EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Elliff participated in a teleconference with several state Baptist papers after his election March 16 as president of the International Mission Board. Texas pastor Jimmy Pritchard, IMB trustee chairman who had led the presidential search team, also participated. Wendy Norvelle, an IMB associate vice president, moderated. An edited transcript of the teleconference follows.
PRITCHARD: Our committee consisted of 15 people and we began by setting as much of a profile as we could of what we felt like the new president would look like as far as gifts, abilities and age. We didn’t necessarily disqualify anyone who did not meet the criteria because our ultimate agenda was to get God’s man for the position.
We received about 80 different names from a little over 300 different individuals. Our process was to contact each one, ask for biographical information. Of many of those recommended to us did not submit that to us. Of those who did then by simple majority of our committee we would invite the man for an interview. Our procedure we adopted would allow us to invite a man for a second interview with also a simple majority of our committee.
During the course of our time there were four men that we did interview more than once. No candidate received to the point where we seriously were at the point of inviting him to become president. On Dec. 13 we were on a conference call. There were 13 of us on that call and one of our committee members just mentioned that he had had a conversation with Dr. Elliff on a different level — no topic about the IMB involved. And he thought he might be interested or at least willing to talk to us about his becoming our president and in the next five minutes (interrupted)
ELLIFF: That is, the man thought I would be interested – not me. (laughter).
PRITCHARD: Yes, the man thought. Subsequently after visiting with Tom he said that conversation had nothing to do with the IMB. So at any rate, in the next five minutes as we were on this conference call everybody on the committee sensed that God just spoke. It was a rare moment and I don’t want to sound super-spiritual or however that may come across, but God spoke to every one of us and at that moment there was a peace that came over all of us that God said this is your man and we hadn’t even talked to him yet.
We had contacted him and I called him and I don’t think he was expecting that call. He claims we ruined his Christmas and probably did. Over the next couple of months we followed through with the process of communicating. It was unanimous, enthusiastic and as was obvious with our board we were 100 percent unanimous with secret ballot to elect him today. God has spoken and it is a great and a new day.
A couple more things and then I’ll be done. I think that this is a new day. It is a new day in many ways, but it is a new day for us as Southern Baptists who have incredible unity that in my lifetime I’ve not seen, a unity of partnership between the IMB, NAMB, our seminaries, and it is a rare, rare new day and new opportunity and we believe that Dr. Elliff is the glue that is going to hold that together and that the new wineskins that we’re seeing develop across our Southern Baptist Convention that Dr. Elliff is going to put a tenor on a little of the new wine, little of old wine that will keep those wineskins from bursting. So I could not be in any way more excited.
NORVELLE: … Let’s turn to Dr. Elliff to share for a few minutes your heart and a few minutes about that process or whatever God has given you.
ELLIFF: Dr. Prichard was right, this certainly was not on our radar screen, and right in saying you messed up our Christmas when he called to explain to me what the committee had decided and this was the first time they had been wholly together behind one person. Jeannie and I knew we had to pray about that and so actually we prayed about whether to pray for a few days. I called Brother Jimmy back and said, yeah, we’re going to pray about it. There’s no sense in investing that time about something God doesn’t have on your radar. So we spent the next month praying about that. We met again with the committee on the 14th of January as I recall. We had a wonderful time, great conversation, great time of prayer and yet I still, for some reasons that will surface in this interview, I still had some questions whether was this God speaking to us. We sensed [He] was but we had some questions…. I told the committee then that I wasn’t interested in being an interim, and if I do come it will be with an agenda, with a purpose. Of course the question about age always enters into that. At 67, that’s pretty remarkable, but you know if you study the Bible when God calls a man the issue has never been his age. It’s been his obedience and we were very sensitive to the fact we felt God very well may be calling us to do this.
