DALLAS?Before he challenged Southern Baptist churches to “cowboy up” to adopt remaining unengaged, unreached people groups by 2012, newly elected IMB President Tom Elliff leaned over and kissed his wife, Jeannie, prompting a second round of applause from a receptive audience of IMB trustees, staff and guests.
“There’s a reason our kids say they want to love their spouses like I love mine,” he said, paying tribute to his partner of 44 years before addressing the 76 trustees who unanimously elected him March 16 as the 11th president of Southern Baptists’ overseas mission board.
The 67-year-old native Texan and long-time Oklahoma pastor wasted no time outlining his agenda for the position he assumed immediately, but first he made a personal appeal for prayer, having “shed buckets of tears thinking about what’s ahead of us.” Trustees made note of the seven items on the Elliffs’ prayer list:
- “that there would be in our hearts a looming awareness of the fact that we are ambassadors for Christ and must act in a way that’s consistent with our Lord, but act with confidence;”
- “a pure heart,” citing David’s attitude in Psalm 24;
- the exercise of spiritual work in the fullness of the Holy Spirit “so the life of Christ can be manifested through us;”
- to exhibit the gifts and graces of the Spirit, citing Galatians 5 and Isaiah 11:2;
- “that never would we unwittingly place in the hands of the adversary something that he might use to mock our Savior;”
- that God would protect our families, and finally,
- “that God would keep us faithful to the vision.”
That vision is “a picture painted on the wall of your heart,” Elliff said, one that should not be painted by friends or family, but by God “of what can be by his grace.”
Recognizing that he’s operating on “a fast learning curve,” Elliff then turned to his theology of missions which he said frames any action he will take to be sure it is “biblical, balanced and bold.”
In asking first whether an action is biblical, Elliff said that priority will keep the IMB from being swept away in tides of either sentimentalism or pragmatism.
“Our doctrines, our beliefs have come to us at too high a price for us to ignore asking this question,” said Elliff, prompting various trustees to offer an amen. Elliff said “sound theology and scriptural cohesion is so important” that he will recommend a candidate at the May 19-20 Richmond trustee meeting to fill the vice presidential position he vacated two years ago.
“The person I bring to you will be someone of noted theological expertise, who passionately loves missions and missionaries, who will work closely and carry the banner for God’s Word among our staff and our team on the field, and reach out to our schools and seminaries,” he explained.
“We’re the International Mission Board, but we don’t have a corner on missions strategy,” said Elliff, urging an appreciation for plans developed by Southern Baptist seminaries and behind the pulpits of our churches.
“We need to mine the gold of both those students and their mission strategies,” he said, referring to the resources of SBC seminaries.
Second, Elliff said he will ask whether an action is balanced, citing the need to pursue all three components of the Great Commission?evangelism, discipleship and church planting, as outlined in Matthew 28:18-20.
Third, Elliff said, “There is no way the Great Commission can be obeyed without an incredibly bold, sacrificial, selfless lifestyle,” explaining his insistence on asking whether an action is bold.
Looking to his predecessor, Jerry Rankin, to whom he paid tribute as one of the great men of faith on whose shoulders he stands, Elliff said, “The truth of the matter is, with all due respect, this is a whole different world than it was 18 months ago when you resigned.”
The new president addressed the urgency of the hour that demands a fresh boldness, stating, “It’s as if the reels of history are spinning rapidly and perhaps in our lifetime the last few frames might come ripping off. And to that I’d say, even so, come Lord Jesus.”
Adding, “We can’t simply be content to be for missions,” Elliff said some in the room might be “for” missions in the same way that they are for their local church, helping h