these questions mean? What if the problem is with different understandings to the same question? What if the numbers aren’t because of the so-called “increasing pressure” but rather a host of reasons including a misunderstanding of what is direct and indirect?

(3) You said "Our church is a stronger church because the shepherds know the sheep by name". Do you honestly expect me as an IMB missionary to function in this role—know all the sheep I report by name? Or do you expect me to plant churches, which could mean that I help local pastors by training their sheep and training the pastors on how to train new leaders for the next church? What is your expectation? Direct or Indirect? Why not both? Why not mostly INDIRECT if it allows more churches to be planted among my people group? What if I didn’t directly, personally start a single church in the last 10 years, but instead mobilized and trained local believers to plant 100 growing churches that are multiplying and will eventually preach the Good News in every village where this people group live? Should I not count those? If not, then fine. I won’t if leadership tells us only to report DIRECT plants. But my leadership has asked me to report “indirect”. If I look out on a map of the country I live and see that the Gospel is going forth in ways that are faster among my people group than if a PERSONALLY DIRECTLY planted churches AND I don’t get to report those numbers, then who cares? YOU SHOULD CARE. DON’T YOU WANT TO REJOICE THAT GOD USED YOUR GIVING AND PRAYERS TO SEND ME TO AFFECT THIS PEOPLE GROUP even if I didn’t directly plant a single church?! Then why can’t I report those numbers? Or rather, why shouldn’t I report those numbers?

John Daly said...

Regardless of our station in this world, we ALL will be held accountable. I would submit that the local church should plant, water, and cultivate. The local church should send and support. Some may ask: "Surely you are not saying that you would by-pass the NAMB and IMB and plant your own local congregation?"

Why yes, that's what I saying...and don't call me Shirley.

Bob Cleveland said...


This is the KING'S business we are about down here. SBC members are employed at banks, where 100% accuracy and integrity are everyday practice. To the penny.

We live in a day when we can go to an ATM in London and securely obtain money from our accounts, or log on and securely pay our bills thousands of miles from home.

If the SBC et al cannot be honest and accurate in all its reportings, and show Godly integrity in doing so, then it's obvious to me they don't want to.

That might be because accuracy wouldn't be worth the cost, or it might be that they're happier with what's they've been reporting, than what integrity in reporting would reveal.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Bob Cleveland's comment. Integrity is of primary importance!

Last week I came across an article about a Texas Trustee of the IMB who was arrested on 19 counts of fraud. I believe he was elected to the IMB post during the last year of Paige Patterson's term as SBC president. That would be Russell Kaemmerling, husband of Dorothy Patterson's sister.

Kaemmerling made the news just a couple of days ago for fighting against the collection of his DNA while he serves in the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, Texas. He was convicted of felony wire fraud.

The SBC is losing credibility BIG TIME, and we must demand that our leaders be above reproach! said...

SBC Missionary

I do not believe we should take credit for churches we did not actually start. Really, I don't believe we should be taking credit for ANY church started on the mission field unless we can name the church, her members, and provide whatever assistance is needed. I understand you may be disturbed by the post. I hope everyone is disturbed enough to change the system.

Keep up the good work

Wade said...


I sure didn't mean to offend you. I am uninterested in removing any employees or making someone pay by firing them. Thus my reaction to your comment. I simply think the system must be changed.
You are always welcome here.

Ron said...

I would like to respond to anonymous. I understand his concern about the misunderstanding concerning direct and indirect connections to the churches and baptisms. I have filled out these reports and know that is not always easy to know what numbers to put down. The questions come with the understanding of "is the group a church" and "how indirect is the connection to the IMB". The IMB has a good definition of church. Is it always interpreted the same in every region and on every team? I doubt it. If you have done training for an indigenous church planter, is that enough to justify counting the churches he has started or will start in the future on your statistics? Absolutely sometimes but not always. If your future position in your region will be better if you are able to show CPM type statistics would that influence your decisions on these questions? It depends on the integrity of the individual. Are the regions making every effort to confirm the accuracy of the numbers turned in? I hope so.

Before New Directions our area would sometimes make careful evaluations of the results of our strategy. We looked at the number of churches being planted and the health of the churches. We asked what had succeeded and what had failed. We adjusted our strategy if needed. I have not seen an evaluation in our part of the world in the 10 years or so since New Directions started. I could find all the new churches in or country before New Directions. I don’t know where most of the churches being reported in the last 10 years are. I don’t know what other teams have done in our region. I have asked team members if they know the numbers turned in by their SC and they do not know.

I think it would be a good idea to evaluate what we have done over the last 10 years by looking past the numbers we have turned in and looking at the churches. How many still exist? Are they growing and producing new churches? What happened to those that do not exist? What areas and people groups are the numbers coming from? Under New Directions if these questions are being discussed it must be a higher level that mine.

I am thankful for what we have done to reach out to UPGs . We need continual evaluation by all involved if we are going to be good stewards of the personnel and resources God has provided for us.

WTJeff said...


Aren't some of your objections related to the nature of New Directions? First, it seems you're relating a western church paradigm to what goes on overseas. When the focus is in essence planting house churches, most of which won't have a name, it seems there will be some problems with accurate reporting. The very nature of New Directions goal of church planting movements, ie, churches planting churches who plant churches, etc., will make it impossible for missionaries to know the names of every disciple made. I would question whether that's their job anyway. They aren't to function as a Western Pastor, but as a church planting catalyst, training indigenous leaders to make reproducing disciples. (That's my understanding, anyway.)

My only problem with this methodology is it seems the IMB is bound and determined to have CPMs occur throughout the world, basically attempting to reproduce what's happening in East Asia. It doesn't seem to fully consider the cultural barriers in the rest of the world that may prevent CPMs.

This post pushed a button with me. I'm a fan of house churches, but have discovered they won't work everywhere. It will take all types of biblically faithful churches to reach an increasing lost world.

While the pressure to produce numbers may be directly related to IMB trustees, validating the accuracy of the reporting will always be an issue under the New Directions paradigm.



Jack Maddox said...


Not offended at all. Just convinced that simple communication on this site is impossible for some of us. I asked a simple question, you respond by assumption and insinuation. it is not that I am offended, its just that I am fairly convinced that reason has no home here unless one walks in lock step with your opinion and position. Thank you for welcoming me, but please understand that I no longer feel that I contribute anything to the mix. I can ask what color is the sky and the response will be "We dont know but it is the SBC's fault"

it has just become a little silly for me.


Brent Hobbs said...

I think Anonymous missionary at Fri Jan 02, 05:48:00 AM 2009 brings up a great point and rebuttal to the original post.

Wade, I wish you'd be a little more careful with the insinuations of dishonesty within the IMB. Your post makes it sound like this is a problem from the field on up through all levels of leadership.

It seems like your concern could be better addressed by having missionaries report both direct and indirect numbers.

But I see you fault the trustees most of all for allowing the system to continue as-is, and it seems, to my untrained eye, that this is the heart of the issue and needs to be addressed.

Unknown said...


“If what you are saying is so then we have a MASSIVE integrity issue that needs to be addressed.”

Jack there is no “IF” to it… we have a MASSIVE integrity issue… and it can be traced to two things: Power, and Money.


I preference these comments by confessing my ignorance of how the IMB actually does international missions… so if my comments and questions seem uninformed, I assure you they are but I am going to ask them anyway.

Are all these churches we (through the IMB) are directly, or indirectly, planting “Baptist” Churches?

Are these churches in anyway connected to the SBC? Are they part of local Baptist Associations and National Conventions in their countries (where free to do so) and are these Associations and Conventions a part of the SBC?

Do these churches give back to the CP in order to participate in International missions work themselves?

If not, why not? And if not, are we planting non cooperating churches? I know one would not get a single dime as a church planter in the US if they expressed their desire to pant a non-cooperating church?

I would like to believe that we are planting like minded churches around the world that are cooperating with us and are in truth a part of the SBC family, but I am not sure that is happening?

Grace Always,

Rex Ray said...

Anonymous Missionary?,
In my opinion, your 780 words are way too much to criticize a man that loves missionaries and is trying to help them out of a bad situation put on them by their leaders.

If you were a missionary by 1997, you received an email requesting you to have “a confidence and willingness to follow the wisdom and guidance of God-appointed leadership, whether we necessarily understand or agree.”

About four years later that request was changed to a command to sign the BFM 2000 to show loyalty to your leaders or be fired.

I believe your real identity is shown by your main concern… “You have cast the IMB in such a bad light…”

I believe you are a trustee of the IMB or one of a committee selected to put Wade in his place.

