DEL CITY, Okla. (BP)–“First Southern, you have sown your members, including your pastor, to the mission fields of the world,” Tom Elliff said as he preached his resignation sermon Aug. 7 at the Del City, Okla., church where he has been the pastor for 20 years.
He told the congregation he will take on a new ministry role as senior vice president of spiritual nurture and church relations for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, effective Nov. 1. In essence, he will become pastor-at-large for the International Mission Board and its 5,000-plus missionaries.
“We are awed at the prospect of this responsibility and honored to be invited to join the IMB leadership team,” Elliff said. “Jeannie and I do not see this transition as a move out of the pastorate. We have been asked to assist in the spiritual nurture and doctrinal training of our missionaries. Heavy emphasis will be placed on strengthening family life. That’s exactly what I have done all my life. In one sense it is the same approach but in a different arena, touching the lives of people who touch the lives of others around the world.”
In his message, Elliff preached one of his ministry’s perpetual themes, walking with God. Elliff has written and preached across the globe his message about how to get a word from God about a significant decision in one’s life.
Reviewing those principles with the congregation, he said: 1) God allows a need in a Christian’s life. 2) The believer needs to turn to God first. 3) God primarily reveals His will by His Holy Spirit and the Word of God. 4) The believer discerns the will of God by living a fully devoted life and by consistent reception of God’s Word. 5) By faith, the believer agrees with God and begins to act on what God’s Word has said. 6) God demonstrates Himself through the believer’s life for His glory.
“First Southern is an amazing fellowship,” Elliff said. Serving the congregation for 20 years — more than one-third of its history –- “will remain as one of the greatest blessings of my life,” he said.
“Our staff, leadership team and indeed our congregation has missions in its DNA. In a sense, they have trained us for the journey ahead,” the pastor said.
Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said God has been preparing the Elliffs for this ministry all of their lives.
“Tom is one of the great pastors in the SBC,” Jordan said. “In each pastorate, he has led his people to have a passion to reach people with the Good News at home and to the ends of the earth. A consummate Bible expositor, he has laid a biblical and doctrine foundation that is firm. He and Jeannie have raised a family of champions for Christ. Who better to be the pastor-at-large for the IMB? None! This is of God.”
John L. Yeats, editor of the Baptist Messenger newspaper for Oklahoma Baptists and one of the five officers of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “My wife and I have known Tom and Jeannie for many years and have served two churches together. I cannot think of a ministry that is better suited for the Elliffs than the one they are about to begin.
“For years, Tom’s heart has been captivated with what God is doing in the world,” Yeats said. “Under Tom’s leadership, First Southern is fully engaged in praying, giving and going to the uttermost parts of this world. Tom is convinced that the words of Jesus are absolutely true when He said, ‘This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come’” (Matthew 24:14, NASV).
Elliff served as president of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention in 1997 and 1998. First Southern is the only Southern Baptist church in recent history to have had three of its pastors serve in the denomination’s highest elected post. Prior to Elliff, former pastors Bailey Smith and James T. Draper Jr. served the convention as president.
After serving as president, Elliff also served as chairman of the SBC’s Council on Family Life. He has been involved extensively in leading the denomination’s emphasis on the family and is a sought-after speaker for the Kingdom Family conferences.