I am beginning my third year as a trustee with the International Mission Board with this July meeting in Richmond, Virginia. I flew to Richmond International Airport Monday afternoon and drove to the International Learning Center outside of Richmond and attended the Trustee Forum (a closed door, confidential meeting) at 3:30. At dinner I ate in the ILC cafeteria with a wonderful missionary couple and their children (unnamed due to security). The dad is an MD and the mom is an RN serving with the IMB in a Security Three country in Central Asia. I always enjoy our July trustee meeting, which is always held at the International Learning Center, because of the opportunities I have to meet wonderful missionary couples and their children like this IMB missionary family. The ILC is where IMB missionaries are trained and oriented for their missionary service. It is located in the beautiful rolling hills of central Virginia.
The chairman of the Board of Trustees, John Floyd, has chosen not to appoint me to a regional or standing committee of the IMB for 2007/2008. This is his perogative as chairman, and I have not made an issue of this, nor will I do so in the future. I am not sure of the purpose for Dr. Floyd not appointing me to serve on an IMB trustee committee, but it is within his rights as chairman, and I respect his decision. I always try to make the most of my time at the trustee meetings, and so during those times that various committees meet to prepare for the official plenary sessions, I make it a point to visit with local pastors, as many missionary candidates, and missionary families as possible. During these times I have been able to establish some wonderful friendships with people from all over the world.
Since no official business can be conducted without full board approval, I make it a point to come early and stay late for every plenary session. I take copious notes of the public business sessions because I have a responsibility to be informed and to vote my conscience on behalf of those Southern Baptist Convention messengers who elected me. Today (Tuesday) during the business session, I took notes that filled fourteen legal pages in my notebook.
New Trustees Introduced
The plenary session began with the new trustees introducing themselves. The new trustees are:
(1). Hershael York (Kentucky) - a professor and pastor.
(2). Waylon Moore (Florida) - a retired pastor.
(3). Mike Penny (North Carolina) - a deputy for a local sherriff's department.
(4). Stuart Bell (Arkansas) - a pastor.
(5). Martha Wilson (Georgia) - housewife.
(6). Charlene High (Virgina) - a registered nurse.
(7). Jan Brown (Georgia) - a schoolteacher.
(8). Keith Stephenson (North Carolina) - a pastor.
Jacob Gross and Debbie Brunson, the other two new trustees, were unable to make the meeting due to church and family obligations respectively.
I was impressed with the new trustees, especially the ladies, all of whom were laypeople in their churches. None of the women had sought to serve as a trustee, much less even thought about it. However, each was articulate, passionate and very clear about their sense of calling from God to serve. I also had the pleasure of meeting Dr. York for the first time. I went to him after the plenary session to meet him and shake his hand. He was on his knees picking up his books. He told me to tell everyone that 'he was on his knees' when I met him. I laughed and told him that nobody would be impressed unless I said 'he was on his knees and kissed my ring.' He didn't laugh quite as much as I did at my own joke, but I truthfully found Dr. York the way I felt he would be - warm and engaging. I enjoyed my conversations with him at the ILC and later at the appointment service at Grove Avenue Baptist Church.
The Report of Tom Elliff to the Board of Trustees
I have been praying for Tom's wife, Jeanie, who is between chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and Tom requested to have his report moved up in the 2:30 plenary session in order to catch a flight home to be with his wife. Tom serves as the pastor at large for the IMB and is in charge of the spiritual and doctrinal development of missionary candidates. Tom first gave an explanation of how the International Mission Board is actively pursuing better ways to interact and relate with churches and state conventions. Partner Services of the IMB, led by Mike Hand, is scheduling a conference in the western United States to help states and local churches in terms of mobilization for missions.
Second, Tom described how he is instructing new missionaries in terms of doctrine in order to 'ensure a higher level of doctrinal integrity on the mission field.' Missionaries are charged with planting Baptist churches, or at least churches that 'embrace what it means to be baptistic in nature.' Tom said that it would be a tragedy to place in the bloodstream of any church planting movement doctrines that would make those new Baptist church plants unhealthy. He said that he teaches missionaries during two day sessions how to understand and explain the following seven major doctrinal truths:
God and the Bible
Man and Sin
Christ and Salvation
The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts
The Church and the Ordinances
Tom said that new missionaries are not antagonistic toward learning 'doctrine,' but rather, they have been sent from some churches that have not fully explained the meaning and significance of these doctrines. Tom explained the use of a 25 question True/False test that is given all new missionaries whereby Tom is able to be alerted to any doctrinal concerns and to also measure the missionaries' progress in doctrinal understanding through his two day session. The test is given both before and after the two day lectures.
