ORLANDO, Fla. (BP) — Either beg God for spiritual awakening or sink into irrelevance — that was the plea IMB President Tom Elliff voiced to trustees at their Sept. 13-14 meeting in Orlando, Fla.
“I see this as the critical issue facing us as Southern Baptists,” Elliff said. “The truth of the matter is that if we don’t experience spiritual awakening we will forfeit our capacity to effectively partner with others in carrying out the Great Commission.
“In this world of absolute tumult and chaos, God is giving us opportunities around the globe to share the wonderful message of the Gospel of Christ that are unparalleled in the history of this world.”
The call for stateside spiritual awakening was unusual for the International Mission Board’s president, who would normally focus his report on issues facing Southern Baptist missionaries overseas. But Elliff said God had instead placed a huge burden on my heart that couldn’t be ignored.
“[Spiritual] awakening is a missions issue, because if we don’t have an awakening in the hearts of Southern Baptists, then the pool out of which we fish for missionaries … gets smaller and smaller,” he explained. “We’ll just become another denomination that had its day and has now slipped off into irrelevancy, and when people say ‘Southern Baptist Convention,’ they will probably say it with a yawn.”
Elliff pointed out that spiritual awakening is distinctly different from spiritual revival.
“Revival presupposes pre-existing life,” he explained. “I’m not so sure we need to be saying the things we say about the size of our convention and the number of our churches because I’ll be quite honest with you — I’m not so sure all those people we claim as members of our churches know Christ. They may know about Him, but if knowing Christ makes a difference in your lifestyle and a difference in your community, if knowing Christ drives you to periodically come for the family reunion which we call a worship service, over half of those people that we say are Southern Baptists never come to the table.
“But if we had awakening — that’s a revival of those who know Christ but it’s also a stirring and deep conviction of the Holy Spirit among those who are out there on the fringes, the kind of stirring that calls them to repent and receive Christ as their Savior. If we had an awakening in our nation, then think what Southern Baptists could do in terms of global missions, not to mention right here in this nation.”
Such an awakening, Elliff cautioned, will require a “totally different” kind of prayer, one that rests on God’s character rather than our own.
“I’m afraid that so much of our praying is a shot at getting something done by God with the thought that if He doesn’t come through we’ve got another plan. Folks, if God doesn’t come through we don’t have a plan.
“[We need to pray] like someone crying out from beneath the rubble of a building … and I’m afraid our prayers are not that desperate yet — because most of us come to the altar with two or three alternatives in our pocket.”
Elliff extended his appeal beyond trustees, asking IMB missionaries and all Southern Baptists to join him in praying weekly for the United States and the nations of the world. Elliff designated a specific 24-hour period, from sunset Sunday to sunset Monday, for Southern Baptists to join together in petitioning the Lord for spiritual awakening.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, from the time the sun went down every Sunday evening until the time the sun went down every Monday evening, that somewhere in that 24-hour period … we found time to steal away … and fall on our knees and cry out to God for spiritual awakening?” Elliff asked.
“Pray for the nation, our nation, and for the nations. That’s the prayer. … Could you not do that? Is that an impossibility? Is that too steep of a challenge, to find time in a 24-hour period to pray for the nation as well as the nations of the world? Surely we can do that.”
In addition to receiving Elliff’s challenge to pray for spiritual awakening, trustees were briefed on a draft of the 2012 budget and highlights from the 2010 annual personnel report. They also appointed 77 new missionaries who were honored during a special appointment service Sept. 14 at First Baptist Church in Orlando.
Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, presented Elliff with a ceremonial “giant check” for $1 million, a gift given out of the SBTC’s reserves to IMB for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Richards said the money is to be used for missionary deployment and shared excitement over the SBTC’s recent decision to challenge Southern Baptist churches in Texas to embrace 1,000 of the world’s 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups.
Elliff expressed gratitude for the generosity of the Southern Baptists of Texas and for Richards’ leadership.
“This is no small thing to lead your convention to encourage 1,000 churches to engage 1,000 unengaged people groups. This money will be spent in such a fashion that it reaps eternal benefits,” Elliff said.
The next IMB trustee meeting is scheduled for Nov. 14-15 in Richmond, Va.
Don Graham is a senior writer for the International Mission Board.