By Baptist and Reflector
ROCKVILLE, Va – Alabama Baptist pastor and noted author David Platt has been elected president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
Platt’s election took place Aug. 27 during a trustee meeting held at the IMB’s International Learning Center in Rockville, Va.
Platt, 36, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., will take office effective immediately as president of the 169-year-old Southern Baptist missions entity, the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals. More than 4,800 Southern Baptist international missionaries serve world-wide.
The Alabama pastor succeeds Tom Elliff, 70, who has served as IMB president since March 2011. Elliff asked the agency’s trustees earlier this year to begin an active search for his successor.
Platt said he felt a clear calling from God to leave the pastorate to accept the IMB leadership position. “We talk all the time at Brook Hills about laying down a blank check with our lives before God, with no strings attached, willing to go wherever He leads, give whatever He asks and do whatever He commands in order to make His glory known among the nations,” Platt said in a letter to his church, released Aug. 27.
“Over these past months, God has made it abundantly clear to both Heather and me that He is filling in that blank check in our lives and family with a different assignment. Along the way, God has used the elders of our church to affirm His call, and today He used the leadership of the IMB to confirm it.”
The Atlanta native noted that during a missions trip to Nepal in February he sensed God might be leading him to move overseas.
“It just gripped me in a deeper way,” Platt said. “I came back with a desire to say, ‘How can my life more intentionally be used to get the Gospel to unreached peoples? Maybe I need to move overseas.’ Then the [trustee] search team contacted me and said, ‘Would you be willing to consider [becoming IMB president]?’ And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Why would I be willing to consider moving overseas, but not be willing to consider mobilizing thousands of people in a more intentional way to do that?’
“The Lord has made it so clear, clearer than just about anything else I’ve ever done in my life. I told my wife the only thing I can compare it to is asking her to marry me.”
Platt’s passion for people spiritually lost without Christ — and his calling to reach them — inspired members of the IMB trustee search committee, according to trustee and search committee chairman David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, Fla.
“When we realized his sense of call, whether that meant serving as IMB president or going himself … we realized how passionate, how deeply committed and called he was to the nations,” Uth said in an interview.
“That began for us a new season of discussions with him — and I will add, too, with his wife. The picture we saw of them was a beautiful picture of a one-flesh marriage moving together, following the same call. We sensed as much call in Heather as we did David. … One more thing that really was consuming for us: his passion for lostness. To bring back passion for lostness within the context of Southern Baptist life would be so refreshing. I think it would be a [denominational] rebirth.”
Uth said the trustees also are excited about Platt’s influence among thousands of Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders through The Church at Brook Hills, the Radical network, and other arenas.
“We weren’t looking for a man who knew how to talk about it; we were looking for a man who was doing it — and using the influence he had to affect the nations,” Uth said. “When we considered what Brook Hills was doing to send couples [to the mission field] and to engage people in the pew in kingdom work, we felt like those were clues to how effective he was at mobilizing and getting people to follow the vision that God had given him.”
Though the vote total was note released, Uth acknowledged there was some opposition to Platt’s election but “it was not formidable.”
The author of bestselling books Radical and Follow Me, among others, Platt has been pastor at The Church at Brook Hills, which counts about 4,500 members, since 2006.
He also founded and leads Radical, a ministry that exists to serve churches in accomplishing the mission of Christ. Radical provides resources that support disciple-making in local churches worldwide, organizing events and facilitating opportunities through multiple avenues, all aimed at encouraging followers of Christ in God’s global purposes. Platt has traveled extensively to teach the Bible alongside church leaders and missionaries throughout the United States and around the world.
According to information supplied by the IMB, in 2013 The Church at Brook Hills gave $100,00 to the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, $25,000 through the Cooperative Program; $12,500 to the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home; $300,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions; and $325,000 to the IMB in special designated gifts, for a total of $777,500 or 8.9 percent of the church’s total giving for the year, to Southern Baptist causes. The projection for 2014 is $1,301,000 or 13.8 percent in total projected church giving, with the Cooperative Program amount remaining at $25,000.
Uth and Platt fielded questions from Baptist state paper personnel and others during a telephone press conference following his election.
Platt said he was honored, overwhelmed, and excited about his election. He said he has a desire to help mobilize people for service and to empower local churches to accomplish global missions.
In response to a question about whether he will try to inspire people to give through the Cooperative Program or through designated giving, Platt said, “The last thing the Southern Baptist Convention needs is a do-it-alone International Mission Board that tries to undercut the Cooperative Program.”
He said he would seek to help pastors to be engaged in both the convention and the Cooperative Program.
In a follow up question concerning his church’s perceived lack of support in giving through the Cooperative Program, Platt acknowledged that The Church at Brook Hills “is not a perfect model when it comes to giving.”
He noted that when he came to the church in 2006 as pastor, the church was disengaged from the SBC. “Over the last eight years we have made strides,” he said.
Platt said there are other churches across the convention that are not engaged. The way to mobilize them is not to make them feel guilty for not giving but to show them there’s something worth giving to, he stressed.
Platt observed that the Cooperative Program is “the economic engine that fuels” Southern Baptist missions endeavors, but it “is not perfect.”
He noted that the Cooperative Program should be evaluated for ways on how “to make it better.”
Platt said he desires to work closely with Baptist state conventions and other SBC entities. “I want to trumpet the Great Commission and disciples made here (North America) and among the nations That is what we cooperate for,” he said. The Cooperative Program is the “most effective means” to do that, he said.
Platt also delivered a message to current IMB missionaries.
“I just [want] to say to you, more than anything, that the vision of the IMB remains the same: a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ. If you don’t hear anything else, please hear me say that all I want to do is lock arms with you, with what you’re doing on the front lines, with what’s going on back here in mobilizing churches, to go after that vision. …
“I’ve been so thankful over the years pastoring in the church to partner with so many of you in different parts of the world. I’m thinking about specific brothers and sisters that I’ve had the joy of serving alongside and many others that I look forward to serving alongside in different ways. And I just don’t believe that there is a means that God has blessed so greatly as He has the IMB and this coalition of 40,000 [Southern Baptist] churches working together for the spread of the gospel to the nations.
“I am honored, humbled, overjoyed, and overwhelmed to be in this role, and I just want you to hear from me from the beginning that I am committed to praying for you, to supporting you, to listening to you, to learning from you. … How can we most effectively work together to make disciples of all nations? … I love you, I’m praying for you, and I’m honored to serve alongside you in what is the greatest mission on this earth.”
Randy C. Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, encouraged support for Platt and the IMB during this time of transition.
“For the sake of the 4,500-plus missions personnel around the world and the 1,500 missionary candidates currently in process, I ask all Tennessee Baptists to continue to fully support and pray for Dr. Platt and the International Mission Board,” said Davis, who served as an IMB trustee for 10 years and whose churches were strong Cooperative Program supporters.
“I look forward to our new president being a strong advocate of our Cooperative Program, over half of which is utilized to financially support our Great Commission work around the globe,” Davis said.
(This article includes reporting from Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector editor, and Erich Bridges, a writer from the International Mission Board.)