Jerry Rankin served as IMB president for 17 years before his retirement in July 2010. Executive Vice President Clyde Meador, who oversees day-to-day operations of the global missions entity, took on the added responsibility of interim president when Rankin retired.
Both think Elliff, elected as IMB president March 16, has what it takes to mobilize Southern Baptists for international missions in the coming years.
"Tom brings an amazing combination of qualities to the task," said Rankin when contacted for comment. "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 IMB senior executive team member. 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."
Elliff will need all those strengths and more for the task to come, Rankin predicted.
"The next president faces the challenge of leading IMB in a new paradigm of limited financial resources, declining numbers of missionary personnel and … a convention that is becoming more and more fragmented and diverse," Rankin said. "Prayer will be needed for his greatest challenge: building support and credibility for the vision among Southern Baptist churches and leadership. …
"It is uncertain where the SBC is going in this era of change. Someone of Tom's reputation and stature is clearly needed at this critical time," Rankin said.
Elliff is passionate about evangelism and missions, Rankin said. But he is "able to put issues into a big-picture perspective. He never allows disagreements and differences of opinion to disrupt a personal relationship. He is an optimist who infects those around him with joy for life and deeper faith in God."
Elliff contributed to IMB "revisioning" that resulted in its current organization and strategy, Rankin said. He understands the philosophy behind it but also has the flexibility to "move IMB to a new dimension of effectiveness around the world," Rankin said.
During the long search for a new IMB leader, much speculation and discussion "focused on whether or not the next president should be an insider or outsider," Rankin said. "More important than that is that it should be God's man. The fact that everyone was surprised confirms to me that God brought about this recommendation."
Meador, who will provide crucial assistance to Elliff as he settles into his new role, thinks the new president will keep the mission vision "clearly before our personnel and Southern Baptists."
Elliff has a "close walk with the Lord, knows IMB, is a great communicator -- both speaking and listening -- and is realistically optimistic in every situation," Meador observed. "He can always be trusted, and he can be counted on to consult. I'll be praying for him for wisdom in setting priorities and in making the big decisions and for energy in the face of great demands. I will walk beside him in every matter where he needs my assistance, and I expect we will be working very closely together.
"I am thankful that the Lord has brought Tom to this responsibility at this time."
Erich Bridges is an International Mission Board global correspondent.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net