‘By God’s Grace We are Here’

Dr. Paul Chitwood gave the following address to the International Mission Board trustees following their unanimous vote to elect him as the 173-year-old entity’s thirteenth president. 

It is by God’s grace that Michelle and I are here today. From Southern Baptist deacons knocking on doors to invite my family to church to share the gospel with us and share with us the plan of salvation as we sat in the pews of a little Baptist church in a mountain town Sunday after Sunday to hear of God’s call on our lives, to hear of God’s call to ministry and missions, and God’s call to the nations. I’m grateful for God’s grace in my life that has been expressed in his local church. I’ve been raised by Southern Baptists. I’ve been educated by Southern Baptists. I’ve been given opportunities to serve and to grow and to lead by Southern Baptists.

It was in 1975 that deacons from a Baptist church in a little mountain town made their way to Provins Street on a visitation night. Up on the hill where the yards turn into woods, they knocked on the door of a little two-bedroom rental house. A single father raising three boys on his own answered the door, and they invited him to church. I was the middle of those boys, five years old at the time. And I’m thankful for God’s grace on that evening.

By the grace of God, Johnny Herron was laid off by General Motors in Ohio and moved back to the mountains of southeastern Kentucky to drive a coal truck. And he brought his daughter with him. When we were fourteen, by God’s grace, Michelle and I were brought together. We didn’t marry at fourteen. We’re from the mountains, and I understand the assumptions—both of our grandmothers married at fourteen, both living in the coal-mining camps—but Michelle and I married some years later. We’ve had the privilege of sharing our lives and sharing God’s call upon our lives, and it is by his grace.

By God’s grace, I heard the call and answered the call to ministry and had the opportunity to serve the Lord’s church, and for the past seven-and-a-half years I’ve have had the distinct privilege of serving Kentucky Baptists.

Being a member of this board for eight years changed my ministry, and it changed my life—so much so that Michelle and I questioned whether God had called us to overseas missions during our time on the board. But wrestling with that call, it became clear that God’s call on our lives was to be mobilizers of the mission and of the missionaries. And what an incredible privilege it is to have that role, to be able to now see the culmination of that role by sharing in the work of the IMB and leading the IMB. It is overwhelming to us, and it is such a blessing to us.

I want to restate some of what I communicated to the board yesterday regarding the approach I will take to my role as president. I assume that responsibility now, and I think those Southern Baptists who will be able to hear my remarks today or hear some of those comments about those remarks will want and need to know what their new president is thinking.

First, I do not plan to bring a new vision to the International Mission Board.
The International Mission Board’s vision is not ours to fashion. God has given his vision to the church. That vision, expressed so clearly in Revelation 7:9, of “a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation” is his vision and, therefore, it is our vision. And we will seek to help Southern Baptists be an even greater part of fulfilling that vision.

Second, I look forward to working under the authority of and in partnership with our trustee board.
A relationship of mutual respect, submission, and partnership between the board and the president is the foundation upon which a successful organization is built, and it is vital to the flourishing of Southern Baptist missions. I will enthusiastically support and implement the policies adopted by this board and will count on the support of the board.

Third, Michelle and I will do all we can to wash the feet of our missionaries, even as we serve and lead our staff.
I will strive to be humble before our churches, accessible to Southern Baptists, and ever bowing before the Lord with his words ringing in my ears, “And you, also, having done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘I am an unworthy servant. I have only done my duty,’” and might that be the humility to which I aspire and we aspire together.

Fourth, I will work.
And I call on Southern Baptists to continue in their work and to increase collectively our commitment to the work. I believe it is the desire of every Southern Baptist to once again see our career mission force growing in number. And I believe that can happen. It will require, however, a greater generosity and a greater willingness to sacrifice.

Thankfully, Southern Baptists are a generous people, and while there are many wonderful causes and organizations out there that we help fund, I want to call on Southern Baptists today to make funding the work of getting the gospel to the nations through our own Southern Baptist missionaries our first priority in giving as we work together to fund the Great Commission and that part of that mission that the Lord has entrusted to us. I will work to continue to form and to fashion an organization that is strong and stable.

We don’t need another reorganization of the International Mission Board in my estimation, but we do need to reestablish a missionary pipeline of God’s choice servants ready to take the gospel to the nations. And I believe that we also need to establish a leadership pipeline where our existing personnel are equipped and empowered to use their God-given gifts to their fullest potential at every level of the organization and where they are always being readied to accept more leadership responsibilities in the organization.

Fifth, I want you to know that in my role, I will seek to guard.
I will seek to guard our partnerships with Southern Baptist churches of every size and in every context. I will seek to guard our relationships with our Southern Baptist entities and the good partners we have in each of those entities. I will seek to guard the relationships we have with our state conventions, and the good partnerships we have with our state conventions. I will seek to guard the relationships we have with local associations of churches, as I know they, too, are an important part of the work collectively of Southern Baptists.

I believe that the Southern Baptist system requires from every level of Southern Baptist life a genuine respect, a deep humility, an unbroken trust, and a mutual loyalty. God has blessed Southern Baptists with an amazing structure and an unrivaled strategy for mobilizing churches and for getting the gospel to the nations through cooperative missions. We should guard and champion and seek to further progress the work of Southern Baptists.

As I work to guard our reputation, our brand, and our integrity as an organization, I will seek to make the mission force and our IMB staff look more and more like the churches we serve. In order to do that, we need more ethnic diversity, more African Americans in leadership, and we need to be more intentional about including females in appropriate leadership roles in order to guard our integrity before the churches.

In guarding our integrity as an organization, I will also seek to use the IMB presidency to champion the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program is the lifeblood of the Southern Baptist system of missions. And while the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® is a source of more funds for the IMB—and I certainly realize that and should realize that — without the Cooperative Program the IMB would suffer from the crippling of theological education in our convention.

Theological education prepares our missionaries for their work, and we need to do all we can to support our seminaries and the partnerships we have with them. Without the Cooperative Program, the work of the state convention in strengthening and supporting the local churches from which our missionaries are called and sent will be weakened. Simply let me say this: the IMB values the Cooperative Program, and I will seek to exhibit that value as well.

With regard to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, I want to call this morning upon you as a board member and call upon our Southern Baptist family to make this year’s offering the largest in our history. Never have the needs and opportunities been as great as they are at this very moment in time. We have thousands of missionaries on the field and appointed forty-two more just last night, and those missionaries deserve our full, generous, and sacrificial support. There are many causes which I and every Southern Baptist can support, but there is no greater cause, no more urgent cause, no more kingdom-impacting cause than Jesus’s Great Commission cause, and I believe there is no greater avenue for supporting that cause than the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Let us rise to the occasion and give of ourselves and our resources to see that the gospel gets to the ends of the earth.

Those deacons who were visiting on a certain night in 1975 didn’t have any way of knowing that, in that rented house at 210 Provins Street, there was a five-year-old boy who needed to be invited to church so one day he could become the IMB president. Those preachers who stood in the pulpit of First Baptist Church of Jellico and preached Sunday after Sunday to 125 folks who gathered—they didn’t know. But it was not what they didn’t know that compelled them to make their visits or preach their sermons or offer their invitations. It was what they did know. And what they did know was that the Lord of the harvest had called them to the fields, and to the fields they went.

In the slums and cities, in the jungles and on the plains, in the provinces and on the plateaus, there are billions waiting to be reached, and the Lord of the harvest has called us to the fields. To the fields we must go. Let’s go.

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® is a registered trademark of Woman’s Missionary Union.