With that said, you quote Wade saying, “Every single missionary unit for the IMB would have had to have planted an average of FIVE new churches in 2007 to reach the 25,497 new church starts”.

The math is something like 25,000 divided by 5 would equal 5,000 missionaries.

But since about 1,000 are on state-side assignment every year that would be 25,000 divided by 4,000 would be SIX new churches for every missionary. Also, most missionaries are married, so a couple would have to start TWELVE new churches every year.

You said, “What if I didn’t directly, personally start a single church in the last 10 years,…”

Now that sounds more like my son who served with his wife on the mission field for seven years, and they started zero churches and had zero converts.

Ah! There’s a solution for the situation. It’s called the miracle word INDIRECT.

It seems to work like this: If ten people are saved and one church is started, the 5,000 praying missionaries all had a part, so their reports show 50,000 saved and 5,000 new churches.

Since Jesus said leaders made the hem of their garments larger, what would he think of the numbers reported by the IMB?

Good day, Mr. IMB. said...


Great point.


I'm not so sure the problem is disagreement with me as much as those who don't like to be challenged.


I only call it like I see it.


In order the answer to your questions.

(1). No
(2). No
(3). No
(4). No
(5). I don't know.
(6). Yes. said...

Rex Ray,

A cogent, concise, clear comment.

Well done.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea:
Go for 'permanance' and 'quality' and 'integrity' in establishing a 'new' church in this way:

1. First receive some believers from the NEW country into your church and have them stay for a long period of training and 'fellowship' and 'bonding'.
Absorb them into your families and 'adopt' them as your own.

2. Then, have a 'team' of your own people travel with them BACK to the NEW country to make a
'foundation': your own people can STAY with the 'trained' people for AS LONG AS IT TAKES to 'found' a new church and establish the faith securely for the salvation of all who will benefit. During this time, your 'own' people can bond with the new faithful also.

3. Your OWN people can then return home knowing that a 'new' church has been 'founded' that will truly be what you want in the name of the Lord.

4. The new church can be 'adopted' by your church as a 'sister church' and communications can foster new mission work, as ALL your church members become 'bonded' to the needs of the 'new church'.

Is there any value to this approach? It is modeled on something in my own faith, where a monastery makes a foundation in a new country.

This model takes a long time to do, but it is a labor of love. And time, in service of the Eternal One, takes on a different flow.

As far as numbers, I'm confused.
There were twelve Apostles.
And THEN there was the Holy Spirit.

IT took the Holy Spirit to magnify the power of twelve.

And Christ said that if two or more are gathered together in My Name, there I will be . . .
Now, THAT magnifies the power of the group.

It isn't the number of 'members' in a group; it's about the Leadership.

I think the Holy Spirit needs to be invited back to provide 'oversight'.
He won't need money for jet travel or hotel stays, or food.
He just needs to be invited and trusted to do the job
He won't come if He is not wanted.

A few ideas to think about. L's

John Daly said...

"...It is modeled on something in my own faith, where a monastery makes a foundation in a new country."

And that is why we need to be intrepid church planters folks.

Rex Ray said...

Thanks Wade,
My comment was based on Bob Cleveland’s: “It’s the bit dog that hollers.”

Anonymous said...


I understand your comment.

The 'model' works for us.
The 'model' can be adapted to any denomination but the only way it works is that the people of faith are WILLING to commit themselves to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and their time and their prayers to the effort.

INTREPID? Good luck.

Try the Holy Spirit.
His Ways can take an instant . . .
or centuries. . . .
His Ways are not our ways.

Your efforts still need His Leadership. And, you don't have to belong to a special group to get His help: all you need is to invite Him to Come and be with you. :)

Sorry for offending ANOTHER blogger. Manage to do it frequently, so don't take it personally. Love, L's

Anonymous said...


You are dead on with this post. I wrote a similar post on the now defunct SBC Outpost last May. To back up what you are saying, I communicated with missionaries from 4 different regions before writing my post. None of them were connected but they all told the same story. Pressure from superiors (both administration and trustees) had created an environment where numbers were being exaggerated and sometimes fabricated. There are CPM's that have been reported that do not exist presently, or if they ever did, they are not able to be found now. There are church plants that have been reported that do not exist, or if they do, they are totally the work of indigenous believers. The baptism numbers are totally wrong. I wrote the SBCOutpost article by only printing what could be verified by 3 or more sources, which far outweighs what is required by journalists for accuracy.

After the post was written, I contacted someone very highly placed in the SBC to let them know that I was going to write more with more details. They asked me to stop and give them 6 months to straighten things out. Those 6 months have come and gone and nothing has changed.

This is the greatest scandal in the SBC and no one cares about it.

Anonymous IMB Missionary,

The problem with using INDIRECT numbers and claiming them as our own is that no one knows what indirect means. We also do not report these numbers as indirect when we stand before the Convention and claim over 600,000 baptisms and 25,000 church plants. We do not report that we are paying indigenous missionaries out of special accounts through the IMB and claiming their work. Of course, the indigenous missionaries could NEVER pass muster with the BoT, but we pay them anyway. We do this because we can support an indigenous missionary for $150 a month to do the same work that costs an American $3000 a month or more, once you factor in all the expenses.

Another problem with this system is that it diminishes the work of the indigenous church in our eyes and makes it look like we do not partner with others. There are examples of IMB missionaries having conversations with indigenous workers at conferences and then claiming their CP and baptism numbers. There are other examples of IMB missionaries just co-opting the numbers from national baptist conventions and claiming them as their own because they worked with them in some way. This is a problem because it is the indigenous missionary that is walking 15 km a day through the mountains and is meeting with people in tribal villages to share the gospel and plant churches, yet we claim his numbers because we met with him a few times.

There should be two classifications of numbers: 1) the work that IMB missionaries did directly, and 2) the work that our partner indigenous missionaries and organizations did. That way we can praise God for the work that HE is doing, not claiming credit for ourselves for the work that God is doing through others.

We are sending a terrible message to the SBC in doing things the way that we are. Thank you for writing this, Wade.

Bob Cleveland said...

Being old and under a bit of stress lately, I didn't catch the "directly or indirectly" phrase the first time I read the piece.

That tells me all I need to know.

Hey .. could it be "indirectly" applies to people we witness to, who are saved and join other churches?

(Hmmmm .... that might explain that 16 million thing.)


Anonymous said...


It's me, L's

I love what you said on the other post and I agree with it totally:

"Since Jesus said you will know the truth and the truth will set you free; HOW IN THE WORLD does a Christian know truth without freedom?"

The way I see it, we are given our consciences and we are asked to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit before we make our decisions about matters of faith and about our conduct before God.

So the freedom you speak of is the freedom of ANY CHRISTIAN to obey his/her conscience as directed by the Holy Spirit.

That is freedom indeed.
It is also responsibility, as we must answer to Him on the Day as to whether we obeyed our consciences or not.
Because of this, we can rely on the guidance of the Holy One, not on the guidance of an authority figure who may ask us to violate our conscience.

I think we agree on something.:)
Maybe I say it a little differently though? Love, L's

P.S. I read your comment about being a black sheep. Welcome to the fold. God loves black sheep, too. They are a little easier for the Good Shepherd to find when they get lost. They stand out in a crowd. :)

Also, I DID try to encourage others for Sabbath Peace and for Advent Preparation which involves a quieting of our hearts to receive the blessings of Christmas. (It's a little hard to 'be still before the Lord' when we all are arguing with each other.)
Thanks for noticing.
Don't feel for me.
It was a labor of love. :) L's

Anonymous said...

Bob Cleveland,

I appreciate your insightful comments. You really have a way with words!


Wanda said...


Got your message. Playing golf! Can't respond except via blackberry between puts. :) I remember your post, and frankly, it was the impetus for me to think through this issue myself.


Anonymous said...

It makes me wonder(now just wondering, not fact) if the plan is more to exclude those who find out things such as this and demand honesty or if it is to exclude for doctrine differences.

We cannot call ourselves a Christ following organization and yet allow this to happen. That is an oxymoron.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the 'oversight' of missionaries costs are a little high.

Why not ask the 'over-seers' to pony up part of the expense?

That would cut down on some of the game-playing.

Those contributions were given by hard-working, faith-filled people who wanted the money to be used for the right reasons.

Funding boon-doggles for the Pals of Patterson is NOT what they expected.

Who is tracking the money?
What is known?
How the money is used by the 'overseers' would be a good place to start examining what is going on here.

Kevin said...


As a former IMB missionary, I'll share a few thoughts--reaction to your original post and some of the comments.

