Columbus, Ohio— Messengers resoundingly affirmed David Platt’s report that noted IMB trustees’ recent policy changes are focused on throwing open the funnel of missionary sending so more Southern Baptists called by God can make disciples and multiply churches among those who’ve never heard the name of Jesus.
“And we’re praying for limitless men and women from Southern Baptist churches to say, ‘Yes,’ to that invitation until the day when the concept of unreached peoples is completely eradicated,” Platt said in his first report as IMB president during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
Platt shared highlights of the entity’s work in the last year, speaking to about 5,300 Southern Baptist pastors, leaders and church members who attended the meeting.
Last year alone, more than 4,700 IMB missionaries proclaimed the gospel to nearly 2 million people in nearly 1,000 people groups, seeing about 200,000 people baptized and more than 13,000 new churches started—in addition to training their pastors to start new churches.
Southern Baptists have enabled those positive results through their praying, going and giving, Platt said, with more than $94 million given to IMB through the Cooperative Program last year, and more than $153 million to Lottie Moon, the second-largest offering in IMB history.
“But we have a problem,” he said.
In 2009, IMB had a record-high 5,600 missionaries overseas. Today, the number has dropped to 4,700 and is fast on its way to 4,200, primarily because IMB is not financially able to support their missionary force on the field. Last year, IMB operated with expenses nearly $21 million more than income.
The decreasing number of missionaries “is not tolerable when two billion people still haven’t heard the name of Jesus,” Platt said. “Consequently, we are evaluating all of our structures and systems in order to discern how we can more efficiently and effectively use the resources Southern Baptists churches have entrusted to us.”
As long as fully financially supported missionaries are the only way IMB can send Southern Baptists, Platt said—even if the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering both increase dramatically—”we will keep a cap” on Southern Baptists’ missions involvement.
“I want to lead the IMB to blow open that funnel to create as many pathways as possible for Southern Baptists to get the gospel to unreached people,” Platt said.
God is divinely opening the doors to take the gospel around the world not just through traditional missionary routes, he said, but also through nontraditional roles including the globalization of the marketplace. He challenged messengers to imagine a team led by a traditional missionary and surrounded by students, professionals and retirees—potentially supporting themselves financially—working alongside him or her, all focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached.
Platt said IMB trustees evaluated the entity’s policies to make such “limitless” teams possible.
In May, trustees voted on a statement of qualifications that must mark every single IMB missionary: a vibrant disciple of Jesus who is making disciples; called by God and affirmed by church leaders and IMB; committed to the vision, mission, values and beliefs of IMB; and a baptized Southern Baptist church member “with a clear conviction of truth” as expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message.
IMB took these steps to “tether ourselves in the tightest possible way to the confessional statement that unites Southern Baptists,” Platt said.
Contrary to what some news sources falsely reported, Platt said, the policy in no way signals a change in practice regarding how IMB works in relation to Southern Baptist doctrinal distinctives, or a shift in IMB missionaries’ practice when it comes to issues like tongues or private prayer language.
“To be crystal clear, IMB missionaries do not and will not in any way promote speaking in tongues or private prayer language,” Platt said. He noted that he and IMB have deep concerns about this issue, which is why IMB has an intentional appointment, training and supervisory process.
Additionally, the new policy that replaces the previous policy on divorce simply means that if a person has divorce in their past, they are not automatically disqualified from playing a part in spreading the gospel overseas.
“This action by our trustees is intended to shout to every member of every Southern Baptist church, ‘If you have been baptized by immersion as a symbol of your salvation, if you are committed to the Baptist Faith and Message, if you are a healthy disciple whom God is calling to make disciples and multiply churches among men, women, boys and girls—who aren’t talking about tongues because they’ve never heard the name of Jesus in their own language—Southern Baptists who want to change that, the door is open at IMB to do that,'” Platt said. (BP)