DENVER (BP)—In response to reduced giving during the current economic downturn, International Mission Board trustees approved suspending new appointments to the International Service Corps and Masters programs during their May 19-20 meeting in Denver.
The IMB also will reduce the number of new appointments to its career, apprentice and associate programs. New appointments will continue on a more selective basis, involving the most strategic assignments.
Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt, who spoke at the meeting, said, “It is not acceptable in my heart that we can have missionaries in the pipeline and need to tell them we can’t send them.
“I believe that the people of God will rise to the occasion,” said Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Church in Woodstock.
But Hunt also noted: “We will have a significant reduction (of missionary appointments) in 2010 . . . unless Southern Baptists respond.”
This comes after a year when Southern Baptists sent out 1,088 new missionaries in all categories combined through the IMB. This year, long-term appointments will be capped at 300. With 220 already appointed to date, only 80 more appointments will be made for the fiscal year.
In any given year, the IMB typically appoints 700 missionaries in all categories to replace attrition through end of term, retirement, resignation and other reasons. In 2008, 5,495 personnel were serving in the field, and 4,286 of these were long-term missionaries.
“Today, we have more candidates knocking on our door and downloading our applications than ever before,” said Paul Chitwood, IMB trustee chairman.
“Yet on this day when God has answered our prayers for workers for His harvest, lack of funding has forced us to temporarily suspend categories for service.”
A number of trustees had tears in their eyes as they approved the recommendations to suspend and reduce missionary sending.
The suspension of new assignments to the International Service Corps (ISC) and Masters programs will take effect immediately and continue until further review in early 2010.
The ISC program is designed for Southern Baptists age 21 and over who wish to serve two- or three-year terms abroad; the Masters program is for people age 50 and over.
More than 800 ISC and Masters missionaries currently working overseas will continue their service.
Other short-term programs —the Journeyman program and “2-plus-2″—will continue, but new appointments will be limited to the most strategic assignments.
The Journeyman program sends 20-something, single college graduates overseas for two years. The “2-plus-2” program involves two years of seminary study and two years of missionary service abroad.
These adjustments are vital since 70 percent of the organization’s budget and financial resources go toward the support of missionary personnel, IMB officials said.
This past fall, IMB trustees adopted a $319.8 million budget for 2009—$10 million of which was earmarked to offset the rising cost of support for the missionaries already on the field. The 2009 budget made no provision for an increase in the number of missionaries.
Suspensions in short-term appointments could bode poorly for future long-term appointments. In 2007, the IMB appointed 845 new missionaries, including 504 short-term personnel. Of the 341 long-term appointments, 30 percent had previously served two years or longer with the IMB through one of the short-term programs.
The results for the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions still are being collected and will be released in a few weeks. However, early projections show that the offering is expected to fall short of the $150 million received in 2007. So far, from Oct. 31 through April 30, giving is nearly $8 million below the $121.5 million contributed through state conventions during the same time frame a year ago. The IMB also receives LMCO contributions directly.
Investment losses, a slight downturn in Southern Baptist Cooperative Program giving and harsh economic conditions also have taken a toll on IMB funding.
“The economic recession has had an impact on every facet of our nation, including Southern Baptists and our churches, and our overall income is not unaffected,” IMB treasurer David Steverson told the trustees. “The overall economy contributed to a decrease in nearly every income category.”
Though significant adjustments will be necessary to meet future needs, Steverson said he remains optimistic.
“The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program have held up dramatically well when you consider everything happening in our economy,” he said.
Trustees recognized 11 regional leaders who have guided the work of the organization across the globe in recent years. Most will move into new roles under a reorganization taking effect in July.
“These field leaders have been a major factor in getting us to where we are today,” IMB President Jerry Rankin said.
“Their vision and passion for the peoples of their region, their strategic thinking, influence and relationship skills . . . enabled them to serve the IMB and Southern Baptists effectively and advance God’s Kingdom.”
In other business, trustees:
• voted to cancel their July 10-11 meeting in light of the economic situation. An official decision will be made in the coming days. The July 12 appointment service still will be held in Lebanon, Ohio.
• appointed 101 new missionaries at Riverside Church in Denver.
• received a report that $2,110,310.96 in Hunger and General Relief Funds had been used for 82 projects. A total of $1,673,163.10 was released to support world hunger needs, $381,726.86 to support general relief needs and $55,421 to support four 2004 tsunami relief projects. Of these 82 projects, 50 supported community development ministries and 32 supported disaster relief efforts.
• elected officers for 2009-10: Chairman, Paul Chitwood, Mount Washington, Ky.; first vice chairman, Simon Tsoi, Phoenix; second vice chairman, Steve Swofford, Rockwall, Texas; and secretary, Debbie Brunson, Jacksonville, Fla.
The next board meeting is set for Sept. 15-16 in Jacksonville, Fla., where an appointment service is scheduled at First Church, Jacksonville, Sept. 16.