BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — David Platt was in Nepal on the last day of a mission trip in February when he awoke to an email that would change his life: IMB’s president, Tom Elliff, was retiring.
Platt’s head fell back onto his pillow as the possibilities swirled. Four years ago, IMB had approached him about leading Southern Baptists’ international missions organization. God’s answer then was a clear “No.”
But things were much hazier now. The Lord had done an “unusual work” in Platt’s heart on this trip, exposing him to “massive” physical and spiritual poverty unlike anything he’d ever seen.
“You’d go for four or five days without meeting anybody who’d even heard the name of Jesus,” he remembered.
Platt was seriously wrestling with a potential call to move his family to Nepal to serve as church planters. That’s when the Holy Spirit hit him with a question: Why would he be willing to go half-way around the world to take the Gospel to the lost and not at least consider a move that would enable him to mobilize thousands of others to do the same?
What Platt didn’t yet realize was that God had already started him on a journey that would end with his election as the youngest president in the International Mission Board’s 169-year history. It’s a journey the 36-year-old pastor shared for the first time Sunday (Aug. 31) with the congregation he’s led for the last eight years, The Church at Brook Hills, in Birmingham, Ala.
Brook Hills members welcomed Platt with a thunderous standing ovation as he walked on stage to preach during the 9 a.m. service, his first Sunday “back home” since the announcement of his new role at IMB. Visibly touched by the show of support, Platt’s voice cracked with emotion as he announced that Sept. 14 will be his last Sunday as Brook Hills’ senior pastor.
“So, how in the world did we get here?” he asked, framing his sermon to answer the question likely lingering in the minds of the church’s 4,500-plus members. Platt said the answer boils down to a question he’s been asking the Holy Spirit: What’s the best use of my life for the spread of the Gospel?
“I hope it’s the question you’re asking in your life,” Platt told the nearly packed sanctuary.
He compared his calling to IMB to that of Paul’s determination to visit Jerusalem in Acts 20:22 — “constrained” (or bound) by the Holy Spirit. “I want you to have confidence … that the Spirit has indeed said, ‘Set apart for me David for this work to which I have called him,'” Platt said, referencing the Holy Spirit’s consecration of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13.
Laying the groundwork
Even before the Nepal trip, Platt said God had been laying the groundwork for his transition to IMB for more than a year. A series of international trips, many to connect with IMB missionaries, showed Platt the power of Southern Baptist churches working together and gave him a “fresh vision” for mobilizing thousands of new missionaries to go and make disciples.
Platt understood the vision but not the details. He knew he had to be open to whatever God asked — to offer his life as a “blank check,” as he often encouraged Brook Hills members to view their lives in terms of total surrender to Christ.
“I fell on my face and said, ‘God I just want to do my duty,'” Platt remembered. In his journal he wrote, “One thing is clear: something is about to change in my life.”
Unlike many short-term mission trips where the intensity of the experience quickly fades after returning home, Platt experienced the opposite; his desire to attack lostness only grew deeper. He was soon contacted by IMB’s trustee search committee and formally began the process of exploring a call to serve as the organization’s next president.
Platt said his consideration reached a crucial point in July while he was preaching at a meeting in the Dominican Republic for hundreds of IMB missionaries who serve in the Americas. Overwhelmed with a desire to see thousands more like them mobilized to every corner of the planet, he suddenly knew God wanted him at IMB.
“I’m as sure of this as I’ve been anything in my life,” he told his wife Heather, comparing it to the same sensation of God-directed certainty he felt the day he asked her to marry him. Little more than a month later, IMB trustees overwhelmingly voted to make Platt IMB’s 12th president.
“It’s a good day for Southern Baptists, it’s a good day for the nations who need the Gospel, and it’s a good day for Brook Hills because we have the privilege of sending David out to this great task,” Brook Hills’ teaching and training pastor, Jim Shaddix, told the congregation before leading them in a prayer for Platt’s transition.
Dennis Blythe, Brook Hills’ executive pastor, said the church’s reaction has been a mixture of sorrow and excitement.
“I know of no one with greater passion and zeal for seeing Christ preached where He has not been named,” Blythe said. “While our faith family is saddened that David will no longer be our senior pastor, the overwhelming majority of our faith family see this as an ideal fit for him. Most who know David’s heart were not surprised to see God lead in this way.”
Challenge to Brook Hills
Though he will miss Brook Hills deeply, Platt said his desire to follow God trumps all other considerations.
“I didn’t go looking for this; constrained by the Spirit, I received this,” he told the church. “It’s with deep sorrow and sense of loss that I think about not pastoring these people whom I love … yet with deep resolve to spend my life wherever, however He leads to see the Gospel go to unreached people.”
Platt challenged Brook Hills members to do the same, focusing on two key words: surrender to Christ and abide in Him.
“The Christian life is a life of surrender. Our life is His to spend however He wants; we surrender everything. … The life of a Christ-follower is a daily death, a daily death to self,” he said.
Listen to Platt’s full message to Brook Hills, titled “The Blank Check,” here.
Don Graham is an IMB senior writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).