TAMPA, Fla.?Reminding trustees that over 5,000 missionaries, the entire trustee board, and untold numbers of Southern Baptists are praying for the next president of the International Mission Board, trustee chairman Jimmy Pritchard announced the search committee is still looking for “God’s man” to fill the agency’s top position.
Meeting Sept. 14-15 in Tampa just short of the first anniversary of the Jacksonville board meeting where then IMB president Jerry Rankin announced plans to retire after 17 years, trustees expressed concern over balancing the budget, shared information about human needs ministries, and presented 51 new missionaries.
Pritchard, who also heads the 15-member presidential search committee, pledged that when a nominee is presented to the board “we’re going to have full confidence that we’re presenting God’s man.”
“This is the most crucial position that a man can hold on the face of the planet,” Pritchard said. “And because of that [choosing a new president] shouldn’t be easy.”
Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church in Forney, Texas, thanked trustees for their patience and prayers as the search committee continues its work.
“We’re working together. We have one purpose and that is to find God’s man,” Pritchard said. “Are we there yet? No. But by God’s grace, we’re going to get there.”
Richard Powell, an IMB trustee and pastor of McGregor Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Fla., who is on the search committee, told the Florida Baptist Witness after the meeting he believes the committee has labored to find the “right man” to serve?although he would like for the process to be “further along the road” than it is.
“But it’s a journey and it’s not without its bumps and bruises; its not without its tough times and tears, its not without its arm wrestlings and makeup hugs and laughter,” Powell said. “But it’s a journey.? Nobody wants to find a president more than the people who are on the search committee.”
Echoing Pritchard’s statements about the importance of the “right man” for the position, Powell said “if we really are one of God’s last great hopes to win the world, this is the man who is the leader of our best mission organization as we attempt to be effective at being God’s last best hope to win the world to Christ.”
Powell said as far as the missional strategy of winning the world to Christ, a new president will be one “who needs to galvanize us; he needs to motivate us; he needs to lead us to be Great Commission believers.”
“In that sense, this may be, in my mind, the most important positional appointment that we will make in the history of Southern Baptists,” Powell said, “because we are at a crossroads as a convention, and in my perspective we are at a crossroads as a nation to see if we can to be a nation that’s influenced by Christians. One of the things that makes us influential as Southern Baptists is our priority of winning people to Christ.”
David Uth, an IMB trustee and pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., told the Florida paper, “these are defining days” in Southern Baptist life as the board searches for a new leader. Noting an “incredible movement in the world” while the board does its work, Uth said he wishes all of Florida’s churches could hear the reports about the work throughout the nations.
“God is drawing people from every tribe, from every nation, from every tongue,” Uth said. “There’s an incredible movement in the world towards the gospel.”
Uth said the next president of the IMB needs to be “a man who has vision; a man who has a passion, and can rally us all to really accomplish the Great Commission.” Referencing a brief time of prayer trustees had for members of the search committee during the meeting, Uth said he doesn’t believe they will make a mistake.
“I believe they’re waiting on the Lord and the Lord will reveal and speak to them and when he does, the timing will be just right,” Uth said. “It will be the right person.
“This is the most important position in Southern Baptist life,” Uth continued. “This is the person that will help us reach the nations and take the gospel, even to those 6,400 unreached people groups. So we’ve got to have the right person.”
In other business, trustees received a draft of the IMB’s 2011 budget, which financial chief David Steverson said leadership is still working on to balance.
“You will recall that we used $7.5 million from our contingency reserve to balance the 2010 budget. We simply cannot afford to do that again,” Steverson said. He expressed gratefulness for an increase in the 2009 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, but lamented declines in both investment revenue and Cooperative Program giving, the latter of which is down at least 4 percent this year.
Pritchard said he believes the problem isn’t financial, but spiritual.
“How sad it is when we have people who want to go but we can’t afford to send them,” Pritchard said. “The issue is not that we [Southern Baptists] can’t afford it, but that we just don’t want to foot the bill. What will solve our problem is a good dose of spiritual awakening in our churches.”
Ray Jones, a trustee from Alabama, shared a report about human needs ministries. He said this effort provides “opportunities to tell the world about Jesus Christ.” Briefly describing work in Haiti and in Pakistan, Jones said in Haiti the IMB has partnered with groups including Florida Baptist Disaster Relief to provide nearly $2 million in aid to the island nation with $5 million more pledged. In Pakistan, Jones said over 80,000 people received some sort of assistance.
Bryant Wright, Southern Baptist Convention president and pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., spoke to trustees about the rise and fall of history’s great empires?from the Egyptians to the United States?comparing their relatively short-lived earthly reign with the eternity that is the kingdom of God.
“What is the kingdom of God? … It is wherever Jesus reigns. If Christ reigns in your life, the kingdom of God is there. If Christ reigns in your family, the kingdom of God is there,” Wright said.
“I hope Southern Baptists are going to return to Christ as their first love,” Wright continued. “The fact is that the kingdom of God is not going to come here on earth ? until the church has completed its mission.”
Trustees concluded the Tampa meeting with the appointment of 51 new long-term missionaries Wednesday evening at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon. The appointments bring the number of IMB missionaries serving around the world to 5,201.
Rankin stepped down July 31. IMB trustees appointed executive vice president Clyde Meador interim president when Rankin retired.
The next trustee meeting is Nov. 9-10 in Greensboro, N.C. Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., will host a missionary appointment service the evening of Nov. 10 in conjunction with the meeting.
?Reporting by the Florida Baptist Witness and the International Mission Board