Jeannie and I asked the committee to vote again. In fact I said at that time, we’re going to leave, drive back to Oklahoma and I’d like for you to take another secret ballot. You’ll be doing yourselves, the Kingdom of God and certainly ourselves a favor if you have the slightest hesitancy that you vote no on secret ballot. I wanted it to be secret ballot again because I did not want anybody to feel pressure. I hadn’t really gotten out of Dallas before Brother Jimmy called and said it was unanimous again. We took that as the final little thread that needed to be bound up in the garment of this call and we agreed, we said yes. We sensed God calling us as well and we’ve never one moment since then felt that we were out of the stream of God’s will. We sensed His favor. We sensed His smile. We have certainly sensed the prayers of people across the Southern Baptist Convention. I could not be more grateful. We could not be more grateful than we are just sitting here now — the privilege to serve the Southern Baptist Convention, the International Mission Board, to serve our missionaries. That’s my role, really to be a servant. To serve them is an incredibly humbling experience and we’re overwhelmed by it and we appreciate the prayers of Southern Baptists across the country.
NORVELLE: Jimmy, you said it took a long time for the search committee to come to their conclusion and there have been a few who have asked was it that difficult to come to consensus? And you’ve kind of answered that. But did you consider some long-term missionaries? You said you had an age profile, what were some of discussions you had about that?
PRITCHARD: We searched professionally three areas from within the IMB. We had pastors in our convention that we came across and then we had some from the education side from our seminaries and we never did have consensus. Our committee was never upset with each other. We were never angry, but we could not come to a consensus and as we began to see that we didn’t have that consensus the position that we adopted was when God speaks, we’ll get the consensus. And it came unexpectedly. There was no push from any person or institution with Dr. Elliff. When his name came, the consensus came and it was an incredible thing. And as to him being an interim, if you’ll listen to his acceptance speech today it will be anything but interim. In fact we won’t have any work to do after 2012. (laughter in the room).
I heard a quote and I won’t take credit for it, but I’m going to use it. Five years with Tom Elliff will be better than 20 years with somebody else. I won’t limit it to five.
ELLIFF: I hope that was my wife who said that.
PRITCHARD: But we — we just couldn’t get an answer.
NORVELLE: What would you say to critics who say you were just the safe choice?
ELLIFF: The first thing, Wendy, I don’t think for somebody to have an observation, even if I disagree with them, makes them a critic of mine. They’re just making an observation and based on what they’re thinking they’re saying he’s a safe choice. I remember the story about the man who took home a little puppy to allow his children to raise it and after about three weeks when that pit bull grew into manhood he realized that what he adopted was not safe at all. I have not thought about being safe. I’ve thought about fulfilling the vision.
It’s interesting when God called us to do this at the same time He began to paint a vision, as I said in the acceptance speech, on the walls of my heart, and some of it was already there. I just never imagined how it would be fulfilled. It’s unfortunate [that for] some people you know their vision for their life stops at 65. I feel that’s unfortunate because that’s a humanly contrived figure. I have a grandfather who preached until he was 92 and he said he was sure glad. He said I think about all I’d missed if I’d let my retired friends convince me to stop.
And I believe that “as my days are so shall my strength be.” People have asked me is it five years, 10 years. Everybody thinks in five-year increments you know. My answer is I don’t know, but as my days are so shall my strength be. And I have no intention now of conjugating when I’m going to stop being president. I have hardly started being president. I have work to do and I’m going to set my heart to the work and my shoulder to the work and we’re going to get busy and start engaging these unengaged people groups and reaching these unreached people groups and together if our Southern Baptist Convention will throw themselves into this we can see something of a spiritual awakening perhaps for the third time in our nation’s history, perhaps on a wholesale basis, because there are enough Southern Baptists to sway the spiritual barometer in the United States.
NORVELLE: For those of you joining the press conference, Dr Elliff’s acceptance speech is posted at http://www.imb.org/main/president/ so you can go there. Dr. Elliff, if you could, and we don’t have time today for you to give all of that, but you shared your heart and vision of three principles. Give us a quick word on that strategy of what is painted on the wall of your heart as to how you’re going to lead the IMB.
ELLIFF: Initially I asked for our trustees to pray for us, and by the way those seven prayers you can find at www.tomelliff.com. And they are prayers Jeannie and I pray often, regularly. I felt like, I know Jimmy you probably felt this same way, I felt like in that room it was a pretty sobering moment. It was not a big hoorah time. We were talking about serious stuff. I sensed that their hearts were with me and they are praying for me and for Jeannie. As to your theology of missions or missiology, mine is and has been for many years rooted in, as you would expect, in the Great Commission. And the Great Commission, if you let it fall open like a flower, would open up. The Great Commission has inherent within it three issues which I like to ask in terms of questions because I love to ask questions. Jesus asked 143 different questions. When He asked a question the answer was inherent in the questions. But the questions that I proposed to ask as president are three.
