Richmond, Va. | International Mission Board President David Platt announced his desire to leave as head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s largest mission-sending agency, after a term of almost four years and a tumultuous period of cutting spending and reducing missions staff to balance an outsized budget. Platt will return to local church leadership.
“I am more passionate today than I have ever been about getting the gospel to the nations, and I want to spend what little time I have left on this earth with urgency toward that end,” Platt said in a news release. “This passion is what drove me to become IMB president, and I have sought to honor him and you in this role over the last four years.”
In September, Platt took on a part-time role as teaching pastor at McLean Bible Church, a large D.C.-area congregation that recently joined the SBC. Formerly lead pastor of a Birmingham, Ala., megachurch, Platt cited his love for the local church and for preaching as key in his decision.
Age 34 at the time he was elected to head the Convention’s international missions force, Platt soon found IMB had more missionaries on the field than it could support. In previous administrations, the IMB had overcome the shortfall by using reserve funds to make up the difference, including the sale of properties and facilities on the mission field. But beginning in 2015, IMB trustees and staff realized an organizational reset was necessary to put the Board on stable footing for the future. Under Platt’s leadership, IMB trustees adopted a balanced budget in 2016 following a six-year period in which the board’s expenses exceeded its revenue by some $210 million.
Platt led a reduction in force to curb spending that included eliminating some departments at the Richmond headquarters and encouraging early retirement and voluntary resignations of career missionaries. Ultimately, 1,132 missions personnel left IMB, putting the force at under 4,000 for the first time since 1993.
As of Dec. 31, 2017, the IMB reported 3,562 overseas missionaries, according to SBC.net.
“I feel David Platt was the person God put in as the president of the IMB at a very hard time,” said Jeff Deasy, now IBSA’s associate executive director of the Church Cooperation Team. “My wife and I took the volunteer retirement incentive, and God has blessed us since returning to the USA.” The Deasys served in Brazil and Kenya for more than 20 years.
“The IMB was suffering and needed a change to get it back on the train tracks of reaching people of the world,” Deasy said. “In David’s short time with the IMB, he has listened to God’s leadership and the IMB is back on track.”
SBC President Steve Gaines, who is completing his second one-year term, praised Platt for his passion for missions. “You can’t have anyone more passionate than Dr. Platt.”
Platt plans to stay onboard until a successor is named. Gaines said he hopes “we get someone who prays and hears from the Lord” and can “bring as much harmony as possible” to the position. He encouraged Southern Baptists to pray that God will lead the search committee to the person he has in mind to lead the IMB.
Former SBC First Vice President Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, agrees.
“The IMB president is, I believe, the most important role in our convention. I’m praying we will be unified in our purpose of reaching the world for Christ.”
Platt’s departure after only four years may cause ripples among missions personnel on the field, warns Deasy. “So many changes can lead to discouragement,” he said. “Please pray for the missionaries on the field as they face the changes that will come with another change of leadership.”
Munton is optimistic. “Perhaps God will use this transition to usher in the greatest missionary mobilization we have ever known.”
– Eric Reed, with additional reporting from Baptist Press