ALBUQUERQUE (BP)–Trustees of the International Mission Board, meeting May 22-24 in Albuquerque, tabled a motion calling for a special task force to study doctrinal qualifications for missionary candidates, appointed 95 new missionaries and elected officers for 2006-07.
In other action, the board learned that chairman Tom Hatley expanded restrictions on trustee Wade Burleson’s participation in board functions, and trustees heard a report that the missionary attrition rate has stayed constant at approximately 5 percent over the past seven years.
John Floyd, administrative vice president at the Memphis-area Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, was elected board chairman, replacing Hatley, whose two-year terms as chairman ended with the conclusion of the meeting.
Of the 95 Southern Baptists appointed May 23 at Hoffmantown Church in Albuquerque, nearly two-thirds, or 62, could not be named for security reasons because they are going to regions closed or hostile to a Gospel witness. The appointees represent the fourth-largest group of missionaries appointed in IMB history.
In his final report as board chairman, Hatley told trustees he is encouraged Southern Baptists are surrendering to missions at a rapid pace, sending volunteer teams in record numbers and funding missions at unprecedented levels.
“Stay focused on our (missions) task” is the message from Southern Baptists, Hatley said. “It is what they are doing, and it is what they expect and what they are receiving from us.
“Southern Baptists have shown a real ability to focus. In the face of negative publicity, the Lord’s people have risen to their greatest efforts…. Southern Baptists expect us to face problems forthrightly while not being slowed by them. Because of what they have done, we are able to return to a rapid pace of deploying missionaries.”
Trustees also learned that the auditing firm KPMG has given the IMB an “unqualified opinion” for its financial statements, which means all required information was received in the required form and in agreement with the accounts. In a separate statement, KPMG indicated they found no material weaknesses in the IMB’s system of internal financial controls.
David Steverson, IMB vice president for finance, reported the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering had topped the $135 million mark with about a week to go in the reporting period. He had projected a record offering during the March meeting in Tampa, Fla.
“We continue to believe that by May 31 enough will come in so that the 2005 Lottie Moon offering will be the largest offering in our history,” Steverson said. “That is something we can really celebrate.”
After lengthy discussion, trustees voted to table a motion from the board’s executive committee that sought to ask Hatley to appoint a special task force to study doctrinal qualifications for missionary candidates.
Lonnie Wascom of Hammond, La., brought the motion that he said would answer the question: “What do Southern Baptists expect the doctrinal qualification should be of their new candidates for missionary appointment?”
Wascom said the nine- to 11-member panel should represent a broad cross-section of the Southern Baptist constituency, including pastors, laypeople and seminary leaders, as well as associational and state convention leadership.
“We would ask this group to take into account our Baptist life today, Baptist theological history as well as general church history in order to answer this question,” Wascom said. “Because it would be a broad-stroke task force, it would in no way be seen as working in conflict or over against the current work being done by our trustee personnel committee on the existing policy [on private prayer language] and [baptism] guideline.”
However, trustee Paulette Blankinship of Williamsburg, Va., raised a concern that the action would set a precedent of asking for advice and consent from Southern Baptists whenever a major decision needed to be made.
“I serve under the impression I was elected to make those decisions,” Blankinship said. “I am sensitive to Southern Baptists in my church and everyone who has an opinion about it, but ultimately I’ve been given the responsibility to make that decision.”
Hatley agreed that he would not want the proposed action to set such a precedent. At the same time, he noted, the trustees do sometimes pull in outside consultants to get different opinions.
“It might be good to get the perspective of our convention -– the mind of our convention –- both the historical mind as well as the contemporary mind,” he said. “That’s the goal of [the motion], not just to revisit those two [private prayer language and baptism] instances, but to look at the expectations that our convention has across the board.”
Herman Pair of Oneonta, Ala., pointed out he serves on an ad hoc committee as part of the trustees’ personnel committee to study such issues.
He said the motion would “go beyond our committee in research to find a biblical, doctrinal position … to clarify what has happened…. We’ve got a committee together to do this, and we’re functioning…. I don’t see where this is going to help any.”
Bobbie Caldwell of Simpsonville, S.C., agreed, saying she thought the motion “is opening a big can of worms that we might not be able to close. It does give the impression that this board doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
However, Jerry Corbaley of McKinleyville, Calif., said the executive committee’s recommendation “appears to be a fact-finding procedure so we can be good stewards to our constituents. And [it is a] dramatic expression of open, transparent cooperation. This is going to be much broader than simply a doctrine of glossolalia or baptism … and generating a discussion convention-wide on [doctrinal qualifications].”
Hatley noted, “It would be the intention of this study team to just study and report, not to try to come back and to dictate. They’re to go discover, contextualize and report back to us. Any decisions made would still be purely on this board.”
John Russell of Brandon, Fla., suggested the board needed more time to pray about the motion.
“I understand the wisdom of trying to make this a known fact before the Southern Baptist Convention,” Russell said. “It is important we do not appear to make decisions in a vacuum, or apart from our constituents we are sent here to serve, but we need to exercise wisdom here in the message we are sending and some of our trustees have brought to a point.”
Corbaley moved to table the motion, which passed on a voice vote.