First, is it biblical? … That’s the root, the core. That’s the plumb line that must drop down within the heart of the International Mission Board and you know if you don’t have that as the standard two things happen. And I see mission groups that fall into one of these camps. First you can be just carried away on the stream of sentimentalism. There’s the need, let’s go do something quick and it’s not thought through. It’s not enduring. It’s not effective. So you can get carried away in that direction. That’s a heart issue. Then you can get carried away if you don’t have the Bible before you into the stream of pragmatism. Well, we can’t do this because that doesn’t work. We can’t go to that country because they don’t like us. We can’t do these things. And so the issue is not being either pragmatic or being sentimental. The issue is, as I said, being obedient to the Word of God. One of the things I have challenged the board and I feel great affirmation from the board was to very soon fill the position I vacated when I stepped down as senior vice president. I wouldn’t suggest it be a senior vice president role, but a vice president. It would be someone to wave the banner for biblical cohesion, someone who has noted theological strengths, who has a missionary passion and zeal, who is known among us, who has worked with us, but who will constantly challenge us to bring everything that we do right before the Lord and before His Word, be involved in every aspect whether it is the calling of our missionaries, helping them to walk through what they believe and understand they believe, when they’re on the field training them. I think it is an incredibly essential thing for us to remember we are rooted in the Word.
I didn’t say this in the introduction because time was limited, and it is here as well, but when I had the privilege of serving our convention as its president, the first year I was president I asked our seminaries at that time to write up a covenant between themselves and Southern Baptists. We had been adrift and come back and these were years when we really needed to settle that. I remember when they brought to the convention in Dallas this covenant and they read it. They stood wall to wall, began applauding as each of the presidents of our seminaries sat down at the Broadus desk, by the way, and signed as seminary presidents we covenant as a convention that we will hold to these principles. And each of the seminary presidents has that covenant on the wall someplace in their office area. Well, I’m not saying we necessarily need to do something like that though I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I believe we have a few other things to do and we’re pretty busy to sit down and write a covenant tomorrow night, but this issue of theological formation is critical.
The second question I would ask besides is it biblical is, Is it balanced? There are all kinds of ways to do missions work and inevitably just like people are different, churches are different and missions agencies are different. You know probably even among those of you who are editors some of you probably enjoy evangelism. You love to lead people to Christ. Maybe another one of you there is involved in discipleship, someone else involved in church planting. All three of those are inherent in the Great Commission — evangelism, discipleship and church planting. So we do all three of those and I’m going to just ask constantly as president, are we balanced in this? Are we making sure that we’re not eliminating, not missing one of these elements in our strategy? And strategies change. I mean they have to change. Nobody comes out of a war with the same strategy they had when they went in. It is the same goal, that is, to win the war. Begin to learn how the enemy operates. We’re always adjusting our strategy.
Someone has asked isn’t there a philosophy here now or a missiology that says we’re taking all our missionaries out of legacy fields where we’ve been a long time and putting them on front lines? That happens to be a current strategic approach in one of our affinity groups. It is certainly not an IMB kind of a strategy, but one of our affinity groups began to see the need of that in their area and so they’re doing that in their area. Well, strategies change, but inherent in what we do must be evangelism, discipleship — which is hard work — and church planting. I’m not sure but what discipleship is the hardest of those three although it’s not easy to plant a church or to evangelize sometimes.
So those are the three questions I will constantly be asking in terms of all that we do. At the appropriate time we’ll talk more about where we’re going in the near, near future in terms of strategy for the Southern Baptist Convention in terms of reaching the unengaged unreached people groups.
NORVELLE: I heard you say today is it bold? We don’t have time to unpack all of that but that’s the third question.
