ROGERS, Ark. – It’s a question that both haunts and drives Tom Elliff, the kind that sometimes wakes him in the middle of night. But the International Mission Board’s (IMB) president won’t answer it until he dies, stands before the judgment seat of Christ and hears it fall from the lips of his Savior: “What did you do with what I entrusted to you?”
Elliff posed that question to IMB trustees during their May 14-15 meeting in Rogers, Ar., saying it should be lodged in the mind of every Southern Baptist. Scripture clearly shows that God will hold every believer accountable for his or her response to the Great Commission, Elliff explained, telling trustees that the question has prompted him to issue an “urgent appeal” to all Southern Baptists to “carry the gospel to the ends of the earth – now.”
“There are over 7 billion people on this globe, and unless something changes drastically, radically, it is estimated that fewer than half will ever have the slightest connection with evangelical Christianity in their lifetime,” Elliff said. “Why would God entrust to us the greatest lostness in all of history if He did not expect us to do something about it?”
Elliff contrasted a time of unprecedented lostness with unprecedented access, resources and manpower willing to combat that lostness, such that “every lost person in this broken world should have a legitimate reason to believe that, if they can just hold on for a little bit, somebody is going to get to them with the truth.”
But he warned of “disturbing signs” that show Southern Baptists “may not be prepared to fulfill our part in the Great Commission equation.”
Elliff cited the continued five-year decline in missions giving through the Cooperative Program (CP) in spite of efforts to reverse the CP trend. Out of the $1.3 billion designated as “missions expenditures” in Southern Baptist churches in 2011, IMB received less than $92 million through CP, with another $146 million given through a relatively flat Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Photo by Paul W. Lee
“Don’t forget!” IMB President Tom Elliff told IMB appointees, reminding them of the uncertainty of the future, the necessity of being Spirit-filled and the reality of their witness as they go to some of the world’s most extreme locations.
The declining support has impacted the number of Southern Baptist missionaries serving overseas under IMB appointment, dropping below 5,000 to 4,850 at the end of 2012. But the drop isn’t for lack of qualified applicants, Elliff said, noting that many missionary candidates must be put on hold until a position becomes vacant or additional funding is secured.
“In a generation that could literally fulfill the Great Commission by taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, lack of missions support signals an impending retrenchment. That is unthinkable; in fact, it’s unacceptable in light of the opportunity we have,” Elliff said.
“Winston Churchill made a statement about men, but I want to say it about the Southern Baptist Convention. … To every man there comes a moment in his lifetime for which he and he alone is uniquely gifted, uniquely qualified. What a tragedy it would be if that moment found him unwilling or unprepared for what would be his finest hour.
“It’s my conviction … that all of us within the IMB family, as represented by you, our trustees, must be neither idle nor silent in this, our day of greatest opportunity.”
As a “first step” toward combating these problems, trustees overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging Southern Baptists to recognize and rally around the unique Great Commission opportunity which Elliff believes Christ has presented.
In addition to greater commitments to pray and give, the resolution calls on the SBC’s Executive Committee for an “aggressive, proactive and prompt” response to the challenges of missionary mobilization and support. The resolution also asks the Executive Committee to offer “thoughtful and substantive proposals” that will enable the SBC to “operate at maximum effectiveness in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
“What do I mean by ‘substantive?’” Elliff asked. “More than window dressing. We Southern Baptists have a way of taking an issue and changing the wording and making everybody happy and going home and nothing being accomplished…. We’re not talking about something that is trying to placate certain interest groups.”
The resolution offers guidance on what such “substantive proposals” must do, including:
Continue to effectively demolish every racial, ethnic and generational barrier that constrains us.
Make both mission going and giving more personal by fostering fresh, innovative and effective channels for sending and support, while operating within the proven and effective cooperative framework of our Southern Baptist Convention.
Honor, support and utilize the essential nature of the education, training and the advocacy provided by all our SBC entities.
Open the door to greater sacrifice, building trust through proven transparency at every level of our Southern Baptist life.
Leave to the next generation a Southern Baptist Convention that is doctrinally, structurally, spiritually and passionately prepared to finish the task of global evangelization.
The resolution calls for the Executive Committee to begin providing these proposals for change as early as the SBC’s 2014 annual meeting. Elliff said that Ernest Easley, Executive Committee chairman, has already been made aware of the resolution and is eager to meet with IMB leadership to discuss what the changes might include.
