Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Brief Tribute to Dr. Jerry Rankin

The good folks over at SBCImpact have asked me to write for them from time to time which I consider an honor. I wrote this for them a couple of weeks ago and since I have been slow to post anything new here I will repost this for the benefit of those who did not see it on SBC Impact. I have several good stories to tell and hopefully will get time to write them down soon. In the meantime here is my tribute to Dr. Jerry Rankin who recently announced his plans for retirement as my boss.

Dr. Jerry Rankin has announced that he is retiring as the President of the International Mission Board as of July of 2010. I will tell you right up front that I am a big fan of Dr. Rankin. I was a pastor in West Virginia when Dr. Parks resigned. I was very concerned that the mission that Southern Baptists were on was going to be sidelined. We needed a peacemaker who could come in and assure everyone that the then FMB was going to be both conservative and effective. From the first vote there was controversy, but I believed then and have believed ever since that Jerry Rankin was the man God had for this position for this time.

Now, history according to Strider is a little different than history according to… well, everyone else. So, here is a part of the story you may not have heard that defines what I love about the Rankins. Keith Parks had a passionate vision to get to the unreached of the world. Missiologists had talked for a century or more about the need to get the Gospel where it had never been heard before but done little. Dr. Parks worked hard to realign our resources to get where we had never been before. But he was a bull in a china shop and the constant fighting with Trustees and everyone else made him less effective than he should have been. Maybe that is not fair, I am not his judge. I just know that when Dr. Rankin took over the FMB was split into two odd shaped entities. Traditional mission stations still flourished in a few dozen countries- though the vast majority of our resources were in Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria. Then there was CSI. Cooperative Services International was developed by Brit Towery to reach into Communist China. It was appropriated against his will to become what was then described as the ‘humanitarian arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.’ CSI became a platform to get Christian workers to all kinds of countries that would not allow traditional missionaries with traditional missionary visas to go. It was new and it was exciting and it grew like crazy under the leadership of some of the most remarkable men of faith I have ever known. Within a few years it had three regions spanning the length of the 10/40 window. It had a linear organizational structure and it moved fast and efficiently when opportunities arose to get personnel into formerly ‘closed’ countries.

There were lots of problems with all of this but the relavant one to list here is that Dr. Rankin hated it. CSI was like an estranged relative in the FMB family. Its personnel were all ultra security conscious, some early Strategy Coordinators would not even tell the home office where they were because they believed they would compromise their security. They were probably right! The fight was on. I was appointed CSI by the way, and I still love the ethos that we had- and in some places still have. In 1997 Dr. Rankin instituted New Directions. When we first got word of this we thought our work was finished. CSI was disolved. We would be platformless in the middle of hostile territory. As we read and reread the e-mails the truth began to dawn on us however. CSI didn’t disappear, it took over! The ethos and linear structure of CSI was placed on the whole new IMB. I didn’t understand it at first but later came to a startling conclusion. Dr. Rankin hated CSI and had constant conflict with its Regional Leader but when it came time to reorganize he did what he always did. He got on his knees and asked God what He wanted. I am sure no one was more surprised at the answer than Jerry. He had wanted to reorganize to get rid of an administrative and relational irritant but heard God say much more than he bargained for. But when Jerry Rankin hears from God he moves in faith to do it regardless of the price to be paid by himself or anyone else. He swallowed his pride and reorganized. It could have been done better. No one- least of all Dr. Rankin- denies that. One problem was that while Dr. Rankin swallowed his pride the Regional Leader of CSI could not reconcile with him and work with him. If he had taken the VP slot offered him everything would have been different but it didn’t happen that way.