ELLIFF: That’s the third question. The first is, Is it biblical? … Is it balanced? is the second one. And finally, Is it bold? We don’t have time not to be bold. Now bold is not always neat and clean. Bold is sort of messy, to be perfectly honest. Somebody comes up with an idea. An idea is born like a baby. Babies are very demanding. Then they go through a selfish stage and keep you up at night, then look like an adolescent, you know, gangly arms, all the parts don’t fit, doesn’t wear deodorant, but the parent doesn’t give up on it. The parent is staring with this vacuous look across the table thinking this boy’s got a future. I just need to invest in it. Our ideas are like that, but we must be bold in what we do.
When you speak of unreached people groups, you editors are very well informed on this because I know you follow closely what we do. But you know that there are 6,734 unreached people groups. Now we would consider an unreached people group [to be] a group of people, an affinity group, that they are ethno-linguistically similar, that does not have at least 2 percent of the population in what we’d call the evangelical faith. Now that’s an unreached people group. Of that 6,734 that we currently know, 3,800 are what we’d call unengaged people groups. That means no one has taken it upon themselves to draw up a deliberate strategy, take the Gospel on the ground there. They’re unengaged. They’re not unengaged by the soft drink industry. They’re already in there. They’re not unengaged by the pornography industry. They’re already in there. And that’s a shame. If anybody ought to care more about their product, so to speak, than the soft drink industry and porn industry, it ought to be believers in Christ. How in the world can we let these people be unengaged?
So I will be bringing to the convention in Phoenix a proposal that brings together many of the elements that are already in place with the International Mission Board. Our church and partner services have worked on how do we engage these people. They have all the pieces. We’re going to put these together and by the grace of god, beginning with this year’s convention, within 12 months we pray that at least 3,800 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention — that’s not even a tenth of our churches, would cowboy up and say we are going to strategize, we’re going to pray, and we’re going to do everything we can with the ultimate goal of seeing that there are boots on the ground among those people. And I think it would be a wonderful thing if the day came when many, many churches across our convention had missionaries among churches appointed by the IMB on the field in those people groups, doing nothing but coordinate the work of their churches among those people. That would be a dream come true. …
NORVELLE: One question that has come, you were there when the reorganization and revisioning took place. For some of our missionaries it’s been a pretty big change and there may still be some tweaking that needs to be done, but are you supporting the basic direction of the revisioning and how will you help care for the missionaries affected?
ELLIFF: In the first place I would say yes I was there in the initial stages of our current restructuring or revisioning. I would say given the enormous amount of effort and expenditure that has been laid out already on the part of so many to get into place our new organizational structure that we probably ought to think of this as a, well, to use my analogy awhile ago, maybe we’re in the adolescent stage. Adolescents are very clumsy and one minute they act like children and the next minute they want to be treated like adults. I’m not talking about our missionaries. I’m talking about adolescents. You know we all agree with Mark Twain who said when you have a child put him in barrel, when he’s 12 years old feed him through the hole, when he gets 16 close up the hole. So we all know what an adolescent is like. That’s what happens. You have a vision conceived in your heart. You labor over it for awhile. You carry it around. Then there’s birth. That’s not clean and neat. It’s born and immediately you have everybody gussying around, scurrying around here and there and people are saying, man, I already had enough on my plate. I don’t need somebody at home that keeps me up day and night. But that’s what happens when you have a baby.
Is there a scriptural pattern for this…? Yes, the Bible says … “For the joy that was set before him endured the cross and despised the shame.” And if [Jesus] could do that for the privilege of what we would one day be around His throne, and put up with us, as we go through the kicking and screaming, demanding parts of our lives, if He could do that, I think it’s probably attendant upon us to look at this restructuring, revisioning adolescent in front of us and say, let’s give it our best, believe in this thing and make it work. There may be parts of it we need to change radically, but the purpose of it was to make sure we maximize the impact of our dollars and maximize the investment of our missionaries and the end result, I think when we come to the end of the day, I think we’ll see that.
NORVELLE: What about pastoring the missionaries while you’re in this role?
