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IMB trustees approve guidelines with mission partners

MIDLAND, Texas (BP)–Trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board appointed 116 missionaries — the second-largest group of new missionaries in board history — during their May 19-21 meeting in Midland, Texas.

They also adopted guidelines for cooperating with other Great Commission Christian partners overseas; elected new officers for 2005-06; received reports on the board’s finances and missionary personnel; and heard from IMB President Jerry Rankin about the necessity of ongoing evangelical mission efforts in Roman Catholic countries.

About 1,000 people gathered May 20 at the Chaparral Center on the campus of Midland College for the missionary appointment service. They saw a group remarkably varied in age, experience, skills and backgrounds — including 18 ethnic Asians -– present themselves for service among even more varied cultures across the globe.

“It demonstrates that God has a heart for the whole world,” Rankin said in his charge to the new missionaries.

Board chairman Tom Hatley, who was re-elected to a second one-year term, told trustees that the big group of missionary appointees offers a “sure sign” Southern Baptist churches continue to increase their commitment to supporting missions. The upsurge in giving follows financial shortfalls that culminated in significant budget cuts two years ago — and a temporary freeze on missionary appointments.

“Southern Baptists have pulled us out of a slump with their generous giving to missions,” said Hatley, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark. “Staff and trustees have responded with the hard work of increasing the pace of our duties, which has resulted in renewed growth in the size of our team on the field.”

Looking back over the past year, Hatley observed that much of the mission board’s agenda had been controlled by circumstances only God could foresee. Some doors to witness in Asia had been so tightly closed that only a “high-impact” event could change the status quo.

“Then came the tragic devastation of the tsunami and now the doors are open,” he said. “Southern Baptists reacted with more compassion than ever before seen after one catastrophe. Over $16 million has been given thus far to help those areas hit hardest by that giant wave. Now, even as people are hurting, they are feeling a second wave: compassion. This wave will prove more powerful than the first and is bringing the example of Christ and the story of our Lord to people who would otherwise have never known of Jesus.”


In other business, trustees adopted revised goals and guidelines outlining five levels of “strategic relationships” with other Christian groups committed to international missions. Southern Baptist missionary mobilizers work with a wide variety of groups to gain access to people groups needing the Gospel. The guidelines clarify for trustees, board staff and missionaries appropriate ways to partner with others — some of whom differ with Southern Baptists in theology and church practice.

“IMB missionaries do not enter into strategic relationships randomly” but with the intention of starting church-planting movements and “in accord with the biblical principles of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” the guidelines state. “The deeper the level (of cooperation), the greater the significance” of being in accord on those principles.

The first two levels offer wide latitude for networking with many types of groups, including secular organizations. In Level One, “Our aim is simply to gain a presence or access to a people group or population segment,” the guidelines state. “The missionary may be trying to make inroads into what may be a hostile situation. Creativity and flexibility are essential in associating with cultural programs, educational institutions, business forums or whatever can open the door to deeper levels of relationships.”

Level Two centers on human needs projects, disaster response and mobilizing prayer in cooperation with many kinds of relief groups, Christians and Christian organizations.

Level Three focuses on specific presentation of the Gospel, limiting potential partners to “those whose commitment is to New Testament evangelism and who present personal repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation.” These include joint efforts with groups skilled in various aspects of outreach and discipleship, such as TransWorld Radio, Operation Mobilization and the Navigators.

Level Four, which moves into the actual planting of New Testament churches, further narrows partners to those in alignment with the definition of a church found in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message as well as the additional guidelines on what constitutes a church approved by IMB trustees in January.

Finally, Level Five “seeks to influence the ongoing shape of Baptist work and identity … through theological education and ministerial training. Seldom, if ever, would we engage in strategic relationships, even with other Great Commission Christians, at this level…. ”


Rankin, in his president’s report to trustees, noted the passing of Pope John Paul II, a man beloved by millions of Protestants and evangelicals “for his zeal, his personal warmth and his unyielding stand for human dignity, the sanctity of life and many other moral convictions shared in common.”

