DALLAS (BP)–Minutes after his resounding 76-0 election as International Mission Board president by IMB trustees, Tom Elliff vowed to challenge Southern Baptists to engage all of the estimated 3,800 people groups worldwide that still have not been touched by the Gospel.
“I intend to introduce at the 2011 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention a very simple plan by which each one of these 3,800 unengaged people groups can be embraced by a Southern Baptist congregation,” Elliff told trustees, meeting March 15-16 in Dallas, during his acceptance speech following Wednesday”s unanimous election vote.
“I believe we can accomplish this in one year. Just think about that for a moment. Should Jesus grant us the days, by the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention meeting, we would be able to say that to our knowledge, every people group on this globe has some church committed to take specific steps to strategize, to pray over, to learn about and discover some way that the Gospel witness can be shared with those people.”
For churches that make such a commitment, Elliff said, the IMB “has developed all the pieces necessary” to help them fulfill it. IMB missionaries and staff are “both able and committed to doing all that”s necessary to mobilize our Southern Baptist churches in a fashion that we”ve never thought possible.”
TIME TO “COWBOY UP”
Southern Baptist missionaries are “your boots on the ground,” Elliff reminded IMB trustees and the churches they represent. But fulfilling the Great Commission is “going to require local churches … becoming burdened for the unengaged and the unreached of this world, signing on, creating vital partnerships. This is not a new way of doing missions. This is a biblical way of doing missions — and your missionaries are eager for you to step up to the plate.
“As we say in Oklahoma, let”s “cowboy up” and do this thing.”
SBC President Bryant Wright, who addressed the trustee meeting, strongly endorsed Elliff”s plan for connecting churches to unengaged people groups. He promised to work closely with Elliff to present it at the SBC meeting in Phoenix June 12-15.
“What Tom is talking about is something that the Lord has already put on my heart, and I love it when the Holy Spirit works in two different places at once,” Wright told trustees, recounting a recent phone call during which the two discussed the idea, only to discover they had individually received the same promptings from God.
“Some churches can do it individually where they have that capability. Some larger churches can engage many people groups, [or work] with other, smaller churches” to help them commit to at least one unengaged group, said Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. “I want to ask you to pray diligently, to pray powerfully, that God will move and prepare our churches and our pastors and our leaders for this year in Phoenix, to do something that Christ has called on His church for 2,000 years to do.”
Elliff, 67, a longtime Oklahoma pastor, denominational leader and former missionary, took the reins of one of the world”s largest evangelical missions entities, effective March 16.
In his post-election comments to trustees, Elliff emphasized the overwhelming need for prayer in the days ahead.
“I think you and I agree that Southern Baptists ought to constitute … a veritable furnace of intercessory prayer,” he said. “As we look at the graphic images of the tragedy in Japan and realize they could be duplicated other places, [we must realize] there are moral earthquakes and spiritual earthquakes. There are earthquakes and tsunamis that are washing people away financially, politically and physically, and they demand our prayer.
“[We are] determined to minister to people all over the world, not just in Japan, who are hurting. We are determined that we”re going to share with them the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as well.”
Elliff asked trustees, as he has been asking all Southern Baptists in recent days, to pray for him and his wife Jeannie in seven specific ways: that they will have a constant awareness that “we are ambassadors for Christ”; that they will “live before God with pure hearts”; that they will experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit; that they will display the gifts and graces of the Spirit; that “never would we unwittingly place in the hands of the adversary something that he might use to mock our Savior”; that God will protect their family physically, morally and spiritually; and that God will “keep us faithful to the vision.”
IS IT BOLD?
Elliff admitted he is on a “fast learning curve” as the board”s new president. But in every decision he makes regarding IMB work and potential new initiatives, he promised to ask three questions: Is it biblical? Is it balanced, taking into account the three Great Commission commands of evangelism, discipleship and church-planting? And is it bold?
“If there was ever a day to require boldness, it is this day,” he told trustees. “[You] can”t simply be content to say you”re for church … and the Rotary and good government and low taxes and oh, by the way, you”re for missions. It is something that is going to have to consume us. …
“Now, should the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention rise to this challenge and should IMB selflessly and tirelessly join hands with them while pointing the way … God just might be inclined to bring spiritual awakening to our nation, the spiritual awakening that we so desperately need. The ultimate result will be that the Gospel would be proclaimed to every nation, every people, to the uttermost, now. This is my prayer. This is the end to which I want to pledge my efforts as your 11th president in the 166-year history of IMB, and I pray that you will join with me.”
Following his remarks, members of the presidential search committee — joined by Wright, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page and others — surrounded Elliff and his wife as retired IMB President Jerry Rankin led trustees in prayer for their ministry in the days to come.
In other action during their March 15-16 meeting:
— IMB trustees presented Clyde Meador with a resolution thanking him for his “countless hours” of work as interim president following Rankin”s retirement. Meador will continue as executive vice president, providing crucial assistance to Elliff in daily IMB administration.
“I appreciate the opportunity which you have given me to lead IMB for the past eight months,” Meador said in his final report as interim president. “You as trustees, as well as our missionaries around the world and our staff in the United States, have supported me in every way.”
Smiling, he added: “Of course, I look forward to returning to only one job as I continue to serve as executive vice president under the leadership of Dr. Elliff.”
— Trustees appointed 67 new missionaries during a service at First Baptist Church in Dallas.
— They heard an update on response to the Japanese earthquake/tsunami disaster. “Japan is on everyone”s mind right now,” said trustee Strategy Committee chairman Ray Jones. “We have an assessment team on the ground” searching for ways to minister to people in the quake zone and relieve suffering in cooperation with Japanese Baptists. Jones urged trustees and Southern Baptists to support relief efforts as they are developed by missionaries and the Baptist Global Response relief and development organization.
— Trustees also marked the passing of active and retired missionaries and staff members during 2010. Two active-service missionaries and a volunteer died during the year. Forty-five retired missionaries, who served an average of more than 29 years each, also died, along with nine retired staff members and a former trustee.
The next meeting of IMB trustees will be May 19-20 in Richmond, Va.
Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.