After roughly three years on the job, IMB President Tom Elliff has informed the proper folks to begin considering his replacement.
As I wrote shortly after the IMB approved him as the organization’s 11th president, I’ve always believed Elliff came along as the right man at the right time. He wasn’t “God’s man” for the organization, implying that every other candidate was Satan’s choice. I just believed he possessed the proper characteristics for what we needed at the time. In the interim, I’ve seen nothing to gainsay that conclusion.
But who will replace him? What characteristics should that guy have? What will or should the next guy be? I’ve got a few ideas.
(Just a small warning: this is not a comprehensive list. Neither is it some sort of critique against Elliff and current leaders. As well, I’m not attempting to tell IMB leadership what we need – they know better than I. I’m only trying to share my concerns with SBC folks.)
1. He should be a big-tent Baptist. An entity head has the right to hold to Calvinism or non-Calvinism or the Traditionalist position or whatever. However, I believe it would be a mistake to enthrone someone whose personal view of doctrine and theology are such that only certain theological systems are permitted. The Baptist Faith and Message should be sufficient and a further doctrinal litmus test (“Five points? Three and a half? Calvin was the devil?”) would not serve the organization well.
2. He should be a partnering, bridge-building guy. A cooperative guy is going to be a bridge-builder between various SBC groups with distinct agendas, goals, and personal theological systems. He’s going to be someone who continues the IMB’s history of seeking partnerships with like-minded Great Commission Christian groups. He would be a unifier more than an isolationist.
3. He should be a former field missionary with the IMB. I’ve spent too much time writing about missions and getting confused responses to believe we should settle for a non-missionary or a non-IMBer. There’s a set of experiences and stresses that cross-cultural workers encounter that lie well outside the average pastor’s life (and vice versa). I could tell you stories about cultural rules and confusing norms to make your hair stand on end, but suffice it to say that we need someone who understands these things from the inside. As for being a former field missionary, the US has changed sufficiently that someone coming in directly from the field would not likely have his fingers on the pulse of the SBC. Famous names rise and technologies change from one term to the next, and a full-time field-based missionary whose eyes are on the country where he lives really wouldn’t (on average) be able to know the trends and patterns developing in the US. A former missionary would bring the field experience necessary while having enough recent time in the US to have a feel for how the SBC is changing. (FYI: Most Richmond-based personnel are not considered to be field missionaries, so former front line workers who have moved into administration fit the bill.)
4. He should be a proven leader, not just someone who has headed up big projects. In ministry there are bosses, there are supervisors, and then there are leaders. Not every boss overseeing a large project or supervisor managing 300 employees can rightfully claim to having true leadership qualities. Ministries around the world have made the mistake of elevating a skilled, godly manager to a leadership role only to realize they chose the wrong person. I’ve encountered some fabulous supervisors and wonderful bosses both within the organization and without, but true leaders are a rare species.
5. He should be someone whose personal ministry reflects support of SBC projects and programs. Don’t ask me how much his church should give to the Cooperative Program or Lottie Moon. I don’t know. I just think that as long as his personal ministry as a whole reflects a consistent support of SBC programs, he should qualify. If his church gives 4% to the CP, and gives an extra 1.5% to their state association and has significant designated giving for NAMB, WMU, and IMB, then I think that should trump someone whose church gives 15% to the CP but no designated funds and possesses stagnant Lottie Moon numbers. And that’s just a bunch of numbers I made up in my own head – don’t go comparing it to your mental list of IMB presidency candidates.
6. He should possess a balance of visionary skills with pastoral care. Elliff has done a fabulous job in inventing ways for missionaries to renew their hearts and calling. As well, he’s been active in creating new initiatives that stand to include more SBC churches and groups. Someone who can only create new plans runs the risk of forgetting the impact on the little guy. A leader who is exclusively pastoral might overlook opportunities for change in his concern for the rank-and-file. As Elliff has shown, a combination of the two can provide a creative environment while caring for everyone.
It’s a short list, I know. Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot.
And yes, I have my own opinions on who it could be.