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Change & new missionaries mark meeting of International Mission Board trustees

ATLANTA (BP)–With applause and cheers, International Mission Board trustees laid the foundation for significant changes to the board’s ability to impact lostness and serve churches at their Sept. 8-10 meeting in Atlanta.

The board also appointed 83 new missionaries and adopted a policy to protect children from sexual abuse.

Acting on recommendations from the “Renewing the Vision” task force appointed by board chairman Paul Chitwood in June, trustees unanimously agreed to revise the IMB’s vision and mission statements in order to reflect what President Jerry Rankin called a “more relevant and biblical expression of the IMB’s task” in the context of global change.

“In 1997 we made some radical changes in our organization and strategy to accommodate growth in our missionary force,” Rankin said. “In these 10 years, we have seen more than a thousand people groups gain access to the Gospel for the first time and church-planting movements accelerate.

“But this is not the same world it was 10 years ago. We cannot presume that the methods and structure of the past will be relevant and effective in the future. Our world is changing and we must continue to change with it.”

Rankin emphasized that the IMB’s basic tasks won’t change — sending missionaries, reaching the lost and planting churches — but some of the structure and mechanisms that make those tasks possible will. The idea is to maximize the effectiveness of frontline personnel while minimizing the administrative burden placed on the field.

Among the most dramatic changes is an internal reorganization that will replace the IMB’s 11 geographically based regions with eight “affinity groups” focused around commonality of language, culture and ethnicity. These affinity groups are designed to allow missionaries to more fully engage unreached peoples regardless of their location.

“This move recognizes the mobility of populations,” explained Gordon Fort, vice president of overseas operations. “We know that in every country people are moving to other countries based on a number of factors.

“This change allows us to focus on peoples wherever they are in the world and provides the structure and support to facilitate that. There will be a lot of challenges as we put this in place, but in terms of its potential, this is way out of the ballpark.”

Acting on the task force’s recommendations, trustees also adopted an updated version of the “basic principles” that define and guide the work of the IMB. Renamed “core values,” the changes include a formal recognition and affirmation of churches’ ownership of the Great Commission and a pledge to greater partnership with Baptists and other Christians in accordance with IMB guidelines.

“We have to recognize that we may never have enough missionaries to reach the massive number of lost throughout our world,” Rankin said. “We must see our task in terms of serving our churches and facilitating their involvement in mission strategies and sending missionaries.

“When we look at the potential of Southern Baptists and Baptist partners overseas, it is essential we change our approach to one of partnership and servant leadership.”


Before trustees voted, Chitwood clarified the impact of the task force’s recommendations in several key areas.

Regarding the IMB’s missionaries and staff, he assured trustees that the reorganization would not result in layoffs and that future job assignments would continue to reflect strategy. Though Chitwood acknowledged there would be financial costs associated with the transition, he said the IMB is positioned to cover those costs without negatively impacting missionaries’ work overseas.

Chitwood also addressed trustee concerns that the reorganization could negatively impact the IMB’s relationship with an entity like the SBC’s North American Mission Board.

“The work of the International Mission Board will remain consistent with the assignment of the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said. “We will not impose or infringe upon the work of other agencies. Missionary personnel will still be assigned exclusively to international mission work.”

IMB leadership now turns to developing and implementing the details of these changes over the course of the next year. Their goal is to complete the transition by the summer of 2009.

“The largest, most effective missionary-sending agency in the history of the world does not remain that way without a constant process of evaluation and a high tolerance for change,” Chitwood said.

“We’re talking about a reorganization that will poise the IMB to be more effective and more strategy driven than ever before. … I know our trustees. I know how much they want to be a part of what God is doing. And to see the way the Lord has so graciously guided us through this process is certainly something for which I’m thankful. We’re all on the same page and it’s a good thing.”


Trustees also unanimously approved a comprehensive new child protection policy expressing the IMB’s commitment to providing a safe and secure environment for all children entrusted to its care.

The policy ensures that all IMB personnel will continue to undergo thorough background checks and states that no one may serve with the IMB who has a history of sexual abuse, a criminal conviction of a sexual nature, or exhibits any other behavior indicating they pose a risk of sexually abusing a child. The new policy supplements an existing policy that compels the investigation of any accusation or indication of sexual abuse as well as the immediate dismissal and filing of appropriate criminal charges if sexual abuse is determined to have occurred.

“The policy has grown out of the concern that all of us have for the safety and welfare of children around the globe,” said Ken Winter, vice president of church and partner services.

“Though it is regrettable that we should even need to consider such a policy for mission team members, we are all too acutely aware of incidents within our own local churches — even among staff members. We know that many Southern Baptist churches are already providing background checks and training for members who are serving in local church ministry, but it has not extended to those headed overseas as a part of a mission team.”

Because almost everyone serving on the mission field interacts with children, the IMB is requesting that participants on short-term mission trips also submit to background and reference checks by their local church.

The child protection policy also provides that short-term trip participants receive training for the recognition of and response to child sexual abuse (training many churches already require), as well as requiring that at least two adult workers be assigned to any group of children.

“All of us share a responsibility to protect children from harm,” the policy states. “… It is part of our overall responsibility as Christian stewards and witnesses.”


Trustees concluded their time in Atlanta with a missionary appointment service at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro. They were joined by hundreds of other Southern Baptists who came to celebrate the calling of 83 new missionaries to overseas service, many of whom will be working in places hostile to the Gospel.

The next trustee meeting will be Nov. 10-12 in Houston. The appointment service will take place Nov. 11 at First Baptist Church in Houston in connection with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.

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