Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Crippling Crisis or Open Opportunity? Voluntary Retirement of Hundreds of SBC Missionaries

The International Mission Board (IMB) is the core business of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). All human efforts and institutions are marred by sin and the SBC has not been immune to that. It is no secret that the beginnings of the SBC are tainted by connections with slavery as the SBC was formed in 1845 with the express purpose of allowing slave-holding Baptists to be sent overseas as missionaries. Southern Baptists have long since repented for that sin and have denounced slavery and racism in any form. I don't know what the current statistics are because I have lived outside of the U.S. as a Southern Baptist misisonary for most of the past almost 30 years. However, in the early 1980s, Southern Baptists in the U.S. worshipped in more than 80 languages on any given Sunday. But, the primary focus of the SBC has remained taking the good news of Jesus to the world.

The worldwide economic crisis of 2008, combined with dramatic changes in the culture of churches affiliated with the SBC, led to a financial crisis for the IMB. Over the past 6 years, expenditures by the IMB have exceeded revenues by approximately $35 million per year. (Disclaimer: While I would like to give exact figures, I don't have those. These are round figures.) A large portion of that has been covered by the sale of property around the world — houses that were not needed, offices that were no longer being used, etc. The remainder of the overexpenditures were covered by spending crisis reserve funds. In addition, there were efforts to reduce expenditures by reducing appointments, by making huge reductions in overseas budgets, by offering a voluntary retirement package to some US staff in 2010. The number of overseas missionary personnel had been reduced from a high of 5,600 to the current 4,800. Those measures were not close to being sufficient.

While the IMB has not been in debt in many, many decades, it was clear to leadership that a crisis point had been reached as there were no longer sufficient reserves to cover the overexpenditures nor was there sufficient remaining property, the vast majority of which is currently being used, that could be sold to provide resources. Something had to be done and had to be done right now!

Much to the surprise and dismay of hundreds of thousands of Southern Baptists, on 27 August, the IMB President, Dr. David Platt, announced that it was necessary to reduce IMB staff, both in the US and overseas, by 600-800 people (that's approximately 17%). To accomplish that, a Voluntary Retirement Incentive package was to be offered and those who accepted would be retired as of 3 December 2015. No other details were announced and no one outside, perhaps, of senior leadership knew who would receive that offer. Two weeks later, Southern Baptists were again shocked to learn that the VRI package would be offered to all US staff and active, long-term missionary staff who were 50 years old as of 31 December 2015 and who had served with the IMB for 5 or more years.

Though it is a tragic and devastating decision to have to make, it is not my purpose to oppose the decision. Given what I know, I don't know what else could have been done. However, the results of the decision are huge — morale overseas is very low, I hear that morale among US staff is also low. There are many reasons for that — the dramatic reduction of personnel available to share the good news of Christ with a dying world, the loss of so many experienced colleagues, the disarray this has introduced into the lives of those asked to consider retiring and, to an even greater extent, the lives of those who are accepting retirement much earlier than anticipated and without adequate time to prepare.

