Commissioned to foreign missions 40 years ago, Rankin leaving IMB.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.?International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin announced Sept. 16 he will retire July 31, 2010, ending a 17-year tenure marked by sweeping organizational changes and a steady personal calling.

“Everything I have done has been driven by an unequivocal sense of a call to missions, to make my life count and to make the greatest impact possible on reaching a lost world for Jesus Christ,” Rankin said.

Rankin told IMB trustees during his report at their Sept. 15-16 meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., that his presidency should not be judged for the accomplishments of the organization under his leadership but for how the organization is poised for the future.

“For the second time in my tenure we are implementing a radical paradigm shift in organization and strategy,” Rankin said. “This is not because of past failure and ineffectiveness but a vision of the changes needed to ensure relevance and effectiveness in the future.”

Such sentiments are consistent to Rankin’s approach in leading the 163-year-old organization. Early in his administration Rankin began placing a greater emphasis on the work remaining in world evangelization than what had been accomplished.

“It’s not … our size or annual statistical report that should drive us,” Rankin said. “We need to be driven by a vision to bring all peoples to a saving faith in Christ and what it takes to get there.”

Yet there has always been a need to track progress. When Rankin took over leadership of the IMB in 1993, the Southern Baptist mission organization saw nearly 4,000 missionaries help start more than 2,000 churches in 142 countries. Last year more than 5,500 IMB missionaries helped plant nearly 27,000 churches and engage 101 new people groups for a total of 1,190 engaged people groups.

The move from tracking countries to focusing on people groups reveals another area where Rankin worked to change the IMB. Country counts faded during the past 10 years as the organization shifted to finding the best ways to engage new people groups and population centers.

“I think moving us to a people group focus helped us learn to innovate,” he said. “But probably the most radical innovation of all has been the process of moving us to a mobilization perspective.”

Such a shift has not been easy. He has pursued it almost his entire tenure.

“To mobilize and involve churches and Southern Baptists rather than our doing missions on behalf of Southern Baptists is an innovation that we have been pursuing for the past 12 years. The whole mobilization perspective is where we are going. That’s the hope of the future of missions,” Rankin said.

Rankin has not always been so confident of the future. He was surprised and overwhelmed when a 15-member trustee search committee asked him to become the IMB’s next leader in 1993.

“I felt so inadequate to the task. And I certainly didn’t come with a vision of ‘Here’s my agenda. Here’s how we are going to reach the whole world.’ But it was one of, ‘OK, Lord, I’m your servant. I’m available. What do you want to do through the IMB?'”

Rankin and his wife, the former Bobbye Simmons, were appointed missionaries to Indonesia in June 1970. They studied language in Bandung, Indonesia, and he served as a general evangelist in two other Indonesian locations.

Rankin also consulted in evangelism and church growth in India, served as associate to the area director for South and Southeast Asia, and then as administrator for mission work in India. He became area director for Southern Asia and the Pacific where he oversaw the work of 480 missionaries in 15 countries.

“I never anticipated that I would move beyond a niche where God had called us to serve as missionaries in Indonesia,” Rankin said.

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