IMB trustees celebrate record offering as Missouri plays host
Meeting focused on the adoption of revised baptism, prayer language guidelines
KANSAS CITY (BP) – International Mission Board (IMB) trustees celebrated the largest Lottie Moon Christmas Offering on record, earmarked $5 million to fund an additional 200 new missionaries and adopted guidelines on baptism and the practice of tongues and prayer languages among prospective missionaries during their May 7-9 meeting in Kansas City.
They also appointed 35 new missionaries, re-elected trustee officers for 2007-08 and heard reports on the board’s finances and mission personnel.
David Steverson, IMB treasurer and vice president for finance, presented the board’s financial statements for 2006 and reported that the mission board ended the year in good fiscal condition. Steverson also brought good news about the projected total for the 2006 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which will be counted May 31.
“I’m glad to say that we now have over $144 million in hand and continue to believe that in the next three weeks enough will come in so that the 2006 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering will not only be the largest offering in our history, but we will also meet the goal of $150 million,” he said. “That is really something to celebrate. You will see a recommendation from the finance committee that we allocate the first $5.2 million received beyond the $141.2 million we have [budgeted from anticipated Lottie Moon receipts] in the 2007 operating budget to sending additional missionaries.”
The operating budget already provides funding for new missionaries. The anticipated Lottie Moon funds could result in a net gain of an additional 200 missionaries in 2007-08.
“This is the most important thing we do as a board – send and support missionaries,” Steverson said. “Thank you, Southern Baptists, for your generosity in showing your concern for a lost world by giving this tremendous Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.”
The baptism and prayer language guidelines, overwhelmingly adopted by trustees, come after a year of review by two special ad hoc committees. The guidelines reaffirm the main provisions of a policy and a guideline that stirred debate among Southern Baptists after being approved by the trustees in November 2005.
The 2005 policy ruled out the appointment of missionary candidates who practice either glossolalia (tongues) in public or a “prayer language” usually practiced in private. The baptism guideline stated candidates must have been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church of another denomination that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone. Also, the baptism must not be viewed as sacramental or regenerative, and the candidate’s church must embrace the doctrine of the security of the believer.
The revised measures, both of which are now termed “guidelines,” retain much of their original wording – with several changes for clarification. Neither the original actions nor the revisions apply retroactively to missionaries appointed before adoption of the measures.
“The ad hoc committees have met over the course of this past year along with staff, and we also invited input from our [overseas missionary] regional leaders,” said Paul Chitwood of Kentucky, chairman of the trustees’ mission personnel committee who presented the revised guidelines.
The committees also considered a “vast amount of material that we gathered from scholars and pastors across our Convention,” Chitwood reported. “The [personnel] committee solicited this material in an attempt to be faithful to our task. The committee has also spent considerable time praying, fasting and seeking God’s heart on these issues. The committee has no desire to create further controversy. Rather, our desire is to bring this study to completion and to allow the board to maintain its focus on our world mission task.”
Chitwood said the ad hoc committees found that field-related data and consultation with regional leaders have “not indicated a systemic problem with charismatic practices among field personnel.” He added, however, that “the rapid spread of neo-Pentecostalism and its pressure exacted on new churches in various regions of the world warrants a concern for the clear Baptist identity of our missionary candidates.
“Furthermore, the diversity of denominational backgrounds among missionary candidates requires a clear baptism guideline to guide the work of our candidate consultants as they consider the qualification of candidates.”
The new guideline on tongues and prayer language specifies that the New Testament gift of glossolalia (tongues) is generally considered a “legitimate language” that “had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.” If a missionary candidate currently engages in public worship outside those parameters, “the candidate has eliminated himself or herself” from being a representative of the International Mission Board.
The baptism guideline states that a missionary candidate’s baptismal experience must be examined in light of the Baptist Faith and Message, Article VII, which defines baptism as “the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”
Prospective missionaries, therefore, must have received believer’s baptism by immersion after their salvation. The candidate must see baptism as symbolic of his or her death to sin and resurrection to a new life in Christ, not as regenerative in itself. The guideline states that baptism “must take place under the authority of a local church that practices believer’s baptism alone, embraces the doctrine of the security of a believer’s salvation and does not view baptism as sacramental, regenerative or essential to salvation. A candidate who has not been baptized under the authority of a local church, which meets the standards listed above, is expected to request baptism in his or her Southern Baptist church.”
IMB consultants who work with missionary candidates should have a “working knowledge” of many denominational groups, but are not expected to “investigate” every church, the guideline states. “The candidate is responsible for requesting their home church to assist them in meeting this doctrinal commitment.”
In other actions, trustees re-elected their current slate of officers for second one-year terms. Floyd, administrative vice president at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tenn., will serve another year as chairman. Floyd is a member of Kirby Woods Baptist Church in Germantown, Tenn.
Clyde Meador, IMB executive vice president, summarized the board’s annual field personnel report.
“We had a total of 5,108 missionary personnel at the end of 2006,” he reported. “Fifty-four percent of those were women and 46 percent were men; 84.8 percent were married and 15.2 percent were single. That’s actually an increase in the percentage of married personnel over the last year.
“I would point out, though, that 592 of our single personnel are women and 182 of our single personnel are men. That is a ratio of 3.3 women to one man. Of course, this difference is primarily in our (two-year) journeymen and other younger personnel. Nevertheless, this remains a tremendous challenge to us. Where are the young men? Pray with us as we find the right ways to draw young men to hear the Lord’s call and to enter missionary service.”
• More than half (51.4 percent) of Southern Baptist workers now serve in high-security assignments, where public identification can lead to loss of presence, loss of ministry witness or even physical danger. “This is a continuing trend I would expect will only increase in the world in which we live,” Meador predicted.
• More than 4,100 missionaries worked in long-term categories at year’s end. Nearly 1,000 served as short-termers. “We expect the number of short-term personnel to be increasing at a greater rate in coming years as we continue recovery from the downturn in 2003-2004 after we had a financial crunch,” Meador said.
• The board marked a net gain of 72 workers during the year, but that’s not enough. “We are prepared financially to support a significant increase in the number of missionaries on the field,” he emphasized. “Pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will call out those people.”
• 712 missionaries left the field in 2006. More than 400 completed short-term service; 74 retired. Attrition resignations, terminations, medical disability and death accounted for 228 of the total.
“For the last seven or eight years our attrition has been slightly over 5 percent,” Meador reported. “We recognize 5 to 5.3 percent as an excellent attrition rate. But in 2006, we had a rate of 4.3 percent. That’s the best rate since 1998. That’s only one out of every 23 people. We praise the Lord for that.”
The next IMB trustee meeting will be July 16-18 in Richmond, Va., with a missionary appointment service July 17 at Grove Avenue Baptist Church.