Above: Paul Chitwood and other short-term missionaries in South Africa pray for a terminally ill AIDS patient on July 2, 2015. The trip was conducted through a partnership between the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Baptist Global Response, a primary ministry partner of the IMB. Participants delivered buckets filled with supplies to AIDS patients. (Kentucky Baptist Convention Photo)
By Julie McGowan
RICHMOND, Virginia—The International Mission Board trustees’ Presidential Search Committee announced Tuesday, Nov. 6, that the committee will recommend Dr. Paul Chitwood, 48, to be elected as the 173-year-old entity’s 13th president. The vote to elect Chitwood is scheduled for the Nov. 15 plenary session during the Nov. 14-15 IMB board meeting in Richmond.
A former chairman of IMB’s board of trustees, Chitwood currently serves as executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, the state’s largest religious organization with 750,000 members in 2,400 churches and 70 associations. He has served in the role since 2011.
For 18 years, Chitwood served as the pastor of local churches of varying sizes: First Baptist Church, Mt. Washington (2003-11), where he is a member; First Baptist Church of Somerset (1999-2003); First Baptist Church of Owenton (1995-99); and South Fork Baptist Church in Owenton (1993-95). As a pastor, his churches averaged giving 18.5 percent through the Cooperative Program.
During his pastorates, he served as chairman of the IMB trustees from 2008-10, part of his tenure as an IMB trustee from 2002-10. His overseas short-term mission involvement includes work in Brazil, Peru, India, China, South Africa, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, England, Spain, Germany, and Haiti.
“A decade ago, I had the privilege of working with IMB President Jerry Rankin, Clyde Meador, Tom Elliff, and David Steverson to pen the IMB’s vision statement,” Chitwood said. “While the wording was and is important, it simply captures the vision God has graciously given us in His Word. It’s His vision, and the culmination of the work that He has been doing through His church and, since 1845, through Southern Baptists. Our vision is unchanged: a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ.”
‘We need him’
“It is so obvious that God has been preparing Paul for this role in so many ways,” said Dr. Rick Dunbar, chairman of IMB’s trustees and a member of the Search Committee from Madison, Mississippi. “Examine his work history, denominational experience, trustee background, educational history, leadership, and team-building history; hear his heart for missions and the Lord, to be shared with the entire world; listen to his wife as she eagerly anticipates this role — and I think you will agree: We need him.”
Dunbar said the more the search committee talked, prayed and thought about Chitwood, “the more the entire committee has come together united in knowing he is God’s choice for our next president. He has the biblical foundation, a heart for missions, and a proven track record of leading a big organization.”
Dr. Chuck Pourciau, chairman of the Presidential Search Committee and senior pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, echoed Dunbar’s endorsement.
“Little did the Presidential Search Committee anticipate the meandering path that would be this search,” Pourciau said. “There were many twists and turns, but our commitment remained singular. It didn’t matter what path we took as long as we ended up in the right place. The right place is to locate and recommend to the trustees the person God had already chosen as the next leader of the International Mission Board.
“We are unanimously agreed that we have done just that in recommending to the IMB trustees Dr. Paul Chitwood as our next president. Dr. Chitwood is uniquely qualified to lead us into the next era of Southern Baptists reaching the nations. His missions heart and leadership acumen will serve us well in the years to come. I am eager to watch God work through him as he leads our international missions efforts. Yes, brothers and sisters, we did indeed arrive at the right place, and that right place is Dr. Paul Chitwood.”
‘Passionate about missions’
As executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, Chitwood has led the organization to a greater focus on strengthening local churches, planting new congregations, evangelizing the unchurched, and shifting more funding to international missions. He 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. Last year, the convention reported more churches planted and growth in the number of Kentucky Baptists involved in volunteer mission work in Kentucky and around the world.
In consideration of leading the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals, Chitwood has stated that he is committed to the organization’s next executive vice president being someone with significant mission-field experience. Chitwood has traveled extensively overseas in support of the IMB and worked alongside IMB missionaries, Dunbar said, which gives him a view into the missionary life and task but also makes him realize how much he will depend on men and women who have long-term overseas experience.
“I am very happy to join with the rest of the Presidential Search Committee in recommending that Dr. Paul Chitwood be approved as our next IMB president,” said Duane Ostem, an IMB field leader from Asia who served on the committee to provide a field-based perspective. “Dr. Chitwood is passionate about missions. He understands the workings of the IMB. He loves missionaries. His humble but strong leadership style will enable him to work well with our Richmond personnel, our field missionaries, and our Southern Baptist churches. His vision for the future will inspire and guide the IMB as we seek to make disciples of all nations.”
By Chitwood’s request, pending trustee approval, Clyde Meador will remain in the president’s office as interim EVP during the transition. Meador has served as IMB interim president since Sept. 27, 2018.
“I have known Paul for 16 years and have consistently been impressed by and thankful for his commitment to the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth, as well as his excellent leadership skills,” Meador said. “When Paul was serving as chairman of IMB trustees, he became an integral part of the leadership team, even to the point of having a significant part in crafting our vision statement that continues as a guide even today.
“Paul’s keen insight, leadership strength, commitment to the Great Commission, humility, and understanding of the lost world that lies before us, as well as unusual knowledge of the SBC, all combine to make him the ideal next president of IMB.”
‘A proven leader’
Chitwood was Kentucky Baptist Convention president in 2005-06; first vice president in 2003-04; and president of the state pastors’ conference in 2002. He was chairman of the SBC Committee on Nominations in 2015-16, and he also has served on several other state mission committees and in associational leadership committees. He has served as a trustee of Crossings Ministries, Sunrise Children’s Services, Kentucky Baptist Foundation, Oneida Baptist Institute, Baptist Haiti Mission, and Bridges to Nigeria.
He is an adjunct professor of leadership at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously has been an assistant professor of missions and evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, University of the Cumberlands, and Boyce College.
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.
“As I have studied our IMB history and our past presidents, it is clear that God continues to build on the foundation laid down by so many,” Dunbar said. “I have served as a trustee under Jerry Rankin, Tom Elliff, David Platt, and Clyde Meador. They are all different, but I believe that each was called to this position with a unique perspective and giftedness, and we thank God for all of them. Paul brings a unique perspective also. He is a proven leader, motivator, and mobilizer, he is committed to missions, and he gives his all to the pursuit of God’s will.”
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.
“Michelle, his wife, is fully committed to this role, and we see qualities in her that will compliment Paul in the president’s role,” Dunbar said. “She is eager to be an active part and sees this as a calling for her also. She embraces the challenges this role presents. She sees their family’s role not as a sacrifice but an opportunity. She will be a great asset to the IMB. You will love her.”
On Feb. 12, 2018, former president David Platt asked trustees to begin their search for the next president of the mission entity. The trustees’ presidential search committee accepted presidential nominations through May 15, and a committee of more than a dozen trustees plus a former field leader have worked diligently since February. Trustees will vote on the recommendation of Chitwood as president during their plenary session, scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 15, at 10 a.m. EST.
Prior to the vote, Southern Baptists will honor the appointment of new missionaries during a Sending Celebration in Richmond on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. EST. Forty-two Southern Baptists will be presented as candidates for appointment at the Nov. 14 meeting.
A digital press conference for media is slated for Nov. 15 from 2-3 p.m. EST, contingent on Chitwood’s election. Media interested in attending the Nov. 15 plenary session or the press conference should contact Julie McGowan (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Jennifer Nix (email@example.com) by Noon on Friday, Nov. 9. The press conference will be accessible for media by WebEx, and it also will be broadcast on Facebook Live (@imb.sbc).