Elliff: Don’t trim other SBC entities to benefit IMB

NASHVILLE, TN – Channeling more resources to the international mission field should come from churches increasing their gifts to the Cooperative Program and not by taking funds from other SBC agencies.

South Carolina Baptist Convention executive director Jim Austin, left, visits with longtime friend Robin Hadaway, newly elected interim president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

That’s the word from International Mission Board President Tom Elliff in a response to a motion from the South Carolina Baptist Convention that would trim budget allocations from the denomination’s six seminaries and other entities and forward the difference to the IMB.

Meeting on Feb. 20 on the eve of the SBC Executive Committee meeting, the Cooperative Program subcommittee heard the request from the state convention as well as regular reports from SBC entities. After lengthy discussion and hearing a letter from Elliff, who was unable to attend, the committee voted to take the request under consideration but make no immediate change to the funding formula.

Reallocating the denomination’s budget by shifting funds from the seminaries to the IMB would correct an oversight in the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report which excluded the seminaries from the restructuring process, said Jim Austin, state executive for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

Austin, speaking on behalf of his convention, noted that state conventions are making necessary sacrifices to bring their CP giving to a 50/50 percentage split as suggested by the task force report. In his state that means considerable sacrifice, he said.

For example, all South Carolina institutions and partner ministries have had their budgets trimmed by 10 percent for the next five years and the state convention’s budget has been cut by one percent. Those funds will now be sent directly to the IMB in addition to the funds the state regularly forwards to the CP, Austin told The Index.

“That means the IMB will receive an additional $400,000 directly from South Carolina Baptists immediately rather than waiting for us to move from our current 41/59 percent level to 50/50 percent. They will get those funds immediately rather than having to wait for the phase-in to occur.”

But such a move places a hardship on those institutions ? like the state’s Baptist colleges and seminaries ? that find themselves in direct competition with the undergraduate schools operated by the seminaries, he observed.

Austin, who served as pastor of Blackshear Place Baptist Church in Gainesville from 1986 until 2001, said he felt it was unfair for those state educational institutions to be penalized while the similar institutions operated by the seminaries did not feel the sacrificial strain.

“I sense there will eventually be an acrimonious situation develop if the seminaries are not seen as being partners in freeing up funds for the IMB.”

He spoke about how the proposed South Carolina recommendation would level the playing field among the many state Baptist educational institutions and address the inequity of the situation.

Ernest Easley, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta and vice chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, told The Index that he believes the task force report was, in fact, weakened by not including the seminaries in the reductions.

Speaking as a member of the committee that heard the report, he said he felt that “including the seminaries would have made the report stronger and therefore would have minimized such concerns as being voiced by South Carolina Baptists.”

But it was a letter from IMB President Tom Elliff that changed the tone of the discussion. While Elliff would greatly appreciate his agency receiving more funds to reach the nations, he said he would far greater prefer that it come from increased giving rather than from cuts to fellow agencies.

“Mere words cannot express the encouragement we sense when reading this request by the SCBC. Like many other state conventions, they are making it clear that their heart is on fire for the nations.

“While deeply grateful for this expression of confidence, IMB would humbly appeal that this request not be pursued, but only because, like the SCBC, we also have hearts on fire for the nations.

He said that the Richmond, VA-based agency “has no desire to diminish the work of our entities” and the strength they bring to Southern Baptist work around the world. “Ours is indeed a cooperative work, a team effort best reflected through the Cooperative Program.

The fallout of such a reallocation could have dire side effects, he said.

“On the convention level, seminaries would have fewer students, fewer churches would be planted through the work of NAMB, ERLC would have less impact as ‘salt and light’ in our perverse society. Churches might quickly lose their grasp of the power and effectiveness that comes from trusted and faithful cooperation with others.

“State conventions might turn their gaze inward with a focus on doing all that seemed necessary financially in an attempt merely to maintain ministry functions within their states.”

Elliff said the net effect could very well be that all SBC entities would find themselves attempting “to garner more and more out of a convention that was itself becoming less and less. This is why we must join our voices in a desperate cry for spiritual awakening in our hearts, homes, churches, convention and nation.

“What is good for each of us must be good for all of us. Working together, with the winds of God’s favor blowing at our backs, the 51 percent of monies IMB is scheduled to receive in coming years, will amount to more for the Kingdom than a greater percent of a lesser amount – as long as we pray fervently, work diligently and continue to seek God’s face for His favor and His empowerment from on high.”

Easley, as vice chairman of the Executive Committee, agreed heartily with Elliff’s observations.

“We need to keep encouraging our churches that the Cooperative Program is the lifeline of all that we do as Southern Baptists. As goes the Cooperative Program, so goes the SBC.

“If the Cooperative Program continues to decrease as it has done for the last several years, our ministries will suffer and decline. But if they increase through sacrificial giving, our ministries will grow and expand and more individuals will come to faith in Christ.”

-Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, the newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.