JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Members of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville will vote on a new pastor for the first time in more than 65 years Feb. 19 when “Mac” Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, will preach in view of a call, the Jacksonville congregation’s pulpit committee chairman announced Feb. 12.
The announcement comes only five days after Jerry Vines –- pastor of First Baptist Jacksonville for more than 23 years -– preached his final sermon to the congregation, which has been led by a series of co-pastors, starting with Homer Lindsay Sr., and continuing with Homer Lindsay Jr. and Vines.
Brunson, 48, has been senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas since 1999, and also serves as chancellor of the church’s Criswell College. He made announcements about the call of the Jacksonville church in each of the church’s three morning worship services Feb. 12.
Brunson expressed “great grief” that “the press and certain people have robbed me of a sacred obligation I have of talking to my congregation.”
Speaking to his congregation about the initial reports based on rumor, Brunson said, “That’s the press. That’s the mouth of people. You’re going to have that ‘til Jesus comes and then Jesus is going to clear that up,” Brunson stated in the final morning service Sunday.
“Instead of grieving about the press or gossips,” Brunson asked his congregation to turn their attention to John 21 to discover that God “has a plan or purpose for your life individually, my life personally, and this congregation collectively. It centers around two words -– follow me.”
Brunson told the Dallas congregation that he had declined an offer in 2004 to become co-pastor of a prominent church, without naming the church, and then explained that when the First Baptist Jacksonville pulpit committee contacted him, he initially declined to be considered, but began reconsidering later in 2005 because of the persistence of the committee. He decided he would not make a decision until after Christmas.
During a trip to the Holy Land, Brunson said he became convinced that God was leading him to Jacksonville. While traveling at night on the back of a camel up Mount Sinai, Brunson said he prayed for two hours that the God who spoke to Moses through a burning bush would offer him so much as a matchstick of light to direct his path.
“There were these two great congregations, the convention looking on and watching and I’ve got my family. I’ve got to know what your will is for my life,” Brunson said he told God. “Some of you folks think I’ve been plotting and planning this for the last five years –- that it’s some great devious scheme of some kind. The fact is you’re just mistaken. You’re looking at a man who has wrestled and struggled with this and sought godly wisdom, godly counsel.”
Brunson was pastor of Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, N.C., from 1992-1999, and served previously in churches in Virginia and South Carolina. He was president of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in 2003 and president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina from 1997-1999.
He was one of the featured speakers at this year’s Pastors’ Conference at First Baptist Jacksonville, and Vines called him out of the audience to pray at the beginning of the Feb. 7 service in which Vines preached his last sermon. While never mentioning any future plans, some viewed the act as an implicit signal of Brunson’s future call to Jacksonville after months of speculation in Florida and Texas that he would be Vines’ successor.
“These are exciting times in our church and next Sunday is going to be an historical day in the life of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville,” Judson Whorton, chairman of the pulpit committee, told the congregation. “This will be the first time that our members will have the opportunity to vote on a new pastor, and this has not been done in more than 65 years. So it truly will be historical.”
Whorton told the congregation the Dallas pastor would be “preaching in view of a call” in both morning and evening services and the church would hold a special business meeting following the morning service to vote on him.
“We want you to be much in prayer for that service, we want you to invite people and we want you to be here,” he said.
The recommendation of Brunson had the unanimous approval of the pulpit committee, according to a statement posted Feb. 12 to the Jacksonville church’s website.
No timetable was given for when Brunson would begin his ministry in Jacksonville, although Rodney Brooks, assistant pastor for worship, followed Whorton’s announcement by telling the congregation: “From here until the time the Lord calls our new pastor … we have some wonderful Bible preachers and teachers lined up for us every Sunday.” Brooks named some of the guest preachers –- O.S. Hawkins, Paige Patterson, Jimmy Scroggins, Anthony George and David Allen.
“Dr. Brunson is a terrific preacher, and we hate to lose him,” longtime First Baptist Dallas leader Jack Pogue told the Fort Worth Star Telegram Feb. 11. “If they like good preaching in Jacksonville, they have picked a wonderful man for the job.”
Brunson and his wife, Debbie, have three children. He is a graduate of Furman University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
–With additional reporting by Tammi Ledbetter of The Southern Baptist Texan.