During the International Mission Board’s (IMB) presidential search process, Paul Chitwood knew departing from his role as executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) would be difficult. But he couldn’t get away from Jesus’ words in Mark 10:29 about leaving “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children” for “the sake of the gospel.”
Paul Chitwood, IMB's new president, talks to Southern Baptist reporters during a press conference Nov. 15. Chitwood noted that during the search process, "the Lord confirmed to us all the details were taken care of."
It came up so much, “I would not open my Bible to” it “because I didn’t want to see that again,” Chitwood said Nov. 15 following his election as IMB president at the board’s International Learning Center near Richmond, Va. “And then the pastor would preach from it.”
“I finally had to say, ‘OK Lord, I hear You.’”
Those were among the details of God’s leading to the IMB that Chitwood recounted during a press conference with Baptist journalists. Chitwood said the ways God prepared him and called him to the IMB led naturally to his vision for the board’s future.
One confirmation of God’s direction, Chitwood said, came the night before his nomination was announced Nov. 6.
Despite God’s leading to continue talking with the IMB’s presidential search committee, it still wasn’t clear a move to Richmond would be possible. Chitwood and his wife Michelle are in the process of adopting their 6-year-old foster daughter, and the state of Kentucky had said she would not be allowed to move to Virginia as long as she remained a ward of the state. But as Chitwood sat in his car preparing for a speaking engagement in Bowling Green, Ky., Nov. 5, the phone rang. When he answered, his attorney said the adoption would be finalized Dec. 6 and the Chitwoods would be free to move.
“It was just a powerful way the Lord confirmed to us all the details were taken care of,” he said.
‘God moved on our hearts’
At the same time God was working in Chitwood’s heart, He also appeared to be working on the IMB presidential search committee, chairman Chuck Pourciau said at the press conference.
“The search was not a straight line. It went down a lot of roads and had to stop and back up,” said Pourciau, pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., adding that multiple “fantastic candidates” were involved in the process.
Eventually, the 15-member search committee began fasting and praying each Tuesday. One Tuesday, “God moved on our hearts as a committee,” Pourciau said. “And by the end of that Wednesday, we came together as one and said, ‘We need to pursue Paul.’”
Chitwood was among multiple candidates who already had interviewed with the committee. But following a second interview in September, Pourciau said, Chitwood became the only candidate with the support of the entire committee. “And that’s how we ended up where we did.”
Final confirmation of God’s direction, Chitwood said, was the full trustee board’s vote to elect him.
‘A lot to bring’
Long before the election, however, God was preparing Chitwood for the IMB presidency, he said.
An element of that preparation, Chitwood said, came 10 years ago when he served as IMB trustee chairman and had to report that, in light of economic challenges, “we see no other option but to begin to reduce our missionary headcount.” That reality was especially painful, he said, because the IMB had approximately 5,700 career missionaries on the field at the time, a goal of achieving 8,000 and about 2,000 missionary candidates preparing to be sent.
Ever since that announcement, Chitwood has felt a passion to help increase the number of Southern Baptist missionaries, he said. “My heart was broken, and it’s never healed.”
As of October 2018, there were 3,667 career IMB missionaries, according to data from sbc.net.
Another element of Chitwood’s preparation to lead the IMB, he said, was his experience as a pastor for 18 years and KBC executive director for seven years. Four pastorates in Kentucky helped him develop a focus on the local church, Chitwood said, while leading Kentucky Baptists taught him about human resources and legal issues faced by Baptist denominational organizations. His state executive experience also taught him to be a Cooperative Program “fundraiser-in-chief.”
Chitwood will draw on all those experiences to maintain healthy relationships with small and large churches as IMB president, he said. He added, “The local church is not a temporary tool. The local church is the bride and the body of Christ.”
His experience communicating with churches will help Chitwood continue to broaden the IMB’s media strategy through production of videos, written news stories and releases on other media platforms, he said.
“There are millions upon millions of Southern Baptists who” currently are not receiving information about the SBC through Baptist media channels like Baptist Press and state Baptist papers, Chitwood said. The IMB must “find ways through the media to gain more access to our people” to inspire them to support Southern Baptist missionaries.
The importance of including women in missionary and appropriate leadership roles is another principle Chitwood said he has learned through his years of ministry. At the IMB, he will draw from the many “very gifted ladies” in Southern Baptist life for IMB service, Chitwood said. He also will enforce a “zero-tolerance” policy “when it comes to any inappropriate conduct,” including abuse and harassment.
While “Scripture gives us guidance and direction [and] parameters when it comes to spiritual leadership,” he said, “there are so many roles at the IMB, and in the local church for that matter, where a biblical complementarian view places no limits whatsoever on ladies.”
Based on the sum of his experiences in ministry, Chitwood said he has told God, “Lord, in Your kindness, I’m really not up for this job, but You’ve given me a lot to bring at least.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)