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IMB trustees focus on theological education, annual statistics

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–International Mission Board leaders reaffirmed their commitment to theological education overseas during the Jan. 9-11 board of trustees meeting in Richmond, Va., saying that discipleship and leadership training are essential to fulfilling the international missions task.

During the meeting, trustees approved an additional 12 missionaries who were appointed Jan. 10 at Staples Mill Road Baptist Church in Glen Allen, Va. Those new missionaries join 383 long-term personnel appointed last year, including 175 appointed in the September and November appointment services in Pensacola, Fla., and Huntsville, Ala., respectively.


Trustees also received the Annual Statistical Report showing substantial growth in international missions causes in 2004. Trustees learned IMB leadership had planned to present the 2005 report during the board meeting last November but needed additional time to verify reports from a church-planting movement in South Asia.

Three primary entity types -— people groups, urban centers and Baptist conventions — provide data for the report. In 2004, individual reports were received on 1,800 unique entities with which IMB personnel and Baptist partners worked. About 80 percent of these entities were people groups —- a reflection of the board’s strategy.

In the 2004 reporting period, IMB missionary personnel:

— engaged 137 new people groups — 18 of which were not engaged by any other evangelical group previously. The total population of these 137 people groups was more than 120 million individuals.

— engaged 15 unengaged, unreached urban centers for the first time. According to U.N. reports, about half of the world’s population live in urban centers. More than 400 cities in the world have populations greater than 1 million people. More than 25 urban centers have populations greater than the 7.1 million inhabitants in Virginia.

— worked with 108,713 Baptist churches, including 17,676 newly established churches.

— planted the first Baptist churches among 14 people groups where no evangelical churches existed previously.

— reported 21,899 students enrolled in residential Bible schools and seminaries with whom the board partners and an additional 128,010 students enrolled in extension training programs and non-residential theological education.

— worked among 50,637 total outreach groups, which includes Bible studies and preaching points where the Gospel is regularly proclaimed and God’s Word is regularly studied with the intent that these groups one day will become churches.

“Not every Bible study is counted as an outreach group,” said Scott Holste, the IMB’s associate vice president for research and strategic services. “[It’s counted] only if missionaries and church planters working with them have the intent [that the outreach group] will one day become a church.”

— started 8,729 new outreach groups, and Holste added that “not every new outreach group will become a church but it does give an idea of our growing edge.”

— reported 459,725 baptisms, but IMB officials said they believe baptisms were under-reported in 2004.

“Some areas reported fewer baptisms than in the past,” Holste said. “Several people groups in Central Asia, where beatings and arrests and other forms of persecution are on the increase, reported fewer baptisms. In some cases the baptisms have not actually decreased, but the reports of baptisms have decreased.

“As pastors and other church leaders are concerned about risks to their congregation, they may report less than what’s actually happening. We are finding that sometimes even our missionaries are giving the smaller, safer reports.”

The statistical report from the previous year was adjusted to reflect 461,057 baptisms, a revised figure that resulted from the reassessment of a church-planting movement in Asia.

— reported a membership of 7,337,135 in Baptist churches, with Holste adding, “Again, we feel like we have under-reports” of church membership.

— recorded 3,887,001 participants in Bible teaching.

— counted 477,670 new believers in discipleship, with a total of 970,924 church members in discipleship.

“We are not in this task alone, and part of the task is equipping, training and leading our national partners to engage the peoples of the world as well,” Holste told the board. “Our Baptist partners reported 3,650 home missionaries and 1,712 international missionaries engaging people groups in other countries.”

Holste said the 2004 statistics “clearly reveal God at work around the world. Over 1,000 people groups were engaged by our missionaries. Over 100 people groups were newly engaged…. God allowed Southern Baptists and our overseas Baptist partners to participate with Him with our prayers, our gifts and our service.

“This is cause for celebration -— not what we’ve done, but what God is doing through our missionaries.”


In other business, trustees approved reallocation of $8.25 million to balance various IMB overseas and stateside accounts, along with an allocation of $1.15 million to be taken from the board’s reserves to provide a backup generator for electrical power at the Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Va., and to reconfigure office space at the Monument Avenue headquarters building in Richmond.

