Editor’s Note: Below is the transcript of an hour-long interview by state Baptist paper editors with newly elected IMB President Tom Elliff on March 17, 2011.
Wendy Norvelle, IMB: Today we have Dr. Elliff and Dr. Pritchard with you and you submitted some questions. Dr. Pritchard has served as chairman of the presidential search committee and he also serves as chairman of our Board of Trustees. He is senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Forney, Texas. In just a little while they’re going to have to leave to go be with the missionaries at the appointment service at First Baptist Church of Dallas. Tonight 67 new missionaries will be appointed. Included in that are four deaf families so we’re really excited about the growing ministry we have among the deaf in the world with more and more deaf being sent.
Dr. Pritchard if you would share about the presidential search process and how God led you to bring the recommendation for Dr. Elliff.
Jimmy Pritchard: Our committee consisted of 15 people and we began by setting as much of a profile as we could of what we felt like the new president would look like as far as gifts, abilities and age. We didn’t necessarily disqualify anyone who did not meet the criteria because our ultimate agenda was to get God’s man for the position.
We received about 80 different names from a little over 300 different individuals. Our process was to contact each one, ask for biographical information. Many of those recommended to us did not submit that to us. Of those who did then by simple majority of our committee we would invite the man for an interview. Our procedure we adopted would allow us to invite a man for a second interview with also a simple majority of our committee.
During the course of our time there were four men that we did interview more than once. No candidate received to the point where we seriously were at the point of inviting him to become president. On December 13 we were on a conference call. There were 13 of us on that call and one of our committee members just mentioned that he had had a conversation with Dr. Elliff on a different level — no topic about the IMB involved. And he thought he might be interested or at least willing to talk to us about his becoming our president and in the next five minutes (interrupted)
Tom Elliff – That is the man thought I would be interested – not me. (laughter).
Pritchard – Yes, the man thought. Subsequently after visiting with Tom he said that conversation had nothing to do with the IMB. So at any rate, in the next five minutes as we were on this conference call everybody on the committee sensed that God just spoke. It was a rare moment and I don’t want to sound super spiritual or however that may come across but God spoke to every one of us and at that moment there was a peace that came over all of us that God said this is your man and we hadn’t even talked to him yet.
We had contacted him and I called him and I don’t think he was expecting that call. He claims we ruined his Christmas and probably did. Over the next couple of months we followed through with the process of communicating. It was unanimous, enthusiastic and as was obvious with our board we were 100% unanimous with secret ballot to elect him today. God has spoken and it is a great and a new day.
A couple more things and then I’ll be done. I think that this is a new day. It is a new day in many ways, but it is a new day for us as Southern Baptists who have incredible unity that in my lifetime I’ve not seen, a unity of partnership between the IMB, NAMB, our seminaries, and it is a rare, rare new day and new opportunity and we believe that Dr. Elliff is the glue that is going to hold that together and that the new wineskins that we’re seeing develop across our Southern Baptist Convention that Dr. Elliff is going to put a tenor on a little of the new wine, little of old wine that will keep those wineskins from bursting. So I could not be in any way more excited.
Wendy Norvelle: Thank you we’ll come with a few follow up questions later. Let’s turn to Dr. Elliff to share for a few minutes your heart and a few minutes about that process or whatever God has given you.
Tom Elliff: Dr. Prichard was right, this certainly was not on our radar screen, and right in saying you messed up our Christmas when he called to explained to me what the committee had decided and this was the first time they had been wholly together behind one person. Jeannie and I knew we had to pray about that and so actually we prayed about whether to pray for a few days. I called Brother Jimmy back and said yeah, we’re going to pray about it. There’s no sense in investing that time about something God doesn’t have on your radar. So we spent the next month praying about that. We met again with the committee on the 14th of January as I recall. We had a wonderful time, great conversation, great time of prayer and yet I still, for some reasons that will surface in this interview, I still had some questions whether was this God speaking to us. We sensed it was but we had some questions so I was not interested at all. I told the committee then that I wasn’t interested in being an interim, and if I do come it will be with an agenda, with a purpose. Of course the question about age always enters into that. At 67, that’s pretty remarkable, but you know if you study the Bible when God calls a man the issue has never been his age. It’s been his obedience and we were very sensitive to the fact we felt God very well may be calling us to do this.
Jeannie and I asked the committee to vote again. In fact I said at that time, we’re going to leave, drive back to Oklahoma and I’d like for you to take another secret ballot. You’ll be doing yourselves, the kingdom of God and certainly ourselves a favor if you have the slightest hesitancy that you vote no on secret ballot. I wanted it to be secret ballot again because I did not want anybody to feel pressure. I hadn’t really gotten out of Dallas before Brother Jimmy called and said it was unanimous again. We took that as the final little thread that needed to be bound up in the garment of this call and we agreed, we said yes. We sensed God calling us as well and we’ve never one moment since then felt that we were out of the stream of God’s will. We sensed his favor. We sensed his smile. We have certainly sensed the prayers of people across the Southern Baptist Convention. I could not be more grateful. We could not be more grateful than we are just sitting here now–the privilege to serve the Southern Baptist Convention, the International Mission Board, to serve our missionaries. That’s my role really to be a servant. To serve them is an incredibly humbling, experience and we’re overwhelmed by it and we appreciate the prayers of Southern Baptists across the country.
Wendy Norvelle: Jimmy, you said it took a long time for the search committee to come to their conclusion and there have been a few who have asked was it that difficult to come to consensus? And you’ve kind of answered that. But did you consider some long-term missionaries? You said you had an age profile, what were some of discussions you had about that?
Jimmy Pritchard: We searched professionally three areas from within the IMB. We had pastors in our convention that we came across and then we had some from the education side from our seminaries and we never did have consensus. Our committee was never upset with each other. We were never angry, but we could not come to a consensus and as w