IMB’s Elliff tells trustees of transition plans
Veteran pastor, missionary says he is pursuing finish line of course set by God
Mar 7, 2014
By TAMMI REED LEDBETTER
Southern Baptist TEXAN

UPDATED

LEADERSHIP IMB President Tom Elliff, who announced Feb. 26 he would be stepping down, was unanimously elected by IMB trustees three years ago in Dallas, Texas, where he preached at the appointment service that night. File photo by Joni B. Hannigan

AUSTIN, Texas (TEXAN)—If ever a pin could have been heard dropping, it was on Feb. 26 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 in Orlando. “Everyone of us in this room has had an incredible blessing of serving with Tom Elliff.” 

Uth told the board, “had it been anybody else, I would have said, ‘Lets talk about this,’ but I have never served with anyone whom I felt walked more closely with the Lord.”

Uth quickly appointed the com­mittee that will seek Elliff’s successor, saying he had sought input from Pritchard, who chaired the last search. Uth said he added himself as a member of the search committee and named himself as chairman after noting he has only one meeting left as chairman of the board. There are no other members of the search team from Florida. “I really believe God has given me the most incredible opportunity I’ve never asked for. You didn’t see this coming and you wouldn’t, but it’s appropriate we now move through the agenda,” Uth said.

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.

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 a 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.”

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