Dr. 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, Virginia.
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 yesterday.
Since September 2018, Dr. 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
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 SBC 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.
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 (CP) 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 just over 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 percent.
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, Mt. Washington, 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.
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.”
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 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 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, 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 The 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 Dr. Rick Dunbar, trustee chairman, a member of First Baptist Church Madison, Mississippi. IMB’s next board of trustees meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6-7 in Richmond, with a missionary Sending Celebration on Feb. 6.