Elliff challenges Southeastern students to take on a missional heart

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by Michael McEwen

Tom Elliff previously served as the International Mission Board’s senior vice president for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations. In addition to his work, Elliff pastored for forty-two years, during which time he served as the president of the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Currently, he serves as president of the International Mission Board. This past Wednesday, Elliff addressed Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Binkley Chapel. 

Elliff opened up with the statistics that there exists 3,800 unreached people groups and three one-hundredths of one percent of Southern Baptists missionaries live amongst seven billion people overseas. He then asked the question, “What is it going to take to get us there?” Elliff entitled his message “Do You Have a Heart for Missions?”

Reading from Romans 1:14-17, Elliff said, “We learn about the heart of missions by listening to the heart of a true missionary, namely Paul; and, indeed, this should be like you as well.” After he read from verses fourteen to seventeen, he pointed out that Paul uses the phrase “I am” three times within these three verses. 

“I am…I am…I am.” said Elliff. “And we are instructed in three ways as to how we are to have a missional heart from these ‘I ams.’” Focusing on verse fourteen of Romans 1, Elliff noted point one of a missional heart: “You’ll be compelled by the presence of a serious debt. As Paul says, ‘I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.’ But not only is this a serious or obligatory debt, it is a personal debt. Paul looked around him and seriously understood that he had an indebtedness to the people around him.”

Noting Paul’s words in verse fifteen––“So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome”––Elliff said, “Secondly, Paul is consumed with the passion of a sacred desire. It is the simple story of Christ that we are to have confidence in.” 

Discussing point three alongside verse sixteen of Romans 1, Elliff said, “It’s confidence in the power of a simple declaration of the gospel. Or in the words of Paul, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel.’ Why do we stay so reserved that if we tell this man we believe we’ll miss another? Who knows where the seeds of the gospel will grow, so let us sow the seed abundantly like Paul who declared without shame.” 

Closing his message, Elliff said, “The gospel may be hard to understand at times, but it is simple to say; so let us, in our indebtness, proclaim passionately and confidently the gospel to the ends of the earth.” 

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