1. When it comes to reducing the number of trustees and/or trustee meetings, I agree 100%. I also agree on changing the commissioning service--give the missionaries' home church more involvement and save some money.

2. I agree with WTJeff's comment: House Churches/CPM's are not the same as traditional churches, so you are comparing apples and oranges. I also agree (with WTJeff) that CPM should not automatically be our model for every people group.

3. I never felt pressured to inflate my numbers when I was with the IMB. But here's one thing I did once I became independent: we change the terminology for some of our stats. Instead of saying students received Christ, we instead use the term "positive response." I much prefer this--it's a way of describing what we can observe (students' reaction) without presuming what we can't observe (a spiritual birth). I'm much more comfortable with this, and my supporters don't seem to mind.

4. I also agree with your assessment of IMB missionaries--they are doing tremendous work. If some of them are being pressured to produce numbers, this is unfortunate.

5. Here's another question: do we even need all of these numbers? In my experience, testimonies/stories are about 100 times more inspiring and memorable than statistics. I'm sure we have plenty of incredible testimonies of what God is doing--maybe we can promote those instead of numbers.

Anonymous said...

The SBC needs to focus on how to MAXIMIZE its support of missionaries: not 'oversee' to be sure they are 'doing their jobs'.

If there is no faith in the missionaries in the field that there is all this 'supervision', WHY?

'Supervision' is not so much needed as support: active, engaged support to the missionaries.
Too many generals giving orders and making demands instead of 'servants' serving missionaries.
Something is wrong here.

It should be 'How can we help?'
Not: 'you better get your numbers up or we can't justify all our supervision expenses'.

SBC needs to rethink its priorities. Or maybe, this is what they really want.

Anonymous said...


I agree with all that you have said. The missionaries are working hard and are being faithful. This is not about them. However, the way that we communicate and count numbers is what this is about.

I think that we'd be much better off if we scrapped the way we count numbers altogether and looked for other means of measurement. But, as long as we are counting, we should do so in a way that is accurate and that makes sense to those we are reporting to.

Anonymous said...

Wow, a lot to comment on.

As a former IMB m, we were never pressured to report more than was actual. I've never known anyone that was pressured. Maybe the ones that Alan Cross talked to "felt" pressure, but I would find it hard to believe that anyone in leadership told them to fabricate, but they might have told them the need to work harder was in order. And numbers are verified by those that are in charge of compiling the reports for each region. So anything out of the "ordinary" would definitely be double checked before the figures are sent to Richmond.

IMB figures do include indirect and these can be figures from the conventions or unions of Baptists that IMB missionaries work with in the various places. However, just because it is not a direct IMB missionary does not mean it shouldn't be counted. The IMB works hard at helping the unions/conventions in many different ways that aid in the work of sharing the gospel!

Re: the trustees and missionary appointments. I have no opinion. We had a few trustees visit as well as other Richmond folks. I always felt this at least helped them to put "faces" to names and "real people" to places on the map.

That might be expensive, but no more than many churches spend going on volunteer trips each year. Should they not go because it is expensive or because it is not as effective as a career person?? Should we cut out short-termers (ISC, Journeymen) for only career?? Or perhaps we should send all our funds to nationals and let them do it???

I don't agree, I think that active participation at all levels is productive to the cause. Some of our best prayer partners over the years were volunteers. Nothing prompts a church to reach beyond their doors in their own communities than being actively involved in overseas missions.

Now that we are home, we will continue to support our IMB field. We will continue to challenge SBC folks to be active in missions.

The hardest thing we've ever done was to leave our field of service. Our heart remains with that people group. But we know that the Lord still has a plan to use us as a catalyst for missions.

We believe that God is bigger than the IMB and that He is able to take what is offered through the IMB missionaries, even though the org itself may be a cracked and less than perfect vessel, and make a huge impact on the lost of our world.

Every church and organization in the SBC is not perfect. But I know many of those in leadership and their hearts are totally sold out to the Lord and to reaching the lost for Christ.

God is able to do all things, even make the rocks cry out if we don't. The point is, that He has told us that as we go....we are to make disciples. My IMB colleagues on the field will continue to share the gospel. I pray that Southern Baptists will continue to support them.

a former IMB m

Anonymous said...

When you consider that most SBC churches inflate their membership rolls by an average of over 50%, why be surprised that the missionary system that represents those inflated number churches, would inflat their numbers? First we should get the splinter out of our own church's eyes, then we could see clearly to get the beam out of the IMB's eyes.

Anonymous said...

former IMB m,

I am reporting what I was told by missionaries currently on the field. If it had just been from one missionary in one region, I would have dismissed it. But, it came from multiple missionaries in 4 different regions and these people did not know one another. The stories were all the same. They reported intense pressure to claim everything that they could and report it. Is there actual work going on? In some cases, yes. In other cases, no. CPMs in Africa and Europe could not be substantiated, yet they were reported.

Does this mean that I am saying that everyone at the IMB is dishonest? Absolutely not. There are many wonderful people there. But, the fact that I heard the same report from 4 different regions tells me that there is a problem. Maybe it is as simple as the way that we count "Indirect" missionary activity. Some count it differently than others, it appears.

Anonymous said...

Former IMB m

said: "But I know many of those in leadership and their hearts are totally sold out to the Lord and to reaching the lost for Christ. "

obviously you drank the Kool-Aid and signed the 2000 BF&M.

Anonymous said...

Let's get things as right as possible with the IMB--starting with the high expense to host trustee meetings as currently done. If the little ladies of the WMU knew that IMB missionaries were receiving THAT many fewer dollars, what would they think or say? I guess we could find out by asking them to read Wade's book--but look out trustees if they do!


Anonymous said...

ALAN CROSS report: 'The stories were all the same. They reported intense pressure to claim everything that they could and report it.'




Thanks, Alan, in reporting this, you can shine a light on the nonsense and, if it can be cleaned up, the missions will be much better off.

Unfortunately, the SBC has already eliminated any missionaries who stood up to them over the signing of the 2000 BF&M.

Those that remain may have WANTED to sign, but some did not and caved in. The 'cave-ins' are the ones who will fudge the numbers.
They are already tried and true to the SBC. They cannot serve two masters, though. They need to go.

Anonymous said...

I went back and read my comment about "Intense pressure." I realize that that can be taken several different ways and I don't want to create a false impression. It could look like there were IMB administrators standing over missionaries forcing them to falsify numbers while the M's are sweating and crying. That is not what was related to me.

Here is what I was told: There is a climate amongst the missionaries that expects results. If results are not forthcoming, the work is questioned and resources are possibly diverted elsewhere. That all makes sense in a way. Resources are limited, so you want them to go to the places where there is the most fruit. However, a situation develops where you constantly feel like you have to justify what you are doing or the resources dry up and you aren't able to do much of anything at all. Hence, the pressure. Enter the "INDIRECT" missions involvement of the indigenous church. You can claim what they are doing and thus justify what you are doing. This "indirect" involvement takes lots of different forms and it is hard to trace all of it. Some of it is very legitimate in that you have an IMB M spending a great deal of time with an indigenous evangelist or church planter (CP). Other involvement becomes very sketchy in that IMB M's start claiming work from a CP that they spent a little time with at a conference, or, they do some training and they claim all of the numbers later reported back to them by the church planters. The M thinks, "well, I did do that training and these numbers would justify what we are doing. I'll put them down." Many don't even think about it because it is how it has happened for so long.

The larger problem comes in when we get into CPM's (church planting movements). These are almost impossible to quantify. We have indigenous church planters claiming CPM's and our M's verifying what they are saying. But, no one really knows who these people are. Also, we have the work of the national baptist unions being reported as "Indirect" work.

I am not saying that our missionaries are not working hard or advancing the Kingdom. But, the numbers that are being reported make it look like OUR missionaries led over 600,000 to Christ. Few understand what "indirect" means and it is difficult to trace.

I know that all of these numbers are checked from a group in Richmond as well as from RL's who report them. I know how it works. The problem is that the whole system, even when verified, tells a different story than the way that people interpret it. It comes across as though our missionaries did all of this work, when they did not, nor could they have no matter how hard they worked. It would be better to communicate the work of our indigenous brothers and sisters in Christ.

Is the IMB evil and corrupt? No. I am not saying that. But, I am saying that the way that we report these numbers should be adjusted to become more accurate and tell a better story regarding the work of the indigenous church than the one that we are telling. Or, maybe the IMB thinks that it is telling an accurate story by using the word "INDIRECT" in some of their information (that you have to look pretty hard to find), but what comes before the SBC lumps it all together and that is where confusion ensues.

Anonymous said...


When you send missionaries into the field, they plant the Gospel message.

