LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Seeking to accelerate worldwide advance, Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board trustees and administrators agreed on key changes to guide a massive revitalization of the agency’s overseas operations. During their April 7-9 meeting in Little Rock, Ark., trustees decided to divide the world into 14 regions designed “for growth and kingdom impact,” installing “visionary” leadership in each region. The board hopes to begin implementing the new structure by July 1 and have most of it in place by the end of the year.
The restructure will coincide with the agency’s name change — to International Mission Board — scheduled to take effect during the June 17-19 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
One of the restructure’s key components calls for integrating Cooperative Services International’s work into all 14 regions and, “as appropriate,” using its approaches to unreached people groups in each region.
CSI is the FMB’s humanitarian arm, which has worked in areas of the world where traditional missionary methods were unwelcome. Under the new plan, most regions will have their own CSI-type components.
Citing sensitive personnel and security issues, trustees convened an executive session for one hour April 8. Then, after a public discussion the next day, they voted to approve a document titled, “New Directions for International Mission Board, SBC.”
That document included appendixes outlining geographical boundaries of the 14 regions, job descriptions for regional leadership and a job description for an associate vice president for strategy coordination and mobilization who will guide the CSI-type components.
Trustees also authorized the Overseas Restructure Task Force, composed of trustee officers, some trustee committee chairmen and the board’s Senior Executive Team, to serve as a search committee. It would nominate regional leaders for election by the board and interview prospective candidates for associate regional leaders, field administrative associates and field strategy associates.
The plan calls for the current 10 area directors who oversee work in nine geographical areas and CSI to vacate their positions during the transition. Each will be considered for reassignment to any of the new positions, but to be named to one, each must be nominated by the task force.
FMB President Jerry Rankin and other task force members said they have assigned no names of leaders to the new regions and intend to enter the selection process with an open mind until all candidates have been screened.
Under the plan, all new regional leadership will be missionaries. Now, area directors are considered as “Richmond staff” and are guided by a different set of policies than missionaries. All current area directors have served as missionaries, and only one was not a missionary at the time of election to that post.
Because of salary differences between missionaries and Richmond staff, the task force is looking at transition options over a three-to-four-year period for current area directors whose future salaries as missionaries would be lower. Details on that aspect of the plan remain sketchy.
Over and over during the three-day meeting, Rankin emphasized the purpose of the revitalization is to mobilize the board to focus on bringing all the peoples of the world to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
The restructure is not a criticism of the way the board has operated in the past but instead is a response to a rapidly changing world situation, Rankin said. Doors to countries that once seemed totally off limits have now either been opened wide or cracked significantly, he said.
Avery Willis, the board’s senior vice president for overseas operations, said the new approach calls for the board to stop “judging itself by itself” and, instead, to view its missions efforts in a global context. He said this approach, for instance, calls for measuring baptisms and church starts not by how many were recorded in comparison to other years but by the wider context of how much is needed to win the world for Christ.