IMB: Chitwood 'God's next leader' for entity

EDITOR'S NOTE: IMB released the following report Thursday (Nov. 15) afternoon after Paul Chitwood's election as president of the International Mission Board. To read Baptist Press' earlier report, click here. See text to Chitwood's plenary address below this story.

RICHMOND, Va.(BP) -- Paul Chitwood was elected unanimously as the 13th president of the Southern Baptists' International Mission Board on Thursday, Nov. 15, during trustees' regularly scheduled meeting near Richmond, Va.

Paul Chitwood and his wife Michelle pray together during International Mission Board's trustees' plenary session Nov. 15, following his election as IMB’s 13th president. "What an incredible privilege it is … to [share] in the work of the IMB and leading the IMB," Chitwood said. "It is overwhelming to us, and it is such a blessing to us."
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Chitwood, 48, who has served as executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, took office immediately as the president of the 173-year-old entity, the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals. More than 3,600 Southern Baptist international missionaries serve worldwide, with 42 new missionaries approved for appointment by trustees Wednesday (Nov. 14).

Since September 2018, Clyde Meador, former missionary and IMB executive vice president, has served as IMB's interim president. At Chitwood's request, Meador was approved by trustees to remain in the President's Office as interim executive vice president for several months during the transition.

During the Nov. 15 plenary session, Chitwood shared how God had led him into a saving relationship with Jesus and, later, into the gospel ministry. He said he is grateful for God's grace in His life, exhibited through the local church.

"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 have had the distinct privilege of serving Kentucky Baptists," Chitwood said.

"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."

'Chosen by God'

Paul Chitwood, elected unanimously as the International Mission Board's 13th president, shares about God's grace in his life during trustees' Nov. 15 plenary address. Chitwood also expressed his personal appreciation for the local Southern Baptist church. "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," he said.
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Dr. Chuck Pourciau, pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, led the trustees' Presidential Search Committee. He said when the committee began their task, "God's next leader for the IMB was already chosen. We just had to find him." Pourciau said the committee began by seeking feedback on what kind of president is needed at this time in the history of the IMB.

"Many of you provided valued and appreciated feedback as we sought to understand the traits that would be found in the man already chosen by God," he told trustees during their Nov. 15 plenary session. "We received nominations from all over the world. We spent a great deal of prayer, time, and energy evaluating those nominations to determine which ones we wanted to engage in conversation. We corresponded and spoke with some of the candidates you presented."

In determining the presidential candidate to nominate, Pourciau said, "we heard from God and are convinced we have found the man He indeed had already chosen."

Pourciau said that when seeking the man God already had chosen, the search committee found itself in a dilemma: "In essence, this search was about two sides of the ocean," he said. "The leader of the International Mission Board of the [Southern Baptist Convention] must excel in two completely different environments, one filled with Southern Baptist overseas missionaries and the other filled with Southern Baptist brothers and sisters in the states. That raised many questions. Can any leader excel in both venues? Is one side of the ocean more important than the other?"

"We did finally come to unanimous agreement that we had found the man who would minister effectively and excellently on both sides of the ocean," Pourciau said, stating that man is Dr. Paul Chitwood first and foremost because God led the committee to Chitwood; and second, because they believe Chitwood will, through dedication and team building, bring the IMB great success on both sides of the ocean.

Mission-field perspective

Chitwood's overseas short-term mission involvement includes work in Brazil, Peru, India, China, South Africa, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, England, Spain, Germany and Haiti. He has stated he is committed to IMB's next executive vice president being someone with significant mission-field experience since, as he told the presidential search committee, "I will need an EVP with vast field experience to work alongside me and to advise me."

"Our committee solicited and received recommendations from the field, RVA, state conventions, seminaries, SBC institutions, and Southern Baptists at large," said Duane Ostrem, who recently served as a longtime IMB leader in Asia. "We prayerfully considered every recommendation received. We reviewed countless resumes and interviewed multiple men, including field personnel..... In the end, the entire committee, including myself, unified behind Dr. Paul Chitwood. I am firmly convinced that he is the man to lead our organization for this time in history."

