What Needs to Change at the IMB?

I had the privilege of participating in a panel at this year’s SBC on “The Future of the IMB.” The SBC was created for the purpose of having an international mission board that propagates the gospel, so the future of the IMB is massively important.

As I contemplated our discussion of the IMB’s future, I later thought of four suggestions for what needs to change that I want to offer here:


1) The IMB needs younger leadership

I’m not saying the IMB has to hire a younger president, or even that its senior leadership needs to be primarily younger. I am saying that the Boomer-dominated senior leadership of the IMB needs to be diversified so it is represented by younger as well as older.


2) The IMB needs to prioritize different funding models

Our traditional funding model that allows our missionaries to plant churches full-time instead of requiring them to be fundraisers is genius and has served us well. However, many recognize that in order to adequately impact massive global lostness we need to supplement our traditional funding model with business as mission and bi-vocational models so that we can multiply our mission force into the tens of thousands not simply add hundreds or maybe a thousand to it with increased missions giving. We need 100,000 missionaries to accomplish the global missions task not 6, or 7, or 8,000. While the IMB is already doing some of this, in order to blow the lid off, it needs to prioritize and diversify alternative funding models.


3) The IMB needs to get rid of extrabiblical policies

The IMB has some extrabiblical policies that keep Baptists who believe the BFM 2000 from going to the field (i.e. prayer language, baptism in a church that affirms eternal security, a specific theology of calling for candidate and spouse, alcohol, etc.). Let me be clear. I’m not advocating for any of these things personally, but I do think we need to ask the question, “Should we draw such hard lines where the Bible and our statement of faith doesn’t when millions are heading to Hell without having a chance to hear the gospel?”


4) The IMB needs to change the function of trustees

Update: In my original post I had an incomplete understanding of how involved IMB trustees are in the missionary selection process. I am sorry for that and am attempting to correct it now. Let me be clear. I’m thankful for all of our trustees and the time and energy they give to this task. And, I don’t want there to be lack of accountability (I never intended for that to be the takeaway from my article).

My main point was intended to be about efficiency and trust. I think the IMB of the future needs to be more efficient and more trusting of it’s employees who have missiological expertise. I think this could be achieved in large part by a reduced board size who affirm employee selection and then allow those employees to carry out their function under the oversight of the board.


Let’s all commit to pray for the IMB – for its presidential search as well as its future!


Jonathan Akin is the Pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN, a suburb outside of Nashville, and co-founder of Baptist21

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Jon Akin

is the Pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, TN. Jonathan has a BA from Boyce College, where he has taught part time. He has received an MDiv from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently working on a Phd in OT at Southern. Jonathan is married to Ashley, and they have two beautiful girls. Maddy was born on July 28, 2006, and Emma Grace was just born on April 20th, 2009.

9 thoughts on “What Needs to Change at the IMB?

  1. Grateful for the IMB and its people. However, it seems that “funk” that plagues our plateaued and declining churches as latched on to the IMB.

    The four points made above are consistent with four key areas that must be addressed if churches do not want to die a slow death.

    1. The next generation equals life
    2. We can’t keep doing it like you we always have and expect different results. Change is needed that reflects our Great Commission name.
    3. Doctrine (in this case specifically–Titus 2)
    4. Leadership & Leadership function

  2. At SWBTS, the trustees approve every faculty hire after interviewing every faculty candidate. I presume that this is the case for all of our seminaries, although I have not done the necessary research to answer that question.

    To my knowledge, the approach is consistent at all of our entities: Ministry employees are hired by the trustees. This is also the case at our state convention—I’ve never had any SBC-related board experience that deviated from this norm.

    You have correctly indicated that the NAMB board does not approve church planters; however, this is doubtless related to the way that church planters generally are not NAMB employees, right? At least that has historically been the case.

    I’m VERY uncomfortable with any system by which the hiring and future employment status of the people who are receiving the denominational paychecks is wrested entirely away from the review and supervision of the Southern Baptist people through the trustee system.

  3. Bart,

    Thanks for giving me a chance to clarify. I hope that I in no way came across as ungrateful or distrustful of the trustee process in the SBC. I am grateful for it. There would have been no CR otherwise.

    I agree with you that I don’t want a system of no accountability to the SBC people thru the trustee system and that’s certainly not what I argued for. However, you talk about “future employment status” being under the purview of the trustees and to my knowledge that’s not the case right now. That is in the hands of the administrations.

