The Tom Elliff Center for Missions at OBU held its inaugural missions forum March 31 on the University's campus in Shawnee. The Center launched in January and is designed to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ, enhance education in missions at OBU and empower missionaries by connecting local churches to OBU and the world. The center is named for Dr. Tom Elliff, former president of the International Mission Board.
The Elliff Center enhances the education experience of OBU students by introducing them to key mission leaders on the field through missions forums and additional campus events. Local churches connect through the center as they send students to OBU and support their efforts to go into the world to advance the gospel. OBU students are then equipped for their callings as missionaries through one of two OBU programs, the Bachelor of Arts in global marketplace engagement and the Bachelor of Arts in cross-cultural ministry. The Elliff Center also partners with OBU’s Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach to equip OBU students for missions through global outreach training and hands-on experience on the mission field. A generous ministry partner has funded the work of the center and provided resources to achieve its purpose.
Dr. Elbert Smith, director of the center and assistant professor of missions, opened the forum and welcomed guests. Dr. Mike Hand, special assistant to the president for great commission initiatives, also offered greetings and extended a special welcome to pastors.
OBU President Dr. Heath A. Thomas then shared with the group, thanking them for coming and thanking them for supporting the mission of the Elliff Center.
“We need to understand the significance of this moment for gospel advance in the world,” Thomas said. “The reason I say that is because OBU was created 112 years ago and the founding vision was very simple…salt the state, this new state of Oklahoma, and salt the world with followers of Jesus who are equipped to live all of life, all for Jesus. That’s our founding vision and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing today as president of this great institution.”
“When we think about this Tom Elliff Center for Missions, what we’re talking about is taking Jesus’ lordship in nursing, in business, in math, in English, in education, in any of the outlets that we have in the educational environment in this University, and leveraging all of those for gospel advance in all the world,” Thomas said. “OBU is a strategic center for gospel advance for the cause of Christ among the nations today. We have the opportunity to add value to the community as a platform for gospel advance.”
“Because of partners and friends who have given to this vision to see the gospel advanced amongst the nations and for OBU to be the leading center in advancing and equipping missionaries to go around the world,” he said, “you have the ability to be equipped by some of the finest in the world.”
“I’m excited about this center…because Jesus really is king of everything. We have the opportunity, the privilege, of telling a lost and broken world that Jesus is king of all.”
Thomas then called those in attendance to join him in praying for several specific things for OBU as the University launches the Elliff Center, including divine favor, divine wisdom, divine insight, and miracles, so that the lost will come to Christ.
Elliff then shared a message about “mission minimums,” sharing the four minimums needed to serve the Lord effectively in missions. First, the Lord wants us to see something. Second, the Lord wants us to feel something. Third, the Lord wants us to know something, and fourth, the Lord wants us to do something.
“I’m sorry if I’m very emotional, but the longer I live, the more it means something to me that people are without Christ,” Elliff said. “The Lord wants us to feel something. The Bible says Jesus felt compassion.”
“But it was not just a feeling. It had a force to it. It was the kind of feeling that says, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’”
Elliff related that to our calling as Christians to share the gospel, noting that Jesus wants our hearts to be touched with compassion for others so that we feel compelled to do something about the lostness that pervades our world.
He then shared about the Elliff Center for Missions and how it equips missionaries for service. He noted the key role the center plays in training students to be equipped for missions, so that when they graduate from OBU, they will not only have experience serving in other contexts but they will also already be trained in the same manner as IMB missionaries.
He shared that the Elliff Center exists, “So that all of the things an IMB missionary would need in order to go to the field,” he said, “can be taken care of here while you are on the campus,” rather than delaying that training until a later date following graduation.
Elliff implored the students to take advantage of this opportunity and to encourage others to do likewise.
“If ever there was a time in history, or a place, or a school, or an opportunity for us to prove what we believe by what we do, it’s right here, right now,” Elliff said. “And the fact that you all are here, the fact that you’re a part of this, the fact that it’s even happening is a miracle in itself.”
“I just want to pour out my heart to you and I just want to say to you, whatever you do, tell your friends, if you’re a student, to get involved,” he said. “So, it is time to prove what you believe by what you do.”
He closed with an encouragement to pastors on how the Elliff Center can partner with them and their congregations for gospel advance.
“And pastors…we want to help you as you guide your students from the church, through the school, to the world, so they can be a multitude of multiplying disciples following Jesus into the harvest. That’s the vision.”
Dr. Tom Elliff served as the International Mission Board’s president from 2011–2014, as senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations at the IMB from 2005–2009, and as a missionary in Zimbabwe from 1981–1983. Elliff has pastored churches in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma including his service as pastor of First Southern, Del City, Oklahoma, from 1985 to 2005. He served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference and two terms as president of the SBC. He is personally serving in the Elliff Center for Missions as lecturer, mentor and facilitator in missions. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Ouachita Baptist University, a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Dr. Elbert Smith, director of the Tom Elliff Center for Missions and assistant professor of missions, began as a church planter in Mexico before overseeing more than 150 missionaries from Mexico to Panama. As director of field personnel orientation with the IMB, he oversaw the orientation of more than 7,600 IMB workers from 2004 to 2019. Before assuming his role with the Elliff Center in January, he served as an international trainer at the Global Training Centre in Redhill, United Kingdom. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in religion from OBU, a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Doctor of Ministry in church and mission from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in applied theology: missions from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Dr. Mike Hand, special assistant to the president for great commission initiatives, served as a pastor for 35 years before going to work for the International Mission Board, where he served as special assistant to the president and church missional strategist. In 2016, he went to work for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma as the partnership mission strategist. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in music from Tennessee Temple College, a Master of Ministry from Tennessee Baptist Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in leadership from Tennessee Temple University. He also received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the Southern Baptist School for Biblical Studies.
Learn more about the Tom Elliff Center for Missions.