LAS VEGAS (BP) -- Call down God's fire or shuffle into irrelevancy -- that's the warning Tom Elliff gave trustees of the International Mission Board during their Feb. 26-27 meeting in Las Vegas.
Speaking from 1 Kings 18 (Elijah and the prophets of Baal), IMB's president challenged trustees to ask God to show His power among the nations much like He did when Elijah beckoned fire from heaven, turning Israel's heart back to the Lord.
Elliff outlined five questions trustees must ask themselves if they are serious about fulfilling the Great Commission. But the questions aren't just for trustees or missionaries, Elliff added. They are for every Southern Baptist.
Missions is the "stack pole around which the SBC was formed 168 years ago," Elliff said, pointing out that the Southern Baptist Convention and IMB are "inextricably woven together." The degree to which Southern Baptists focus on the needs of a lost world serves as a barometer for the health of the entire denomination, he noted.
If not now, when?
Southern Baptists can no longer afford to delay, Elliff told trustees. They must choose now to live their lives in a way that demonstrates total devotion to the plan and purpose that Christ has for every believer -- specifically, making disciples of every tribe, tongue and nation.
If not me, then who?
"We live in a generation that tries to shuck responsibility," Elliff said. "We don't want to be responsible for anything. But we are responsible, whether we think so or not. ... Elijah thought he was the only prophet left in Israel, and even though he wasn't, what strikes me is that he was willing to do something about it."
If not here, then where?
Noting IMB's role as the collaborative point for Southern Baptists' international missions efforts, Elliff urged greater support from SBC churches. He said it is "appalling" to think that Southern Baptists are not sending out thousands more missionaries, but emphasized that IMB can deploy only the number of people Southern Baptists are willing to support. "We are ready to recruit, train and deploy thousands more into the dark corners of this globe, but Southern Baptists must first give multiplied millions more through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon offering," he added.
If not for God, then why?
Elliff also asked Southern Baptists to question their motives for missions, evangelism and church planting, cautioning against false pride and self-serving interests. "If we don't do everything we do for God, if He's not paramount ... then why do we have a heart for the lost? It's because He has a heart for the lost."
If not by prayer, then how?
Touching on the essential role of prayer in calling down God's power, Elliff emphasized the role of IMB's "School of Prayer for the Nations." Though still under development, Elliff envisions the school as a tool to help train and focus Southern Baptists' prayer for global Gospel advance. "If we don't do this by prayer ... what fuel do we have in the engine?" he asked. "We've got to pray that God would rain down His power on us in full force."
Elliff announced plans for five key commitments he's going to ask of every Southern Baptist in June at the SBC's annual meeting in Houston. The challenge will include daily, weekly, monthly and annual commitments from both individuals and churches, including prayer, giving and connecting with Southern Baptist missionaries overseas -- as well as going to the mission field.
"I believe that if Southern Baptists will ask those questions, I believe that if you and I get honest, the fire of God will fall on us," Elliff said. ", we'll shuffle off down a long, dark hallway of irrelevancy and become just one more of those old denominations people talk about."
New affinity leader
John Brady, the newly appointed head of IMB's global strategy office, introduced trustees to the one who will fill his former shoes as the strategy leader for the Northern Africa and Middle East peoples (NAME) affinity, Jack Logan*.
"NAME is stirring, the nations are raging. If you watch the news, you can't miss it," Logan told trustees. "The Arab Spring is more than a season, it's a new reality," he said, adding that God is using the chaos to open doors for the Gospel.
Refugee work has provided some incredible encounters, Logan said, explaining that NAME personnel are "constantly coming in contact with people whom God is already preparing to receive the Gospel. He is orchestrating events and circumstances that we could've never imagined before."
Logan shared a story about a man named Kam* who was helping a Southern Baptist relief team distribute food and hygiene kits to refugees. Kam served as the team's guide, taking them to homes where help was needed most. Though he wasn't a believer, Kam began surprising relief workers with a unique "announcement" as he entered refugees' homes. "Are you dead or alive?" Kam would ask, telling families that the relief workers were there to share "how they could have life."
"He knew exactly what the team was going to do when they came into a home. They were going to meet the needs in the name of Jesus, but they were also going to boldly proclaim the Gospel," Logan said. "There are just over half a billion people in NAME, and the vast majority are walking dead. They're covered in darkness, blinded by the god of this world.
"We need to reset our expectations. They are most often defined by past experience or present realities. But our expectations should be defined by what we believe God will do," Logan said. "And He is up to something that we've never seen before, and He's doing it in the driest, darkest and most dangerous places. Pray that we would believe. Pray also that we would have people who would rise up, count the cost ... and follow after Christ to these difficult, difficult places."
David Steverson, IMB's vice president of finance, updated trustees on financial news, noting that IMB was $4 million under budget in 2012. Steverson said that's evidence of sound planning and stewardship.
With a hearty "Amen!" trustees also welcomed a motion to accept four estate gifts to IMB totaling more than $1.7 million. Elliff told trustees about his plan to strengthen IMB's development department, citing a desire to "utilize every resource we can to speak to Southern Baptists about the importance of giving, so that others might go." Elliff said his goal is to better assist pastors in leading church members to consider making estate plans that provide for Kingdom purposes.
Trustees appointed 62 missionaries, honoring them at an appointment service at Las Vegas' Hope Church.
The next IMB trustee meeting will be May 14-15 in Springdale, Ark., in conjunction with a missionary appointment service May 15 at Cross Church (Pinnacle Hills campus) in Rogers, Ark.
*Names changed. Don Graham is an IMB senior writer.
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