Another Missionary Perspective on Platt and the IMB

For security reasons, this post must remain anonymous. 

As someone currently serving on the field, I am disappointed to see Platt go. However, I don’t want to see a pendulum swing in response. Platt led us well, and his strategy forced us to reevaluate many of our on the field practices that were in need of some sound criticism. I think the list mentioned above is great, but there are a few things that I would like noted.

First, someone that can encourage the Church to creatively think through missiology is needed. The “Limitless” campaign has opened many people’s eyes to the reality that every professional can leverage their career for missions, they don’t have to leave their career for missions. Platt was always fully supportive of the career IMB missionary, but he was right to voice that the job is much larger than even the largest sending agency in the world can manage alone.

Second, Platt pushed IMB to foster supportive relationships with national churches around the globe. Under his leadership, we were empowered to engage, train, and support nationals churches and allow them to take the lead. This may seem like common sense, but it was not always practiced on the field and in some instances, it was discouraged.

Third, Platt pushed our workers to question methodology and make sure it was sound according to the BF&M. The IMB as an organization has maintained sound doctrine for the 8 years of combined service I have with them; however, field practices do not always match organizational standards. The majority of workers I serve with have amazing methodology, but there is a temptation to allow practices to be results driven rather than doctrine driven and more than a few missionaries have wandered down that path. Platt pushed training to go all the way down to the field level to ensure that all methodology fell within BF&M standards. It would be great to have a president that had many years of field experience, but Platt’s fresh eyes were a God sent for IMB. It took him 4 years to really define his plan for IMB, and I am slightly disappointed that he is not going to stay for 4 years to actually see it implemented.

I would be foolish to think that the next president will be completely like-minded with Platt, but I would like to see someone who would build on the work Platt has done rather than set a new agenda for imp.

From the Field: A Missionary Reflects on Platt’s Tenure

IMB President David Platt asked the trustees of the IMB to begin searching for his replacement.

I could stop there, get some popcorn, and open up the comments section. I never thought I’d outlast the Energizer Bunny. We assumed Elliff’s brief presidency would remain an aberration, and Platt would resume the tradition of long-serving presidents.

I realize you’re all waiting with baited (bated?) breath for my opinion. “Please,” you beg, “tell us all about your own personal, field-based perspective so we can assume you speak for everyone. Let the golden words drip from your lips to our ears.”

I hear your cry, my children.

++++++

We searched for the perfect hire for 6 months and got three and a half years. So…roughly seven months of service for every 30 days of searching.

I expected more.

People decry the ever-declining average tenure of an IMB worker. I believe it lies somewhere south of 7 years, a number skewed by the loss of many long-term workers during the VRI and HRO. Still – I didn’t think turnover at the top would be part of that shortening trend.

I don’t like it.

Here’s a small collection of slightly paraphrased responses from my circle of colleagues; I emphasize these are my contacts because it’s possible we fly together because our perspectival plumages are similarly colored.*

“Not even four years? Did he sign up for an apprentice term or something?”“All this talk of sacrifice and commitment for less than 4 years of service? Good riddance, Mr. Radical.”

“Oh, did the plane land? Or have we crashed in the mountains? Last I heard we were still at 10,000 feet.”

“Seems to be a bad time to leave, with the organization still in such chaos.”

*Small sample size, take with a grain of salt.

As you’ll see below, I consider Platt’s tenure to be a qualified success. Even so, I can’t avoid a sense of incompleteness, as if he’s leaving before completing the job of re-organizing. I appreciate his passion, distinct in its expression from the quiet, resolute demeanors of Rankin and Elliff.

But it begs the question: did his fervor – like Rutger Hauer’s spark in “Bladerunner” – burn brightly yet necessarily briefly?

++++++

Platt’s legacy should be his willingness to streamline the organization so it functioned in a financially sound fashion for years to come. In reality, he’ll always be the guy who brought in Sebastian “The Executioner” Traeger to trim the fat. And by “fat” I mean expenditures, which means jobs.*

*Yes, this is an overly simplistic definition of Traeger’s work. I’m truly sorry, Sebastian, wherever you are, because you deserve more. Become IMB prez and we’ll talk.

