The Future of the Great Commission Council and the IMB


There are few things sadder to witness than an underutilized Southern Baptist executive in retirement. They sort of slump around conventions year to year, get hauled up on stage for a presentation of flowers and a brief wave to the crowd, then they move on. Back to the Lifeway exhibit hall for some freebies and probably to their much-smaller hotel room for a nap before dinner.

Or now that we can’t fly them around the globe to attend meetings of the Baptist World Alliance in Dar-es-Salaam and Davos, they get saddled with honorific and impotent roles like ambassador for this or global strategist for that or national strategist for the other.  All of which keeps them forever nursing on the Cooperative Program nipple, of course.

We think something more exciting should be available for these men, and something more valuable to the Kingdom should be expected from them than a few minutes of platform nap time at convention meetings or perennial access to official convention stationary to write birthday cards or linecutting privileges at big Baptist buffets.  But hold that thought for a second.

The last four presidents of the International Mission Board have been vastly different. There was Keith Parks, the native Texan and fourteen year veteran of Southern Baptists foreign mission efforts in Indonesia who ended up at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  There was Jerry Rankin, the native Mississippian who also served in Indonesia with the Foreign Mission Board before receiving appointments to India and ultimately a 17-year tenure as IMB president, facing near-constant sniping from Paige Patterson and Keith Eitel at every turn.

Then came the brief interregnum of Tom Elliff, another native Texan who is often described as a true “mystic” and whose contribution at the International Mission Board will be eclipsed by the legacy of his pastoral ministry in Oklahoma and his leadership as SBC convention president the year Dorothy Patterson drafted an article on female submission for the 1998 Baptist Faith and Message.

And now, Southern Baptists are saying goodbye to David Platt, the man responsible for giving Southern Baptists a right-sized, transparent understanding of the health and wellbeing of their foreign mission effort. He knew there were more missionaries on the field than the SBC could pay, so he called some home.

In the last twenty years of Baptist life, David Platt stands out a leader who was willing to tell the hard truth and see a solution through to the end. Along the way, he overturned bad policies, gave field missionaries greater strategic freedom, and mobilized the creative energies of an emerging evangelical community toward more efficient, effective church planting efforts.

For months, the IMB presidential search committee has been doing its work. Names have been tossed around with increasing frequency in recent weeks. There are some who want to see an experienced denominational executive take over the convention’s global mission effort. Men like SEBTS President Danny Akin and Gateway President Jeff Iorg have received consideration.

Some have suggested current president J.D. Greear could fill the role, having himself served as an IMB missionary in Indonesia and leading a church that is presently sending more missionaries to the field than any other SBC church.  Still other names have been discussed around the convention. But like always, the leading candidates come down to one of three categories: (1)a pastor with some appointed mission experience; (2) a field missionary with some regional administrative experience; and (3) a recycled denominational executive or elected convention officer.

And then there is always an outlier — a man like David Platt who didn’t really fit any of those categories and ultimately sensed his gifts and calling were better suited to the pastorate in suburban church context.

But while we were researching the International Mission Board and its strategy to mobilize Southern Baptists to the ends of the earth, we were reminded of the amazing opportunities that are available for retired Southern Baptists to join God among the nations and live out their final years engaged fully in church-planting efforts for unreached people groups.

That’s when it hit us.

Paige and Dorothy Patterson should apply to be long term missionaries with the International Mission Board.  Just read this description from the IMB website and tell us it doesn’t sound perfect for the erstwhile First Couple of Southwestern. We’ve taken the liberties to change the names from the original to make our point:

Paige and Dorothy were just easing into the final stretch of the American Dream when their plans took a sharp detour. Dorothy had spent her entire life training women when one day Paige discovered he was being forced out of the seminary presidency. That very Sunday, Dorothy sat him down and said, “Honey, neither of us is going to be any good at being retired. We’ve got to find something to do!” With their son writing books (sorta) in North Texas and their daughter in Plano and grandchildren in college, Fort Worth just wasn’t home anymore. Not even Texas felt like home anymore. They looked into new hobbies and even considered buying an RV, but nothing seemed to pique their interest.

Then Dorothy ran across a documentary on women’s education around the world. She learned how essential female education is to community health and how many women in developing countries still lack access to basic education. Meanwhile, Paige met a Colombian pastor at a local coffeehouse and ended up spending a solid hour “talking shop” with his fellow minister. Paige was astounded to hear how many pastors around the world have next to no theological training and must make do with just a few pages of Scripture and their own intuition.

That evening over dinner, he fidgeted nervously with the tablecloth as he told Dorothy, “Love, I think I want to move overseas and teach.” She leaped up immediately, clapping her hands and squealing, “That’s what I want to do, too!” They now live oceans away from Beaumont, TX, teaching language and homemaking skills to women in the city and trekking into rural areas to lead indigenous pastors in theological training.

Paige and Dorothy Patterson do not have to leave Southwestern homeless and without a purpose. They should consider applying for a long-term mission appointment with the International Mission Board, put themselves under the tutelage of seasoned church planters (some of whom have Paige Patterson’s name on their seminary diploma) and spend the rest of their years laboring alongside their former students in foreign fields of service with Christ after the lost, L.R. Scarborough style.

Come to think of it, every able-bodied SBC entity head and former convention president should take a long-term appointment to the field upon retirement. Can you imagine how that would revolutionize the way Southern Baptists view both denominational service at home and mission service abroad? Even how we think of retirement altogether?

