RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — Eight months after unanimously electing Tom Elliff as “God’s man” to lead Southern Baptists’ global missions efforts, IMB trustees officially inaugurated him as the mission board’s 11th leader.
Meeting Nov. 14-15 at IMB’s International Learning Center near Richmond, Va., trustees dedicated Monday evening to inaugurating Elliff during a special service at Richmond’s Grove Avenue Baptist Church.
Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, a guest speaker at the inauguration, compared Elliff to Barnabas in Acts 11:24 — a “good man” of great faith, filled with the Holy Spirit.
“There are 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups [in the world], and God has put on Tom’s heart that we challenge the churches of our convention to go out there and reach all 3,800…. Now that is great faith,” Bryant said. “Tom … we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has called you to this role.”
At the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, an “embrace” initiative was launched to challenge churches to do “whatever it takes” to make Jesus’ name known among an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) in which less than 2 percent of the people are evangelical Christians and no active church planting strategy is under way among them.
The embrace initiative, born of a prayer-laden collaboration between Elliff and Wright, sets an ambitious goal for congregations of a long-term commitment to a UUPG.
Also during their meeting, IMB trustees appointed 77 new missionaries, all of whom were present at the Nov. 14 inauguration. Elliff spoke about his passion for reaching those who don’t place their faith in Jesus Christ and underscored the importance of anchoring one’s identity in Christ.
“We must not confuse our role at the present moment with our identity — that is, who we are. Sometimes I’m introduced as president of IMB…. That may be what I am doing right now, but that is not who I am. I am a bond slave [of Christ],” Elliff said.
“It haunts me to think of any man, woman, boy or girl … being alive a million, billion years from now in an actual, awful, but always place called hell, which is the destiny of every person who does not name the name of Jesus and has not repented and received Him by faith as their Savior.
“Jesus had compassion on those who came to Him. It moved Him viscerally. But please understand that what ultimately keeps us going is that what we do is not just for the lost; it is primarily for Jesus’ sake.”
Trustees received good news about the advance of the Gospel from Scott Holste, IMB’s associate vice president of global strategy. Holste presented highlights from the 2011 Annual Statistical Report, which compiles data from the previous year on the work of Southern Baptist missionaries and the local believers with whom they partner.
Thanks to their obedience to share the Gospel, nearly 1.5 million people were presented with an opportunity to respond to Christ in 2010. Of that number, more than 442,000 became new believers, and more than 333,000 new believers were baptized. Missionaries and local believers also started more than 28,800 new churches.
Holste said God used IMB engagement to accomplish some significant firsts, including newly engaging more than 200 people groups with the Gospel, 90 of which are unreached (less than 2 percent evangelical Christian). Missionaries also reported the first believer among 26 people groups, the first baptism among 32 people groups and the first church among 13 people groups.
“That’s really a cause for celebration,” Holste said.
But there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Mark Sauter, who co-leads strategy for IMB’s Deaf affinity group, told trustees of the desperate need for Jesus among the Deaf of Eastern Europe. He spoke of signing the word for “Jesus” in several European countries, only to find that Deaf there didn’t know what he was talking about or only knew Jesus as a “dead man on the cross,” wholly ignorant of the sacrifice that put Him there.
Sauter also told trustees about a haunting question he frequently receives from Deaf believers who’ve recently responded to Christ: “Why has no one ever told us this before? … My father or my son, who died last year, they would have followed this Christ — they would have embraced this Jesus if they had a chance.”
Sauter stated that “wherever we go, whether there are churches or no churches, the Deaf have been isolated and shut out from the Gospel.”
After two years of deliberation and refinement, trustees unanimously voted to implement a pilot program intended to expand the boundaries of partnership between Southern Baptist churches and the IMB. Known as “Great Commission Global Connect” or “GC2,” it will facilitate a church’s ability to take a greater strategic role in sending short-term missionaries to share Christ and plant churches among the world’s unreached people groups.
GC2 missionaries will be fully financially supported by their sending church but will work with and be supervised by IMB leadership. IMB will partner with GC2 churches by providing personnel selection and strategy consultation as well as administrative support and training.
Roger Freeman, chairman of the trustees’ Church and Partner Services Committee and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Clarksville, Tenn., said GC2 is not a departure from Southern Baptists’ cooperative missions efforts but a “new dimension to cooperation.”
“This is a heartfelt response on the part of IMB to the GCR [Great Commission Resurgence],” Elliff explained. “Our seminaries have produced an entire new generation of passionate, young, theologically astute and ardently mission-minded pastors.
“The thing that they care about is that we understand, and missionaries understand and Southern Baptists understand, that missionaries are called by God in the framework of a local church. And somehow, in the way we have done missions traditionally, there has been something of a separation.
“They desperately desire to maintain contact between themselves and our missionaries who are on the field … and we have developed this Global Connect 2 to enable churches to fill that desire.”
Elliff emphasized that churches participating in GC2 would be required to maintain levels of Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving in addition to sending and supporting their missionaries. He also added that GC2 missionaries would be held to the same standards as other IMB field personnel.
“They’re not some privileged people who can hop, skip and jump into the system without chinning the same bar that the rest of our personnel do,” Elliff said.
Ken Winter, IMB vice president of church and partner services, said the GC2 pilot comes with the added benefit of opening a new door for short-term missionary service. In 2009, budget cuts forced IMB to begin sending significantly fewer two- and three-year missionaries.
If successful, the GC2 pilot will create a new avenue for increasing the field presence of these strategically vital short-term teams, as well as breaking ground for future career missionaries.
Each year, Elliff noted, “a major portion of applicants for appointment to career service have had earlier short-term experience with IMB through programs such as Journeyman, Hands On, Masters and ISC. It is anticipated that service through the short-term Global Connect ministry will also become another route to future career service as IMB missionaries.”
The GC2 pilot will include a maximum of 25 sending churches and 100 adults. Trustees plan to assess the pilot’s efficacy in 2013.
In other business, trustees approved IMB’s 2012 budget of $324.3 million, $175 million of which is expected to come through this year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Charles Fowler, chairman of the trustees’ Finance Committee and senior pastor of Germantown (Tenn.) Baptist Church, said the 2012 budget was the “most difficult to balance of any in recent years.” To illustrate, he explained that the first draft of the budget prepared earlier this year contained a $37 million gap between projected income and projected expenses.
“Our staff has worked splendidly to bring us to a place where we can enjoy a balanced budget,” Fowler said. “Though we wish the resources were more, we are so grateful for the resources that God does provide to IMB through our Southern Baptist family.”
In a money-saving move, trustees approved a bylaw revision reducing the number of trustee meetings from six to “at least” four times per year.
The 77 new missionaries will be honored at an appointment service Nov. 16 in Hattiesburg, Miss., hosted by Temple Baptist Church. The next missionary appointment service will take place March 21 at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La. Trustees will gather for their next board meeting March 20-21 in Lake Charles.
Don Graham is senior writer at the International Mission Board.