Elliff answers questions on theological education, local church, missions cooperation
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – IMB president Tom Elliff chooses to spend most of his time with seminary students because he believes they represent some of God’s best tools for evangelizing, discipling and planting churches among the world’s unreached and unengaged people groups. Elliff visited Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 30 to preach in chapel and answer questions in an evening student forum.
“I see folks like you as being bright, theologically correct, scripturally and spiritually passionate, and you need to know IMB,” Elliff told students.
“You are the answer to years of prayer and dreaming and work and planning. You are the product of that, and I just praise God for you. I have nothing to sell you on except for the fact that God wants to use you and that one great, great vehicle that you might consider is IMB.”
Elliff shared with students the nature of IMB’s task to support local churches in reaching the approximately 3,800 unengaged people groups around the world. He cautioned students not to bypass theological training on their path to the mission field.
“The call to serve God is also the call to train, and I can prove that to you biblically,” Elliff said.
“Think of the Apostle Paul, and this may be your Arabia, those years where God hammers into you truths which not only change your life but also because you let them become a part of the fabric of your life, God will use you to plant healthy DNA in churches and ministries around the world.”
Elliff, who earned his Master of Divinity from Southwestern, also answered questions related to the primacy of the local church, the facts about limited funds and limited positions with IMB, music missions, educating people on the Cooperative program, and working with other evangelicals on the mission field.
With regard to the local church, Elliff stressed that IMB serves as a parachurch organization that comes alongside local churches, which he considers the only ones to whom God gave the Great Commission.
“Our emphasis right now in embracing the ends of the earth,” Elliff said, “is to turn to local churches and say, ‘Look, the idea is not for you to partner with us and just send us your money and a few people in drips and drabs every now and then. The idea of the Great Commission is for you to get involved, so will you take a look at the unengaged people of this world and begin praying and strategizing, planning, and doing everything you can before God to see that there are boots on the ground among those people sharing the Gospel, discipling and creating a multiplying church.’
“The local church is something that we dearly prize. Our strategy on the field is local church planting. If our strategy on the field is local church planting, shouldn’t our strategy back here be local church honoring. There ought to be an inextricable tie between a local church and the missionary.”
As for addressing issues with limited funds leading to limited missionary appointments, Elliff said they will not send people whom they cannot support, but he added that he prays that believers would understand the nature of giving.
“A gift is an expression and a barometer of your faith—Can I trust God? When you realize that, then you will have the exhilarating experience of God’s economy, not (Federal Reserve Chairman) Ben Bernanke’s,” Elliff said.
“When Southern Baptists learn that our giving is not to be based on this world’s economy but on faithful obedience to God, then things will change.”
Additionally, he answered student questions on how they can help educate others on the value of the Cooperative Program.
“You have to [communicate] it tirelessly,” Elliff said. “And you have to do it from one generation to the next. You have to keep telling people the story of Lottie Moon, the story of Cooperative Program, the story of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
When asked if IMB will send music missionaries, Elliff replied, “We don’t send people to do music. We send people to evangelize, disciple and plant churches. Some of those people use music as their platform.” He noted that many IMB workers use platforms such as medicine, education, and trekking, but the ultimate goal is to use these to accomplish the three goals of evangelism, discipleship and church planting.
Students also asked Elliff about the level of cooperation between IMB and other evangelical groups around the world. Elliff acknowledged that Southern Baptists are not the only Christians reaching the world with the Gospel, but he also sees the need for discernment in cooperation.
“We can partner, but we cannot enter into a work that requires doctrinal compromise,” Elliff said. “We’re not going to give away primary doctrinal issues in an attempt to work with others, but at the same time we work closely with Great Commission Christians from all over the world.”
During Elliff’s chapel sermon, he pleaded with students to have a heart for missions—not simply a verbal affirmation of its value but a burning passion to give oneself to the task. He concluded his message with an invitation for students to come forward for prayer and to signify their desire to learn more about how they help reach the 3,800 remaining unengaged people groups. In response, students trickled down the aisles of the packed auditorium to talk and pray with professors.