Don Dent, a former missionary and field leader with the IMB, has expressed the challenge well … how will Southern Baptists respond to this?
Too Valuable To Lose - Our Core Business 
When the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, our Baptist predecessors were primarily motivated by a vision to fulfill the Great Commission by sending missionaries to the nations. Other convention ministries were added as needed, but missions was the core business and the FMB (now IMB) was the primary channel. For the past 170 years sending missionaries has been the primary strategy of the IMB. From a small start in 1845, the IMB has developed over the past 40 years into the largest, and one of the most effective, Protestant mission agencies in the world. Sending God-called, long-term missionaries is the heart of the IMB and the SBC. We are presently in danger of losing our core business. That loss, which we can still avoid, will be irreversible and unrecoverable. 
I am not an insider and do not have the latest statistics, but let’s project a bit about missionary personnel gains and losses at the IMB these days. 
  1. We know that we are losing approximately 800 mission veterans, many at the height of their expertise. Only a handful of mission agencies even have that many missionaries or committed staff. The sudden loss of thousands of years of mission experience is a catastrophe, in spite of the positive spin we put on it. This drawdown of personnel and ministry follows one just as large seven years ago. Only time will tell the consequences in terms of missionary morale, values, and ethos.
  2. At the other end of the personnel spectrum is the constricted channel for sending new missionaries. We must continue to send new missionaries, but far more are called and equipped to go than there are openings to send them. We have the resources to send them, but our personal and church spending is way out of proportion with God’s priority of reaching all nations. Praise the Lord we can send about 150 new long-term missionaries per year, but that will likely only sustain a total of about 2200 missionaries over the long haul.
  3. In addition to the catastrophic exit of hundreds of veterans and the constrictions on new missionary appointments, many IMB missionaries in the middle are experiencing a loss of morale, trust, and focus. So, what happens now when the 40 year old missionary with 10 years experience who has reached full effectiveness gets an offer to pursue ministry in the US? What will he do considering he wonders when the next cutbacks will happen and that they may not allow for adequate preparation? I pray that it does not happen, but it seems likely that missionary attrition in the middle stages will increase unless Southern Baptists turn this around.
Unless the churches show increased support in prayer and LMCO, then we will likely not stop sliding at 4000. It might not take long to drop to 50% of our high mark of 5700 in 2008. This pattern of mission decline mirrors that of mainline denominations after WWII as a result of liberal influences. Southern Baptists have largely avoided outright liberalism, but the results look the same. Our denominational withdrawal from the nations is happening largely because Southern Baptists do not recognize the treasure we have in the International Mission Board. 
Recently, I had the privilege to read a detailed study of several church planting movements taking place in one of the most unreached areas of the world. In each of those movements a long-term, extremely well-trained, deeply experienced, language fluent, passionate, Spirit-led, sacrificial IMB missionary family is the human catalyst that God is using to bring honor to Himself. No other form of mission service comes close to this model in terms of effectiveness. 
The new IMB vision emphasizes increased engagement of the nations through short-term service, missionaries sent directly by their churches, and tentmakers. These are not new concepts or channels for the IMB, but IMB vision now emphasizes these “non-traditional” forms of service. I wholeheartedly believe that all three of these types of service are important and need to be increased. However, field experience of hundreds of teams shows these mission approaches rarely reach the level of effectiveness of the long-term, supported missionary. If these are added as affiliated subsidiaries to the core business of sending supported missionaries, then that maximizes their potential. If our core business is neglected to the point of continued drawdown, these other forms of service will also suffer. God will know, but we may lack the corporate expertise to know how ineffective we will be. 
Business leadership books emphasized risk taking and constant innovation back in the financially exciting 1990s. Then the IT bubble burst and many of those popular authors lost their shirts and businesses. Later studies of great companies published by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen in Great By Choice explain that companies that thrive in chaos show great discipline and make careful decisions based on empirical info. They also stay focused on their traditional values and core business while innovating at the edges. Change is needed to face the challenges of today, but if we lose our core business we will likely not thrive in the future. 
Southern Baptists can continue to thrive as a missions force in the years ahead by valuing and supporting long-term missionaries. If losing 800 personnel is a wake up call, then we can get back on track and even expand our kingdom impact. If we continue to devalue and neglect our long-term mission force, this present crisis will continue as a slide into ineffectiveness and decreasing mission impact. It really is up to us to determine which way we are heading. If we increase our Lottie Moon giving over the next few months and pray more passionately for our missionaries, things will look up quickly.

It's something worth thinking about … in fact, it's something that Southern Baptists and other Christians must think about.

Run well, y'all,
Bob Allen
Kampala, Uganda

Friday, October 9, 2015

Book Review: David and the Old Man

In a nutshell, David and the Old Man is the story of a dysfunctional family that struggles with a conflict between a father who has a very narrow view of what it means to be a man and a son who simply cannot live out those values. The father, most often referred to as "the Old Man", is from an immigrant family who made their way by hard manual labour on a farm. When he moves his family to California, the father continues to farm his relatively small plot, often providing fresh produce for neighbours and others. The Old Man's oldest son, David, just doesn't fit the mold -- he has a more creative, artistic bent that the Old Man just cannot accept. While I'm not a psychologist, it seems to me that this conflict is what drives David to anorexia and bizarre life behaviours that only serve to further divide him from his father.

The book was painful to read. First of all, it suffered from a clear need for an editor. The story was disjointed, the writing was inconsistent. It made for difficult reading. My first thought was that I could not believe that Thomas Nelson and Zondervan would release a book of this poor quality under a subsidiary publishing branch. Then I discovered that WestBow Press is the self-publishing arm of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan and the poor writing made sense — there was no editor.

But, the story itself was painful to read. It did show clearly that an unwillingness to let go of stereotypes can lead to great harm. It was hard to read about a young man who had such low self-esteem that he could not or would not care for himself. It was hard to read about a father who could not accept that his son, who so desparately wanted and needed his father's love and acceptance, was different and pushed him away.

I really can't recommend the book.

