May 2003 Rankin's editorial "5 myths about the International Mission Board"

by Wm. Robert Johnston
last modified 6 June 2003

The IMB’s magazine Commission of May/June 2003 included an article “5 myths about the International Mission Board” by Jerry Rankin, IMB president. The “myths” discussed are in part issues of opinion, not fact. A greater failing of the article is that it fails to directly address the factual claims behind these “myths”. Several "myths" are stated in absolute terms, simplifying the task of "proving" them false but sidestepping the real issues.
“It is said the IMB is no longer interested in seminaries, hospitals and other institutions and is mandating that all missionaries leave these assignments to be church planters regardless of their calling and training.”
By stating this claim in absolute terms ("is no longer interested", "all missionaries"), Rankin is correct to call it false. However, the claim that career, long-term missionaries in these human need fields are being directed away from these callings is never addressed. This is a specific complaint expressed by a number of former and current missionaries, some of whom describe being explicitly told to leave their human ministry assignments. Rankin states that more teachers, medical personnel, etc., are being appointed, but does not indicate whether these are long term or short term workers, which are an increasing fraction of new appointments. This could account for the discrepancy between the claims.
“Another myth states that since 1997 with the introduction of “New Directions,” administrators in Richmond hand down all decisions and field missionaries have less involvement in decision-making.”
In addressing this, Rankin claims “never has decision-making been so decentralized and missionaries had more freedom to fulfill their calling.” This contradicts specific problems cited by former and current missionaries and some of the groups they work with. But Rankin continues:
"This myth seems to be based on the perception that the IMB should support missionaries to go and do whatever they want to do without any coordination or accountability. We may have operated under the biblical pattern in the past of ‘everyone doing what is right in their own eyes,’ but if we are going to be faithful in reaching a lost world, the rebellious children of Israel cannot be our model.”
This is a rather serious charge against IMB critics, particularly missionaries. On the surface it seems to contradict the earlier statement, claiming that missionaries now have more freedom than ever, in implying that the IMB is constraining missionaries more than in the past. More specifically it seems to claim that the “myth” is generated by “rebellious” missionaries. However, the specific points raised by some missionaries would generally not be considered issues of rebellion.
“There is a myth that states the IMB has changed the way missionaries are counted to inflate statistics. It maintains our emphasis is on short-term missions and that we are de-emphasizing career missionaries who plant their lives as an incarnational witness.”
“There is a myth that states the Southern Baptist Convention is more interested in doctrinal conformity than it is in missions as its unifying and driving priority; and that the IMB is simply looking for churches to support its bureaucratic programs rather than serving the churches.”
Again, the claims behind this “myth” are not directly confronted; indeed, Rankin’s only acknowledgement of the core issue is in stating “Southern Baptists have realized that this kind of missions and evangelistic impact can only by made—not by embracing diversity and theological relativism—but by adhering to the doctrinal foundations of our faith.” The fact is that Rankin and the IMB board have now terminated or forced into resignation dozens of missionaries who would not sign an affirmation of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. This occurred after Rankin repeatedly stated he would not pursue such a course of action, it uses an affirmation procedure that is different from that historically employed by the Foreign Mission Board, and it removed missionaries that had been previously affirmed by Rankin and current board members.

© 2003 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 6 June 2003.
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