Elliff, 67, a longtime pastor, Southern Baptist Convention leader and former missionary, will lead one of the largest evangelical missions agencies in an era of rapid change at home and around the globe.
The greatest mission challenges, he said, are the world's overwhelming spiritual lostness and the urgency of mobilizing churches to take the Gospel of Christ to all peoples.
"We must realize that we're in a world that is hostile to the message of the Gospel, yet there are so many people who are longing to hear," Elliff said. "That's why we must go to the uttermost now. Frankly, I think we live in a generation of students who are asking, 'Why do we keep hearing about these unreached people groups? Why don't we just go reach them?' I believe we are seeing, even in our own convention, a groundswell of men and women of all ages who have the heart and are willing to go to the unreached now."
Addressing questions about his own age, Elliff added: "I'm not coming as an 'interim.' I'm coming with a vision -- and I will serve as long as God gives me grace and energy."
Elliff succeeds Jerry Rankin as president of the mission board, which serves Southern Baptists and the 5,000 missionaries they send worldwide. Rankin retired July 31, 2010, after 17 years as IMB president. Executive Vice President Clyde Meador has served as interim president during the search for a new leader.
"This is the result of many months of missionaries praying, Southern Baptists praying and our trustees praying," said IMB trustee chairman Jimmy Pritchard, who led the presidential search committee. "God has answered our prayer."
Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, who attended the trustee meeting, praised Elliff's election.
"Tom Elliff is a pastor, a missionary, a godly man and a prayer warrior," said Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. "The preparation of God in this is just fantastic. I'm excited, and I'm thankful that the search committee kept waiting on God, for God's timing and God's man. They are to be commended."
Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee who also was in attendance, told Baptist Press, "What a unified group of trustees! It was a time of tremendous excitement and joy.
"In his inaugural comments, Brother Elliff gave an impassioned call for winning this world to Christ," Page said. "He spoke of the passionate need for churches to be more involved in the work of missions. He also affirmed the centrality of the Cooperative Program to help fund the work of Southern Baptist missions.
"Having known Dr. Tom Elliff for many years, I can tell you he is a man whose heart is pure, whose devotion is unquestioned and whose competence in missions is unparalleled," Page continued. "Our prayers are with Tom and Jeannie Elliff as they begin this new phase of their lives. I call on Southern Baptists to pray in earnest for God's hand of favor upon Tom and the entire International Mission Board. Crucial days of opportunity are before us. Let us join together in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ in this generation."
Rankin, who recruited Elliff to a high-level IMB assignment during his tenure, said the mission board's news president "brings an amazing combination of qualities to the task. He has a deep personal walk with the Lord that inspires and challenges others. His heart for missions grows out of a personal calling. His understanding of mission strategy comes from years of involvement as a missionary, pastor and senior executive team member at IMB. He has great communication skills, genuine passion to reach a lost world, the favor and respect of missionaries and IMB staff, and he is well-connected with the churches and Southern Baptist Convention leadership."
Born in Texas, Elliff is a fourth-generation Oklahoman and third-generation pastor. He served with his wife Jeannie as a missionary to Zimbabwe in the early 1980s. They resigned in 1983 after their daughter Beth was seriously injured in a car accident there.
He was twice elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, in 1996 and 1997. He has led several key churches in the denomination, including First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Okla., where he was pastor from 1985-2005.
Elliff then served as IMB senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations from 2005-09. In that role, he taught and counseled missionaries and helped mobilize churches throughout the convention for missions involvement. Since then he has led Living in The Word Publications, a writing and speaking ministry he founded in 2005. He is the author of numerous books about prayer, spiritual awakening and family life.
Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.
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