DISCLAIMER: I was given a free copy of this book to review as a part of the publisher's BookLook Bloggers programme. I was free to write the review that I thought the book deserved and received no compensation other than continued participation in the review programme.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A New Reading Queue for September

In the middle of last month, I posted a list of what I had already read and what I intended to read in August. I was mostly on track:
  • I had already read…
    • The Germans in Normandy
    • The Complete 101 Collection
    • Leading Like Jesus: 40 Leadership Lessons From the Upside-Down Kingdom
  • During the remainder of the month, I read…
    • The Girl Who Fell From the Sky — For the most part, I liked this book. Ms. Darrow, in some ways, is telling her own story of growing up as a bi-racial child. The novel is a unique way to talk about the struggles of "discovering" how other people see you differently than you see yourself.
    • 7 Women — A pretty good series of short biographies of women who had a significant impact on world history. I didn't think it was as good as 7 Men, but definitely worth reading. My review is here: Review of 7 Women
    • The Last Battle: When U.S. and german Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe — This was a well-written history of a little-known (to me, anyway) bit of World War II. Harding does a good job of bringing the characters to life. I really liked the book.
    • I started reading David and the Old Man, by William Zemba — This book was not on my list, but I had gotten it from the publisher, WestBow, as a review copy and wanted to get it out of the way. I finished it today (3 Sept) and must say I was very disappointed. First of all, it was poorly edited. In fact, if you were to see my notes through the book, the read something like: Was the editor asleep? Editor? Where is the editor? There were so many mistakes, thing I would expect from a self-published book, but this was published by a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers. I can think of no excuse for such poor editing. Then, I just didn't connect with the story. The book is about the impact that anorexia nervosa had on Zemba's family and how family dynamics led to or exacerbated (I'm not sure which) the anorexia. I alternated between thinking that this family was totally dysfunctional and thinking that they were almost normal. In the end, I decided that there were some majors dysfunctions but their reaction to a son with anorexia was probably not atypical. The only reason I finished the book was because I had committed to do a review of it, otherwise it would have joined a very short list of books that I stopped reading.
  • I didn't read The Reason for God, by Tim Keller. I just wasn't in the mood for this book after reading The Last Battle.
So, what about September? Here's what I think:

A Spent Bullet: Louisiana 1941, Curt Iles — Curt is a friend and I hesitate to read and comment publicly on books written by friends. What if I hate the book? (It has happened.) Would I dare to critique it? Well, I don't think I have anything to fear — I started the book today and Curt had me hooked before the end of the first chapter. A Spent Bullet is a novel based on fact. During WWII, US troops were stationed in Louisiana for training maneuvers. Elizabeth, a local, and Henry, a soldier from Wisconsin, meet and … Amazon says it's more than a romance; Curt's a great story teller; I think I'll enjoy the book.

The Reason for God, Tim Keller — It stays on the list for September.

Open Your Hymnal, Denise K. Loock — A devotional book that uses Christian hymns to illustrate truths that Ms. Loock draws from Scripture. So far, it's good.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend, Laura Hillenbrand — This was Ms. Hillenbrand's first book and I've seen the movie several times. After reading Hillenbrand's Unbroken twice and then learning a bit about Ms. Hillenbrand herself, I've been wanting to read this book. It's a classic underdog story with a twist — the underdog is a race horse that … well, if you haven't seen the movie or read the book, do at least one of those. If the book is anywhere near as good as Unbroken or if it captures the story as well as the movie, this will be fun to read.

Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, Larry McCrary, Caleb Crider, Wade Stephens, and Rodney Calfee — I'm reading this book in preparation for an Urban Church Planting training conference. I read a few parts of the book a couple of years ago and was impressed with its straight-forward and relatively simple approach to urban missions.

Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money, Mary Lederfeitner — Anyone who has done ministry internationally knows that money and subsidy and dependency are issues that can derail good work very quickly. Lederfeitner seeks to help cross-cultural Christian workers navigate those dangerous waters and develop true partnerships that aren't based on western cash, at least not primarily based on money.

Without a doubt, there will be two or three other books added to the list before month's end, but that's a good start.

— What do you plan to read in September?

Run well, y'all,
Bob Allen
Kampala, Uganda

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rabbit Sandwich

It's pretty bad when your sandwich eats your lunch. And, it appears it doesn't carrot all. (Thanks, Terry Jones, for the "carrot" quip.) 
Go ahead and groan.

Run well, y'all,
Kampala, Uganda

Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: Seven Women — Women Who Changed the World

I read Seven Men by Metaxas about 2 1/2 years ago (April 2013) and thought at the time that he should write a similar book about women. That book, Seven Women, is coming out on 8 September 2015.