To avoid verbosity, allow me to bullet-point:

  • Repaired financial damage
  • Restructured organization for better efficiency
  • Reduced internal, top-heavy structure
  • Simplified Manual for Field Personnel (MFP)
  • ­Rolled back rules on missionary candidates, including divorced candidates
  • Changed emphasis from evaluating missionary effectiveness based on baptisms to faithful sharing of the gospel
  • Improved accountability, especially of middle and upper management
  • Created new pathways for partnerships and field workers
  • Reorganized support positions in order to maintain field focus on missions

He hired smart people. While their decisions were painful and sometimes poorly executed, those were desperate days. The times were uncertain, and much anguish accompanied the resignations, layoffs, and firings.

Despite the pain, Platt had a successful tenure. He stood up and did what was unpopular but necessary in order to continue the work for God’s kingdom.

+++++++

I struggle with the notion that all this upheaval was worth it. I know we needed to arrange things financially, and that required a more efficient structure. I’m thrilled we’ve achieved this, and I acknowledge that a smooth system often suffers from invisibility. Giving credit is difficult when you don’t notice things are error-free.

I guess I thought my working environment would change somehow. I imagined improved supervision, more efficient affinity structures, greater transparency.

Ah, that’s a sensitive one: transparency.

We have four departments: Training, Mobilization, Support, and Global Engagement. I could not tell you what those first two are doing, despite the emphasis on greater internal communication. For all the talk of becoming a more cohesive organization free of personal fiefdoms and informational silos, from the field we seem to be just as fractured. I cannot perceive any connections with sections of the organization which are intended to be a part of the work we do. Without the ability to force anyone to talk to me, I sit back and realize I’m better off assuming they don’t even exist.

No one should shoulder the blame for this – not Platt, Traeger, or the trustees – but I wonder what changed. Are we just leaner, but otherwise exactly the same? I honestly do not know; and my ignorance certainly isn’t anyone’s fault.

Where are we on the 100,000 church planting teams? What about the global initiative cities? And those US-based guys who were brought in because they were visionary enough to help the field – how did they pan out? Are more churches supporting their own field workers?I’m not being snarky here – really, how did it all work out?

++++++

When field workers leave, gossip grows like mold in spring. The more experienced among us have learned to listen to the reasons, and respond with a certain, um, insight (aka, cynicism).

You know – the family with the straight-A, freakishly gifted athletic daughter suddenly needs to leave for “academic reasons.” Six months later the kid is at a national sports training center. Or the family with a high standard of living that an IMB wage cannot support feels called to work as a self-supported missionary. Their house in southern Asia, paid for by donors, could only be described as palatial. A family leaves for “family reasons,” but you know it’s only because both their kids are about to have grandbabies.

But the reality is that we all know sometimes you make hard decisions and you hope no one challenges you. You pray and struggle and it never seems ok and yet you realize that even if you make a mistake in following God it’s still better than never even trying to follow Him at all. People look at you and think exactly what a friend told me about Platt, “Dude came here and made a huge mess. Fine – sometimes you have to. Of course, you should have the decency to hang around long enough to clean it up.”

And you still leave because giving in to the rumors and critics would be to turn your back on what you prayerfully discerned to be the right call.

I’ve learned to trust my colleagues in matters of calling. After all, I didn’t challenge anyone’s discernment when they chose to join this frail, flawed, human organization with a noble, worthy call. I didn’t question the judgment of those who join my team or pick me as a partner. Am I going to challenge Platt just because, in this one case, his personal calling inconveniences me?

It doesn’t change my feelings. I still chafe at his short tenure and the apparent chaos still extant; but I’ll trust my brother enough to let him go without too much judgment.

I’ll leave someday, and I might need the same grace.

RESURGEnce IN CHURCH DISCIPLINE (Mark Terry)

 

When I was a doctoral student at Southwestern Seminary, I took Dr. Leon McBeth’s seminar on the History of American Christianity. During the seminar one of my classmates, Gary Snowden, presented a research paper on the history of church discipline in the SBC. He explained that while church discipline was quite common in the 1800s, in the twentieth century it had declined considerably. Of course, we asked him about the reason for the decline. He said that he could document the decline, but his research did not reveal the reason for it. The students speculated that overuse, improper motives, and legal concerns had all contributed to the decline; however, we never arrived at a conclusion.

