JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jerry Rankin announced Sept. 16 he will retire as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board this summer, ending a 17-year tenure as head of the mission agency.
Rankin will be 68 when he retires on July 30, 2010, he said in a statement to the IMB’s trustees, who were meeting in a one of their regular every-other-month sessions. The statement was released to the press Sept. 16.
“Knowing the eventuality of this time was inevitable, it was only a matter of discerning God’s timing,” he told trustees. “I clearly recognize the danger and debilitating impact on an organization to hold on to a leadership role too long. But neither would I dare lay aside this responsibility prematurely out of preference for my own plans and desires contrary to God’s permission.
“There have been times when I would have readily relinquished this role and walked away to return to the mission field or a less burdensome responsibility. In times of criticism, misunderstanding and personal attack, I thought, ‘I don’t have to put up with this.’ But inevitably there would come that still, small voice saying, ‘Yes, you do!’ In this role I have discovered God’s faithfulness, experienced the depth of his grace and had the incredible privilege of having an overview of his providence at work around the world.”
Rankin’s tenure was marked by significant organizational changes and growth in the board’s missionary force. But in recent years it also saw financial challenges and occasional disagreements with trustees over the IMB’s strategy and focus.
“It has always been my desire to step down from this role in the midst of God’s blessings and while the IMB was riding a wave of effectiveness rather than under a cloud of controversy and discouragement,” he said. “I could enumerate the many times of being confronted by my own inadequacy and failure. I learned that obedience always must preempt personal desires and convenience. Faithfulness does not come without sacrifice. It would be easy to claim some degree of credit and take pride in the growth the IMB has experienced and the global impact we have made, but it has been my desire that no one will be able to identify anything Jerry Rankin has done. It will simply be recognized that I had the privilege of filling a necessary role and bearing a title when God chose to work among us.”
Rankin has scheduled a telephone news conference with Baptist journalists at 9 a.m. EDT on Sept. 17 to respond to questions. The Herald will post a news story following that conference.
His announcement comes several weeks after Geoff Hammond resigned – apparently in response to trustees’ concerns about management style -- as president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board.
Rankin’s retirement also comes in the midst of a major study of the Southern Baptist Convention structure, undertaken by a “Great Commission” task force. A proposal frequently raised – though never addressed publicly by the task force – is a merger of the SBC’s international and national mission boards.
Rober Dilday is managing editor of the Virginia Religious Herald.