JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin announced today (Sept. 16) he will retire July 31, 2010, ending a 17-year tenure marked by sweeping organizational changes and a steady personal calling.
“Everything I have done has been driven by an unequivocal sense of a call to missions, to make my life count and to make the greatest impact possible on reaching a lost world for Jesus Christ,” Rankin said.
Rankin told IMB trustees during his report at their Sept. 15-16 meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., that his presidency should not be judged for the accomplishments of the organization under his leadership but for how the organization is poised for the future.
“For the second time in my tenure we are implementing a radical paradigm shift in organization and strategy,” Rankin said. “This is not because of past failure and ineffectiveness but a vision of the changes needed to ensure relevance and effectiveness in the future.”
Such sentiments are consistent to Rankin’s approach in leading the 163-year-old organization. Early in his administration Rankin began placing a greater emphasis on the work remaining in world evangelization than what had been accomplished.
“It’s not … our size or annual statistical report that should drive us,” Rankin said. “We need to be driven by a vision to bring all peoples to a saving faith in Christ and what it takes to get there.”
Yet there has always been a need to track progress. When Rankin took over leadership of the IMB in 1993, the Southern Baptist mission organization saw nearly 4,000 missionaries help start more than 2,000 churches in 142 countries. Last year more than 5,500 IMB missionaries helped plant nearly 27,000 churches and engage 101 new people groups for a total of 1,190 engaged people groups.
The move from tracking countries to focusing on people groups reveals another area where Rankin worked to change the IMB. Country counts faded during the past 10 years as the organization shifted to finding the best ways to engage new people groups and population centers.
“I think moving us to a people group focus helped us learn to innovate,” he said. “But probably the most radical innovation of all has been the process of moving us to a mobilization perspective.”
Such a shift has not been easy. He has pursued it almost his entire tenure.
“To mobilize and involve churches and Southern Baptists rather than our doing missions on behalf of Southern Baptists is an innovation that we have been pursuing for the past 12 years. The whole mobilization perspective is where we are going. That’s the hope of the future of missions,” Rankin said.
Rankin has not always been so confident of the future. He was surprised and overwhelmed when a 15-member trustee search committee asked him to become the IMB’s next leader in 1993.
“I felt so inadequate to the task. And I certainly didn’t come with a vision of ‘Here’s my agenda. Here’s how we are going to reach the whole world.’ But it was one of, ‘OK, Lord, I’m Your servant. I’m available. What do You want to do through the IMB?'”
Rankin and his wife, the former Bobbye Simmons, were appointed missionaries to Indonesia in June 1970. They studied language in Bandung, Indonesia, and he served as a general evangelist in two other Indonesian locations.
Rankin also consulted in evangelism and church growth in India, served as associate to the area director for South and Southeast Asia, and then as administrator for mission work in India. He became area director for Southern Asia and the Pacific where he oversaw the work of 480 missionaries in 15 countries.
“I never anticipated that I would move beyond a niche where God had called us to serve as missionaries in Indonesia,” Rankin said.
“It made no sense for a field missionary who had been overseas for 23 years,” Rankin told the trustees, “to be selected over others who were far more qualified and at a peak of controversy regarding control of leadership roles among Southern Baptist Convention entities.
“I had not even attended a Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting until the year prior to my election.
“I reluctantly accepted the role [as president], not out of any desire for status or reputation and certainly not for a denominational administration role, but only to make the greatest impact on reaching a lost world that my life could make. The motivation for accepting this was only that same missionary call that carried us to Indonesia.”
Rankin said he sees that same sense of call uniting the organization’s leadership teams as well as in the emerging young leaders within the IMB’s staff and missionary force. He said the same spirit of unity rests within the current body of trustees.
“Never in my experience have we had a board of trustees so unified, supportive and sensitive to the spiritual nature of our task,” he said in his report.
Rankin said this common vision is vital as the organization moves into the next phase of its history.
“We have always been a missionary-sending agency with unlimited capacity to send and support the missionaries being called out of our Southern Baptist churches. That is no longer the case as appointments are being restricted and strategies must be changed to more effectively deploy and utilize limited numbers of personnel.
“The next president must deal with economic realities that will not permit us to presume upon unlimited financial resources as we have in the past. Southern Baptists are at a point of crisis in deciding whether to continue a bureaucratic legacy, supporting a comprehensive plethora of ministries and programs, or focus resources on fulfilling the Great Commission.”
Rankin added that the IMB stands on the verge of unprecedented opportunities to complete the task of engaging every nation, people and language with the Gospel.
“We need a leader who can identify with the next generation, one who has credibility to mobilize Southern Baptists, creative vision to implement new strategies and faith to provide the spiritual leadership that will keep us aligned with the mission of a sovereign God.”
Michael Logan is a writer for the International Mission Board.