Like its prequel, Seven Women is a series of short biographies of people who have made an important, sometimes culture-shifting contribution to their own time and culture and to the subsequent history of the world. The biographies in Seven Women are about women whose lives and accomplishments can inspire others to attempt great things -- Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. These women were all women of deep faith in God and who depended on God for inspiration, strength, and guidance as they set out to do what He had called them to do.

Metaxas chose women whose greatness derive[d] precisely from their being women, not in spite of it… and not because they or their accomplishments are measured against who men are and what men have done. Metaxas does not attempt to promote either an egalitarian or a complementarian viewpoint on the role of men and women. Some of these women were wives and mothers -- some were unsuccessful at or unfulfilled in those roles (not always their fault, either) -- but Metaxas focuses more on what they did outside of those roles.

Some of the biographies are stronger than others. For me, the stories of Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, and Rosa Parks were the most interesting. Prior to reading Seven women, I knew nothing about those three -- except for knowing that Rosa Parks' determination not to move from her seat on the Birmingham bus so that white folk could sit on that row was the spark that lit the fire of the Civil Rights Movement in the US. The biographies in this book should be inspiring to men and women, to girls and boys.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher as a part of their BookLook Bloggers programme. I received no other compensation except for continued participation in the book review programme and have been free to write the reveiw that I think the book deserves.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What's in My Reading Queue, Friday, 14 August

This is my August reading list:

The Germans in Normandy, Richard Hargreaves — Since WWII, books written in former Allied countries about D-Day and the liberation of France have been written primarily from the winners' perspectives. This book changes that. It's a well-written, thoroughly researched book about the invasion of France by the enemy (Allied forces) from the perspective of German troops. There are some great negative leadership passages. Had Hitler and his top leadership not been so sure that they knew how to conduct the war, the outcome might have been very different. As it was, German troops fought doggedly and bravely against overwhelming odds. My review is here.

The Complete 101 Collection, John Maxwell — Eight books fro the 101 series. Classic Maxwell, lists and numerous quotes, but it's a great introduction to important leadership concepts and a great resource for an experienced leader who is mentoring a young leader. My review is here.

Leading Like Jesus: 40 Leadership Lessons From the Upside-Down Kingdom, Floud McClung — One-a-day format based on a Bible passage. These are brief and to the point.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, Heidi W. Darrow — Fiction. Bellwether Prize Winner. Coming of age story of a girl whose mother is white (Danish) and father a black G.I.. After her mother' death, she is raised by her grandmother (father's mother) and has to learn how to live, for the first time, in a mostly black community where she gets a lot of attention. I just started this book, but it's good so far.

Plan to Read — these could change depending on my mood or what I might buy. In fact, a book just came available for review and I've changed what I was going to put in the list:

7 Women, Eric Metaxas — I've been looking forward to this book for some time. A follow up to the excellent 7 Men, Metaxas gives short biographical sketches of some of the most important women in history — Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks. They are described as women whose lives [were] shaped by the truth of the gospel.

The Reason for God, Timothy Keller — Keller presents an apologetic to help those who adhere to the Christian faith respond to passionate, learned, and persuasive [people and books] that promote science and secularism over religion and faith. This book was recommended to me by Phil Faig, a Virginia pastor who I highly respect.

The Last Battle: When U.S. and german Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe, Stephen Harding — Another book that I've looked forward to reading for several months. After Hitler is dead and the Third Reich is dying, a U.S. Captain and a German Wehrmacht officer and their men join together to rescue 14 French prisoners held in an SS-guarded castle in the Austrian Alps. Fascinating concept.

What are you reading?

Run well,
Kampala, Uganda

Book Review: John Maxwell's "The Complete 101 Collection"

The Complete 101 Collection contains 8 books from John Maxwell's 101 Series — Attitude 101, Self-Improvement 101, Leadership 101, Relationships 101, Success 101, Teamwork 101, Equipping 101, and Mentoring 101. A ninth book, Ethics 101, is not included in this collection. This is a great starter set for a young leader and for an experienced leader who wants content for conversations in a mentoring relationship.

Each of these books is intended as an introduction to its topic. Don't expect to learn everything you need to know as a leader, despite the subtitle, What Every Leader Needs to Know. However, do expect to get a good introduction to the things that a good leader needs to know and do. There are numerous references to other books by Maxwell, each of which goes into greater depth on a given topic. In typical Maxwell fashion, these books have plenty of quotes from historical figures as well as some of the best current writers on leadership. And it will be no surprise to Maxwell readers that there are lists galore. There is some overlap between the subject matters of the books, so there are sections that are repeated in different ones of these books. For example, a significant minority portion of Mentoring 101 is included in Equipping 101. That's not bad because equipping leaders and mentoring leaders have similar characteristics.

