IMB's Elliff announces resignation at Austin meeting
Veteran pastor, former SBC president pursuing finish line of course set by God
February 26th, 2014 / By: Tammi Reed Ledbetter | Special Assignments Editor / comments
AUSTIN—If ever a pin could have been heard dropping, it was on Tuesday morning (Feb. 25) as International Mission Board President Tom Elliff surprised the board of trustees with news of his resignation. A handful of trusted colleagues and board members sworn to secrecy kept their word so the veteran pastor and missionary could relate the news from his own heart.
“God gave me what is specific leadership,” Elliff said in recalling a moment months ago when he was awakened to sit by his fireplace and be alone with God. He discerned “not only the decision he wanted me to make, but that I was to make it now,” he explained, aware that his three-year tenure had been brief.
Former board chairman Jimmy Pritchard picked up on what some might view as a frustration, recalling advice he received from another Texan when the presidential search team drew close to settling on Elliff in 2011. “Richard Land said, ‘Three years with Tom Elliff would be better than 10 years with anyone.’”
Pritchard, pastor of First Baptist Church of Forney and SBTC president, voiced the depth of gratitude expressed during a standing ovation to thank Elliff and his wife Jeanie for the determined pace they’d kept in ministry in serving the missionaries deployed worldwide by the largest non-Catholic denomination.
“He has given us a passion for what matters,” added current board chairman David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando. “Everyone of us in this room has had an incredible blessing of serving with Tom Elliff.”
Staff and trustees alike conversed in the hallway after the news was announced, clearly moved by their association with the Elliffs. Uth reminded the board to keep their focus on the missionary mandate.
“The stuff that doesn’t matter? Hey, it’ll be all right,” he said in remarks delivered prior to an hour-long plenary session.
Uth quickly appointed the committee that will seek Elliff’s successor, adding that he had sought input from Pritchard, who chaired the last search. The three Texans who will be a part of that assignment are James Gross, pastor of West Conroe Baptist Church in Conroe; Jaye Martin, a member of First Baptist Church of Houston who directs an evangelistic ministry for women; and John Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church of Euless.
At a time when pending news is rarely kept quiet, trustee Byron McWilliams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Odessa, noted his appreciation for Elliff’s integrity in announcing what was a surprise to most of the board.
“Having spent this last weekend with Tom at my church, it proves his immense integrity that he held the confidence so close,” McWilliams said.
“We are going to miss his impeccable leadership and his genuine heart for the nations,” McWilliams added. “He has done more in three years than many would do in a lifetime. I’m incredibly sad to see him go but all in the IMB know that there is only one indispensable man, the Lord Jesus.”
The next task for Southern Baptists is to “rush the throne of God in prayer so that the committee finds God’s man to fill this most important position,” McWilliams said.
Psalm 46:10 provided Elliff with the text for his decision, he said, quoting it. “‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations.’”
He encouraged the search to be done with “utmost expediency, but not with careless haste or abandon” and “with prayerful and tireless deliberation.” His instruction to the few staff members with whom he had confided prior to the announcement was to “do this the way it ought to be done—not just the right thing, but the right thing the right way.”
Jeannie Elliff, who has been his constant partner in ministry, echoed her husband’s appeal for prayerful and tireless deliberation.
“Praying for the new leader to come,” she told the TEXAN following the news, adding that her prior battle with cancer did not motivate her husband’s decision. She noted a recent doctor’s visit found them both in good health.
“There’s one person out there whom God has right now,” Elliff reminded trustees as he reiterated the board’s responsibility to pray for the search committee. “We must work and pray together as we have to make this transition as seamless and effective as possible,” he added, cautioning that field personnel “don’t need any hiccups.”
Reflecting briefly on his tenure, Elliff said, “As I look at the many initiatives we’ve seen put in place by working together—and that’s the key word, together—over these years, both the pace and the implementation of those initiatives has been almost breathtaking to me.”
He marveled at how easily the changes he championed were accomplished, crediting the grace of God and harmonious spirit of staff, trustees and personnel serving abroad.
Taking a moment to compose himself, Elliff concluded, “So here’s what I want you to know—you can rest assured in this—we’re going to run through the finish line.” Not ones to say they weren’t up to it or drop their bags and give up, Elliff said he and his wife would run the course the Lord set before them with wholehearted reserve. “Along with you, we must go together to the ends of the earth.”