    I have no problem with trustee affirmation of hires that people with expertise in that field have vetted and seen as fit to serve in the institution, but that process as indicated by my post and your comment is not across the board. NAMB doesn’t do it, even though they may not be considered “employees” they are still receiving money from SBC people. IMB doesn’t do it with stateside personnel. Lifeway and Guidestone don’t do it.

    Now, I was under the impression that the IMB trustees were much more involved, and I may be wrong. They may simply affirm and approve what the candidate consultants bring to them. I am happy to correct that in the post.

    What I was arguing for in the piece was efficiency. Having a process of approval for 5,000 employees (and as I’m praying for 100,000) is a lot different than doing it for dozens of elected faculty. I don’t know that the current model is the most efficient way to do things and that’s what I tried to indicate. Hope that helps.

    1. Jon,

      Great article, but in reality it is the candidate consultants who really weed through candidates and give their stamp of approval and many of those consultants, if not all, have actual missions experience. The trustees provide accountability to the consultants in the process and give the final word of approval. So to some extent there already is a level of accountability.

      I agree with the idea of getting the most possible missionaries on the field through the means you suggested, but I personally see these means in use through the IMB as promoting less cooperation among Southern Baptists, discourage missions giving, and ultimately decrease missions sending. I guess my question is why encourage this through the IMB when there are many organizations who do this now, new organizations can form, and many churches are already sending their own missionaries?

      I do agree in diversity of leadership though for sure.

  4. Jim,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t think my suggested approach has to necessarily decrease cooperation. I think the IMB still has a huge function as a missions mobilizer (as Jimmy stated on the panel) and as an equipper who comes alongside bi-vo folks with training in culture shock, missiology, etc

    Also, I’m not saying to scrap the traditional model but we should supplement it by prioritizing other approaches. There’s a cap to what we can do with our current funding model. Chances are missions giving will continue to decline so cooperation will decline anyways. But even if it increases significantly we might be able to send hundreds or thousands more but that’s not near enough to do the task.

    In the end the sbc and Imb were started with the purpose of propagating the gospel to the unreached. So, if there’s a vision for doing whatever it takes to do that, then missions minded baptists will cooperate and give to that end. And if they don’t, then the sbc shouldn’t exist.

  5. A couple of thoughts:

    1. Current and former ground level IMB employees need to be involved in reforming the entire chain of command. No more “strategic coordinator” jobs for young men well connected to mega church pastors or agency upper management. Tomorrow’s IMB will need to operator with a flexibility and a tempo that requires a very lean and mature management structure. Think USMC, not corporate USA.

    2. Funding. 100,000 is a great goal…and you’d probably agree that even 100,000 is just a starting point if we’re going to reach all the unreached. Here’s the thing, the cost of living is skyrocketing in the developing world (a huge chunk of the 10/40). Wages in China are in the midst of a dramatic, multi-year, planned increase. In order to just keep pace with this increase while just keeping the IMB headcount static. funding has to increase between 15%-20% per year. Yes, per year. This is in an SBC when we would be giddy by achieving a 5% annual increase. To get an grasp on the task of going from 5,000 to 100,000 IMB units is staggering. Think 15%-20% funding increase just to address the cost increases…and increase that amount 20 times.

    To get to these numbers, we have to think beyond IMB fundraising. We have to look at the entire SBC structure in a radical way. Radical…like: making the NAMB the North American division of the IMB and eliminating duplication of USA based personnel. Radical like going from six seminaries to three and leveraging the power of collaborative and communication tools to enhance distance learning. And that’s just the start.

    If we’ve learned one thing over the past 20 years in the SBC, we’ve learned that loud proclamations of famous leaders and blue ribbon panels do not result in real change. Actual leading does.

  6. Could it be the younger leadership needed is already leading one of our mission boards and the best thing to do would be to merge the home and international boards? (I am sure I am guilty of blasphemy to some SBCers there but why seperate the two) If anyone could manage both, and do it at a high level, it’d be Kevin Ezell. What is certain is that missions has changed everywhere (home and abroad) and we need more missionaries and a better strategy. Thanks for the post Jon!

  7. Jonathan, I am currently living in Central Asia in a bi-vocational way. I could not agree with this article more. We have a lot of ideas about ways to use BAM workers and I’m wondering if you know who I could talk to to help the IMB with #2.

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