ELLIFF: You know that’s probably my heart. When you pull that string I start responding. I make no claim — you know sometimes people say well those two years don’t qualify him to be a missionary. I didn’t say they did. We didn’t go to the field with intention of coming back. We came back from the field because my wife and children were involved in an accident and our oldest daughter was severely burned and had to have massive skin grafting, and technology was not available to attend to her needs in Zimbabwe at that time. It was a very tough time in Zimbabwe, and so, as a loving father we came back and I don’t regret that decision at all. But it certainly wasn’t something we anticipated going in. However, while two years may not give me an ability to identify with missionaries, in some way that experience does and every other experience of life does, give me the capacity to identify. I’ve discovered all of us think our problems, our issues are peculiar, but God helps us meet people who have the same problem and it’s not so peculiar and they walk through it and I eagerly anticipate the privilege of being with our missionaries.
I would say this. I need to qualify this and want to say this while Brother Jimmy’s here. I told the search committee if they didn’t call me I was going to bill them for the first month because I’ve been working on all the stuff you’ve been sending me (laughter), but I want him to hear this and I’d love for our missionaries to because they’re going to understand this more readily. Where is the greatest need for the investment of the International Mission Board president’s life? Is it solely on the field moving among the missionaries? Well, if that’s the case then he loses touch with the churches here that support us and for that reason we have member care. We have people on the field constantly seeking to deal with this. But you don’t ignore that. You do go some.
Okay, then, is it solely back here in States? No, I can tell you there are a lot of things that need to be done as we see what I believe is the future of missions and the International Mission Board in partnership with churches who send their missionaries through us, helping them strategize, helping them reach these unreached people groups, helping them engage the unengaged. You know really churches for 166 years have been sending their missionaries through the agency of the International Mission Board and so, Is there a need to be here and to hold hands with churches? Sure there is.
Well, what about staff in Richmond? Is there a need to identify over the next several months here with them and figure out how they do their work? Well, of course there is.
Then sitting over here is my wife. Is there a need to be a good husband to her? Sure there is. I could go on and talk about my 25 grandkids, my four kids and all that, but the point is God has grace for us to do everything He wants us to do. Now He doesn’t give us grace to do what He wants to do and then the stuff we want to do on our own. So the quickest way for this to work is this: If I can just get to point in my life where all I want for my life is simply all God wants for my life then all my life I’ll have all I want because I’m just wanting what He wants and that’s what He’s going to give me the grace to do. So it’s is doable. You know this is not the kind thing that when we go home at the end of the day and we say this is impossible. No, it’s possible by His grace.
NORVELLE: Before, in a presidential search maybe you were asked to consider being president. Another question asked along this way is did you envision yourself being in this role or did this come somewhat as a surprise?
ELLIFF: This came as a surprise. There was a time back before our immediate past president when the search committee approached me about being president of the International Mission Board. We gave that a great deal of consideration. At the time I was pastoring. Yet in the end I felt like the Lord had let me to choose not to do that. I made that decision and went immediately to church at 2 o’clock in morning and sent — we didn’t have emails — I sent a fax to the chairman of the committee. I said no. If being a man of integrity means you never pretend, then I can’t pretend there’s not something wrong.
Brother Jimmy called or wrote, I can’t remember where it was, may have been an email or phone call, I’m not sure, but right at the very beginning of this search process because they were obliged to call everybody whose name was submitted, and apparently somebody who was probably clothed, but not in his right mind, had submitted my name. And I told Jimmy at that moment I would not do it, not at that moment. I told him then [that] I said no, I can’t do it because I had recommended someone. I felt it would be unethical for me to ask the committee to consider me when I had already asked them to consider somebody else and so I said no and put that out of my mind. It never really occurred to us again. So this was a surprise.
I had no paradigms in my mind for being president of the International Mission Board. I have had a huge burden on my heart for spiritual awakening so in the context or the flow of all of this it has occurred to me God may be gracious enough to choose the IMB as a catalyst for spiritual awakening in our nation, all the time we’re working overseas. Because our nation — you know there are answers to this you understand –I feel like a parable that doesn’t mean everything we want it to mean, but really isn’t it true that our value in one sense has been in the ability that we’ve had to send people overseas? This has been a tremendous value. Well, without spiritual awakening I think what we’ll do is not send as many people overseas, number one. Number two, if we don’t have spiritual awakening, then the kind of gospel we send overseas will be a perverted gospel. That bothers me.