From these 'seeds' eventually faith will grow among some who hear.

Even the ones who do not believe may repeat the stories to others and THEY may seek out Jesus.

The missionaries are 'evangelists'
who bring the Good News to the

Some seeds they plant may take many years to sprout and grow into faith.

How should missionaries go forward?
Matthew 6:8

Anonymous said...

"obviously you drank the Kool-Aid and signed the 2000 BF&M."

Dear Mr. Offensive,

Your comment is very offensive to every missionary serving on the field.

You obviously have an axe to grind. I suspect you got fired by the IMB because your BMI got too high or perhaps you were lazy and didn't do anything, and so you chose to ride the phantom "integrity train" and not sign the 2KBFM.


But we signed it with a big glass of cherry kool aid. Now we are serving our Lord prayerfully until He comes again.

It feels good to be smack dab in the middle of His will. But then again, in America you have all those nice things don't you?

I suspect the signing was your meal ticket back to the States and you're loving every minute of it.

Anonymous said...

6:7 And he called [unto him] the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;

6:8 And commanded them that they should take nothing for [their] journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in [their] purse:

6:9 But [be] shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.

6:10 And he said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into an house, there abide till ye depart from that place

Anonymous said...

Kool-Aid comes in all flavors: the SBC brand produced some very ANGRY signers.

If you wanted to sign, no problem.

If you 'sold out' and signed to keep you job, you need to get out of the missionary field right away.

Something tells me that 'ANGRY' did not sell out and would sign ANYTHING the SBC asked him to sign because THEY are his master.

Glad I struck a nerve there.
That tells us a lot.

Bob Cleveland said...

I think those who call the BF&M "signers" names, would do well to re-read Romans 14:4:

"Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand".(NAS)

Anonymous said...

Would you call someone who signed when they didn't want to sign a 'servant of God'?

They're serving someone all right.

Bob Cleveland said...


Let's repeat the question.

Who are YOU (or I) to judge?

Anonymous said...

Here is another M on the field. One day I did challenge one of the leaders about the numbers and reports. His response, "if they put it on their reports I have to accept is as truth." He and I lived in the same city and I knew what was being reported was not accurate but after that response I had nothing else to say.

There might not be direct pressure but leaders expect something to be reported monthly and something is that is accepted and never questioned.

If churches only knew. Pray for us, in spite of all these things God sustains us and His Kingdom does expand daily, by His Grace.

Junkster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Pricilla, Queen of the Blog (a.k.a. Junkster):

You win “The most Brilliant and Logical Comment Award.”

You also win the trophy for worst hair.



Junkster said...

An appropriate reporting system would be one that differentiated in more ways than just direct and indirect, including categories already discussed in the comments on this topic, such as Bible studies, training sessions, work by those trained, indigenous church plants, work of local Baptist churches/associations, etc. Careful analysis of results of the various methods employed, to determine what works in each area, is vital to determine appropriate resource allocated going forward. It really wouldn't be that hard; would just take the willingness to do it, which includes giving credit where it is due.

Anonymous said...

ugh.....insert my previous comment here.

Junkster said...

You are a prophet! :)

But if I were you, I wouldn't talk about anyone's hair ... your "photo" looks like "Conan O'Brien surrenders to the ministry".

Ron said...

I feel somewhat uncomfortable discussing this on a blog but unfortunately since New Directions there is no safe forum to discuss these issues in house. I have tried to discuss it with my RL and was ignored. I agree that our leaders do not tell us to inflate numbers. The pressure I have observed comes from leaders telling new missionaries that if they are not producing the numbers or not reaching CPM they are not doing what they should be doing with the training they have received. The second source of pressure comes from watching colleagues who have reported questionable numbers promoted to leadership positions and thinking that is the only way to move up in the organization.

I agree, 99.9% of our missionaries are doing incredible things in service to our Lord and deserve nothing but respect and support from our churches.

I have no problem with reporting indirect church starts and baptisms as long as it is done correctly. It has been done that way for many years. That is the only way to correctly report on the impact we are having in many parts of the world.

Anonymous said...


I dig the post.

Two maxims are helpful here:

1. "Conduct permitted is actually conduct taught."

If we don't do anything about the numbers issue we are actually reinforcing what's going on.

2. "Inspect what you expect."

There's nothing wrong with follow-up and accountability. However, what is expected should be clearly defined.


Cally said...

keep on keeping on; a voice crying in the wilderness.

I like your idea of decreasing membership and increasing attendance. I was curious what process you used to put that into motion and how long it took

Anonymous said...

"There's nothing wrong with follow-up and accountability. However, what is expected should be clearly defined."

Do we detect a faint odor of MISTRUST?

If God has called a missionary, what more can you ask?
The Supervision is built in.

If God has NOT called the missionary, why are you sending this person to pose as one?

Missionaries are not like 'children' who need supervision; they are the 'diamonds' among you whose light attracts the lost to the Good News.

SHAME on those who treat missionaries poorly.
SHAME on your petty mistrust and petty 'over-seer' self-indulgence.

The overseers are the ones who need to be supervised, not the missionaries.

Anonymous said...

However careful the wordings are, the SBC culture remains primarily about numbers. As I see it, Southern Seminary with its TULIP does not worry about numbers. As long as your concern is about attendance it is still about numbers. I listen to so many SBC sermons (including chapel sermons), most all do not care about the individuals' content of the soul, but about numbers (e.g., baptism and tithing -- even if tithing is not taught in the NT: it is about money and projects; not about the souls of the persons attending; but their attendance--meaning tithe and offering). From the pew I feel that way. I 've hear hundred of times they cite Malachi 3:10, a text for Israel as though it is for Baptists--it is tax money for the Israelites. But of course you all are experts. It is still about numbers--it is in the psyche of SBC--just cross checked with pastors and missionaries.


Anonymous said...

I do think that there could be more prudence in the way the trustee affairs are done so as to reduce expenses. Maybe we missionaries could receive more on our budget requests each year.

I think that Wade's comments concerning numbers reported are distorted and no doubt reflect an agenda that may not be entirely objective. For instance, I don't believe you would find many missionaries who would say they feel “pressure to submit big numbers” resulting from their ministry. Those types of comments on this blog are unfortunate. If some missionary said such a thing I don’t believe them to be representative of the true situation.

It’s misleading to suggest that these huge numbers are claimed to be the direct result of the efforts of "IMB missionaries" as is proposed on this blog. Why would Wade quote such huge numbers on the blog and then point out how ridiculous it is to consider that 5,000+ missionaries are responsible for having such an impact? Of course that would be ridiculous. If it is presented that way it’s unfortunate but to present it here as being promoted as such is pretty inflammatory and doesn’t seem to be of the best spirit. I'm disappointed.

I would not say that Gordon Fort claimed that all the numbers reported were the result of "IMB missionary" efforts either. At least, I've never personally heard him say that, but I'm just a lowly person on the field.

Speaking from my personal experience over the past 20 years, we IMB missionaries are never pressured to give inaccurate, ballooned or fabricated numbers. However, we are called upon to report the status of "Baptist" work being done in our countries each year. We report the numbers resulting from the efforts of "national Baptists associated with IMB missionaries" as well as those resulting from the personal efforts of IMB missionaries. The Baptist Convention in the two countries I have worked in consider themselves as "partners" with "Southern Baptists"! Southern Baptist should indeed be proud and rejoice for these numbers because they are the result of God using Southern Baptists over the decades to establish these national Baptist churches. We all are justified in identifying with the great Baptist work being done each year. If people must interpret this work of God’s Spirit as being “our Southern Baptist” efforts, it’s probably due to arrogance and without an understanding of the realities of international missions.

As a Strategy Associate for a people group of 16 million people, I work with many national Baptist leaders as we partner together in various projects. Each year I report the numbers given to me by our national Baptist churches, some of which I have may not have had the opportunity to directly work with during the course of that "reported year". These numbers are “never” reported to my supervisors as being the result of "work that this IMB missionary has personally done.

ALSO, one reason in the apparent distortion of the huge increase in numbers of Baptist churches and baptisms in the past 10 years is no doubt the result of an increase of hundreds of IMB "number counters" on the field, like myself. If you put more apple counters in the orchard you can bet there will be more apples reported on the trees! There are more of us in the position of being “number counters” than before.
As you all know, we changed our IMB structure about 11 years ago and assigned many to the position of "Strategy Coordinator" responsible for the work with various national people groups. SCs are responsible for knowing and reporting what is going on in their assigned people group. As a result, there are many more of us counting the numbers of churches and baptisms each year than years prior to the "New Directions" structure.

