RICHMOND, Va. — Thomas (Tom) D. Elliff, longtime Oklahoma
pastor, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leader and former missionary, is the
unanimous recommendation of a 15-member trustee search committee to be the next
president of International Mission Board (IMB).
The nomination of Elliff — who served as a missionary to Zimbabwe with his
wife, Jeannie, in the early 1980s — will be presented to the full board of
trustees for consideration and a possible vote when they meet March 15-16 in
If elected, Elliff would succeed Jerry Rankin as leader of the mission board,
which coordinates the work of more than 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries
worldwide. Rankin retired as IMB president July 31, 2010, after 17 years at the
helm. Veteran missionary and Executive Vice President Clyde Meador currently
serves as interim president.
IMB Trustee Chairman Jimmy Pritchard, who has led the presidential search
committee throughout its selection process, announced the nomination Feb. 17.
He said Elliff emerged as the committee’s clear and unanimous choice in
“Throughout the process, we talked to some great and godly men, but we just
could not get a sense of God’s peace about any one of them,” said Pritchard,
pastor of First Baptist Church in Forney, Texas. “When Dr. Elliff’s name came
before us, we had a subtle sense of God’s Spirit speaking to our hearts. That
may sound mystical, but that’s really what happened. … Every one of us senses
that God spoke and said, ‘This is the moment you’ve been praying for. Here is
Elliff, 66, a Texas native, was twice elected president of the Southern Baptist
Convention, in 1996 and 1997, and also served as president of the SBC Pastors’
Conference in 1990. He has led several key churches in the denomination,
including First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Okla., where he was pastor
for 20 years.
He most recently served as IMB senior vice president for spiritual nurture and
church relations from 2005-2009. In that role, he taught and counseled
missionaries and helped mobilize churches throughout the convention for mission
involvement. Currently he leads Living in The Word Publications, a writing and
speaking ministry he founded in 2005. He frequently speaks about spiritual
awakening and family life in churches and conferences throughout the United
States and abroad.
Elliff brings a wealth of gifts and experience to the challenging task of
leading Southern Baptists’ international mission work in the coming years,
Elliff, said Pritchard, has lived in “many different worlds” in Southern
“He has heard God’s call to missions as a field missionary. He has pastored
some of our best churches. He was president of our convention for two years. He
worked at the vice presidential level with IMB. So he is uniquely prepared, his
integrity is unquestioned, and I believe that he will be able to help connect
all of our entities together. He has great relationship with our seminary
presidents and with the North American Mission Board.
“We just see so many indicators that he is God’s choice. Through the process
God has spoken to him also, and we are enthusiastic. We are standing with
complete and total unanimity. We are very confident that God’s hand is on Dr.
Elliff at this time to lead IMB. We’re excited, and we can’t wait for March to
get here to make our presentation to the full board.”
Reached for comment, Elliff asked Southern Baptists to pray for him, his wife
and family — and for IMB trustees as they consider his nomination.
“Both Jeannie and I were incredibly humbled when the search committee
approached us,” he said. “Obviously, we would not have moved forward to this
moment had we not spent a great deal of time in prayer seeking the face of the
Lord. Now we feel humbled once again that they are going to present us to the
board. Along with all the members of the board, we would just encourage people
to pray with us during these days.”
Elliff said his discussions with the IMB presidential search committee
initially came as a surprise.
“We love missions and we’ve given our hearts to it, but this was not on our
radar screen,” he said. “It has just driven us to our knees in prayer. We
certainly couldn’t do this if we didn’t sense the Lord’s leadership to do it.
But we recognize that God speaks not only to individuals but to groups of
people. We’re confident that He will have His way as the board deals with
Born in Paris, Texas, Elliff is a third-generation Southern Baptist pastor. The
Elliffs, who married in 1966, have four grown children and 25 grandchildren.
He received a bachelor of arts degree from Ouachita Baptist University in
Arkadelphia, Ark.; a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist
Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and a doctor of ministry degree from
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
He led several churches while in college and seminary and was pastor of
Eastwood Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla., for nearly a decade before being
appointed with his wife as missionaries to Zimbabwe in 1981. They served in the
East African nation for about two years, but resigned in 1983 after their
teenage daughter, Beth, was seriously injured in a car accident there. After
they returned to the United States, Elliff led Applewood Baptist Church in
Lakewood, Colo., before being called to First Southern Baptist Church of Del
City, where he was pastor from 1985 to 2005.
He is the author of several books about prayer, spiritual awakening and family
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Bridges is an IMB global correspondent.)
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