ROCKVILLE, Va. (BP)–Trustees of the International Mission Board created a task force to examine future directions for Southern Baptists’ 163-year-old missions enterprise during their June 23-25 meeting at the International Learning Center in Rockville, Va.
The trustees also appointed 72 new missionaries and appropriated $3.2 million from reserve funds to cover expenses not met by last year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Thirty-eight of the new missionaries were appointed at Bon Air Baptist Church in Richmond on Wednesday night. The other 34 will be appointed at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City on Friday.
Fifty-five emeritus missionaries also were honored for a combined total of 1,640 years of mission service during a weeklong emeritus recognition conference.
In his report to the trustees, IMB President Jerry Rankin shared some of the challenges missionaries will face and how the IMB must be poised to respond.
“Our society is changing. Our denomination and churches are changing. The world is changing,” Rankin said.
Rankin cited global events -— natural disasters and conflicts, urbanization, Muslim extremism, diversity within the Southern Baptist Convention, declining values and growing technology — as some of the factors calling for new strategies.
“If we are to stay relevant and effective in our efforts to reach a lost world, we cannot continue the status quo, doing what we have always done,” Rankin said. “We’ve got to be more creative and more innovative if we’re going to fulfill the Great Commission.”
Trustees formed a task force — composed of trustees and staff leaders — to operate under the charge of “Renewing the Vision” to address these concerns and assess the IMB’s structure, strategies and plans for the future.
Not all changes across the world are negative, Rankin added, citing a time of “unprecedented global advance,” with 609,000 people baptized and 25,497 new churches reported overseas last year through the work of Southern Baptist missionaries and partners.
Rankin presented specifics on the task force and potential future changes in a closed session with trustees. Details will be available in the coming months.
Presiding at first meeting as trustee chairman, Paul Chitwood of Mount Washington, Ky., said the new task force will “hit the ground running” and will meet two or three times before the next trustee meeting in September.
“I would agree that there is not a more challenging time, historically speaking, to do international mission work,” Chitwood said. “There is likewise no era that is presenting more opportunity than the one we have before us today.”
Trustees approved the appropriation of $3,290,346.14 from board reserves to fund the operating budget not met by last year’s $150,409,653.86 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which was more than $231,000 above the previous year’s record but short of the $165 million goal.
In March, the IMB projected the final amount would top out at $156 million, IMB treasurer David Steverson said.
“Everything was on track to meet our projection until about the 10th of April,” he reported. “It was like someone turned the spigot to the off position, and the funds just sort of trickled in after that date.
“We are grateful to the Lord and to Southern Baptists for the way they responded in a year where we are facing a difficult economy and record high prices in certain commodities,” Steverson said.
“We remain confident that the Lord will provide for what He intends to accomplish through the International Mission Board.”
Following Steverson’s report, one trustee asked about the impact of the declining value of the dollar on missionaries.
“Huge,” Steverson said, noting that the impact is felt not only on basic missionary expenses but on other overseas budget needs. “It is just huge.”
In other business, the trustees:
— appropriated $3,281,349.27 for 124 human needs projects. A total of $2,354,117.21 was released to support world hunger needs, $613,369.06 to support general relief needs and $313,863 to support three ongoing December 2004 tsunami projects. Of these 124 projects, 61 supported community development ministries and 63 supported disaster relief efforts.
— accepted the resignation from missionary service of Rodney Hammer, former regional leader of Central and Eastern Europe. Hammer and his wife Debbie have served as missionaries for 18 years. Hammer stepped down from his leadership role in May after challenging policies and actions of the board of trustees with which he is in disagreement.
FILLING THE GAP
Who will take the Gospel to the Quechua farmers in Bolivia? This was the question retiring missionaries Toby and Cynthia Hoover pondered after nearly 20 years of missionary service.
The Hoovers, like many of the 55 retiring missionaries recognized for their years of service, wondered who would continue the work, said Gordon Fort, vice president for overseas operations, in his report to the trustees.
During Sunday morning worship at the International Learning Center, the IMB’s 72 new missionaries came forward so emeritus missionaries, like the Hoovers, could pray for them.
As Toby Hoover approached new missionary Kenan Plunk, he noticed Plunk’s South America name tag. Hoover casually asked Plunk where he was going. Plunk said he was heading to Bolivia. Hoover then learned that Plunk is assigned to the very job Hoover and his wife had just left.
“Aren’t you glad that we’re involved in something that is so much bigger than ourselves?” Fort asked. “Aren’t you glad this is God’s business?”
The trustees’ next meeting will be Sept. 8-10 in Atlanta; the appointment service will be Sept. 10 at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga.
Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the International Mission Board.