NORVELLE: We’ve covered a lot of the questions. A few, as I mentioned earlier that you may have submitted, we don’t have the information to answer, but for next few minutes we really are on a pretty tight timetable because they have to go be with our missionaries. But for the next few minutes I’ll take a question from you — remind us of the paper you’re with and then state your question and I’ll try to direct it in right direction.
ELLIFF: I hear snoring.
NORVELLE: They have to un-mute their phones probably.
TAMMI LEDBETTER (Southern Baptist TEXAN): … This is Tammi Ledbetter. A question that I would desire an answer to because it speaks to the area that Tom is perhaps most known for and that is an advocate for the family. I’ve noticed that an awful lot of the feedback I get over the years from current missionaries and those who have recently resigned involves increased stress as a result of new expectations of wives in reporting procedures, a change from giving consideration to the educational needs of MKs in deployment decisions, as well as inconsistency, or a lack of communication between the layers of bureaucracy to those missionaries. Since you’re most known as a Southern Bapitst leader who defends the importance of the family, is there any encouragement you can give to missionaries as to how you expect to consider the impact of policy on missionary families.
ELLIFF: … Let me approach this from two vantage points – two positions.
One, I am ardently an advocate of the family. You know that, Tammi. You’ve been to some of our Kingdom Family rallies, and are well aware of where Jeannie and I are on the family. I mentioned at one point I have 11 grandchildren on the field so I think we do have some understanding of what you’re speaking of and what missionaries are speaking of. At any given moment any of our missionaries could be going through an unusual set of circumstances that bring enormous stress.
It is not, nor will it ever be, the goal of any of us within the International Mission Board to place requirements that would create stress on anyone that were not in some fashion considered needed. Now because we are a team, because we have multiple families out there, sometimes some of the requirements, especially when we’re at level 3 security areas, sometimes the things we ask the people may seem more odious to one family than it does to another. One family may say, boy, that saved our neck, while another family will say, all that did was make us pack extra bags that we didn’t want to pack.
But let me just say this, throughout the process it would be my desire as the president to ensure, I can’t ensure, but it would be my desire to do it, to be able to say to our families, you know one of the greatest benefits to your family is serving with the International Mission Board. Let me just say, accident included, it was a blessing to our family to serve with the International Mission Board. There are things to this very day that came from our experience at the learning center orientation and on the field that we treasure to this very day. Our six grandkids who are at our home [with their parents on stateside assignment from the mission field], whose lives are separated from any other missionaries or any other folks like themselves, they, in their lives, they’re just so grateful for what the International Mission Board has brought to the table for them in terms of their education possibilities and so forth.
I am well aware we do not do everything perfectly and I do not ever want to be seen as defending something that is either unseemly or overbearing or callous or insensitive to the needs of a family, so I’ll carry that spirit into the process. But I will say that I’m not carrying it into foreign territory because many of our people feel that way already and it is unfortunate.
You know we have close to 4,000 children on the field. We have just about a thousand less children on the field than we do adults. So it would be rather strange if at any given moment if you had a school system with 4,000 children if somebody was in the principal’s office saying this is too much homework. I’m not defending it and I’m not saying what we’ve done is correct, and I certainly would be willing to take a look at anything that would seem to be ruinous to good sound healthy family life. So my heart beats with yours and I think you know that.
BOB TERRY (The Alabama Baptist): Frequently a new chief executive officer will want to surround himself with his team. Should we anticipate stories in the next months as you work things out and get things set up to your liking, should we anticipate stories about significant personnel changes at IMB?
ELLIFF: Bob, that is absolutely the most diplomatic way to ask that question that I’ve ever heard (laughter). I don’t think so. The truth of the matter is if some of these guys weren’t staying on the team I don’t think I’d want the job. I’m going to be working very closely with Clyde Meador who has said he’s willing to stay, and he actually used the term four years for me, but that will be long past when all the folks out there who question my age will want him to retire. I have no ambitions here of doing any kind of housecleaning and surrounding myself with a team.
