My family goes way back with the Elliffs. They are extraordinary, godly people. We’ve served at two churches together and remained friends through the years. I count Tom as the chief among the many mentors who’ve challenged and molded my life and ministry. So, from a legacy perspective, what can Southern Baptists expect from Dr. Elliff’s election as president of the International Mission Board?
1. Passion for the Word of God permeates everything. E. F. Hallock and Manley Beasley taught Tom that God always has something important to say to our current circumstances. He has chosen to reveal Himself through the precious, inerrant Word of God. Whether you are talking about a local church, an individual’s faith journey or an institution as comprehensive as the International Mission Board, Tom believes that God reveals His heart through the Scripture and that the believer’s important role is that of faith.
As a result, Tom will cast a vision for Southern Baptists that is larger than our flesh, larger than our abilities. Even with our great mission boards and educational institutions, we don’t have enough power or resources or people to fulfill the vision that God has for His people. No amount of reallocating Southern Baptist Cooperative Program resources will be sufficient to fund what the Lord wants to do through His people called Southern Baptists. Tom will challenge Southern Baptists to lay down the cravings of our flesh personally and collectively to take up the call of God to reach the nations of the world until the Lord returns.
2. Prayer knees prevail over Baptist babbling. In the sphere of Southern Baptist life, the Internet, bloggers and conferences speakers are ranting these days about the demise of denominational strategies to reach the world. The whipping boy is any part of the Cooperative Program funding stream that isn’t international missions. With great verbosity some have discredited, devalued the work of the churches through state conventions, associations and Baptist institutions.
In the past, you haven’t heard Tom stoop to these disrespectful practices. Tom is a seasoned prayer warrior. His practice is that of talking less and praying more. Instead of discrediting one another and the work of our churches in various jurisdictions, he will challenge us to seek God’s presence together. Instead of pontificating our opinions and seeing how much political muscle we can flex, let’s work out competent strategies from the platform of brokenness, prayer and mutual respect for one another’s usefulness in God’s kingdom.
3. Family life is a brighter testimony to the world than institutional prowess. Over the course of years, I’ve watch as Tom, Jeannie and their family have provided a model of compassion for each other. Their unconditional love for each family member is a testimony to many others. One of the Elliffs’ assets is their vulnerability. They aren’t perfect, but they love each other and have learned the great value of forgiving one another. They have needs as attested by the recent journey through Jeannie’s oncology treatments. They wrestle with the things everyday people face but in the end they exercise good, godly judgment and are faithful to the Lord. No great church, no institution of global outreach can surpass the power of a family testimony.
4. Shining the light of the Gospel on global lostness is every believer’s responsibility. Tom will be clear and concise in his message that the International Mission Board is not the Southern Baptist Convention’s “hired gun” to reach the lost peoples of the world. The IMB is a sending agency that provides the strategies and the support for the called and is one of the primary facilitators for churches seeking to fulfill their Acts 1:8 mandate. However, every believer everywhere has the opportunity to witness to the people in this world. Whether Tom is in the buckle of the Bible belt or a hotel in Tel Aviv or a Honolulu MacDonald’s or in a Southeast Asian market or an airport in Bangalore, Tom is attentive to his surroundings as a witnessing opportunity. By the practice of his own life, he models what every Southern Baptist, no matter where they might be living or working, are called to be, a witnesses for Christ. If we are to reach the lostness in the world or this nation or in our cities or our neighborhoods, Southern Baptists must return to personal witnessing about the transformational work of God through Jesus Christ in our individual lives.
The word “retirement” isn’t in Tom Elliff’s vocabulary because he’s spent face time with the One who knows the number of our days. You will find he rarely uses the word “can’t” because he knows the God who can. You will hear him talk about a global vision to reach the unsaved lost with all the energy, resources, creativity and faith the Lord has entrusted to Southern Baptists.