Financing the Machine

I get a paycheck on the 15th of every month. I know that isn’t the norm for most professional “missionaries,” but the IMB funds us so that we don’t have to raise our own support. We’re not getting rich, (in fact, we just got a decrease in pay), but we’re not going hungry either. The financial support is a blessing that really frees us up to do our work without wondering how we’re going to pay next month’s rent.

Every year, the IMB collects the “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.” The Board uses this heavily-advertised season of fund-raising to ask Southern Baptist churches to give to the Board’s international endeavors. In 2003, the LMCO brought in $136,204,648.17. This year, the goal is 150,000,000 (that’s 150 million). When people give to the Board throughout the year through the Cooperative Program, some of that money is used for stateside operations such as administration, publicity, etc. (Most people aren’t aware that a large part of daily operating costs is funded by investment returns- money made through stocks and bonds.) The entirety of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, however, is used in support of overseas personnel. You can see, then, why the offering is a big deal to us.

The Board really knows how to do things. They use quality media productions and publications to educate the people in the pews about our church planting efforts around the world. They have a department that analyzes the financial needs for the budget year and sets giving goals for the churches. Thousands of people give sacrificially to the organization because they believe in what the Board is doing and they want to be involved however they can.

I’m trying not to get too comfortable, though. It’s not that I don’t think the IMB knows how to raise funding. Times change. In the past, churches were proud of their Southern Baptist identity. Today, many SBC churches don’t use “SB” in their name; I’d venture to say that most members don’t even know what the Convention is or whether their church belongs to it. The only real denominational identity these days is that of “Crusading Conservatives” who are caught up in divisive politics and culture wars.

People are tired of sacrificially giving their hard-earned money to a faceless corporate institution that both defines “the Task” and measures its own progress in fulfilling that task. “It’s going to cost us $800 million for us to finish the task,” the organization might say. But beyond that, there is no real accountability as to how the money is spent or even as to where the financial figures come from.

The changing times has changed the way people feel about giving, but it has not changed their desire to give. “We know Jack and Suzy Brown. They’re part of our spiritual family. We know they’re called to and equipped for missions, and we’ve seen them be intentional in ministry here at home. We’ll support them. We have a relationship with them that will insure accountability, we can remain involved in their ministry, send them volunteers, and house them when there home for a visit.”
The Board’s efforts at personalization and fostering partnerships cannot compete with the relationship that Jack and Suzy Brown have with their home church. Nor should it.

Only when you know your supporters can there be true accountability. One of the biggest problems our field personnel have is the feeling of entitlement. This attitude of “I get what’s coming to me” and “It’s MY money” is everywhere. Regional policies only serve to reinforce the selfishness. “The Policy Manual says that we are entitled to 30 days vacation.” “Regional guidelines clearly state that we get an apartment of 1400m2. Ours is only 900.” It goes on an on. Because our money comes in the form of a paycheck every month from a well-oiled machine that raises support for us. We don’t see the little old ladies who give as much as half of their social security check every month, or the families who give inheritance money or vacation savings. We don’t know the people who give so that we can live and work overseas, so their money means much less to us. There is great financial accountability to the Board, but little accountability to the churches that give to support us.

So what’s the solution? Well, the megachurches are sending their own missionaries. Denominational splinter groups are too. The Board is trying to put on a more personal face by encouraging partnerships between missionaries and stateside churches. They push missionaries to speak in churches and conferences whenever possible. I say, stop it. I say, dismantle the machine and let local churches send their own people through the Board. When they don’t have anyone, or can afford to fully support them, let them cooperate through existing associations. But make sure every church that gives, no matter how little it might be, knows personally the missionary they are sending. If thirty churches in rural Arkansas want to give, make sure they have the opportunity to know the people who receive their offerings, and insure that they have some relationship with that overseas ministry. Instead of selling people groups, the Board needs to be representing us, the field personnel to the churches back home.

What do you think?

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.