3 Things I Learned from Jerry Rankin

“We are only 4 votes away from dismissing Rankin,” a trustee of the International Mission Board told me years ago.

That was the first moment when I knew that there was a coordinated effort to oust Jerry Rankin from the presidency of the International Mission Board, and it caught my attention.

I am not writing to opine on the inner workings of trustees of another agency. Like all of us, they are imperfect (as am I) and can make their own decisions—sometimes right and sometimes wrong. However, about that time I started watching Jerry Rankin– and I learned much from him over the years.

I was particularly impressed with how he led during very difficult times in the life of our denomination, and think we can learn much from his leadership during that time. Every controversial time in life is an opportunity to learn or an opportunity squandered.  Learning from such times brings wisdom, and such accumulated wisdom is hard to find in people.  All too often we repeat the same mistakes and never make progress when wisdom is right at the doorstep.

“Happy is the man who gains wisdom,” the writer of the Proverbs recorded.

God grant us such.

Things Learned from Jerry Rankin

Here are some things I learned from Jerry Rankin:

First, respond sparingly to your critics.

Jerry always responded to his trustees, but sparingly answered his critics. He seemed to have grasped that statues are never erected in honor of those who live to criticize, and did not worry himself over them.

I once asked Jerry, “Why don’t you publicly respond and turn on the lights to what is going on behind the scenes?” His answer: “Ed, I don’t need to. God brings what they do to light, and every time it hurts them and not us.”

Time has proven him right.

Second, don’t come down from the wall.

Jerry didn’t operate according to hierarchies and did not follow the rules of denominations. He missed meetings that, well, I would not miss. He was not fazed by those who sought to intimidate him. He only cared about the mission.

As much as we wish it wasn’t true, every denomination faces strife within its ranks– and Southern Baptists seem to have more than most. But this was a distraction on which Jerry couldn’t afford to spend his energy. He was– and still is– focused on the Great Commission, and he did not have time to come down from the wall to deal with the sniping. He always listened to his trustees, but he did not have time for pettiness from various quarters of SBC life.

Following Jerry’s retirement announcement, Erich Bridges, longtime IMB writer , said he had never heard Rankin speak that he didn’t utter  the words “a lost world.”

This was the focus of his life as a missionary in the field, the president of the IMB, and in retirement.

Third, believe in the supernatural.

Jerry believes in spiritual gifts, spiritual warfare, and God working miraculously. And, although we might differ on a few things, I find it refreshing. It seems many Christian leaders have become too dignified to trust God for a miracle and pray against a satanic attack.  I am glad Jerry is not among them.  He was uniquely qualified to prepare our SBC international mission force for the darkness they face as they take the gospel of Christ to strongholds of the Evil One.

In a day when our denomination is stuck and stagnant, we need a supernatural move of God. Perhaps we need to believe in the supernatural to pray for such a supernatural awakening.

I’m Thankful for Jerry Rankin

Jerry Rankin would be the first to acknowledge he is not perfect (despite the fact that, like all missionaries, he has a special calling in his life). He learned long ago the special thing about him is Jesus Christ, not himself and his call to missions.

In the last several years I have learned a lot from Jerry.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain… and most fools do.” There is no leader without critics.  Yet, because of what I learned from Jerry Rankin, critics don’t have the influence in my life and ministry they once did. I’m better able to focus on the mission and the goal.

On Friday, Jerry Rankin was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the North American Mission Leaders gathering, sponsored my MissioNexus. It is well deserved and I appreciate him deeply.

Because of Jerry Rankin, I, for one, will lead differently– maybe you will as well.

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  1. Paul Butterworth   •  

    What a beautiful and wise tribute to a man who God used to impact my life and the lives of millions more. Thanks for posting this, Ed.

  2. Dwight McKissuc   •  


    Thanks. It took a little bit of courage to write this. I guess another thing you learned from Jerry Rankin. Well said. Well deserved. Congratulations to Dr. Rankin for the award.


  3. Dave Miller   •  

    Absolutely wonderful article, Ed. Thank you.

  4. Mike Barnett   •  

    It was a great evening in Dallas, honoring the emeritus president of IMB and the current Director of the Zwemer Center at CIU. Good words Ed. We still have a lot to learn from Jerry Rankin!

  5. Guy   •  

    Uncle Jerry is a man of integrity who is the same in person just hanging out, or when he is “on stage”. He is a man who seeks God’s voice. He is a genuine and humble man, with an amazing wife, who’s heart is for God and His Kingdom’s work above politics and denominational hoohoo.

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