Tom Eliff is going to be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, and I’m not sure exactly what to think about that. I have no problem with Tom Eliff. I just don’t know that much about him.
Tom Eliff’s father was the pastor of the church that sponsored the church my dad planted in Cedar Rapids in the 60s, so the Eliff name has been familiar to me all of my life. But in reality, I know very little about him. I know he was the president of the SBC and pastor of FBC Del City, Oklahoma. I’ve never heard anything negative about his life, character or theology. He seems like a genuine man of God and he will likely do a good job at the IMB. We all hope so.
Of course, the story has been that the search committee has been split between the desire to hire a megachurch pastor and someone with a missions background. Tom Eliff may be the perfect candidate to bridge the gap between the megachurch pastor and the missions strategist. He was a missionary back in the early 80s for half of one term, then spent four years involved in IMB administration. He bridges the gap pretty well.
I was always a strong supporter of Jerry Rankin and liked the direction he was taking the IMB. I was afraid that some of the more traditionalist elements of IMB life (those powerful people who attempted to undermine Jerry Rankin) would install someone who would undo the work that Rankin did. Since Eliff worked with Rankin, I have hope that this will not be the case.
But this nomination baffles me in one main respect. He is 66 years old. Hey, I’m no spring chicken anymore, and I think that the SBC’s fascination with youth often leads to trouble. There is a reason the Bible describes mature leaders as elders. But he is pretty close to Jerry Rankin’s age. Should we see this as some sort of “intentional interim” IMB presidency? How long will he be able to serve?
I do want to commend the chair of that committee, Jimmy Pritchard, for his announcement. I wrote an article here last summer called, “Please: Enough of the God’s Man Tactic, Okay?” I challenged the pressure tactics used by nominating committees in saying that their nominee was “God’s man” for the job. Jimmy handled this well. He did express the sentiment of the committee that they had been led of the Spirit in this decision.
“Throughout the process, we talked to some great and godly men, but we just could not get a sense of God’s peace about any one of them. When Dr. Elliff’s name came before us, we had a subtle sense of God’s Spirit speaking to our hearts. That may sound mystical, but that’s really what happened. … Every one of us senses that God spoke and said, ‘This is the moment you’ve been praying for. Here is your man.’”
I appreciate the way he worded this. He did not pressure the rest of us to conform, but expressed the committee’s sense that God has led them to this point. I thought it was a much improved way to handle the nomination.
So, Dr. Tom Eliff will be our new IMB President (assuming the IMB will affirm this nomination, an assumption that I make – I don’t think there are the kind of dynamics here that were present in the Frank Page nomination at the EC). Honestly, I feel pretty good about it. In this climate, at this time, Tom Eliff may indeed be the perfect pick.
Let’s all pray that this will be the case.