Unfortunately, I've never heard this aspect of "an increase in number counters" quoted as a qualifier when our numbers are presented, but it should be. said...


You wrote:

I don't believe you would find many missionaries who would say they feel “pressure to submit big numbers” resulting from their ministry. Those types of comments on this blog are unfortunateIf some missionary said such a thing I don’t believe them to be representative of the true situation.

Thanks for your thoughts. You are always welcome to post here. Please know, however, that your aspersions that "some" missionary who makes particular comments is "not respresentative" of the true situation are unfortunate. One such missionary in this blog comment section, who has said something similar, is far more credentialed, far more respected, and far more experienced than you might possibly be able to fathom.

Anonymous said...

Where is dear ol' Lydia, or L's, or Lin (or one of them there "L" chicks) when we need to pause for a Kum Ba Yah around the campfire.

Before we sing, I would like to read a passage of Scripture: Paul's Prayer for the Church in Eph 3:14-21

"For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."

Kevin said...


I agree with you--I'm not necessarily saying we completely do away with numerical statistics.

But we do need to make sure whatever stats we use are honest (I agree with you on that too).

Anonymous said...


If the numbers are coming from national Baptist conventions and the work that they are doing in their own countries, it begs the question: How much would the numbers drop if we brought home all of our missionaries?

100,000? 200,000? None?

What if we gave the tens of millions of dollars to the national Baptist conventions and the indigenous church planters to go into unreached areas instead of spending it on American missionaries?

I am not advocating that because I do think that there is a role for American missionaries. But, if you think that those numbers from national Baptist conventions are not being reported as the work of IMB missionaries back here in the States, then you have no idea what is being communicated back here.


Each defense of the IMB in this just explains more and more how this is done and is just more indicting. Apparently, missionaries know very well that the numbers being claimed come from the work of national baptists and indigenous workers. Why is that not being effectively communicated back here in the U.S.? Are we afraid that we will stop giving if we think that the work is being accomplished by non-American missionaries? Maybe we will have to figure out another use for all that money if we officially focused on the indigenous church more.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Offensive,

Bob C. put you in your place quite well. But here is a glimpse into your stupid logic.

You go from being offensive to missionaries for signing the 2KBFM all the way to "they would sign anything the SBC put in front of them".

Such a stupid comment it deserves no more of my time.

But before I go, have you ever thought to consider that the 2KBFM signing was to do just exactly what it did? Get people like you off the field that had no business on the field.

Join another organization that will let you teach anything you want and you and I will both be happy.

Just lay off the doughnuts. I am pretty sure that other organizations have a BMI standard also.

Anonymous said...


As a long-term field m, I must say that I agree with what you have written in the main. I too have felt pressure to "produce" by turning in ever-increasing numbers on various annual reports. I say I have felt that way in spite of the fact that no supervisor, leader, or representative of the IMB has ever told me that there was some quota on baptisms, churches planted, or attendance figures. But the very fact that we are turning this data in every year, at least, does put subtle pressure to "produce". This is referred to simply as "accountability". I personally have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I know we must be accountable. But I truly feel that this is spiritual work and that counting noses is never consistent due to various circumstances in various places and cultures. All of that is very debatable and I have long-ago simply given this to the Lord and decided that I would do my best to plant the seed and let Him bring the increase. I would like to add that I have utmost respect for our leadership and truly believe their intentions in statistical accountability are pure.

But I would like to pose a question. How do you suppose that the good Saints back home in the pews would react if the IMB didn't continually report these statistics? What if they reported them but they were comparatively low? What if our 5,000 Ms only reported 500 baptisms in a year, even if every one of those people could be positively identified by the baptizing m? Would the SBC members in the pew be so turned off that they would slow or stop giving? Would they begin to wonder if our Ms were lazy, ineffective, or irrelevant?

It's just a question, but I sense that the pressure to "produce" on the mission field comes from the people in the pew and behind the pulpits. Unless the M Board continually turns in glowing reports of amazing stories, the fear is that the folks back home will be turned off, stop giving and praying, and lose interest in world missions.

I know you would agree that numbers are important because they represent people; but I think Baptists on both sides of the water too often use numbers to compare and compete rather than simply to strategize and effectively minister. The very fact that most Baptist churches (and practically all Baptist pastors) know their annual baptisms, attendance, and membership stats suggests that the people back home are watching the numbers on the m field very closely. Frankly, as an M, I feel that the pressure on our leadership to always provide these glowing reports to the supporters is initiated from the stateside churches. By that, I only mean that there seems to be an expectation there that every M consistently experience miraculous "success" in his/her ministry. I don't think it is a conscious thing, however, on the part of most S. Baptists. I rush to add that we in the IMB have largely fed this hunger for ever-increasing numbers. I am as guilty as anyone. I often quote the great British missionary William Cary, "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God." But sometimes the "great things from God" and the "great things attempted for God" cannot be measured in nickels and noses. At least not in my opinion.


Anonymous said...

If part of the problem is that the local churches want to see results, why aren't stories shared rather than just numbers?

With stories about the people taught, who shared their lives with the missionaries, who went together to go and tell, you just might get more response.

I work with numbers all the time at work, and yet it is the feel of the material, and its behavior that makes it pass or fail as a new product. Shouldn't missions be treated the same way?

Bill said...

Although the numbers would be ballpark at best, I think the M's should report their evangelistic activities, a rough idea of the number of people who have heard the Gospel, and the regions of the world being reached. That is, after all, the main point of sending missionaries. The pressure to produce numbers, especially the very dubious "indirect" numbers sounds like the international missions version of 32 verses of Just As I Am. We don't want to force our M's into becoming like so many itinerant evangelists I have seen, who will do anything to produce altar call responses so they can put the notches on their bibles.

Anonymous said...

M: I can only speak for myself, but I would rejoice if the report were five or five hundred. I believe that we plant, we water by giving the gospel, and God grows the seed in His time, in His way.

This is another problem I have with numbers and expecting many year after year. The end result is God's doing, by pressuring for higher numbers we are saying, without meaning to I'm sure, that we are the ones who controls who comes to Christ and who doesn't and that if there are those who are not seen coming to Christ or being baptized right away, that somehow it's the missionaries who have failed. I disagree.

Anonymous said...

Missionaries plant the 'seeds' of faith: the Gospel.

The harvest belongs to the glory of God in Eternity, not to the SBC.

Anonymous said...

Wade, when I was on the field I saw many examples of what you wrote about. One writer asked if Dr Rankin is aware of this... and I know he is because I have written to him about it. This past year when he requested that missionaries reply to him about these problems I forwarded a letter to him from other missionaries who didn't think they could send them themselves for fear of retaliation. Believe it or not, those missionaries who question these things are being fired.

Three examples:

One, we were told not to work with the national convention of Baptists in our country because they didn't believe in New Directions. However when it came time to turn in numbers, not one call was made to the missionaries because few new works had been started, instead a call was made to the national convention office and their numbers were turned in since we had started their convention 100 years ago, even though there was no current work together.

Two, we were told in a training meeting that any time 2 or 3 of you get together to talk about God, that the "church" is there, and to include that.

Three, an ethnic man not in the majority of this particular country came to faith in Christ but never joined a local church, but was counted as a church.

The IMB is counting Bible studies as churches and this is the problem. I think we need to go back to the Word and think about what a local church is.

I do pray our SBC convention and IMB both get right with numbers. Good post... something really does need to be in the name of integrity.

Anonymous said...

When Pressler and Patterson replaced people of faith with the bean counters, what did you expect to happen?

It isn't about faith anymore, it's about the MONEY.


Throw the money changers out of the 'temple' again.
Get rid of the bean-counters.
Bring back the people of faith.
Let people answer to the Lord once again, not the the 'leadership'.

By the way, who is the CEO in charge these days and what is HIS golden parachute into h_ _ _ ?

Bob Cleveland said...

Two weeks ago, Monte and Janet Erwin spent the Sunday School hour with my class (young marrieds) and just talked about what they did on the mission field. No presentation, just conversation.

It was by a country mile the best missionary "presentation" I've ever heard, and went a long way toward helping my class members understand missions, and why we collect all that money at Christmas. MUCH more any numbers could ever do.

Anonymous said...

Brother Alan Cross asked: "How much would the numbers drop if we brought home all of our missionaries?

100,000? 200,000? None?"

Given the relationship between IMB missionaries and their national Baptist partners, the numbers reported can be said to be an indicator of the productivity of IMB missionaries. For instance, last year we worked with several national Baptist churches which were stagnant and not going out to reach their communities for Christ. We had volunteer teams that came to partner with us in these areas and we enlisted the involvement of those local national Baptists in comprehensive projects to reach and disciple people in some villages where the Gospel had never been presented.

