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International Mission Board leader wrapping up tenurecomment (0)

March 6, 2014

By Jennifer Davis Rash

International Mission Board leader wrapping up tenure

International Mission Board (IMB)  President Tom Elliff, 70, shocked Southern Baptists with a Feb. 26 announcement that he’s ready to step down from his role.

“I didn’t choose it, but God spoke to me through His word,” Elliff shared during a telephone press conference a few hours after he told the IMB board of trustees during its meeting in Austin, Texas.

“Based on what (my wife, Jeannie, and I) believe to be the Lord’s clear leading, today I am asking our chairman to appoint a search team to seek my successor,” he wrote in an open letter he read to trustees. “I pledge my eager and devoted service as your president until my successor is chosen and in office. But I am urging the search team to act with utmost expediency ... not with careless haste or abandon, but with all prayerful and tireless deliberation.”

A 15-member search committee was named that day, and Alabama Baptist Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, is on the committee. 

IMB trustee Richard Richie, pastor of Flint Baptist Church, Decatur, told The Alabama Baptist, “I am sure Dr. Elliff and the executive team, along with the trustees and missionaries, will continue to push forward in strenuous effort to advance the gospel until his replacement is found. Our efforts will not be thwarted because our president is resigning.”

But Richie acknowledged the initial blow of the announcement was disappointing to many trustees.

“The room became uncommonly quiet and still ... several board members teared up while others clammed up, looking down at the floor shaking their heads,” he said. 

“Dr. Elliff has been such an inspiring and encouraging visionary, bringing many new positive ideas to the IMB for the advancement of the gospel. He has helped IMB become more efficient and produce ‘more bang for our buck’ in these days of diminished Cooperative Program giving.”

Recalling Elliff’s words when he came nearly three years ago — “I’m not coming as an interim ... I will serve as long as God gives me grace and energy” — Richie said several board members wondered about one or both of the Elliffs’ health.

Trustees were assured health issues are not a concern, Richie noted.

 “Dr. Elliff certainly brought new energy, vision and excitement to the IMB, helping to expand Southern Baptist missions involvement through programs such as Ready Reserves, Global Connect and Marketplace Advance,” Richie added. “He has served well, having already served as a career missionary (Zimbabwe in the early 1980s), Southern Baptist pastor (First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., from 1985 to 2005) and as (IMB’s senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations from 2005 to 2009).”

Elliff said he did not know what was next for him, but he does know he is “not resigning” nor is he retiring.

He also feels confident that the upcoming transition is going to be smooth.

“We must work and pray together, just as we have these past years, to make this transition as seamless and effective as possible,” he said. “The cause of our Savior and the welfare of our personnel deserve nothing less than our best.”

Richie agreed. “Ultimately our Commander Jesus is still in charge,” he said. “We will continue to seek Him and listen to His guidance and leadership in our daily prayers and by reading and following His written instructions found in the Holy Bible.” 

IMB trustee board chairman David Uth, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., appointed the search committee and will serve as its chairman.

Along with Uth and Wolf, search committe members include: former Alabama Baptist Matt Pearson (Ark.), John Edie (Mo.), Jay Collins (La.), Jay Gross (Texas), Scott Harris (Tenn.), Rick Lewis (Colo.), Jaye Martin (Texas), Vickie Mascagni (Miss.), John Meador (Texas), Doyle Pryor (Okla.), Cindy Snead (Ariz.), Matt Taylor (Mo.) and Kristen White (Calif.). 

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