Rankin added, however, that nearly 1,200 Southern Baptist missionaries continue to serve in 65 predominately Roman Catholic countries where 852 million people live.

“Why would we invest such efforts in Catholic countries? The answer is quite simple: It is because they are lost,” Rankin said. “The people may be identified as cultural Christians since that is their socio-religious profile, but most of them do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…. They, too, deserve an opportunity to hear, understand and respond to the life-changing message of the Gospel. They cannot be ignored in our commitment that all peoples would know our Lord Jesus Christ.”


After re-electing Hatley by acclamation, trustees tapped three new officers to one-year terms. They succeed those completing two one-year terms:

— Lonnie Wascom of Hammond, La., director of missions for the North Shore Baptist Association, was elected first vice chairman. He succeeds Michael Barrett of North Carolina.

— Bill Hudgins, pastor of Cross Creek Community Church in Hokes Bluff, Ala., was elected second vice chairman, succeeding Bill Duncan of Hawaii.

— Mary Nichols, a homemaker and pastor’s wife from Kenai, Alaska, was elected recording secretary. She succeeds Nedra Jackson of Georgia.


David Steverson, IMB treasurer and vice president for finance, reported to trustees on the board’s 2004 financial statements and the independent audit performed by the international accounting firm KPMG.

Contributions to IMB mission work in 2004 through the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, hunger and relief giving and other gifts totaled more than $245 million, up almost $6 million over 2003 giving. Other income – from investments, legacies, additions to endowments and the like — totaled $41.6 million, bringing all income for the year to nearly $287 million.

Overseas expenses totaled $242.1 million in 2004, with the bulk of the funds (nearly $209 million) going to support more than 5,000 missionaries and their families. U.S. administration and promotion totaled $40.2 million. Total overall expenses: $282.3 million, a $4 million increase over 2003.

“We experienced a couple of not-so-great years from a financial perspective in 2001 and 2002 and made a significant improvement in 2003,” Steverson said. “2004 saw a continuation of that trend. While we might like to have more income and more missionaries to send out, we continue to be on the right track regarding both total contributions and a growth in net assets.

“Let me hasten to say that the numbers are not growing at the rate we need them to grow in order to sustain a growing missionary force,” he added. “However, just as we experienced last year when we told Southern Baptists we had missionary candidates ready, willing and able to go but insufficient funds to send them, I’m convinced Southern Baptists will respond to the needs as they catch the vision of reaching a lost world.”

Steverson projected that the Lottie Moon Offering for 2004, which will be officially announced after all receipts are counted at the end of May, will total about $133 million -– down some $3 million from the 2003 offering. However, Steverson reminded trustees that the devastating tsunami slammed into Asia Dec. 26 and churches immediately began giving for relief efforts.

“Southern Baptists have responded by giving over $16 million toward tsunami relief right in the middle of Lottie Moon season,” he said. “Between the two offerings, Lottie Moon and tsunami, Southern Baptists have given almost $150 million for international missions efforts.”


IMB Executive Vice President Clyde Meador presented a summary of the board’s annual missionary personnel report to trustees.

The international missionary force at the end of last year, 5,165, reflected a net loss of 205 when compared to the previous year. While 686 new missionaries were added during the year, 891 were subtracted due to retirement (48), completion of service by shorter-term missionaries (572) and attrition (271). Attrition includes resignations, terminations of service, medical disability and deaths among active missionaries.

The attrition rate for the year, 5 percent, is the lowest since 1998 -– and continues an average annual rate that is significantly lower than rates among many missionary-sending agencies.

The IMB missionary count peaked at about 5,500 in early 2003, but began to fall with the budget cuts and temporary freeze on new appointments that year. With mission support among churches on the increase, “We expect to see the number start coming up,” Meador said.

The next meeting of International Mission Board trustees is scheduled for July 18-20 in Richmond, Va.

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  • Erich Bridges