Dr. Jerry Rankin is a man of prayer, a man of passion for God and His glory, a man of humility and grace. When 9/11/2001 shook America he took a lot of phone calls some loudly demanding that we remove our personnel from those ‘dangerous places.’ Some insisted that Dr. Rankin not allow their loved ones to serve in those dangerous Muslim countries. He replied that that is where his own daughter was serving! He walks his talk. Dr. Rankin has now walked us through another reorganization which streamlines our support process. Through it all he never shies away from conflict, he never sways from what God is calling him to do, and he never fails to be exceedingly gracious as he does it. I am very proud to serve with this man and his wife who deserves her own post or three written about her. As long as Southern Baptist produce men and women of God like this I want to be known as a Southern Baptist.

Thank you Dr. Rankin, for your service, your example, and your perseverance. You are welcome here in Middle Earth anytime.


Paul Burleson said...


You said among a lot of other good things..."Thank you Dr. Rankin, for your service, your example, and your perseverance." I concur.

During the rather well known difficult time one IMB trustee, whom I know quite well personally, had with the IMB Trustee leadership, I had occasion to communicate with Jerry Rankin a few times via e-mail. I had heard him once before but to my knowledge had never met him. I was pleasantly surprised to know that we had connected in the past in a way that had slipped by me but of which I was reminded by him and was pleased to be reminded of it.

He has given leadership to several of my family members who have served in Chile and have children who still are serving there.

He was staight forward in thanking me for the character of the Trustee whom I know well and for the courage that trustee displayed while involved in that difficulty as he shared with me what he could of the situation.

While being aware that no one of us has it ALL together, all in all, I believe Dr. Jerry Rankin is as you have described him. Thank you Strider for leading a chorus of well deserved appreciation for a leader in SB life.

Strider said...

Thanks Paul, Perseverance is one of the most important Kingdom virtues. Concerning the situation with the Trustees and the earlier situation with the signing of the BFM 2000 Dr. Rankin could have insisted on his own way. There were many who felt he should have stood up for us and protected us better. But from my perspective what he did was to stay on task regardless of the storm around him. When the BFM 2000 came out I was certainly one who, as a Baptist, was not about to bow down and sign some kind of creed for anyone- which is what they wanted us to do. But Dr. Rankin in his letter to the field asked us not to be sidetracked from the work God had called us to do. The call of God was more important than this issue and I agreed with him and signed the document even though where I am I could not even get a copy of it to read. There were some good men and women who would not sign and decided that this was the battle they wanted to fight. Dr. Rankin led me by example in this and I decided that the battle for me to fight is for the Kingdom of God here in Middle Earth. That battle I will keep fighting as long as He is calling me to it.
I am grateful to those who have fought on our behalf so that we might remain on task. As Nehemiah found, there are many reasons to give up, give in, or get sidetracked but if we stay on the tasks that He has for us He will take care of every distraction. Dr. Rankin, that former trustee, and yourself have been such faithful men who have insured that we will stay on task. Again, I am grateful.

Paul Burleson said...


You've expressed some of the same thoughts some of my family members on the field had at the time. I understand them completely and appreciate your life and ministry more than you know.

One of the strange phenomenons of the Internet is that I feel I know your heart so well while not knowing your face at all. How strange is that? Were we to meet tomorrow it would be my putting a face to a dear brother whom I believe I know so well. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

good summary, although I think it is a bit harsh on Dr. Rankin. You may find it interesting that GCI in Texas is reviving a lot of csi bravado. They brag on the way that csi did not always do it right, but at least they did it. (Hmmm. CSI as an organization is singular, but the people are plural. Grammatical consistency did not seem important in 95 either.)
Keep working and writing.
Another csi emeritus alumni or something. Would love to buy you a cup of coffee and chat strategy with you again.

Strider said...

Ok Anon, I don't know who you are but I am up for the coffee and conversation! As far as being hard on Dr. Rankin you should check out the comment stream on the SBCImpact post that I did. Others don't see the reorganization as I do- which is not surprising! CSI had a lot of bravado but the quieter guys walked in faith in ways that we have not seen since the early Church. I would love to recover the faith, the sacrifice and the vision without picking up the bravado but maybe we humans are not capable of that. Thanks for stopping by.