Tom Elliff is retiring after a short, but effective stint as the head of the IMB, the international mission agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. Here is some free (like someone is going to pay for this?) advice to the trustees who will choose his successor.
I care deeply about this decision for at least three reasons. 1, I love missions. God grabbed my heart for missions on my first mission trip and I am all in. 2, The church where I am pastor (FBC O’Fallon, IL) is in the SBC, goes on many IMB connected mission trips each year and has a few families from the church serving with the IMB. 3, My son-in-law, daughter and granddaughter serve with the IMB as new career missionaries to Madagascar.
1. Don’t worry much about who recommends them. We don’t need any kingmakers because we don’t have any kings. (Further free advice extends to my recommendation that you read that last sentence again.) The new person should not be required to be recommended by Dr. Mohler (he is smart and bold but not omniscient) or anyone else for that matter. Maybe the best guy will come from Golden Gate seminary or somewhere unexpected. The best way to perpetuate a good old boy system is to have the same recommenders recommend their friends. Maybe those recommenders don’t even yet know the fellow who would best lead this organization.
2. Don’t worry much about how well-known they are. Maybe the best fellow isn’t well-known at this time, maybe he is. But current fame should not be a requirement. If they are recommended they will become well-known soon enough. Fame is greatly overrated anyway.
3. Get someone with experience. It would be best if the new guy isn’t young. The argument for a young guy is that they will help us reach the young pastors and leaders. Let’s reach the young leaders with the power of the mission, not the age of the president. This is not a job for someone with potential, but not experience. And, they would be best served with the experience of having been a career missionary. Our greatest assets are our career missionaries and it would be great if the new guy has been in their shoes. (Well, not literally as foot fungus is not something which should be shared.) I doubt an academician is the best choice. Theory rarely trumps experience. I doubt a pastor who loves missions, is articulate and writes books is a better choice than one who has been a missionary.
4. Get someone with some leadership skills. They will need to lead. What is the best indicator of someone’s future activity? Their past activity. We kid ourselves if we think otherwise. Get someone with some leadership abilities who has shown that leadership by leading. They need to lead in several areas including-
-being a uniter.
-rallying people around a compelling vision of God’s work.
-recommending policies that are thoughtful.
-making some hard decisions about some hard problems.
5. Get someone who is spiritually vibrant. This is so obvious I must mention it. (I love that last sentence!) We mustn’t forget that spiritual vibrancy is at the core of healthy spiritual leadership. Ability is not enough. We need a godly leader with ability who relies on the Lord. We need someone who is serious about prayer and has a faithful devotional life. We need someone who loves Jesus deeply.
6. Get someone who is denominationally loyal. (See second sentence of number 5.) They don’t have to be denominationally blind, or anti other denominations or unaware of God’s great work through other believers. But, they should love our style of cooperative missions and evidence that love through their giving patterns.
7. Get someone nice. Mean people aren’t that much fun to work with or for. A person who loves people and is thoughtful of others seems like a good idea to me. But then, I can be kind of a radical thinker sometimes. Can you believe all this advice was free?