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David Platt’s parting words to IMB: ‘We are sick’

Dec 13, 2018

Southern Baptists have yet another new leader of the International Mission Board (IMB) to pray for: He’s Paul Chitwood, a former pastor and executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

While Chitwood – like his predecessor David Platt – has never been a career missionary, he said he is deeply committed to the cause of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missions. Chitwood has served as IMB board member and chairman, along with participating in a multitude of short-term mission trips, including trips to South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. What’s more, Chitwood said he is committed to hiring someone with career missionary experience to work alongside him and advise him as executive vice president and to assist with missiological strategies.

For generations, being selected to lead one of the largest missionary-sending entities was considered a capstone of a Southern Baptist career.

That was before Platt, who was elected with much fanfare to lead IMB in 2014, announced his decision to leave earlier this year to return to full-time ministry in the local church after only three-and-a-half years at the IMB helm.

The excitement surrounding Platt’s ascension to IMB president is well-documented, and it was a sign, according to some at the time, that IMB had found its “rock star” to increase visibility and relevance of the 173-year-old foreign mission institution.

Platt is the man who was hired to lead The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., in 2006, becoming the youngest megachurch pastor in America.

He is the author of The New York Times Best Seller “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream,” and he is the leader of Secret Church, an intense six-hour Bible study designed to mimic “house church,” which became a popular annual simulcast event reaching thousands of churches.

When Platt arrived in Richmond, Va., he found IMB in financial turmoil, and he quickly took steps to right the ship – including offering a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) to thousands of career missionaries and stateside staff.

With financial woes lifted, Platt began serving as interim teaching pastor at McLean Bible Church, with multiple campuses in the Washington, D.C., metro area, in February 2017 – a move which eventually led him to resign from IMB.

Since many Southern Baptists may have missed Platt’s final address to the IMB, I thought it would be important to do a quick recap. In his farewell speech given to the IMB’s Board of Trustees on Sept. 26, Platt looked back at his years as president, including the financial crisis.

“These four years have not been easy for the staff or missionaries,” said Platt. “Getting to a balanced budget was not an easy process for anyone, least of all, for the brothers and sisters in the office on Monument [Avenue] and serving around the world as they felt the effects of difficult decisions in ways that are harder than I or the trustees will ever know.

“Because of their hard work across the IMB and because of recent years of record giving to Lottie Moon Christmas Offering by God’s grace, we now stand in a strong financial position,” Platt added.

Platt encouraged the trustees to strive for biblical faithfulness and practical effectiveness, study analysis instead of listening to anecdotes, and prioritize missional urgency over political expediency.

Amid his encouragement to focus on analysis, Platt referred to a report given at the annual meeting of the SBC in June by Robert Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., and chairman of the Disciple-making Task Force appointed by the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.

Gallaty noted that Southern Baptist churches had baptized 7.1 million people over the past 20 years, but overall weekly church attendance had declined by 24,000 people in that same time period.

“Am I going to wake up to this reality? Or am I going to sit in SBC meetings, or even meetings in the church I pastor, listening to stories about here and there people coming to Christ and think things are alright (sic)?” asked Platt, who believes failure to disciple new believers is the problem.

“We are sick. We need to open our eyes to reality. I believe that is critical for the IMB,” Platt said.
Due to the decreasing percentage of Southern Baptists in the United States, giving to SBC causes is also declining – despite record giving, Platt said.

“We don’t need to rethink sending missionaries, but we need to rethink how we’re going to send, sustain and support missionaries, and how we’re going to engage churches in this mission,” said Platt.

“Select a president who will not be content with the status quo and who will not be content with business as usual as long as people feel good about anecdotes that abound,” he said.

During the encouragement to prioritize missional urgency, Platt described the political atmosphere of the IMB and the SBC.

“I hate the politics of the SBC, and I don’t say that as an outsider,” said Platt. “I say that as an insider.”

“These last four years, the lowest points in my leadership were when I found myself participating in them. Jockeying for position, continual self-promotion, back-room deals followed by spin in the front room, strategizing like brothers are your enemy, feeling like others see you as their enemy…getting to the point where you wonder if you can trust anyone even as you start to wonder how trustworthy you have become.”

Platt urged the trustees to “refuse to play political games” when 2.8 billion people have little to no access to the gospel.

“I want to plead with you to refuse to pander to the applause of men, constantly trying to please every person when the only thing that matters is the pleasure of God,” Platt continued.

“Life is too short, and He is too great, and the mission is too important to waste our time on anything less than continual, intentional, biblical, strategic, honest conversations about how to get the gospel to unreached men, women and children who are on an eternal road that leads to hell.”

Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the ABN. I would like to thank ABN staffer Sarah Davis for assisting in compiling information for this column.

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