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Originally posted August 29, 2014
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — To a rousing chorus of cheers and applause, International Mission Board trustees overwhelmingly elected “Radical” author and pastor David Platt as IMB’s 12th president during their Aug. 26-27 meeting near Richmond, Va.
Trustees also heard reports on a pilot program to fund greater numbers of short-term missionaries and the dire circumstances among refugees in Syria and Iraq.
Speaking at a press conference shortly after his election, Platt said he was “honored, humbled and overwhelmed” by his new role as head of the largest evangelical missionary-sending organization in America, but also equally “exhilarated” by the possibilities that lie ahead.
“What God has created in the International Mission Board is breathtaking. It’s really beyond words to marshal the force of 40,000-plus churches working together with about $300 million dollars a year to go after unreached peoples with the Gospel,” he said. “But there’s so much more that I believe can be done in the years to come, and the task is great.”
Platt, 36, is the youngest leader in IMB’s 169-year history. He takes the reins from outgoing president Tom Elliff, who earlier this year announced his intention to retire once a replacement was found.
“I thank God for how Tom Elliff has led the IMB,” Platt said. “I love this brother and his wife and am really humbled to step into these shoes.”
Fighting back tears, Elliff called Platt’s election one of the most exciting moments of his life, adding that he and his wife Jeannie have been praying for his successor since before he became IMB’s president in 2011.
A visibly moved Platt’s first words to the trustees as IMB president were from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, the verse scheduled in his Bible-reading plan for the day:
“Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us — our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord”(HCSB).
“We were born into a part of the world where we have heard the Gospel, and not just heard, but received it,” Platt said. “Why were we born that way and a couple of billion other people were born into parts of the world where people live and die without ever even hearing the Gospel? I don’t have an answer to that question, but I do know this: We have received grace for a goal, and that goal is to the spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
Platt has served for the past eight years as pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, a 4,500-member Southern Baptist congregation in Birmingham, Ala. He authored the best-selling books “Radical” and “Follow Me,” and he founded and leads Radical, a ministry that serves the church to make disciples to fulfill the global mission of Christ. Platt also has traveled extensively to teach the Bible alongside church leaders and missionaries throughout the United States and around the world.
“Even amidst this large coalition of churches that we’re a part of — and we’ve got a variety of differences — we have one Gospel that unites us,” Platt said. “It’s not acceptable for 6,500 of the world’s people groups not to give our God the glory He’s due, and so we’re going.
“We’re going to Africa where more than 3,000 animistic tribes are following deities that are not worthy of glory. We’re going to Southeast Asia where 350 million Buddhists are following Buddha’s rules and regulations and Buddha’s not worthy of any of their glory. We’re going to South Asia where 950 million Hindus are following more gods than you or I can even fathom — but there’s only one God, and His name is Jesus, and He’s worthy of all the glory.”
While welcoming Platt, trustees also honored Elliff and prayed for the difficult journey he and his wife Jeannie now face. She has battled cancer twice in the past and it has returned, this time in her liver.
With Elliff kneeling at Jeannie’s side, David Uth, who led the presidential search committee and pastors First Baptist Church in Orlando, anointed her forehead with oil. Trustees packed the aisles around Jeannie, laying hands on one another’s shoulders if they couldn’t physically reach her.
Ken Burnham of Alabama prayed on behalf of the trustees, “Father, we pray that as they walk through this valley, You will give them — more than anything else — the opportunity to share their faith with people around them … and that many would come to know You. Our hearts’ desire is to see Jeannie healed, but in our humility, Father, we accept Your perfect will.”
Uth said the anointing was done with Jeannie’s blessing and in Christ’s name, with the clear understanding that not the oil or even the prayer would make her well, “but the Lord Jesus Himself.”
Changes to short-term funding
IMB leaders briefed trustees on a pilot funding program to allow for greater numbers of short-term missionaries (who serve two- to three-year terms) while forging deeper partnerships with churches. Under the initiative, based on the model established in 1977 by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Mission Service Corps, more than 50 percent of short-term missionaries’ financial support will continue to be provided by Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The remainder, set at $15,000 per person per year, will be raised by the missionaries themselves.
Jay Wolf, chair of the trustees’ administration committee and pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., noted, “The objective is simple: We want to put more people on the field. We want to attack lostness, and right now we don’t have the financial resources to do that. So we need to be creative and do more with less.”
The IMB will provide short-term candidates and their churches the coaching and tools they need to raise this partial support, Wolf added. The pilot project will begin with candidates attending a March expo in 2015.
John Brady, IMB vice president of global strategy, told trustees of what he called a single, clear opportunity: the crisis in Syria and Iraq.
Displaying satellite images of the growth of refugee camps in places such as Duhok, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan, Brady highlighted the need for relief for the region’s estimated 9 million forcibly displaced people. He added that IMB’s primary human needs partner, Baptist Global Response (BGR), is leading Southern Baptists’ efforts to help these refugees. But, he said, the relief work is hampered by a lack of support.
“Southern Baptists’ hearts have not been moved,” Brady lamented. “Only $300,000 has been given to BGR for relief in Syria and Iraq. Christians, Yazidis and many others have been swept out of their villages and are clinging to life in these camps. And in every hovel, we have a chance to make a difference — not tomorrow, today.”
Brady begged trustees to give to relief efforts at BGR’s website, gobgr.org, and to use their influence to encourage their churches and other Southern Baptists to get involved.
“There are local brothers and sisters that I personally know on the ground there who have chosen not to leave, and they just want to know that we’re going to stand with them,” Brady said. “One of my friends told me, ‘Ask the Christians of the West, have they forgotten us?’ I want to answer, ‘No, we have not.'”
In other business, IMB trustees:
— Appointed 50 new missionaries, honoring them during a special service Aug. 27 at The Heights Baptist Church in Colonial Heights, Virginia.
— Remembered the life of IMB missionary Jeff Powers, who served for 16 years as a church planter in Botswana and Zambia with his wife Staci. Powers died July 10 at age 50 after a year-long battle with cancer.
— Accepted and offered prayers of thanksgiving for four estate gifts totaling nearly $785,000.
The next IMB trustee meeting will be Nov. 6-7 in Olive Branch, Miss., with a missionary appointment service Nov. 9 at First Baptist Church in Olive Branch.
Don Graham is a senior writer with the International Mission Board.