I think one of the best uses of these books (or this collection) would be for an experienced leader to mentor a young leader. And, in fact, 5 of these books (Mentoring 101, Relationships 101, Equipping 101, Attitude 101, and Leadership 101) are available as a part of Maxwell's Lunch & Learn series which includes a discussion guide.

Some of the themes that run throughout all of these books are:

  • Trust
  • Loyalty
  • Choosing people based on leadership potential, not followship
  • Passing on responsibility.

While every one of these books is helpful, I thought the best sections were:

  • Leadership 101, Chapter 9, How Can I Extend My Influence
  • Teamwork 101, Chapter 2, What is the Impact of Good Teamwork, especially the section Great Teams Create Community.
  • Equipping 101, Chapter 5, What Does It Take to Equip a Leader, especially the section Check on Them Systematically when Maxwell talks about working with "a person whose progress is repeatedly poor."

DISCLAIMER: In addition to a copy of this collection that I purchased, I also received a complimentary copy from the publisher as a part of its bloggers' review programme, BookLook Bloggers. I am free to write the review that I think the book deserves. My only compensation, other than a free copy, is continued participation in the programme.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Book Review: The Germans in Normandy

5–Stars, Highly Recommended

The story of the struggle for Normandy is an appalling one; the battle was, in Erwin Rommel's words, 'one terrible blood-letting'. (from the Introduction)

Both the Allied and German forces put most, if not all of their hopes for ending World War II on the battles over occupied France. Hargreaves does a masterful job of writing the history of D-Day to the final liberation of France from the German perspective. He talks about the logical hopelessness of the German defense, yet portrays the sheer will-power of the German military that, at times, threatened to thwart to Allied invasion. Germany missed its opportunity in so many ways — megalomaniacal leadership of Hitler and Goebbels who refused to face the reality of the Allied superiority and the complete exhaustion of their own troops, uncoordinated strategies, woefully insufficient front line and reserve forces, inadequate hardware (or, as Hargreaves terms it, "material"). Though Hargreaves doesn't explicitly make the connection, the attempted coup by top military leadership in the midst of the defense of France had to have been, at the very least, a distraction.

Hargreaves succeeds in portraying the tenacity of the German military as time after time they were defeated but continued to fight on in spite of overwhelming odds. It's terrifying to think what might have happened if the German military had been anywhere close to being as prepared as were the Allies. Whether Hargreaves intended it or not, one result of reading this book is a fresh realization of how horrible war is -- 240,000 or more people killed in a 2 1/2 month period and many of the bodies so damaged that they could not be identified!!

I do have some criticisms of the book. First was the overuse of the phrase "material supremacy". Often, this was quoted from German sources, but there could (perhaps) have been some variety in how the German phrase was translated and Hargreaves, himself, could have used a different phrase when he wasn't quoting. I found maps difficult to decipher — the quality of the graphics in the Kindle version was really good, but they lacked legends that would have made them more understandable to someone who, like me, has neither a military background or more than a cursory knowledge of French geography. There were some minor quirky (to me) errors -- for example, "The 6 June cost the Panzer Lehr thirty vehicles." Phrases that introduced quotes often ended with a period rather than a comma. Several times, a phrase like "It was gone midnight…" was used. Or, a phrase like, "Thus at the age of thirty died Michael Wittmann…" Or, "Paris not only lacked the men to defend it to the last man…" -- how many more than 1 does it take to defend to the last man? Hargreaves is, apparently, British and perhaps some of these are simply differences in how Amis and Tommies (the terms the Germans used in Hargreaves book) express themselves. None of them take away from the book.

I think Hargreaves sums up the essence of The Germans in Normandy with this section at location 5628 (Kindle):
For the Landser, there was the bitter taste of defeat, and yet the German soldier refused to accept he had been beaten. Events had conspired against him, but the Landser held his head high. Like Untersturmf√ľhrer Riegamer, he struggled to accept his sacrifices had been in vain. This could not be the end. 'German soldiers have once again acquitted themselves superhumanly in battle,' Hitlerjugend commander Kurt Meyer wrote bitterly in his diary. 'They do not deserve the terrible defeat. The defeat cannot be blamed on the frontline soldiers as this bitter cup was served to them by a gambler at the map table.'