Bruce Smith Out As President/CEO of Wycliffe Associates
Bruce Smith announced on Facebook yesterday that he is no longer the President/CEO of Wycliffe Associates, the Bible translation organization that in fiscal year 2019, reported about $49-million in revenue.
“Today is the end of my season serving as President/CEO of Wycliffe Associates,” he wrote on Monday, Oct. 12. “More than twenty years seeing God at work in and through this ministry.”
Neither Smith nor Wycliffe Associates announced the reason for his departure, though it follows nearly a year of scrutiny by MinistryWatch that has resulted in fresh questions about Smith’s leadership and the practices of the Bible translation ministry. It also comes just weeks after a meeting of the board of Wycliffe Associates that included a discussion of Smith’s leadership of the organization and questionable practices related to marketing and finance practices.
Those questionable practices also contributed to the Feb. 21, 2020, resignation of Wycliffe Associates from the Evangelical Council for Finanacial Accountability. The resignation was newsworthy because Wycliffe Associates had been one of the charter members of the ECFA. The resignation was particularly striking because the resignation, though voluntarily, came “while under review of compliance” with ECFA’s financial standards.
This action focused the attention of MinistryWatch on the organization. MinistryWatch discovered that in the early 2000s, the organization petitioned the Internal Revenue Service to classify itself as a church, which means it has not released Form 990s to the public since 2007.
Wycliffe Associates’ withdrawal from the ECFA came about four years after it withdrew from the Wycliffe Global Alliance (WGA). The WGA is a partnership of more than 100 Bible translation agencies around the globe.
A key reason for the resignation of Wycliffe Associates from the ECFA was Wycliffe Associates’ inability to verify claims it was making about one of its Bible translation programs, called MAST, or Mobilized Assistance Supporting Translation.
Wycliffe Associates claimed MAST delivered “miraculous” results, dramatically speeding up the process of Bible translation from years to – in some cases – weeks. Wycliffe Associates then used these claims raise millions of dollars.
However, the evidence to support Wycliffe Associates’ claims is thin. Wycliffe Associates claims to have used MAST to complete “318 New Testaments.” Wycliffe Associates also said “over 1350 translations currently in progress using MAST.”
However, MinistryWatch asked repeatedly for a list of these translations. So far, Wycliffe Associates has not produced the lists. A 2015 peer-review assessment team, which included members of the Seed Company, Word for the World, WBT Ethiopia, and WBT Africa – all organizations active for decades in Bible translation all around the world — said, “The rate of progress and the quality achieved clearly do not substantiate the widely publicized claims made for the accelerated rate of translation that can be achieved through the MAST methodology.”
Questions also arose during Smith’s tenure regarding the use of funds. In fiscal year 2016, soon after the MAST program began, Wycliffe Associates had $30.9–million in revenue, but it spent $6.9-million on fundraising, about 22 percent of its total revenue. By fiscal year 2019 Wycliffe Associates revenue had grown to $49-million. Fundraising had grown to $7.1-million, but that was still more than 14 percent of total revenue. The average fundraising percentage of ministries in the MinistryWatch database is about 7 percent. Bruce Smith has also received scrutiny for his use of a ministry-owned airplane.