“The emphasis here is now,” Elliff said. “This is the moment of greatest lostness, greatest resources, greatest willingness, greatest access – right now. We cannot guarantee it tomorrow.”
School of prayer
Gordon Fort, IMB senior vice president for prayer mobilization and training, told trustees that prayer is critical to overcoming the challenges Elliff described.
“In the day of greatest opportunity, the day of greatest advance of the gospel in Christian history, we’re in jeopardy of being put on a shelf and rendered useless for the sake of the Kingdom,” Fort said. “The only answer is for the people of God to call out to God and beg Him to intervene.”
Fort announced the launch of the website for the newly formed School of Prayer for All Nations, imb.org/SPAN, and an additional site for online registration, regonline.com/SPAN, where Southern Baptists can sign up for a five-day session. Dates in 2013 and 2014 are currently available. IMB’s school of prayer is designed to teach and equip believers to walk more closely with God, pray more fervently for spiritual awakening, intercede more effectively for missionaries and the nations, and to mobilize others to join in prayer.
“God is looking for people who will stand in the gap and who will call out to Him in believing, faithful prayer,” Fort said. “I know in my heart that if God would move Southern Baptists to call on Him and if He would visit us, and if He would cleanse us and purify us, … [we would see] a great flood of missionaries and the resources to sustain them.”
In other business, trustees appointed 58 new missionaries at Cross Church Pinnacle Hills in Rogers, Ark., and elected officers. David Uth, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., was re-elected to a second term as chairman; John Edie, a member of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo., was elected first vice-chair; Doyle Pryor, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Sapulpa, Okla., second vice-chair; and Vickie Mascagni, a member of Morrison Heights Baptist Church, Clinton, Miss., secretary.
Trustees also gratefully accepted and prayed over six estate gifts totaling more than $237,000.
The next IMB trustee meeting will be Aug. 27-28 in Richmond, Va.; the next missionary appointment service will be Aug. 28 at Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Va., at 7 p.m.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is a senior writer at IMB.)
The full text of the IMB trustees’ May 15 resolution follows:
an urgent appeal for southern baptists to carry the gospel the ends of the earth … Now!
1) recognizing that the Great Commission is our lord’s simple and unequivocal command, and….
2) recognizing we live in the moment of the world’s greatest lostness and southern baptist’s greatest opportunity to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, and….
3) recognizing that access to the lost, eagerness to reach them, and resources to undergird the fulfillment of the great commission have never been more abundant, and….
4) recognizing that our Lord will hold us accountable for the opportunity He has placed before us and the resources He has entrusted to us….
Be it resolved that:
1. We will pray … And call upon our Southern Baptist constituency to pray, earnestly, fervently, and persistently for the kind of revival that will produce laborers for the harvest and the sacrificial giving necessary to support them. This is God’s first command in response to lostness. Pray (Mt 9:38)!
2. We will give … And call on all Southern Baptists to give of both our tithes and our offerings, faithfully, sacrificially, regularly, and intelligently … Insuring that our giving has maximum great commission impact beginning in our Jerusalem and gathering sufficient strength to carry the gospel message to the very ends of the earth (2 Cor 8:1-5).
3. We will urge the Executive Committee of our Southern Baptist Convention to be aggressive, proactive and prompt in its response to the challenges facing us in terms of missionary mobilization and support, and that they begin offering to our convention, as early as next year’s meeting of the SBC, thoughtful and substantive proposals that will enable our convention to operate at maximum effectiveness in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
These substantive changes must continue to effectively demolish every racial, ethnic, and generational barrier that constrains us.
These substantive changes must make both mission going and giving more personal by fostering fresh, innovative and effective channels for sending and support, while operating within the proven and effective cooperative framework of our Southern Baptist Convention.
These substantive changes must honor, support and utilize the essential nature of the education, training and the advocacy provided by all our SBC entities.
These substantive changes must open the door to greater sacrifice, building trust through proven transparency at every level of our Southern Baptist life.
And, should the Lord delay His return, these substantive changes must leave to the next generation a Southern Baptist Convention that is doctrinally, structurally, spiritually and passionately prepared to finish the task of global evangelization (2 Cor 8:7-11).