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Missionary resignations remain low, trustees told

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–International Mission Board trustees, during their March 30-April 1 board meeting, received a staff report showing only a slight increase in missionary resignations last year, disproving rumors that the IMB’s “New Directions” emphasis is spawning a large increase in resignations.

Trustees also approved veteran missionary leader Larry Cox as the new vice president for the office of public relations and development and received without action another committee decision to make no changes on the board’s current policy on appointing divorced people as career and associate missionaries.

One trustee, Tim McCoy of Georgia, said the attrition report actually showed “God has shepherded us through a major transition with minimal loss.”

The report, presented by David Garrison, associate vice president for strategy coordination and mobilization, showed missionary attrition in 1999 was 5.35 percent of the total missionary force, now at 4,886. New appointments in 1999 more than made up for the losses and the actual number of IMB missionaries under appointment in 1999 climbed by more than 200.

The 5.35 percent attrition rate for 1999 is the highest since 1992, when the rate hit 5.55 percent. For the past 10 years, attrition rates have fluctuated between 3.8 percent and 5.55 percent.

The IMB counts resignations, terminations and deaths in its attrition rates. It does not count retirements. The board has for years consistently had one of the lowest attrition rates of mission agencies anywhere.

The 1998 attrition rate was 3.96 percent, which was lower than the preceding four years. Garrison said a year of high attrition usually follows a low year.

The report showed only 26, or fewer than 10 percent of those who resigned, cited concerns with IMB policy or personnel. Issues pertaining to calling, stateside job offers and matters related to children were the dominant reasons given for the other resignations.

The report also showed that resignations tend to be higher in “older fields,” such as South America and Western Europe, and lower in “newer fields,” such as East Asia, and also the highest among people 41 to 50 years old. Garrison said people 41 to 50 are often struggling with issues pertaining to teenage and college-age children and aging parents.

New Directions is the name given the board’s decision three years ago to organize in such a way as to target the whole world outside North America. It includes focusing on people groups instead of countries and seeking to promote church planting movements.

People groups are ethnic or socioeconomic language groups, of which more than 12,000 exist worldwide. Church planting movements involve rapidly spreading revivals where new converts quickly organize and then multiply into new churches.

Trustees are scheduled in May to release a report on the actual status of New Directions itself.

Also during the meeting, held in Fort Worth, Texas, IMB trustees elected Larry Cox, regional leader for the board’s North Africa and the Middle East region, as the new vice president for public relations and development, effective July 1. He succeeds David Button, who resigned in January to pursue business interests.

In nominating Cox, Rankin noted Cox will solidly link the board’s overseas operations, where he has been a missionary as well as a regional leader, to the Richmond, Va., administrative operation.

A special trustee committee studying whether to appoint divorced people as career and associate missionaries also reported that it voted 6-2 to not change the current policy, which allows divorced people to serve only as two-year International Service Corps workers. The ISC program allows for reassignment, and some divorced people have served as many as five consecutive two-year assignments.

Trustees asked the committee to present its findings in writing at the next board meeting in Richmond May 18-20. Trustee chairman Bill Sutton noted that the issue of whether to appoint divorced people has come up at least four times during his eight years on the board.

Highlighting the board meeting was the appointment of 38 new international missionaries March 31 in services at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth. The appointment service capped a weeklong Global Missions Week at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, including missionaries speaking in seminary classes and International Mission Board leaders preaching in chapel services.

In addition to the 38, three additional apprentice missionaries were presented during the appointment service. Apprentice missionaries meet all the requirements for career appointment, except for ministry experience, which they gain overseas during their three-year term.

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  • Louis Moore