The truth of the matter is a great benefit came to me unknowingly. I wasn’t aware of this when Jerry asked me to serve as senior vice president from ’05 to ’09. I got to know these guys. I love these guys. Now I may, I think you’ve already heard me say, in all likelihood will fill the position I vacated. That doesn’t mean we’ll have more personnel. It just means we’re going to fill that position in terms of someone to help us with biblical cohesion.
But I have no ambitions to do that [make personnel changes], you know. And I don’t know where I would even start if I did — maybe with myself (laughter).
NORVELLE: No, you’re signed on. We have time for just one more question then I’ll ask if Tom or Jimmy have last comments they want to make or something they thought you might have asked, but we didn’t.
DIANA CAGLE (Biblical Recorder, North Carolina): I had asked a question about the economy and how it is affecting churches on the local level and in associations. What is one way you’re going to be getting in churches, the associations, and national level to encourage our churches to dig deep and continue to give?
ELLIFF: That’s a great question, and of course I don’t want to sound glib. You know this, but over the 166-year history of the International Mission Board, we have as a nation gone through some of the most extenuating circumstances one could ever imagine from outright wars to unrest within the country to a depression, bank failures, you name it, we’ve had it. Now, I don’t think we’ve had everything that we can have, Diana. I’m thinking about what’s happening now in Japan and my heart is grieving, and I’m glad we’re responding to need there in ways the IMB and BGR [Baptist Global Response] can respond in ways that are enduring and effective, ways that depend on our relationships with Baptists in Japan. They probably thought they’d seen everything and then this came, but I do know this, that none other than the great missionary himself Hudson Taylor said God’s work done God’s way received God’s supply. I don’t think I can do anything on the supply side. That’s God’s business moving on the hearts of our constituency, but I do believe the Lord has asked me in some way as president to just make sure that together we keep on doing God’s work God’s way, and that may seem like a simple answer. It does not mean that I’m not going to be out there talking to churches and conventions as we all are, and it certainly does not mean that we’re going to lurch to some other strategy. I’m a believer in the Cooperative Program. I’m a believer in the fact that we can do better together than we can alone. I’m a believer in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. I’m a believer in our partnerships with our other agencies and auxiliaries and the Southern Baptist Convention. I’m solidly behind all that. In fact my heart is with that, but I do know our primary responsibility is we’re going to be good stewards. The IMB has in it both committees and employees who scrutinize. I mean our whole reorganization is driven in a great way and in great part to be good stewards. So we’re going to be good stewards. But the biggest issue is making sure that we do God’s work God’s way. I think when that happens the people of God will rise up and we’ll have God’s supply. Otherwise the Christian church would not be around and America would have disappeared a long time during one of those depressions or wars or something of that nature.
NORVELLE: Dr Pritchard, a final word and then, Dr Elliff, we’ll let you call it a day.
PRITCHARD: When we began we recognized there was no perfect man who met all the qualities and we recognized that there’s an anointing that comes with the chair. We’re convinced we’ve got God’s man and even from day one we sensed there is an anointing on the chair. I hope you’ve heard that through what you’ve heard today. It is a new day. It’s a good day. So we’re just praising God and our trustee board at the International Mission Board that God has answered our prayers and the new day has dawned.
ELLIFF: There are always people who come out of the woodwork at one point along the way who say, do I offer you my congratulations or condolences? I’m happy with the congratulations. No condolences are necessary. This is something God has given to us as a gift over which we are to exercise the best stewardship that we can. That’s what I intend to do, and I’m grateful to Southern Baptists, grateful to God, and grateful to the board and especially to this committee for the way that they’ve handled this. I thank the Lord for it. And let me just say I’m grateful for you folks, too, who are on this call because you know, when at the convention — and by the way, our president of the Southern Baptist Convention and I have talked. Right in the middle of our strategizing about this plan we have to begin the engagement process for all the unengaged within a one-year period, right in the middle of that strategizing and talking with our workers about that, Bryant [Wright, SBC president] called and said, Hey Tom, I’ve got this wonderful thing that I know God’s put on my heart. Why don’t we go after these unengaged people groups?
You know what? We’re just gathering momentum – [North American Mission Board President] Kevin Ezell, Bryant and I and the others. I think this year’s convention in Phoenix is going to be great because we’ll have our hearts set toward doing the very thing we’re commanded to do by the Great Commission.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.