Editor’s Note: This excerpt from retiring International Mission Board President Tom Elliff’s May 14, 2014, report to the IMB trustees contains a challenge to members of his Board and Southern Baptist churches. The full text of his remarks may be read at www.bpnews.net/42589/elliffs-report-chasing-the-darkness.
As our Search Team is seeking for my successor, I believe a good stewardship of the days remaining demands that I alert you to the challenges that face us. Looking ahead, IMB must come to grips with at least three practical issues that demand urgent attention.
1. It is imperative that IMB develop, then clearly define, new means by which personnel are encouraged, empowered, and fully expected to connect intentionally with Southern Baptist churches.
From a candidate’s very first contact with us, and throughout his or her tenure, IMB personnel must fully appreciate that their ability to go to the field and remain on the field is directly tied to the willingness of Southern Baptists to support them. The best avenue for that message to reach Southern Baptists is for our personnel to tell them.
Southern Baptists and their missionaries have applauded the fact that “we don’t have to raise support!” This has created among us, and throughout the SBC, a false sense of entitlement and ingratitude. Some churches urge their members to apply with IMB, yet have no sense of responsibility for their maintenance on the field, as evidenced by no increase in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering or the amount of Cooperative Program giving arriving at IMB. Conversely, some of our applicants and personnel feel content to labor on the field without sensing any burden for connecting widely with Southern Baptists.
The beauty of LMCO and CP is that we can do more together than we can alone. But it is a gross misunderstanding of both CP and LMCO to imagine that the Lord is honored when churches take advantage of others’ generosity by failing to be generous themselves.
2. It will be imperative for all our personnel to deliberately utilize means for communicating with those churches frequently and faithfully.
Many of our personnel are already communicating with supporting churches and their members on a monthly basis. They realize the importance of telling their story, expressing gratitude, inviting prayer, and urging participation.
But we must move from “many” to “all.” And we must ensure that every communication from our personnel includes the importance of giving and encourages Southern Baptists to give so that the amount reaching IMB from their church’s weekly contributions reflects their concern for the great lostness of the world. After all, we are not giving because IMB needs money but because the lost need the Gospel.
It is imperative that we constantly and effectively communicate the incredible value of doing missions through IMB, an organization that is doctrinally sound, draws from many of our own institutions, works strategically, and is accountable to the SBC. . . . Our failure to constantly tell the IMB story . . . provides a vacuum into which others are quite willing to speak. What greater cause can there be than fulfilling the Great Commission?
3. IMB must eagerly welcome the establishment of new avenues through which we can encourage Southern Baptist churches to travel to the ends of the earth.
It is imperative for us to remember that Southern Baptist churches have within them some of the most passionate, creative and concerned pastors and lay men and women on the planet. We must hear them! I believe we must be willing to loosen our grip and invite them to help us create the most effective and far-reaching IMB ever. And in that process I believe we will discover that people do support what they help create.
Working together, IMB will readily find new, creative, and daring ways to partner with our churches in carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth. In doing so we will recover the heart of the Southern Baptist Convention.
We will acknowledge the fact that some are called to be sent out, and our role is to partner with churches in encouraging, training and mobilizing them. And we will acknowledge the reality that all of us are called in some way to chase the darkness, and we must encourage, train and mobilize them as well.
We must rise to the occasion, join heart and soul with the saints of all the ages, bathe all our efforts with prayer, strap on the armor of faith, bind on our Gospel boots . . . and chase the darkness.
The Lord desires it; the lost deserve it; and our love demands it.
Tom Elliff, president of the SBC International Mission Board, is a member of Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.