Thomas (Tom) D. Elliff, longtime Oklahoma pastor, Southern Baptist Convention leader, and former missionary, was elected as president of the International Mission Board by unanimous vote of the IMB trustees, March 16, in Dallas.
Elliff, 67, a longtime pastor, Southern Baptist Convention leader, and former missionary, will lead one of the largest evangelical missions agencies in an era of rapid change at home and around the globe.
The greatest mission challenges, he said, are the world’s overwhelming spiritual lostness and the urgency of mobilizing churches to take the Gospel of Christ to all peoples.
�We must realize that we�re in a world that is hostile to the message of the Gospel, yet there are so many people who are longing to hear,� Elliff said. �That�s why we must go to the uttermost now. Frankly, I think we live in a generation of students who are asking, �Why do we keep hearing about these unreached people groups? Why don�t we just go reach them?� I believe we are seeing, even in our own convention, a groundswell of men and women of all ages who have the heart and are willing to go to the unreached now.�
Addressing questions about his own age, Elliff added: “I’m not coming as an ‘interim.’ I’m coming with a vision—and I will serve as long as God gives me grace and energy.”
Elliff succeeds Jerry Rankin as president of the mission board, which serves Southern Baptists and the 5,000 missionaries they send worldwide. Rankin retired July 31, 2010, after 17 years as IMB president. Executive Vice President Clyde Meador has served as interim president during the search for a new leader.
�This is the result of many months of missionaries praying, Southern Baptists praying, and our trustees praying,� said IMB trustee chairman Jimmy Pritchard, who led the presidential search committee. �God has answered our prayer.�
Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, who attended the trustee meeting, praised Elliff’s election.
�Tom Elliff is a pastor, a missionary, a godly man, and a prayer warrior,� said Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. �The preparation of God in this is just fantastic. I�m excited, and I�m thankful that the search committee kept waiting on God, for God�s timing and God�s man. They are to be commended.�
Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, who also was in attendance, said, “What a unified group of trustees! It was a time of tremendous excitement and joy.
�In his inaugural comments, Brother Elliff gave an impassioned call for winning this world to Christ,� Page said. �He spoke of the passionate need for churches to be more involved in the work of missions. He also affirmed the centrality of the Cooperative Program to help fund the work of Southern Baptist missions.
�Having known Dr. Tom Elliff for many years, I can tell you he is a man whose heart is pure, whose devotion is unquestioned, and whose competence in missions is unparalleled,� Page continued. �Our prayers are with Tom and Jeannie Elliff as they begin this new phase of their lives. I call on Southern Baptists to pray in earnest for God�s hand of favor upon Tom and the entire International Mission Board. Crucial days of opportunity are before us. Let us join together in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ in this generation.�
Elliff, 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, Oklahoma, where he was pastor for 20 years.
From 2005 to 2009, Elliff served as IMB senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations. 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 through the United States and abroad.
Elliff also served as chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on Family Life from 1999 to 2003, and subsequently led a series of Kingdom Family Rallies, in conjunction with LifeWay Christian Resources, designed to help churches, pastors, and families identify and strengthen seven “pillars” of the family.
Elliff brings a wealth of gifts and experience to the challenging task of leading Southern Baptists’ international mission work in the coming years and has lived in “many different worlds” in Southern Baptist life, Pritchard said.
�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,� Pritchard said upon Elliff�s nomination. �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 a 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,� Pritchard added. �We are very confident that God�s hand is on Dr. Elliff at this time to lead IMB.�
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,� Elliff 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.�
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, Arkansas; 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, Kentucky.
He led several churches while in college and seminary and was pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 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, Colorado, 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 life.
Compiled from reports by Erich Bridges