Tom read the questions in the plenary session and then explained the answers. Most of the questions were very basic. The only questions which I believe Southern Baptists would express various views over would be those on 'The Church and the Ordinances.' The BFM 2000 and the Scripture itself does not list the 'authority' of the baptizer as an essential for 'Christian baptism,' but yet 'proper authority' was given by Tom as 'an essential' to baptism. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful that we are discussing doctrinal matters with our missionaries, because I agree that doctrine is like the skeleton to the human body, but I believe we must be very, very careful that we do not associate true 'Baptist identity' with doctrines over which Baptists have disagreed over for centuries. As I have already shown that even Southern Baptists have pointed out that Christian baptism is not the door into the local Baptist church, but the local church is to ensure that Christian baptism has occurred prior to granting membership.
There are some people who wonder what all the fuss over baptism is, and why it should make a difference. The best answer I could give is to ask a question. If a missionary leads someone to Christ overseas, in a place where there is not 'a Baptist church', does that missionary have the right to baptize that convert, or must a 'church' be establshed before the proper 'authority' exists? In other words, is it 'local church authority' that gives permission to baptize, or is the gospel evangelist - who has had the privilege to see God convert a sinner through his proclamation of the gospel - the only authority needed to baptize? I would answer that on the day of Pentecost 3000 believed and were baptized and it was only 'later' that they were added to the church. Philip shared the gospel with the Ethiopian and baptized him upon his confession of faith, but there was no 'local church' involved. Gill, Spurgeon, all the English Baptists, the First London Confession, and many, many Southern Baptists from the past and present agree with me. If by 'local church authority' one means that the church must examine a believer's baptism before granting membership -- I would AGREE! But, again, we must be very careful that we don't consider as essential to 'Baptist identity' the belief that the only valid baptism is one that occurs in a Baptist church.
Dr. Rankin's Report to the IMB Trustees
Dr. Rankin gave one of the better reports I have ever heard him give. He spoke clearly on the difference between ministry, evangelism and missions. Feeding the hungry and clothing the poor can be considered ministry, but not evangelism or missions. Sharing the gospel with a lost person with the desire to see conversion to faith in Christ is evangelism. But missions is extending the gospel and kingdom of Jesus Christ, via cross-cultural methods, beyond the location and influence of established evangelical churches.
The International Mission Board has been charged by the Southern Baptist Convention to conduct missions by enlarging the kingdom of God through extending the gospel to unreached people groups so that all the world will have the opportunity to come to faith in Jesus Christ. The stated goal of the IMB was to engage all unreached people groups of 100,000 and over by the end of 2005. That goal has been extended to the end of 2008. In addition, the IMB has established a stated goal of engaging with the gospel all people groups of the world, regardless of size, by the end of 2010.
Dr. Rankin corrected the misperception that the IMB was ONLY concerned with church planting in unreached people groups. This week at the ILC, there is a very large meeting of the Global Medical Alliance, where volunteers are meeting with IMB personnel to strategize, create partnerships and discuss how to use medical missions in new and creative ways. The IMB simply should never allow any ministry or secondary purpose to supercede the main mission assigned by the Southern Baptist Convention - reaching the unreached people groups of the world with the gospel of Christ.
Hershael York asked the only question of Dr. Rankin after the President's report. Hershael asked, "Dr. Rankin, I only ask because I'm curious and have heard this said before. Is your focus on the unreached people groups driven by an eschatalogical motive?" Dr. Rankin answered by quoting Matthew 24:16, "The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to the whole world, and then the end shall come" and said that eschatology does not compel the IMB's mission (or his), but obedience does. Dr. Rankin said the timing of the coming of the Son is up to the Father and nothing we do will define when He comes. It is up to God. We are simply to obey His commission.
Treasurer David Steverson's Report to the IMB Trustees
David did not give his usual report regarding the finances, but rather told a very gripping story of a man who donated a parcel of property to the IMB. This property was his only possession, and the man was not well off financially. David visited with the man intending to convince him not to give the property, but this man insisted, saying that he wished the proceeds to go to purchasing Bibles for a particular people group who did not have the Bible in their language. He responded to David's encouragement that he keep the land for himself, due to his poor financial condition, by saying, "Don't you understand? These people need the gospel!" David is a very humble Oklahoman who told this story with passion and made us all realize as trustees the value of every dollar given to the IMB. The donated land amounted to $205,609.73. It is now being used to introduce the Bible to an unreached people group, just as the donor wished
Regional Committe Reports
The various regional committees (Central Asia, Pacific Rim, South America, North Africa and Middle East, East Asia, Central America, Central and Eastern Europe, Western Europe, etc . . . ) gave their reports. We accepted the resignation of some missionaries with appreciation, sadly accepted the termination of just a couple of missionaries for conduct unbecoming a missionary, and eventually voted on approving eighty-four new missionaries who were being appointed at the appointment service at 7:00 p.m. at Grove Avenue Baptist Church.