And can you imagine how meetings of the Great Commission Council would change if every SBC entity head knew that out there — in front of him — was a place on the foreign mission field for him and his spouse to spend their last days planting churches.  Entity trustee search committees could write it into the contract.  After 7 years as president of Southeastern Seminary, the president is required to take a mandatory sabbatical to a foreign mission assignment.  And upon retirement, the president and his wife receive a permanent emeritus status, on campus housing, and an appropriate stipend but ONLY after they go and serve 2 full years on the foreign mission field as church planters.

It would get the retiring president and his wife off the campus and into the field, encourage retirement at an earlier age when foreign mission service was possible, provide some financial incentive for those completing a post-retirement mission service appointment, and set an example of immeasurable value across the Southern Baptist Convention?

Yes, we can envision a much healthier Southern Baptist Convention if Thom Rainer was heading to Malaysia to train indigenous pastors in evangelism and church growth.  Or if Chuck Kelley was planning to spend the  next two years with Rhonda in Algeria working with Berber Muslims. Or what if Al Mohler knew an appointment in Pakistan was awaiting both Mary and him a few years hence, where he would teach basic theology to young Pakistani pastors and allow a dozen or so young men have the benefit of a full mentorship from one of Southern Baptists leading lights for a 3-year intensive program of theological education?

Here’s my point:

Southern Baptist leaders need to start setting better examples about serving the Lord in retirement — and doing so in a way that gets the Gospel to the nations more directly and engages these leaders more strategically in post-retirement mission enterprise.

Put more succinctly: Southern Baptists would probably be more on fire for reaching the lost world if their most recognizable leaders were planning their exits from posts of senior denominational leadership and the comforts thereby afforded for an assignment in Liberia, Argentina, China, or Chile.

Instead, Johnny Hunt leaves Woodstock for Alpharetta.

Distance: 15.7 miles

9 thoughts on “The Future of the Great Commission Council and the IMB

  1. In all seriousness, I said for years Paige Patterson should have been a missionary in Africa. He loves big game hunting & people who have taken mission trips with him have told me he was a different (better) person. I have my suspicions that Dottie P needed a more comfortable lifestyle. Just my opinion.

  2. Under David Platt, Team Strategy Leaders became Team Leaders. Notice the change? They took “Strategy” out of the title. This is quite the opposite of giving field missionaries more strategic freedom. The purpose was to make it a top-down approach (Richmond – field). That has resulted in ALOT of issues. Been in the thick of it. No way under God’s green earth has David Platt and his core team – mostly who have never served long term – been attempting to give field missionaries more freedom.

  3. What I want to know is, what does Johnny Hunt know about evangelism through small churches? Seems like a real nice guy, but he’s a big church guy. It DOES make a difference. Most of the churches in our convention are small and smaller.

    Frankly, I don’t care a rip about paying the way for salaried retirees to go to the mission field to be an example for anybody. Who’s going to pay the way for retired pastors of small churches to go? Who is giving much thought to even paying them some retirement at all?

    NAMB is out of touch with most of the churches. Duke McCall had the right idea.It’s redundant. Abolish it. Let the state conventions and the churches do the work.

  4. Ben,
    Interesting and fun article to read. A couple of minor corrections that are not important but since you put them in they should be noted.

    Keith Parks is native Texan not Tennessean. Probably made the mistake since he was born in Memphis, Texas not Memphis, TN. His parents are from Danville, Arkansas, but moved to Texas before he was born and moved back to Arkansas after he was grown.

    Tom Elliff is a native Arkansas not Texan. Born in Texas but raised in Arkansas to a long time Baptist legacy Arkansas family. Father and grandfather pastored in Arkansas. Lived in Arkansas until he graduated from Ouachita Baptist University as did most of his family members.

    Anon is right, Platt made no effort to give field strategic decision making to field missionaries. Jerry Rankin made the same claim with New Directions and in both cases the opposite happened. Platt turned day to day operation of the main office and many field decisions over to Sebastian Traeger another man with no field missionary experience who operated like a bull in a China closet. Field missionaries were disrespected while trustees sat around acting like see no evil, hear no evil, etc.

    Would love to see entity heads spend a year or two on the mission field. Maybe they would talk with more understanding. I never understood why some trustees seem to think pastoring a mega church is the best preparation for serving as IMB president.
    Ron West

      1. Ben, you’re about Paris, Tx. As I said in my comments, Tom was born in Texas, possibly while his father was at seminary or pastoring. However, Tom was raised in Arkansas, as were his brothers and father and grandfather. Tom and his brother Jim were at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas while I was there. His sister and her husband Bailey Smith were also graduates of Ouachita.
        Thanks again for keeping us informed on the happenings at SWBTS. Is there any word on where Patterson’s stuffed animals are? Are they still in Pecan Manor?

  5. After we pulled out of the Baptist World Alliance at the order of Paige Patterson, in order to pretend we were still interested in cooperating with the world-wide Baptist community, we appointed former SBC president Bobby Welch to a made up position in Nashville to visit Baptist conventions in other countries. This was a waste of CP money that only provided Welch a chance to build up his frequent flier miles. I am not aware the position even exists any more since I believe he unceremoniously left.

    Our missionaries already have good communication and relationships with international Baptist bodies. What was Welch hoping to accomplish. We should go back to the BWA and ask forgiveness and ask if we can rejoin now that Paige is no longer directing SBC decision making.
    Ron West

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