Consequently, people were baptized, new Bible study groups were planted and we reported numbers on our annual report. Because of the excitement and training given to those local national Baptists, their numbers of baptisms increased AFTER our direct involvement and will continue to show increases this year.

In some areas, Southern Baptists broadcast the Gospel over the radio and national partners were enlisted in conducting Bible correspondence and conducting "listener rallies" where new believers were connected with local Baptist groups. There were baptisms and new groups planted but we IMB missionaries did not do the baptizing nor did we directly plant the new churches.

People can say that reporting numbers of baptisms performed and churches planted by national Baptists is not relative to the presence of IMB missionaries if they want to. Some people think that every person baptized abroad should be baptized by a "white IMB missionary" and every church planted should be pastored by the same. Any report or numbers given by any organization or company can be scrutinized and its ambiguity questioned.

You can stop giving support to IMB missionaries and just give the money to national Baptists too if you feel led to do that. That's an alternate strategy which could be attractive to some and perhaps that's something God would bless. My call was not from "Southern Baptists" anyway. I'm sure God is capable of doing the work of His Kingdom with or without our involvement.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Offensive,

Bob C. put you in your place quite well. But here is a glimpse into your stupid logic.

You go from being offensive to missionaries for signing the 2KBFM all the way to "they would sign anything the SBC put in front of them".

Such a stupid comment it deserves no more of my time.

But before I go, have you ever thought to consider that the 2KBFM signing was to do just exactly what it did? Get people like you off the field that had no business on the field.

Join another organization that will let you teach anything you want and you and I will both be happy.

Just lay off the doughnuts. I am pretty sure that other organizations have a BMI standard also.

Sat Jan 03, 06:13:00 AM 2009

Please tell me this attitude is not representative of our missionaries on the field. If it is, I need to rethink my support.


Alan Stoddard said...

I just read the entire stream. I'm glad to see 2009 starts with more Baptist goodies.

Well, I agree with the idea that there should be integrity in numbers. We need it on the mission field and in the SBC. A study of Jesus use of numbers with his disciples might be helpful. And Acts has a little to say about numbers and reporting. It also has a little to say about "principles" involved with using numbers.

Numbers are important when they are seen as people. In the west we often look at 'How many showed up for worship? What as the offering?" And at the end of the year we ask, "How many were baptized?" I've learned to ask the harder or more important questions: "Where did the money go? What ministry did it focus on? Where are those who joined the church and were baptized? Did anyone connect with them personally? Did they end up in a group or SS class?"

If they don't get connected, they will be gone in 3-6 months, if not less time. And at the end of the year? No one says a thing.

I think this numbers post is important. I reveals motives in some ways.

I had an opportunity to go to the 10/40 window with the Rankins. We we to Niger and Burkina Faso. Rankin is a good man trying to do what he thinks is right. His message on Matt. 24:11 and his big idea, "Let's hurry and get the gospel to every people group so that Jesus will come" is similar to what I've heard from other preachers. "Urgency" is not wrong. I'm sure if we ask Rankin about the message he would explain his big idea to satisfaction. If we lose the "urgency" of our message and missions, we are done.

I agree with this post and think every church should develop a process for discipleship that accounts for people and their pathway to growth. Talk about him all you want, but Rick Warren's 5 purpose model accomplished a lot in helping people see the path. It help leaders know where people are on the path.

Our church culture is hungry for change. Hence, "Simple Church" and "Essential Church," "Sticky Church," etc.

Wayne Smith said...

Wade and All,

It sure is a Sad Day that We have Become Disciples of Baptist, rather than Disciples of Christ. God the / Holy/Spirit calls Missionaries by convicting their Hearts and their Love of Jesus Christ and His Great Commission. These Missionaries only need to bring Honor and Glory to God in their Work of Sharing God’s Love and Word.

Bible Study Notes

Matt. 11:29 yoke. The wooden frame joining two animals (usually oxen) for pulling heavy loads was a metaphor for one person's subjection to another, and a common metaphor in Judaism for the law. The Pharisaic interpretation of the law, with its extensive list of proscriptions, had become a crushing burden (cf. 23:4) but was believed by the people to be of divine origin. Jesus' yoke of discipleship, on the other hand, brings rest through simple commitment to him (cf. 1 John 5:3).


Anonymous said...

If you have to impress donors with 'results' in numbers, wouldn't it be better to find another way to raise the money for missions and then have an organization that exhibited integrity?

What 'impresses' people these days anyway?
The 'most popular preacher'?
The 'largest' congregation?
The biggest, most modern church building?
Television and internet communications to raise money?

Something has happened in the last few millenia to the values that sent missionaries forward in faith that God would provide.

A handful of Apostles.
The Good News spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.
Simple faith.
Something has been lost.

Bob Cleveland said...

Somebody ought to point out that...

A) Honesty and Integrity please God.

B) Exaggerated or misleading numbers please the people.

Perhaps we need to re-examine who it is that we see as our source of supply.

Or Who.

Anonymous said...

Now that it's out about the fudging of 'numbers', here's a suggestion for PROVING that a missionary has 'saved' a soul:

Have the poor soul sign a copy of the 2000 BF&M ! Isn't that the current method of proving that you are a REAL Christian?

An "X" mark works, or a 'fingerprint', if the poor soul can't sign a name.

That should do it for Baptist
Then, go home with the numbers, watch the money roll in, and everybody's happy. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with BOB CLEVELAND when he wrote:

"A) Honesty and Integrity please God.

B) Exaggerated or misleading numbers please the people."

And here it comes:

(as in S.A.T.A.N.)

I'm not sure what I'm reading.
Let me get this right:
Are we using money to save people?
Or are we saving people to get money?
Help me here. So confusing.

Fuzzy math in a church organization?
What ELSE is fuzzy?

Money is the root of all evil.
Nothing ever changes in the WORLD,
does it?

Anonymous said...

Numbers are important when they are seen as people.

Alan: This is so important. The rest of your comment is one of the best I've read on this subject.

Bob Cleveland said...

Anonymous: Money is not the root of all evil. The correct quote is that the LOVE of money is the root of all sorts of evil.

As I recall.

Anonymous said...

That begs the question: how do you know if the number is a 'people'?

Or are we seeing 'people' where there are only numbers?

People will believe what they want to believe, doesn't mean what they believe has to be true.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bob,
I think you are right about that.


Anonymous said...


What you described in your last comment is legitimate work. I would not argue with that. That is not the kind of stuff that I am talking about. I am glad that you are involved in that type of work and I praise God for your faithfulness.

Again, my problem is not with the missionaries. It is with the culture that is creating a very difficult situation. All of the information that I have gotten has been from missionaries on the field and they are not talking about the kind of stuff that you listed in your comment.

Anonymous said...


Before rethinking your support, please read the offensive remarks made by someone anonymous that included his thinking that m's on the field are idiots and have a cult-like behavior (drinking the kool aid) because they did something he chose not to do...sign the BFM.

I'm an M and I signed it. So he is talking to me as well. Frankly, it did offend me, my wife, and kids.

The reaction may not be pleasing to you, but shouldn't the causer be given a little attention as well?

By the way, Bob cleared up the matter well if you will read just below those comments at 8:40 and 9:06.

Speaking of Bob,

"Two weeks ago, Monte and Janet Erwin spent the Sunday School hour with my class (young marrieds) and just talked about what they did on the mission field. No presentation, just conversation.

It was by a country mile the best missionary "presentation" I've ever heard, and went a long way toward helping my class members understand missions, and why we collect all that money at Christmas. MUCH more any numbers could ever do."

Wow Bob! Thank you so much my friend. This is wonderful. If people would focus on stuff like this instead of accusing m's of being in a cult, drinking kool aid, and other such nonsense, well...

aren't you glad that couple signed the BFM and stayed on the field instead of quitting!?

Glory to Him!


Anonymous said...

Slim: It is my understanding that Monte and his wife did not sign the BFM, following their conscience, and did eventually have to leave the mission field. I did not agree with missionaries having to sign the BFM.

Anonymous said...

DEBBIE said, "It is my understanding that Monte and his wife did not sign the BFM, following their conscience, . . . "

GLORY TO HIM ! ! ! ! ! !

Bob Cleveland said...

Anonymous: I sure hope that remark doesn't mean what it looks like.

Anonymous said...

". . . . incorrect use of creeds occurs when those statements are elevated above traditional means of authority, primarily the Bible and Jesus in Baptist life, said Dilday, former president of Southwestern Seminary. Other denominations would more strongly emphasize tradition, experience and reason.