There was no business from the floor, and nothing about the Southern Baptist Convention's Garner motion was even mentioned.
The meeting was adjourned.
Supper at the International Learning Center
The cafeteria is beautiful at the ILC and the cook staff does a great job. I was one of the first in line and by the time I got my tray and drink I entered the cafeteria to find Jerry Corbaley sitting by himself. I went up to him and said, "Jerry, do you mind if I sit next to you." Jerry said, "Truthfully, I do." I was very surprised, but said, "Jerry, I would just like to sit here and visit with you over dinner as a brother in Christ and enjoy your company." Jerry said a few choice things about me and then said that if I sat down he would get up and leave and if I followed him he would make it a 'public issue.' Well, I sat down anyway because I really feel it is important we as trustees get along even if we don't see eye-to-eye on certain things. Jerry promptly stood up, took his tray and moved to another table. As Jerry walked away I felt like saying to him, "Love Is the Most Excellent Way" but I thought silence was the wiser choice.
Trustee Mike Gonzales from Texas was at the table behind me and I asked if I could join him. He graciously said yes and I moved over and had a wonderful dinner with him and his family who had come to Richmond to see Mike's daughter and husband and three kids appointed as a new missionary family that evening. Soon, the Gonzales' left and several trustees came to sit with me including Mike Smith of Texas, Simon Tsoi of Arizona, Ken Kuwahari of Hawaii, Gene Williams of Florida, Rochelle Davis of Michigan, my good friend John Click of Kansas. What began as a really sad supper ended up being one of the most enjoyable times I have had with the IMB. I laughed as these men told stories - enough to fill a notebook of illustrations for me - and I genuinely enjoyed their company. These men reflect the general spirit of the IMB Board of Trustees, and they form one of the reasons I am very hopeful of the future for both the SBC and the IMB.
Personal Visits During Committee Meetings
I took the opportunity today during some of my free time to visit Berea Baptist Church just outside of Rockville, Virginia. This church was established in 1846, just one year after the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention. The West End of Richmond is growing toward this little church and I predict that in the years to come it will experience some great growth. I also visited Mt. Vernon Baptist Church (SBC), one of the larger BGAV churches in Virginia. I was able to visit with some of the staff about the way they are reaching their community. They are doing some very similar things to what we are doing at Emmanuel and the visit was profitable.
The highlight of the day for me, besides the appointment service (see below), was visiting St. John's Church at 23rd and Broad in Richmond. This historic church was the place in 1775 where Patrick Henry gave his famous "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech before the Virginia House of Burgess. St. John's was the only place in Richmond large enough to house the House delegates who were fleeing the King's soldiers. In attendance at St. John's when Patrick Henry gave his speech was George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. One year later the Revolutionary War began when shots were fired at Colcord and Lexington.
I found a loose stone lying on the public walkway around the church and I intend on washing it, labeling it "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," and using it as a table weight in my office. The history of the church and surrounding grave yard was remarkable. If you are ever in Richmond St. John's is a must stop.
The Appointment Service at Grove Avenue
The appointment service at Dr. Rankin's home church, the Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, pastored by Dr. Mark Becton, was the highlight of my day. The service was inspirational, the music uplifting, the commitment of the missionaries heartwarming. I especially enjoyed Dr. Rankin calling the children of the missionaries to the front before we prayed for them in their future missionary endeavors. Eighty-four new missionaries were appointed and afterwards I was able to visit with many of them personally during the reception. I also had good visits with several trustees during the reception including Hershael York and Ken Whitten.
The hour is late. I must get to bed. I have to be up early for the final plenary session in the morning. I will be traveling back to Oklahoma tomorrow night, but I will not be able to post until late Thursday night due to ministry and meetings all day Thursday. I will also be unable to respond to any comments.
I hope you can tell by my post that I am very hopeful and positive about the future of the IMB. Though two or three trustees may still struggle with the past, the overwhelming and vast majority of trustees are moving forward.
Progress is being made.
In His Grace,