RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Facing another year of a troubled economy, International Mission Board trustees pressed forward with efforts to restructure the organization and respond to a lost world in their Jan. 26-27 meeting.
Trustees also heard a report that $3.3 million was appropriated this past fall to human needs projects around the globe. Tom Elliff, senior vice president for spiritual nurture, also announced he will be concluding his full-time work with the board in March.
IMB President Jerry Rankin shared his excitement about changes on the way this year. In their September 2008 meeting, trustees approved a reorganization designed to improve the board’s ability to impact lostness and expand relationships with churches.
“I envision a massive mobilization of Southern Baptists engaged in the task through a growing variety of relationships and personalized involvement in mission strategies,” Rankin said. “My vision is renewed that we can look forward to that day in a very few years when we will be unable to identify a people group that doesn’t have access to the Gospel.”
Trustees voted to realign their regional committees to focus on people groups or “affinity groups,” matching the reorganization of the board’s overseas work. Affinity groups are drawn together by language, culture and ethnicity, and not limited geographically.
Trustees also approved a measure that will streamline the restructuring process by allowing IMB leadership to transfer personnel to different assignments without trustee action.
“This is a matter for efficiency,” Gordon Fort, vice president for overseas operations, told trustees. “[This] will enable us to move ahead and report back to you later, rather than bringing numerous transfers … to the subcommittees in the next few meetings.”
As angst grows over the world economy, board treasurer David Steverson noted that the declining value of the dollar, rising living costs overseas and medical expenses led the IMB to draw a “larger than usual” amount — about $7 million — from reserves.
Trustees allocated those funds to cover expenses — most of which allowed missionaries to keep up with rising living and medical expenses, helping them deal with a seven-year trend of a weakening dollar.
“I believe we need to buckle our seatbelts and get ready for another challenging year in 2009,” Steverson said. “While I believe the worst of the stock market decline is behind us, we now have to deal with all the fallout of that decline.”
Anticipating another tough year, trustees had already tightened the 2009 budget — cutting administrative costs such as reducing travel expenses and not adjusting salaried wages — in their November meeting. The budget allows for sustaining the current levels of missionaries on the field. Whether or not those numbers will rise above current levels will depend on the gifts of Southern Baptists.
“We remain confident that the Lord will provide,” Steverson added. “The Lord’s provisions may come in many forms, but make no mistake, He will provide.”
Trustees welcomed reports that the board’s human needs ministry appropriated more than $3.2 million for 119 projects in the fall. Out of that amount, $2.3 million went toward world hunger needs, $701,945 went to general relief projects and $179,420 went to projects continued from 2004 tsunami recovery efforts.
A total of 508 human needs projects received appropriations last year — including addressing the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, hurricane damage in the Caribbean and needs in security-sensitive areas.
In other business, trustees heard two recommendations that were referred to the appropriate committee for discussion.
— That all trustees be required to attend a candidate conference during their first term.
— That the number of board meetings be cut from six to four in order to be better stewards of board resources.
Tom Elliff, senior vice president for spiritual nurture, announced his departure after three years of service. Elliff has led training and provided mentoring to new missionaries at the IMB’s International Learning Center.
“His training and equipping of new missionaries in doctrinal studies and a deeper spiritual life has made an incredible difference in the new missionaries we are sending to the field,” Rankin said.
Before joining the board, Elliff was senior pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Okla., for 20 years. He is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has authored several books and led conferences around the world.
“Serving these past three years … has been one of the greatest gifts, honestly, that I have ever received,” he said. “We feel like it is time for us to launch into that next level of our lives, and this is going to enable us to do that.”
Elliff said he and his wife, Jeannie, plan to pursue other ministry opportunities — which will include writing, consulting and teaching. He will continue teaching at the board’s learning center through 2009.
The next trustee meeting will be held March 16-18 in Greenville, S.C. An appointment service will be held March 18 at Taylors First Baptist Church, Taylors.
Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.