The new president of the International Mission Board (IMB)
says it’s time to “cowboy up” to the task of reaching the nations.
Tom Elliff, unanimously (76-0) approved March 16, plans to
challenge Southern Baptists at its annual convention in Phoenix in June to
prayerfully and boldly reach the unreached and unengaged people groups of the
“I think it is a noble challenge,” said Milton Hollifield,
executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
(BSC). “It will only be through the power of
God that we will be able to accomplish this.”
Hollifield said Elliff’s experience as a former missionary
and IMB vice president as well as his years pastoring churches will be a great
help to those he will be serving. “He is a person who has a great heart for
getting the gospel to the nations, and he is also a person who has great love
and appreciation for the missionaries who serve as the Southern Baptist force,”
Hollifield said. “I believe he will do all he can to provide the missionaries
with the resources they need to get the gospel to the nations.”
Elliff was initially not a candidate for IMB’s top spot. He
actually had made recommendations but the search committee “did not have peace
as a committee,” on any of the prospects, said Robert Jackson, pastor of Peninsula
“Throughout our search process we talked to some mighty fine
people,” Jackson said, but none
seemed to unify the group.
One of the committee members suggested Elliff’s name later
in the process.
Jackson, who is on his second term as an IMB board member,
said his confirmation came when the committee wanted to pray for the Elliffs.
“They both knelt down,” Jackson
“It was very clear that they were not strangers to that form
Jackson was one
of three North Carolina Baptists to serve on the 15-person search committee.
Jimmy Prichard, chairman of the board and search committee
as well as pastor of First
in Forney, Texas,
said the search committee received about 80 names of candidates from about 300
individuals. Four men were interviewed more than once.
But on a Dec. 13 conference call one member mentioned
Elliff’s name and within the next five minutes, Prichard
said there was a sense that God spoke.
“At that moment there was a peace that came over every one
of us,” Prichard said.
Elliff claims the board ruined his Christmas with their call
asking him to consider, but he and his wife, Jean, approached the matter
“We prayed about whether to pray about it,” Elliff said.
Elliff met with the search committee Jan. 14 but even with a
unanimous secret ballot vote, he and Jean had questions about whether God was
calling them to serve.
Elliff, 67, is a long-time Oklahoma
pastor, former missionary, denominational leader as well as author and speaker.
Clyde Meador, an IMB vice president, had been serving as
interim president since Jerry Ranking retired last year.
At age 67, Elliff’s age has raised some questions about the
longevity of his presidency.
“It’s unfortunate that some people’s vision for their lives
stop at 65,” Elliff said.
“I’ve hardly started. I have work to do.
“When studying the Bible the issue was never age. It’s
Elliff said the IMB needs to be good stewards of what
Southern Baptists have given.
“The biggest issue is we need … to be doing God’s work God’s
way,” he said.
A firm believer in the Cooperative Program, Elliff stressed
that Southern Baptists can do better to serve God collectively than as
individuals or churches.
Making a commitment
The effort to reach the unreached will take “major
adjustments to the real commitment of Southern Baptist people to prayerfully
and financially support reaching the unreached peoples,” Hollifield said. This effort will take a significant shift — a “radical,
sacrificial obedience” — Hollifield stressed, of time, resources, etc., but he
wants “to have the joy of being a part in what God is doing.”
Jackson said his
church had not taken on this challenge before but plans to prayerfully approach
adopting a people group in the coming year.
To find out more about adopting a people group, visit
www.imb.org. There are also other stories about Elliff.
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