A New President of the International Mission Board

With the announced retirement of Dr. Tom Elliff as president of the International Mission Board, the board began a search for a new president and elected Dr. David Platt by a margin of 75 to 5. When the word went out across the Convention, the news was received with a variety of emotions. Some were glad, for a young, passionate, articulate leader had been elected to guide Southern Baptists in seeking to reach our world for Christ. Though he has not served as a missionary, he has certainly lived with a heart for a world that needs Christ. Others, upon hearing the news, were mad. Maybe more than anger it was just a frustration and disappointment that a man who is pastor of a church who had given so little support to missions through the Cooperative Program and even the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions would be elected to lead that organization. I listened in the post-election interview as Dr. Platt explained that when he went to his church they had virtually no connectivity and little cooperation with Southern Baptist missions. During his time as pastor he led them toward increasing their support. He even stated in the interview that he never held his church up as the example of how churches were supposed to support the Cooperative Program or missions. Obviously, he, like all of us, lives in a world that maybe is not perfect and maybe is not like we think it ought to be. But some folks upon hearing the news, and the whole set of circumstances surrounding it and the person who will now be our president, were just sad. I say they are sad because I’ve heard that reflected in their voices and their conversations, as the focal point of our mission cause has risen to an opportunity of criticism and controversy, even condemnation, rather than being focused on a Savior who indeed is the only hope of this world.

Obviously, there are many feelings and clearly everyone has an opinion. In the midst of all that was said and is being expressed, I thought of the young doctors who are in medical school preparing to do a great work. It doesn’t take long for them to run into the old cliché thought that is so true. DO NO HARM. The fact is doctors practicing their trade may not always be able to help and may not be able to bring the right application of expertise or science that will make everything okay; but whatever you do, even if you can’t improve a person’s situation, do no harm. It seems to me that that advice would be good for us to pause and contemplate related to our International Mission Board. Before we speak or criticize or say too much, make an internal commitment that whatever we do we will seek to do no harm. In what way you might ask. Well, let me just give you a few thoughts on how harm could be done.

Number One, do no harm to our missionaries. There is an army of gifted, God-called missionaries who have been sent out around the world to serve Jesus and on our behalf. They are our missionaries and the program of worldwide missions is larger than one person. It involves thousands of men and women and their families, many of whom are living under difficult circumstances and often at high risk in order that the people of the world might know of Jesus. We love them. We must pray for them and continue to support them more than ever. I know there are some who have expressed their thoughts that, since our new president didn’t give like they think he should have, that they are going to stop giving. Personally, that makes little sense to me that you would criticize someone for what they didn’t do, but you are going to use them as the example of what you’re going to do. Our missionaries deserve our support. Do no harm.

Secondly, I would simply ask you to do no harm concerning a world of lost people, many of whom have never heard the name of Jesus. Leaders come and leaders go, and presidents are elected and presidents change, and the cause that brought Jesus here to give His life for our sins and the sins of the world must not become secondary to anybody or anything. For a moment, put yourself on the receiving end of the good news of Jesus. Although you have come to know who He is and what He can do in your life, and the peace and the joy and purposeful life He has brought to you, what if you were waiting to be the recipient of that precious gift from God? Surely if you had any idea of how marvelous God’s love and provisions would be for you, you would hope that nothing would cause those who were the recipients of that gift to be stopped, deterred, or slowed in any way from getting the message out so that you could hear. We have the good news and the waiting world must hear from us. We must not be stopped and we must do no harm.

But last of all, which is in reality first of all, do no harm to our wonderful Lord. We have a magnificent mission heritage in Southern Baptist life, but wanting to hold up our great tradition pales into insignificance in comparison to wanting to honor Jesus. What does He want us to do? What would He have us to say? What is the spirit in which He would have us to act and react? We represent Him and while neither I nor you nor anyone else can control what others do, think or say, we can commit to do no harm and seek to do our best to honor Him and serve Him all the days of our life.

So then if we do no harm, what can we do to help? Three words. Pray. Pray for our missionaries, pray for our new president, pray for yourself and what God would have you to do, pray for your church, pray for a world that is in need of Jesus, pray. Say. Speak up for the calling and cause of Christ. Be positive about the call to missions and our call to be involved in what Christ would be involved in. Pay. In a world that seems to be headed toward war in every direction and morally bankrupt at almost every sector, the need for Christ to be exalted has never been greater. You can help provide the resources to make sure that the work of Jesus is not going to be left behind, undone, or uncared for. God bless you.

Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer