Unsolicited Advice for the International Mission Board

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?

33 responses to “Unsolicited Advice for the International Mission Board

  1. Wise (free) advice Doug! I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that you put into this post. Blessings!

  2. Jerry Patterson

    After having spent 60 years observing Southern Baptist life, I have concluded that almost all offices are filled on the basis of Simony. Instead of the money offered to Simon Peter basis is contribution by his church to Baptist causes.

  3. Ron,
    Don’t know if it is wise, but at least it is free. Thanks!
    Jerry,
    That may be less true now than previously. But support of Baptist causes ought to be at least part of the equation. Thanks!

  4. Maybe it’s time for me to recommend Doug Munton for the job. He seems to fit all the criteria.

    • I agree with you Benjie. You could find a smarter, harder working, God fearing genuine pastor and friend than Doug. Give him the job and watch things go forward.

  5. Benjie,
    I’ve never been a career missionary among other reasons not to choose me. And, the very fact that you would suggest me disqualifies you! But thanks and blessings on you and your ministry!

  6. Jimmy Millikin

    Don’t know who you are but that is some good advice. Not all free things are bad.
    Jimmy A. Millikin,
    Professor of Theology
    Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary
    Cordova, TN

  7. Excellent thoughts Doug! I concur with your analysis on how the search process should proceed.

  8. Dr. Millikin, Stop by O’Fallon sometime and buy me a coke. Then you will solve the problem of your first sentence and I will test the maxim of your second!

  9. chconsultant,
    Beware sentences which begin with “Excellent thoughts Doug”. 🙂

  10. Good stuff Doug. I hope the trustees’ will prayerfully consider what you have written.

  11. I hope at least some of your free advice is followed. I’m afraid we often select leaders by who knows who instead of who is the best person for the ministry.

  12. Sure have loved Elliff. I think it helped that his children are in the field. Gives you extra perspective. The IMB is one of my favorite things about the Southern Baptist. I’m still in search of a church over here in England in need of a visiting preacher. 🙂 We sure miss FBO’Fallon. I will be praying for the just right placement as IMB president.

    • Julie, Move the family back to O’Fallon as soon as you can. I would love to preach in England but am unfamiliar with the language!

  13. GREAT thoughts and advice! I’m so proud to have such a wise friend; especially one who shares his advice so FREELY! Thanks Doug…

  14. Good advice. The “Good Old Boy” network is not such a good thing. We have preferred networking to praying far too often.

  15. Tony,
    Networking is inevitable to some extent. We tend to talk with those we know. The danger is that we will fail to think broadly or pray passionately if networks determine our course. Thanks!

  16. Doug,

    Thank you for a practical, insightful, and inspirational offering of unsolicited advice for the International Mission Board! Your wisdom and simplicity are refreshing! May your “suggestions” be heeded!

  17. Phillip,
    Unsolicited advice is generally the only kind of advice I give. 🙂

  18. Doug, Wow! I’m praying our leaders will listen. I wish you had grey hair then there would be a biblical reason to compel them to. 😃

  19. Tom Elliff did a great job and it seems the Lord now has other plans. Great insights…especially your first one.

  20. Great words and should be followed in recommending anyone in a ministry position

  21. Good Stuff Doug, hope the Trustees listen. I would also add that I hope they search in those areas that have provided us such persons as Fred Luter, Gary Frost and Ken Weathersby to name a few. We have some great persons that might not fit the previous criteria.

    • Robert,
      I know Gary and Ken and love them both. And Fred Luter is awesome. Blessings on you!

    • Appreciate the advice, Doug. As one who is in the field, I think we miss the mark repeatedly with our constituents back home. Over time, I have come to realize that missions simply isn’t important–God is. Yet, everything we do emphasizes missions. We talk about strategy, people groups and the “lostness of the world.”

      If strategy was the answer, all we’d need is a bunch of smart, savvy people and God would be unnecessary. If my love of a people group determines their acceptance of Jesus as their savior… then I will be guilty for a lot of people spending eternity separated from the one being who could have saved them. I do not have the capacity to love as God does (and I don’t think anyone else does either) and I certainly cannot offer salvation to the lost. That remains a free gift from the unconditionally loving hand of God- I am deeply humbled that he allows me to share His message of hope.

      Despite having a vested interest in missions, I would love our next president to encourage all Southern Baptists (regardless of where we live) to forget missions and remember God. He alone is the answer.

  22. Concerned in AZ

    As a former missionary, I really loved Tom Elliff its the politics in SBC the burn out a new leader. We need a man to lead that will stand his ground and his ground being God’s Word. Politics and “who you know” make our denomination go round….sad to say. And as a church planter’s wife in the US now…I have to say that please don’t turn a deaf ear to a man in his mid-30s with 6 years of missionary experience. He has a wealth of knowledge to share. How many kings in the Old Testament were 60+ and had years of experience?

  23. Hopeful from CA

    I fear that thinking that a new president will make a difference in the IMB is like thinking that a new president will change the Federal government. The bureaucracy that is in place runs things; interprets trustee instruction as it sees fit; allowing, even encouraging woefully unqualified administrators and leaders to make decisions that affect families’ lives on the field in ways that tend to appall the constituency back home.
    I pray that I am wrong, but I am not encouraged.

  24. Doug, I saw your post appear on the feed of one of my friends FB page and knew your face immediately. I wanted you to know that I miss FBO and think of you guys often. You may not remember me, but I did quite a bit of singing for you! Keep up the good work!

  25. Well said Doug. I think the politics of SBC have turned so many young people away. God will raise up a leader…I’m confident…and yes….they should have career missionary experience to say the least! (Hello to Dr. Millikin!)

  26. Bless you, Doug, for this wise insight. Very needed in today’s SBC.

  27. I would ADD only one other requirement: He should be a soul-winner (one who daily is seeking to lead others to Christ). In my opinion, all the other performance qualities will follow accordingly.

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