In recent years the SBC has experienced a resurgence of interest in church discipline, both in publication and practice. I believe it is fair to attribute this resurgence to 9Marks Ministries. Mark Dever has spoken and written on church discipline on many occasions, and the January issue of the 9Marks Journal focuses on church discipline.

Most would agree that church discipline is both biblical and necessary. Several New Testament passages address church discipline. Jesus gave instructions about the procedure for church disciple in Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (NASB). In these verses Jesus prescribes a three-level approach to disciplining a wayward brother—one church leader goes alone; several church leaders go together; and the matter is brought to the church.

The Apostle Paul also wrote about church discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for not disciplining a member who was cohabiting with his step-mother. It seems the church obeyed Paul, because in 2 Corinthians 2:4-8 Paul instructs them to restore the disciplined and repentant brother. Other passages that pertain to church discipline include Galatians 6:1 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6.

I’ve spent most of my ministry as a foreign missionary, but during my years in the USA, I have been the interim pastor of ten churches and pastor of one. In my experience most matters of church discipline were resolved on the first level—I, or an associate pastor, spoke with the member about his or her fault. The member accepted the reproof, and few, if any, knew discipline had been practiced. In one case, though, the deacons called me to a special meeting and asked me how to do church discipline. I explained the procedure outlined in Matthew 18. We followed the procedure, and it went all the way to a vote by the church. The church voted to approve the deacons’ recommendation, and the member was disciplined.

In his article in the 9Marks Journal (https://www.9marks.org/article/dont-do-it-why-you-shouldnt-practice-church-discipline) Mark Dever makes several helpful suggestions to pastors who want to begin implementing church discipline. First, he writes that the pastor must educate his congregation about church discipline. Most members know nothing about it, and they’ve never been part of a church that practices it. So, they need to understand what the Bible says about it. Second, he teaches that humility must infuse the process. Third, he insists that the pastor must bathe the process in prayer. Fourth, he recommends that the church constitution, by-laws, and covenant be modified, if necessary. And, fifth, he exhorts his readers to preach regularly on the nature of the Christian life and the responsibilities of church membership.

I am not a crusader for church discipline, but it was neglected for too long. Beyond that, if we claim to be New Testament churches, then our churches should practice it. I would make these suggestions about it. First, the purpose of discipline should be redemptive, not punitive. That is, the purpose is to move the person to repent. You might think of it as spiritual shock therapy. You’re trying to bring the person to repent and change. Second, we should devote ourselves to preventative discipline. We can do that by ensuring that our members are thoroughly discipled. Good discipleship training will help prevent discipline problems. Third, a modern and meaningful church covenant provides the basis for discipline. If all your members agree to live according to the church covenant, then you have an objective measure for evaluating their behavior.

I wonder what experiences you have had with church discipline. What are your opinions about this practice?

Worship Wars Still Rage (Mark Terry)

Older readers can remember the worship wars that raged thirty years ago. The growing popularity of contemporary Christian music led many churches to change (or try to change) their worship style. They abandoned choirs, organs, and hymnals for praise bands, drum sets, and projected lyrics. Generally, younger people embraced the changes enthusiastically, while old folks complained and resisted. In some churches, the wars over worship led to church splits and/or member defections. I’m old enough to remember the night (more than 50 years ago) when our youth group led the evening service. We used a guitar in the service, and some of the older members complained about “the devil’s music” in the service. Of course, that did not phase us at all.

Naively, I thought the worship wars of the previous generation had ended, but some recent events have caused me to reconsider. I heard of a large church in the Mid-South in which the pastor was forced to resign. The church had an older minister of music and featured a fairly traditional worship service with choir, organ, and orchestra. Over several years a number of younger members left the church for a large contemporary church nearby. Church leaders became concerned about the membership decline. When the pastor and staff proposed transitioning to a contemporary worship style, the older members (who gave most of the money) declared that they would stop giving if the change was made. Then, the younger members stated they would leave if the change was not made. The poor pastor was caught in the middle, and in the end he left. The last I heard the church attendance was about a third of what it was four years ago.