David Steverson, vice president of finance, reported that operating expenditures were slightly more than $1 million under budget during 2005, and therefore those funds are available for use in 2006.

Steverson also reported investment income has consistently outperformed the IMB’s benchmark by almost 5 percentage points over the past several years. Investments are the IMB’s third-largest source of income, behind the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.


During the meeting, board chairman Tom Hatley read into the minutes that trustees had voted in executive session to recommend to the Southern Baptist Convention that Wade Burleson be removed as an IMB trustee. Burleson is senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla.

“This difficult measure was not taken without due deliberation and exploration of other ways to handle an impasse between Wade Burleson and the board,” Hatley said. “In taking this action, trustees addressed issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability, not Burleson’s opposition to policies recently enacted by the board.

“The trustees consider this a rare and grievous action but one that was absolutely necessary for the board to move forward in its duties as prescribed by the SBC.”

The trustees’ move to ask the SBC to act follows the IMB charter’s process for removing a trustee.


Trustees heard a report concerning the story released to Baptist Press and placed on the IMB website following the IMB trustee meeting in Huntsville, Ala., in November. The news story contained an unofficial vote count on board action. When questions arose about the figure given for the vote, IMB media staff immediately removed the specific count reference from the BP version of the story while seeking clarification.

In researching the statistic, staff learned that only the vote outcome -– not the vote count -– is included in official board minutes. The outcome was that the action had passed. When asked, Hatley referred to his notes from the meeting and indicated he had written down the figure 50-15 regarding the vote. The BP story was replaced.

Wendy Norvelle, interim vice president for mobilization, told trustees that “we re-posted a story to BP, but unfortunately, we did not realize the story that was posted to our website was not changed.

“It was an administrative process, and an oversight on our part…. But as soon as it was called to our attention that the story on the IMB website still contained wrong information, we immediately removed it.”


IMB President Jerry Rankin focused his report to trustees on concerns the IMB is abandoning theological education on the mission field. He linked the misperception to an awareness of indigenization of traditional seminaries on mission fields and the idea that mission-field seminaries should mirror classical seminary programs in the United States.

“We certainly are not abandoning theological education as this would erode our mission objectives of evangelism, church planting and reaching all peoples,” Rankin said. “It is not an issue of investing in high-cost, Western-style institutions but finding the methods and means to deliver the vital training needed, at the time and place it is needed, to nurture church-planting movements and assure those who identify themselves as Baptist are well-grounded in sound doctrine.”

Rankin said the IMB appoints a number of new missionaries every year as seminary professors. Regional leadership has been encouraged to work with seminaries to place more IMB personnel in teaching roles.

“However, we are not interested in processing those who simply want to be classroom teachers,” Rankin said. “Those assigned to seminaries should be, first of all, committed to evangelism and church planting and model that involvement in a lifestyle commitment among their students, along with providing classroom instruction.”

Last year, trustees approved IMB goals to increase both residential and non-residential theological education enrollment by 10 percent each year.

“The vast majority of [believers overseas] responding to God’s call as pastors, missionaries and evangelists have a minimal education. They cannot leave the support of their families and their congregations for several years to attend an institution in another location,” Rankin added. “We have had to take theological education to them where they are and at their level…. There is a place for both [residential and non-residential learners], but the greater need is theological education at the grassroots level that will train the masses and serve the churches.”

Gordon Fort, vice president for overseas operations, told trustees the IMB has a relationship with 63 seminaries, and 113 missionaries teach either full- or part-time in many of those institutions. Last year, the IMB allocated more than $700,000 to support seminaries overseas.

He said 43 missionaries work with 252 Bible schools and institutions around the world, in addition to the 63 seminaries. Fort said many more missionaries are teaching on a short-term basis.

“Beyond that, every missionary who is involved in church planting is training people,” Fort said. “We cannot ensure the health of our church growth if missionaries are not doing theological education. It’s the very foundation of everything that we do.”

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  • Michael Chute