RICHMOND, Va.— With the 2002 Lottie Moon Christmas offering drive coming to a close, the International Mission Board leaders considers options to help avoid deficit spending for the coming year. Although the projections indicate the offering will set a new record – for the 10th consecutive year – the IMB still fears it will fall short of funding the entity’s challenging $290.1 million budget for 2003.
The IMB President, Jerry Rankin, in announcing new plans for missions, praised the Southern Baptist for their generous offering, but challenged churches to move from generous support to sacrificial giving to their Great Commission cause.
"This budget challenge is not due to diminished giving on the part of Southern Baptists," Rankin said. "Missions is who we are, and churches are giving at record levels to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, in spite of the soft economy.
"The challenge is that we allowed our missionary force to grow at a faster rate than giving was increasing. Incremental increases in giving cannot keep up with the amazing growth of the missionary force."
According to the IMB, the offerings of the individual Southern Baptists are at a record high level. Two years of 1,000-plus missionary appointments and lower resignation rates are what forced the IMB to overspend budgeted amounts for missionary support in 2002. In addition, investments did not generate their usual income for the board's budget because of the downturn in the stock market.
The board budgeted for a net personnel increase of 200 in 2002 but actually posted 319. The 2003 budget allows only for a net increase of 150, when the number actually could be much higher.
"We trust God to provide the resources to support the people He is calling to overseas missions," Rankin said. "But until more churches begin to give with the same passion these new missionaries have for a lost world, budget realities require us to keep spending within the limits of income."
While the final offering total will not be known until May 31, projections in mid-April indicated a 1 percent increase in receipts over last year's offering at nearly $115 million.
The IMB suggested canceling some events, restricting staff travel and delaying the production of some materials to offset whatever shortfalls may occur. The board also suggested restricting the flow of new missionaries to the field, Rankin said.
"Southern Baptists gave us the assignment of sending their missionaries, and new workers are obeying God's call in record numbers," Rankin said. "We will make whatever sacrifices and cutbacks are necessary to fulfill our mission."
God's passion for His lost children is what compels missionaries to go, Rankin said. When Southern Baptist churches -- like their missionaries -- are overwhelmed with God's love for the lost, they will give with the same passion.
"How sad it would be -- with the unprecedented opportunities and accelerating harvest -- for us to have to tell God-called missionaries that the money just isn't there to send them," he said.
"How tragic it would be if we have to decide which people groups will not hear about salvation in Jesus Christ because we have not provided the resources to send the missionaries God has called."
By Pauline J.