RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–International Mission Board trustees moved toward the future while honoring the past during their July 20-21 meeting in Richmond, Va. Trustees voted unanimously to recommend modifying the IMB’s primary ministry assignment to reach people groups globally, including North America, and formally recognized Jerry Rankin for 40 years of service.
This was Rankin’s final board meeting as IMB president.
Trustees awarded Rankin the title of president emeritus and paid tribute to his 23 years on the mission field and 17 years as IMB president during a banquet in his honor. Special guests included O.S. Hawkins, president and CEO of GuideStone Financial Resources; Frank Page, president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee; R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; former missionaries and trustees as well as the Rankins’ two children and their spouses, grandchildren and other family members.
Al Gilbert, a former assistant to Rankin who now is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., described Rankin as a man of vision and passionate prayer, intensely focused on the singular goal of making Christ’s name known among all peoples.
“You’ve poured out your life. It’s been a sweet aroma to heaven’s throne, and I’m glad I could be nearby and watch you do it,” Gilbert said.
Rankin, who will retire July 31, was joined by his wife Bobbye in expressing gratitude for those with whom they’ve served.
“It’s not about a job, a title or responsibility — it’s all about relationships and what each of you has invested in who we are,” Rankin said.
“Recently I returned from some extended travel and walked in through the [IMB] lobby and one of our maintenance staff followed me into my office … and said, ‘Welcome back Dr. Rankin. How can I pray for you today?’ That’s the kind of people we work with…. [Leaving] wouldn’t hurt so badly if we hadn’t loved so deeply.”
Rankin shared how God had called him to faith in Christ and to missions at age 10 during a Billy Graham crusade in Jackson, Miss. “I remembered thinking, ‘I wish everyone in the world could know Jesus.’ And ever since I’ve thought that, there was within our call to salvation a call to missions to tell a lost world about Jesus Christ,” Rankin said. He added that one of his greatest disappointments as president was leaving the IMB without bringing Gospel access to all of the world’s people groups — a task he’d hoped to see achieved by the end of his tenure.
“That’s the goal we’re striving for,” Rankin said. “We’re not there yet, but as I leave the future is in your hands, and I pray that you would maintain that focus and be found faithful in the task.”
Trustee Rick Byrd, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., recalled seeing the depth of Rankin’s missions heart during a 2009 trustee meeting when a global recession and giving shortfall forced the IMB to limit missionary appointments.
“I looked up on the platform and there was Dr. Rankin with tears streaming down his face,” Byrd said. “It was a telling moment about the heart of our president. He was crushed.
“Dr. Rankin, Southern Baptists owe you a debt of gratitude for your faithful leadership, for your heartfelt passion for missions, for your abiding love for missionaries and your deep compassion for the lost of the world,” Byrd continued.
“Henry Blackaby said, ‘History is largely the tale of how God used ordinary men to accomplish His extraordinary purposes throughout time.’ Many years ago God used some ordinary people to greatly impact world missions. People like William Carey and Lottie Moon…. Today and in the years ahead, our children and our children’s children will learn about another ordinary man who helped shape modern missionary strategy…. That ordinary man is Jerry Rankin.”
GREAT COMMISSION RESURGENCE ACTION
In addition to honoring Rankin, trustees took action on recommendations from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) report, which was approved by messengers at the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., in June.
Trustees voted unanimously to recommend that the SBC’s Executive Committee modify the IMB’s primary ministry assignment, removing wording that excludes the organization from working with people groups in North America.
“The world continues to change, and unreached people groups aren’t defined by geographic boundaries,” said Gordon Fort, IMB vice president for global strategy. “Our strategies and structures must also change if we want to maintain an effective Gospel witness. Historically, there’s been a clear distinction between home and foreign missions, but those lines are blurring.”
Fort added that the IMB already is beginning to flesh out the practical possibilities that come with the trustees’ adoption of the GCRTF’s recommendations, but he cautioned this does not mean the IMB will begin deploying missionaries inside the United States.
“The truth is this: When it comes to deployment, we’re already undermanned overseas,” Fort said. “So if anyone thinks we’re going to start putting a lot of missionaries in America, that’s just not true — or strategic. Why would we put more people in America when there are 46,000 churches that can do that?
“The biggest piece that I think we’ll start focusing on are the first-generation ethnic and immigrant populations in North America. What about really impacting Asians? What about really impacting some of the North African, West African and Middle Eastern cultures? What are the strategic opportunities for IMB to help equip churches to engage those peoples?”
Clyde Meador, IMB executive vice president, will step into his new role as interim president Aug. 1 as trustees serving on the presidential search committee continue their work. Trustee chairman Jimmy Pritchard, who leads the search committee, said progress is being made.
“God will make His man known to us at the right time,” said Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church in Forney, Texas. “We have a good heart, our committee is together and committed to finding God’s man. We’re just not quite there yet.”
The next trustee meeting will be Sept. 14-15 in Tampa, Fla., in conjunction with a missionary appointment service Wednesday evening, Sept. 15, at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla.
Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.