Not long after I heard about the church above, I learned about a county seat First Baptist Church in the South that split right down the middle over worship. Again, the younger members wanted contemporary worship, while the older members resisted that. The result of the conflict was a church split. The younger members departed and organized a new church. The older folks kept the building, but that congregation does not have much hope for the future because most of its young families have left. A key issue in both situations is that the younger members supply numbers and energy and hope for the future, while the older members give most of the money. So, both groups need the other, but they have different preferences in worship style.

Demographics complicates the situation for worship leaders and pastors. Because people are living longer, many churches now have four generations present in a worship service. How can a worship leader design a worship service that satisfies all four generations in the congregation?

What are some solutions to this thorny issue? One solution is to have two different worship services—one traditional and one contemporary. My wife and I were members at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. This is what Bellevue did. They offered a more traditional service at 9:20 a.m. that featured a choir and orchestra. A praise band led the 11:00 service. Steve Gaines’ preached the same sermon at each service, but he removed his tie for second service. Now, I can see pastors of small churches shaking their heads. They are thinking—we struggle to offer one service, much less two services. We do not have the musical resources to have two services. Believe me, I get that. I’m a retired missionary who planted churches overseas, and we were delighted if our guitarist showed up. Bellevue’s orchestra is bigger than the last church I planted overseas. Still, offering two services is an option for some congregations. Some church members resist offering different services. They believe this will lead to two separate congregations, though I have not found that true in practice.

A second solution is to offer blended worship. In blended worship, the planner/leader uses both praise songs and hymns. When I was a pastor in Kentucky, our minister of music did this in a masterful way, and I believe all our folks were satisfied. In fact, once a month we had Bluegrass worship, and our members really liked that.

A third option is to provide an outlet for older members who love hymns. At our present church in Texas, our minister of music primarily employs the contemporary style of worship, but he does include a hymn a couple of times each month. He also holds a senior adult hymn-sing once a month, so that us old folks can sing hymns.

Another consideration in this matter is evangelism and outreach. Asking what worship style our members prefer may not be the primary question. The primary question should be: What worship style will enable us to win more people to Christ? Ed Stetzer, the North American church planting guru, says the choice of music style is the most important choice a church planter makes. He means that worship style significantly affects the growth of the new church. If you have a mismatch between your worship style and your target group, your church may struggle. I remember my early days on the faculty at  Southern Baptist Seminary. A staff member consulted me because he was concerned about his church’s decline in membership and attendance. I knew that church used classical music in its worship services. In fact, sometimes the choir sang in Latin. So, I asked him how many radio stations in the city played classical music. He replied, “one.” I asked, “How big is their listening audience?” He answered, “It is so small it can’t be measured.” I said, “Nationally, 2 percent of the population listens to classical music. So, your church is appealing to 2 percent of the population. Would your church consider changing its worship style?” He replied, “Oh, they would never change.” I stated, “Well, it will continue to decline.”

That conversation took place more than twenty years ago, and the church has declined steadily. Many churches would do well to ask what changes in their worship services would help them reach more people.

Is there a way forward to mediate the worship wars? Both older and younger members would do well to remember the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, found in Philippians 2:3-4 (NASB)—“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Some years ago I spoke with a veteran associational director of missions. He had mediated lots of church fights. He told me, “If church members would just follow Philippians 2:3-4, there would be no church fights.” Our SBC churches claim to be New Testament churches, but they seem more biblical in doctrine than in church practice.

John Mark Terry earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in missiology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX and served as a career missionary professor in Southeast Asia.  He was Professor of Missions at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently is the Chairman of the Missions Department and Professor of Missions at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.  He authored or edited Evangelism: A Concise History, Church Evangelism, two editions of Missiology: An Introduction, Developing a Strategy for Missions, Paul’s Missionary Methods, and Encountering the History of Missions.