Hatley told trustees the board’s executive committee agreed to continue the restriction placed on Burleson during the March board meeting, barring him from serving on committees. However, after Burleson reportedly posted confidential information from the May 22 trustee forum on his personal blog site, Hatley said he was extending the restrictions to bar Burleson’s attendance at upcoming forums and in specially called executive sessions during board meetings.
Hatley said the confidential information Burleson posted from the forum dealt with a motion the executive committee planned to bring to trustees asking that a task force be named to study the doctrinal qualifications of missionary candidates.
Trustees agreed to restrict Burleson’s trustee involvement because they said his blog posts questioned their character and challenged their motives. Hatley called Burleson’s opinions toward the board “offensive and combative.” He said the majority of board members are insulted by such postings and, to his knowledge, Burleson has not apologized.
“We have no desire to restrict his opinions. Nor do we insist he agree with the majority of this board on any issue,” Hatley said. “[But] we are insistent that when character is impugned and motives are judged that a spirit of mistrust emerges that can damage the ability of this board to work together.”
The statement Hatley read from the executive committee said they would recommend lifting the restrictions as soon as Burleson:
— Publicly acknowledges his actions have seriously eroded fellow trustees’ confidence and agrees he will work with them to instill mutual trust.
— Apologizes to fellow trustees for repeatedly questioning their motives.
“The goal of the [executive] committee … is to bring about restored relations and lay the foundation for trust that would facilitate greater board effectiveness and harmony,” Hatley said. He noted appreciation “for Wade for his discourse with me concerning this situation.”
Hatley pointed out Burleson recently had made a conciliatory statement on his blog site.
“While the focus of this report is on actions by Brother Wade that were harmful to the board as a whole, I would also encourage him to work to reconcile with board members individually where individual offenses have occurred…. Neither I nor any of the other members of your executive committee view this matter in personal terms, nor do we seek any new initiatives to censure Bro. Burleson.
“We stand ready to move beyond this and do all we can to ensure that no other meetings of our board are burdened with this matter.”
In addressing the board, Burleson said he appreciated the spirit in which the report was given. However, he said he didn’t know what Hatley meant by a breech of confidentiality.
“No one has come to me personally,” Burleson said. “I would just request that specifics be shared since the charge has been shared within a public forum. If you could, please state what it is and I will, on the spot, repent if there is a breech of [information sharing from the] forum.”
Clyde Meador, IMB executive vice president, told trustees the attrition rate of missionaries in 2005 was 5.2 percent of the overall force. The board had 5,036 missionaries under appointment at the end of 2005.
“Historically, our attrition rate has remained essentially the same -– at the 5-percent range,” Meador said. “So this 5.2 percent attrition rate for last year is normative. And, it’s actually a very good figure.
“One thing that’s interesting is the attrition rate of Masters personnel – those 55 years and older. Twenty-three Masters resigned last year, which is approximately 6 percent. We used to run 10-12 percent annual attrition among Masters with the various challenges they have at advanced ages. So it’s good to see that attrition rate coming down.”
Last year, the West Africa region had the highest attrition rate at 7.7 percent, with the lowest rates reported in the South Asia and Central Asia regions, each with 3.1 percent attrition overall. In a five-year analysis, Western Europe has the highest rate at 7.9 percent attrition. Again, the lowest rates over the five years were for the South Asia and Central Asia regions with 3.7 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.
Meador noted personnel who serve in areas hostile or closed to a Gospel witness tend to have lower attrition rates than personnel who serve in regions generally receptive or indifferent to missionary presence.
“The major reason I point that out is because often people say it must be difficult to keep missionaries in places where they have to be careful about how they reveal their identity and where they cannot publicly proclaim themselves as missionaries,” Meador said. “That’s simply not true. In fact, the opposite, for whatever reason, tends to be true.”
In trustee elections, John Floyd was elected chairman on a ballot vote over Wayne Marshall of Olive Branch, Miss., pastor of Longview Heights Baptist Church there. Floyd, of Collierville, Tenn., is a member of Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Germantown.
In another ballot vote, trustees selected John Russell, senior associate pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., as first vice chairman, over Lonnie Wascom, director of missions of North Shore Baptist Association in Hammond, La.
Trustees selected Sam Morgan, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Creswell, Ore., as second vice chairman by acclamation. For recording secretary, Sharon Tillery, a nurse from Artesia, N.M., who is a member of First Baptist Church there, was elected over Kathy Towns, an office manager who is a member of First Baptist Church in Arcadia, La.
In his charge to new personnel during the missionary-appointment service, IMB President Jerry Rankin reminded them their task is to “open the eyes of peoples who are blind to the truth of God’s love and salvation. It’s to turn them from darkness to the light of the Savior -– from those who are in bondage to the power of Satan, to release them to the power of God. That’s what it means to do missions.”
Rankin warned Southern Baptists not to be blind to God’s truth: blind to the world as God sees it, blind to the work of God and blind to the will of God. The new appointees, he noted, had opened their hearts to follow God’s will.
The next meeting of International Mission Board trustees is scheduled for July 17-19 in Richmond, Va. No missionary appointment service will be held in conjunction with the Richmond meeting; the next missionary appointment service will be Sept. 12 in Spartanburg, S.C.