Creeds are man-created rather than God-inspired like the Bible, Dilday continued. Answers to life questions can be found in the Bible, not in creeds.

Putt advocated that creeds restrict how people can respond to Scripture, adding that often leaders use them as weapons to further an agenda. "We take these creeds, like stones, and build walls with them," he said. "

This rather interesting quote reflects on the ridiculous premise that a Christian would be asked to sign a man-made document to assure others that they are 'true believers' . . .

What happens once you sign?
Do you get to change YOUR mind?
What is you signed and then the writers of a new BF&M come along and change the document you signed?
Do you cave-in and sign their new instrument of loyalty OR do you stick with what you signed originally?

My guess is that is you signed originally because your conscience was at peace with it: you will not cave in to the new man-made instrument of loyalty.

And . . if you signed originally to keep your job and/or to please the higher-ups (not the Higher-Up), then you WILL cave in very quickly and sign as soon as you can.

It is all about integrity.
It is all about honor.

Getting angry yet at these comments? If you are, ask YOURSELF why you signed the 2000 BF&M ? If you are getting angry, maybe it's your conscience that's bothering you.
If that's true, you've got a lot more problems than getting angry at this posting will solve.

Anonymous said...

"I'm an M and I signed it. So he is talking to me as well."

What was wrong with the previous one? And I too would like to know if you will sign it again when they change it again. And they will.

I thought your comment was insulting, childish(BMI), and reeked of school yard bullying. Not the kind of thing one expects to hear from a missionary on the field. But the type of thing we are seeing so much in the SBC these days. I think the comment hit a nerve. If you are assured of what you did by signing, there was no reason to respond.

I have a lot of respect for those who refused to sign and lost everything they worked so hard for. Some had been on the field for 20 years. They came back and started over completely without the support of their very own organization. That means very few contacts for a career change, etc.

Maybe some could not sign because their wives were teaching in village huts and men were present. (I happen to know that is why one couple refused to sign) How could they sign on prinicple? Maybe they have scruples most could not fathom.


Anonymous said...

SAM wrote, "Maybe they have scruples most could not fathom."

It is not easy for some to understand that the choice wasn't whether to 'sign and stay'
or 'not sign and go'.

The choice was simply to obey their consciences. No easy choice at all: people have died doing this.

The 'conscience', once informed by the Holy Spirit, is God's guide for us to follow in this strange world.

Those people who could not sign KNEW what it meant for them but at least they walked away with their souls intact.

Is it better to gain the whole world and lose your soul?

The snake in the garden.
Satan tempting Jesus in the desert.
The SBC holding the document out to be signed.


Some walked away with their souls intact. Some didn't.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that it is an extremely good thing for me that I am NOT Wade Burleson and will NOT have to answer to God on judgment day for the many things posted on this blog from an uninformed point of view and one that seems to be heavily agenda-driven, and also for the many comments that are allowed to stand that are inaccurate, misleading and dishonoring to our Heavenly Father.

Heaven help us!

Anonymous said...

I do know that the young man that I led to the Lord is glad that I was on the field. He also couldn't care less if I signed a document outlining some general guidelines of Southern Baptist beliefs or not. He was just glad I was there with him and not in America yelling as loud as I can about how much honor and integrity I have in between the cream filled and plain glazed.

I wonder how many have missed their opportunity to hear because you decided your "conscience" was more important?

Or was it the doughnuts that were more important?

Either reason is weak and I don't see how you sleep at night.

My integrity, honor, and scruples are intact. I'm glad I work for an organization that doesn't let anyone teach anything they want to. I work beside people who disagree on some certain issues, no problem. But to have an open door so wide that your inflated ego, conscience, and belly can fit through is simply idiotic to me.

Again, I say if you want to be a part of a organization that will let anyone teach anything they want to, then you did the right thing by not signing. Run. Fast. Go far, far away from the IMB.


Sam - I like your advice. "If you are assured of what you did by signing, there was no reason to respond."

I think I will now follow your advice. Especially since I think you are also the anonymous.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder how many have missed their opportunity to hear because you decided your "conscience" was more important?"

Now we see what happens when the words and actions of Jesus in the Scriptures is no longer honored as the prime guide for Baptists.

Anonymous said...

Jesus describes in His care in addressing His disciples, and through them the whole of humanity, His recommendations and commandments and His concern to specify the guide whom man must follow after His departure.

The text of John's Gospel is the only one to designate him as Parakletos in Greek, which in English has become 'Paraclete'. The following are the essential passages:

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete." (14, 15-16)

What does 'Paraclete' mean? The present text of John's Gospel explains its meaning as follows:

"But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (14, 26).
"he will bear witness to me" (15, 26).

"it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment . . ." (16, 7-8).

"When the SPIRIT OF TRUTH comes, he will GUIDE YOU into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me . . ."
(16, 13-14).

Anonymous said...


" The Holy Spirit works with the believer’s conscience.

The Holy Spirit plays a critical role in creating and maintaining a clear conscience.

In Romans 9:1, Paul said the Holy Spirit confirmed his conscience.

Once we have received Christ and the Holy Spirit resides within us, the Holy Spirit will work with our consciences.
The Spirit works both to confirm a clear conscience and to convict a guilty conscience.

We all naturally prefer to ignore our sin.

For that reason the Holy Spirit deals with conscience first, not with our intellect or emotions. You might think of the relationship this way:
the Holy Spirit plants conviction in the soil of conscience. If ignored, the conviction will usually grow and grow."

If you say, ""I wonder how many have missed their opportunity to hear because you decided your "conscience" was more important?""

a. The Holy Spirit's guidance?
b. Your own opinion?

What do Southern Baptists believe about this?

It's best, if you are going to preach Christ, that you listen to Him first yourself.

You might remember some things you were taught long ago before your church decided to follow men instead.

Anonymous said...

God the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ. He enlightens and empowers the believer and the church in worship, evangelism, and service."

Anonymous said...

Serve HIM first,

Isaiah 40:31

but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint."

Honor God first, follow his Guidance, and your missionary work will 'soar' . . .

Listen to your conscience, not your 'opportunities'.

Anonymous said...


'I wonder how many have missed their opportunity to hear because you decided your "conscience" was more important?""

No need for supervision? Read the above.

RM said...

Its hard to believe that anyone could think there is not an "illuminati" in the SBC and/or the IMB. Either he's blind and deaf or just chooses to close his eyes to everything around him.

Anonymous said...

RM: What is an 'illuminati' ?

Unknown said...

Wow, what a stream. As a IMB missy of 28 years, I appreciate the courage of bringing up this issue. I have long asked leadership why we can't count two separate statistics. Lets identify both direct (countable and know their names)and indirect (remotely related to) church starts. Why are we claiming as ours National Convention and Unions efforts that we have basically thumbed our noses at over the last decade. Give them (nationals)credit and allow us all to celebrate what the Lord has done. It is not about bragging rights.

Douglas McClain Shaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Douglas McClain Shaw said...

Any requirement that countable missionary work be exclusively direct, and that all individuals be identifiable by name would not square with either biblical or historical practice. For example:

• At Pentecost “about 3,000 people” from throughout the Roman Empire were added to the number of disciples (Acts 2:41). This is a round number without either indication of a list being drawn up or of the Apostles’ attempts to follow up on them. Nevertheless, the church at Rome is thought by many to have started as a result of this day.

• Paul did not directly plant the churches at Colossae or Laodicea, nor had he met them, but they were the indirect result of his preaching in Ephesus (Acts 19), and he included them in his later epistolary ministry. In his letter, he assumed a responsibility for them that he did not assume for Rome.

• A ten-fold increase in church membership followed the Shantung Revival, about which you have written. This was reported by Bertha Smith, though much of the work was indirect. In fact, a key result of the revival was that an indigenous Chinese Christianity emerged. Indirect effort is a necessary precursor for work to become indigenous.

• Johann Gerhard Oncken was perhaps the greatest Baptist missionary to continental Europe. The first Baptist churches in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Ukraine and Russia arose as a result of his work. He is credited with having started 771 Sunday schools in Germany, in addition to 1221 preaching points and 280 churches throughout Europe. As you have pointed out, it would have been impossible for anyone to have planted this much work directly in one lifetime. Oncken knew this; his most quoted saying is “Every Baptist a Missionary.”

As one who has both planted churches directly and facilitated them indirectly, I would point out that facilitated work has several advantages. First, it is more indigenous. An American leading the church plant brings cultural biases and views of how churches should function. These affect music, the order of service, the practice of ministry, and the application of the Gospel to life.

