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A governor, a president & friends laud Jim Henry

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Jim Henry’s retirement was marked by a weeklong celebration of his 28-plus years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando — and an outpouring of gratitude.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, via videotape, said Henry’s “heartfelt commitment, leadership and ministry has touched countless lives, including my own. It’s no wonder that your influence has been felt not only in Florida but across the world through your many accomplishments as a two-term president of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

President Bush, meanwhile, wrote in a letter:

“Congratulations on your retirement from the First Baptist Church of Orlando after serving in ministry for nearly 29 years. Faith plays an important role in the lives of many Americans, offering strength and guidance for the challenges of every new day. By encouraging the celebration of faith and sharing the message of God’s love and boundless mercy, you have helped put hope in people’s hearts and a sense of purpose in their lives. I applaud your years of dedication to serving others and send my best wishes for an enjoyable retirement. May God bless you and may God continue to bless America.”

John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, said, “I can tell up close there is not a finer human being on the face of planet earth than Dr. Jim Henry.”

Speaking, for example, of Henry’s role as SBC president during the mid-1990s in raising thousands of dollars to help rebuild burned African American churches, Sullivan said, “It was one of those rare moments when the response of the convention was everything that it should have been and Jim was the leader in that.”

Among others voicing appreciation for Henry in conjunction with the March 19-26 celebration at the Florida church:

— Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee:

“I have known Jim Henry most of my adult life. From the first time I met him until now his integrity has been impeccable and his humility genuine. He preaches God’s Word with power and passion. He has a Spirit-led compassion for saints and sinners. He is a personal soul-winner and a loving pastor, leading the First Baptist Church of Orlando to becoming one of the truly great churches in the nation. In the mid-‘90s Southern Baptists expressed great confidence in his leadership by electing him president of the convention. He is devoted to supporting Southern Baptist missions and always led the churches of which he was pastor to give generously though the Cooperative Program.”

— James T. Draper Jr., retired president of LifeWay Christian Resources:

“I have known Jim Henry for around 35 years. Few men have the passion for people and the devotion for serving God’s people as a church grows and expands that Jim Henry possesses. His sweet spirit has endeared him to all who know him. … He has excelled as the pastor of a downtown church who could love and lead his people to move locations and develop one of the premier Christian centers in the world there in Orlando. Most of all he is a man with incredible kindness and gentleness, yet courageous to stand on his convictions. He has modeled training laypeople to do the work of the ministry and has led in developing deacons into servant-leaders over the 35 years I have known him.”

— Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Henry’s alma mater:

“I would not be surprised to look up the word pastor in the dictionary and find the name Jim Henry beside it. So warm and gentle is his spirit, he makes all who meet him or know him feel like they are good, close friends. It is a difficult thing to grow a mega-church in a resort setting, but he has done that. It is difficult to stay in a church a long time and keep making adjustments to your ministry along the way to enhance your effectiveness, but he has done that. It is more difficult still to do all the building and spending required to support the phenomenal growth of a mega-church and steadfastly continue to be one the leading contributors to the Cooperative Program of the SBC in all the history of the SBC. Jim Henry is as passionate about the worldwide ministries of the SBC as he is about the worldwide ministries of his church. He has shown us you do not have to choose which to support in a major way. May his model for ministry be with us until Jesus comes back!”

— Jay Strack, member of First Baptist Orlando and president of Student Leadership University:

“Scripture clearly teaches in Matthew 7:16, ‘By their fruit you will know them.’ Jim’s vision to relocate to an undeveloped part of Orlando actually built the city around the church so that the influence is citywide and national. His ministry has been marked by significant growth in attendance, baptisms, offerings and those called to fulltime Christian service. It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing. … In short, Jim Henry ‘biggie-sizes’ the definition of ‘pastor.’”

— Shirley Mallory, church member for 62 years and a member of the search committee that brought Henry as pastor:

“We saw that he was humble. We saw that he was a great scholar. We saw kindness, gentleness; he’s never, never put himself out in the forefront, it’s always the Lord Jesus Christ and what He’ll do for you.”

— Randall James, president of First Orlando Foundation:

“Bro. Jim exudes gentleness and humility and it is contagious to many. One can easily see Jesus in Bro. Jim. Jesus is the Good Shepherd over all His sheep. Bro. Jim has quietly yet effectively served as our under-shepherd at FBC/O and his continuing influence will be prominent in his legacy.”

-— Lois Wenger, church member for 40 years:

“He will always be Brother Jim to me –- the most humble, dedicated servant of God that I have ever known. I was here when Brother Jim came and all through the [nearly] 29 years he’s always been there anytime I needed him through two very critical times in my life when I lost my daughter and I lost my husband. He was just there for me. I can’t ever erase those footprints he left on my heart for the way he ministered to me.”

— Will Mowdy, church member for 26 years:

“Volumes could be written about him, but only heaven will reveal all the stories of what he’s done in his lifetime in praising the Lord and telling the Good News. In addition to being a great pastor, preacher, visionary leader, one of the things that has impressed me most is that he has one of the most humble spirits I’ve ever seen, and that sets him apart in a mighty powerful way.”
Compiled by James A. Smith Sr., executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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