"We need a president who can represent us to the churches," Ostrem said. "We need a president who is well known and highly respected by our constituents. We need a president who will love our [field personnel] and labor tirelessly to support them and their work. Dr. Chitwood will be that kind of president!"

Proven leadership, support

The Kentucky Baptist Convention is the state's largest religious organization with 750,000 members in 2,400 churches and 70 associations. Chitwood has served as executive director since 2011, during which time he led the organization to a greater focus on strengthening local churches, planting new congregations, evangelizing the unchurched, and shifting more funding to international missions. Last year, the convention reported an increase in churches planted and growth in the number of Kentucky Baptists involved in volunteer mission work in Kentucky and around the world.

Chitwood identified the need to move more Cooperative Program funds from state mission budgets to the Southern Baptist Convention budget and, ultimately, to the IMB budget. CP gifts from the Kentucky convention churches grew this year by more than 4.5 percent. Under Chitwood's leadership, the Kentucky convention has increased the amount of their CP budget giving to Southern Baptist Convention causes by 8.5 percentage points.

Prior to his role at the Kentucky convention, Chitwood served as a pastor of local churches of various sizes for 18 years. During his pastorates, he served eight years on the IMB's board of trustees, including two years as chairman of the board (2008-2010). The churches Chitwood led gave an average of 18.5 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.

Every church Chitwood has led or been a member of has consistently participated in the Week of Prayer and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. During his eight-year pastorate at First Baptist, Mount Washington, Ky., the church's LMCO increased by 185 percent. Chitwood said he understands the Cooperative Program is the lifeblood of SBC cooperative missions, but he also understands the LMCO is as important to the IMB as the Cooperative Program.

Unchanged vision

During the plenary session, Chitwood shared how he intends to approach the role of IMB president: "First, I do not plan to bring a new vision to the IMB," Chitwood said. "The International Mission Board's vision is not ours to fashion. God has given it to His 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."

"I look forward to working under the authority of and in partnership with our trustee board," Chitwood said. "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."

Chitwood also said he and his wife Michelle will do all they 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."

Collective commitment

Chitwood committed to work to once again see Southern Baptists' career missionary force growing in number.

"And I believe that can happen," Chitwood said. "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."

Chitwood also committed to guard IMB's reputation, brand and integrity as an organization while seeking to lead the mission force and IMB staff to look more and more like the churches IMB serves. He said he also will 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 ... 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, Chitwood called upon Southern Baptists to make this year's offering the largest in the offering's history.

"Never have the needs and opportunities been as great as they are at this very moment in time," Chitwood said. "We have thousands of missionaries on the field and appointed 42 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' 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."

"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," Chitwood said. "To the fields we must go. Let's go."

A native of Jellico, Tenn., Chitwood is a 1992 graduate of Cumberland College (now University of the Cumberlands), where he has served as a trustee. He earned a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1995 and a doctorate from the seminary in 2001. He currently is pursuing a master's degree in nonprofit administration from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

Chitwood and his wife Michelle have been married for 25 years. Their family includes son Daniel, 22, and daughter-in-law Derrika; daughter Anna, 20; daughter Cai, 12; and a foster daughter, age 6, who they hope will soon join the family through adoption.

The Nov. 14-15 board of trustees meeting was presided over by Rick Dunbar, trustee chairman, a member of First Baptist Church Madison, Miss. IMB's next board of trustees meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6-7 in Richmond, with a missionary Sending Celebration on Feb. 6.

Read endorsements for Chitwood as IMB president from Southern Baptist leaders.

**********See Chitwood's plenary address below.************

Paul Chitwood -- plenary address, Nov. 15

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, 5 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 14, by God's grace, Michelle and I were brought together. We didn't marry at 14. We're from the mountains, and I understand the assumptions -- both of our grandmothers married at 14, 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 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 be 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 42 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' 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 5-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 folk 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.

Julie McGowan is public relations manager for the IMB.
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