We are not about planting Southern Baptist churches abroad. For comparison, imagine a Russian-style Baptist church for Americans. That would involve dress codes: kerchiefs, long skirts, no jewelry or makeup for women, and dark colors for men. Services would run two to three hours. The music, though beautiful, would sound completely different. A bonus for pastors is that the sermon would run 45 minutes minimum. My point is that most Americans would not be comfortable with this style of church for long, and that attempts to reach the general populace with it would likely fail.

Second, facilitated church-planting is more effective. Not only are more churches planted, but more people, specifically nationals, are involved in leadership. This means more training is done during the planting of the church, and more authority is released to others at an earlier stage. Direct church-planting leads to dependence on Western leadership; but indirect church-planting necessitates national leadership from the beginning. National leadership is clearly the preferable style. (I do not, however, advocate the subsidy of national pastors and churches, but that is another discussion.)

Thirdly, facilitated church-planting is more replicable. If the model of church-planting exhibited requires the leadership of an expatriate; financial independence from the economy that only an expatriate or wealthy person would have; or the building or funding of meeting space, those become necessities for the planting of new churches. New church starts will proceed only at the pace that such extra-terrestrial conditions are met.

Most importantly, others share the load. Decisions guided by nationals’ insights are more effective. Having the cultural wisdom both of those who have grown up in the culture and of an expatriate learning the culture is an incomparable advantage when it comes to strategy, planning and follow-through. (After twelve years with my people group, I am still a learner.) The Holy Spirit allots each with a gift, and multiple gifts go into planting a church. Finally, work is just plain easier and more fun when it’s shared with others.

To return to the discussion of what is counted in the Annual Statistical Report, the International Mission Board (IMB) counts essentially the same type of church work that the Foreign Mission Board before it counted since early days: direct work, facilitated work, and the work of its partner conventions and unions. These classes of work are kept separate in-house. None of this is new. Accuracy is an elusive goal. Consistency is more attainable, and the IMB strives for consistency, honesty and accountability in its record-keeping. I say this as one who knows the work.

While both under- and over-counts occur, under-counting is more widespread than over-counting. Main reasons for undercounts:
• Not having received an annual update on a certain item, say seminary students, some missionaries are inclined to drop the number to zero—even though the seminary is still open
• In places where governments monitor church work, there is fear of reprisal should the government obtain the true figures
• The desire to keep a low profile in places of persecution
• The national convention has a stricter standard for counting a church. Most often, it’s the requirement of a seminary-trained, ordained pastor and/or a minimum membership number.
• Anxiety that some work may not last or may not fall within all guidelines

In recent years, high numbers have come from CPMs and near-CPMs. All CPMs are audited by people outside the CPM, usually—if not always—including non-IMB personnel who have expertise either in the people group or missiology. Reports with high numbers are always more likely to be scrutinized than those with low numbers.

Finally, it is not we who draw people to Christ and start churches, but the Holy Spirit. Luke records that everyone in the province Asia heard the gospel over a two-year period because of Paul’s preaching in a lecture hall at Ephesus (Acts 19:9-10). We know of three churches started in that period, two of which were 100 miles upstream, which indicates the presence of many more churches in the Lycus River valley. The same Holy Spirit is at work today. English missiologist Dr Peter Brierley has referred to the 1990’s as the greatest worldwide awakening since Pentecost. I am confident that later generations will agree that a huge, worldwide awakening is now taking place, and that some folk from the IMB had a part. By and large, they will find that the numbers do add up.

Anonymous said...

JAMES said, "It is not about bragging rights.

Mon Jan 05, 12:58:00 AM 2009"

You are right, James.

I would word it differently: numbers equal money to the SBC.
It never was about money, unless you are the SBC, then it is all about the money.

Anonymous said...

I concur with your post. Can't we also say that all those areas where we are seeing CPMs, like China, are also the "result" of 150years of prayer by Baptist Women and Southern Baptists that prayed as a result of WMU women encouraging their churches to PRAY and GIVE.

Is not the left side of the graph in these places huge?

The truth is that none of us can "count" anything. Because God is responsible for the growth!!

We are responsible for soil preparation and sowing seed. And whatever pressure is felt by IMB m's in counting....they need to change their outlook.

The most freeing moment for us was realizing that God is responsible for the growth, not us. So our focus became tilling the soil, breaking up obstacles, pulling weeds and doing what we could to make our plot of ground ready for whatever God had planned.

And when He told us it was time to move on, we did.

To the person that made the "koolaid" remark. Shame on you, because you don't know me. We worked through the IMB, but we served the Lord and Him only. We follow Him and not an organization.

That was a difficult time for all of us that served on the field at that time. And for you to make such a remark is hurtful to both those that signed and those that felt they couldn't. It was a great blow to the IMB for so many great people to leave the field, Monte & Janet being one of those. Their loss is still felt in their field.

We can worry about "numbers" if being caught up in something so unimportant is what floats the boat. But the Lord cares about seeking to save that which was lost.

We hope to someday, when our family situation changes, to return to our field of service. Hopefully, it will be with the IMB, but if not then it will be however the Lord leads us. In the meantime, we will continue to encourage Southern Baptists to keep the main thing the main thing.
Holding out hope to those around us that are walking in darkness, whether that is next door or around the world!

May the Lord bless our churches in 2009 to be salt & light!

A former IMB m

Unknown said...

To Douglas McClain Shaw

You are certainly right about "facilitated church planting" being "indigenous, more effective, and replicable." And your lengthy but accurate description of the difficulty of collecting reliable date is understandable. We all (IMBers) do the best we can. And your explanation of how results are kept separate in the main office is logical.

But that is not the issue. Yes, many missys legitimately facilitate churches being planted. We did for 16 new congregations last year. That's real mission work, modeling and leading others to do evangelism and church planting. However, the real issue is the reporting of national convention statistics of baptisms and churches that IMB missys are not even remotely related too. Just because we have three IMB couples (one in the seminary and two working with indigenous people)in a country should not mean that we can count every baptism and every church plant in the entire country. That is the issue!

Douglas McClain Shaw said...

To Anonymous of Jan 5:

I do think that the years of prayer and effort invested in China by missionaries from all over the world is bearing fruit there now. And I think it's an important factor in the phenomenal multiplication of Christians and churches there--stories that come from many sources, not just the IMB.

To James:

I understood the original blog in this chain as an indictment that the IMB was fabricating growth numbers, especially new churches, and that's what I addressed. With few exceptions, most conventions and unions we partner with are not rapidly reproducing. Rather, they are in the same stage of life as the SBC, which is to say that at best they are plateaued. Most of the growth comes from work that missionaries are actively involved in.

I suspect, though, that if we were to poll missionaries on what they thought the problem with the stats was, we would get the answer you gave: the problem is carrying the convention/union stats.

Since I'm not writing from or on behalf of Richmond, I will say up front that there are some conventions that I really think we should not include as reported partners, and that others fall into a more dubious area. Nevertheless, reasons for including partners' contributions include the following:

1. From a statistical point of view, the most important reason is consistency. In the beginning for many Baptist unions, missionaries planted the churches that formed the associations and unions, and missionaries kept planting churches mainly through the unions up to New Directions. So to abruptly stop counting unions would make cumulative numbers like churches and church membership drop precipitously. Aside from the clamor that would have been raised, this would have made it very hard indeed to test the effectiveness of the new approach.

2. We still are facilitating church planting in many unions and conventions we partner with, so reporting that work is entirely appropriate.

3. We still maintain a partner relationship with the unions, and the IMB has characterized its reports as the work of the organization and its partners.

Anonymous said...

Wade, I've read your blog for a while but am commenting for the first time. I am an IMBer from the CEE region currently on STAS. I'm on a platform and therefore won't share my last name.
This post really struck home with me. I've expressed frustration for the past 8 or 9 years with my supervisors over our statistical reporting. Much has already been said about it so I won't add anymore fodder, but I will share something that I find very disturbing.
In my country, the national convention does not hold to the doctrine of "perseverance of the saints." If one of my children were baptized on the field in one of those churches, according to our IMB trustees, he or she would not be eligible for IMB missionary service. The baptism would not be biblical. YET, we (IMB) report those same baptisms as our own! They get lumped into the total and are gloriously reported at each annual SBC convention. We really are talking out of both sides of our mouths. Either the baptisms are legitimate and should be accepted as scriptural baptisms by our BOT, or they are not scriptural and should not be reported.
I brought this up to a panel of IMB VP's during our STAS conference in Richmond last summer. I was told that I had "quit preaching and gone to meddling." The hot air that was blown as a supposed response would have lifted the Goodyear blimp.