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Jack Graham: Make sure Jesus is in the church

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–As pastor of a “mega-church” in north Dallas, Jack Graham knows what it takes to grow a church.

“It’s the same message of the gospel, and the gospel works,” Graham said Jan. 21 during his spring convocation address on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“It’s not true because it works,” Graham asserted. “It works because it’s true. It’s the power of God unto salvation.”

Graham has served as pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas since 1989. During his pastorate, church membership has grown by more than 6,400 members to its present membership of more than 14,000.

In June 1995, Prestonwood voted to relocate to Plano, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas, with plans to build on a 138-acre site. Church members have pledged more than $36 million toward the relocation project which is expected to be completed in 1998. The pledge total has been described as the largest single fund-raising campaign by a church.

“Our intent is not to build buildings,” Graham reflected, “but build the kingdom of God and stay on mission for him. When we minister and we serve, that is our motivation. We are doing it for him every day and that keeps us strong.”

Graham, who refuses to take credit for the flourishing ministry at Prestonwood, warned preachers and students training for the ministry to be leery of church growth schemes aimed at simply pleasing people.

“God does not exist for our pleasure, but we exist for the glory and pleasure of God,” Graham said.

Statistics show that 53,000 people are leaving church every week and not coming back, he said.

“The reason they are not coming back is because of a weak, emaciated message that has no strength, that has no steel. It has no Spirit,” Graham said. “They’re disillusioned by church institutions and structures, and so they are looking for meaning outside organized religion in New Age philosophy and all manner of lifestyle apart from God.”

Graham said the focus of his ministry at Prestonwood is the same as that of his first pastorate in 1970 at Eastside Baptist Church, Cross Plains, Texas, where the average Sunday school attendance was 13 and the high was 30.

“It’s not my responsibility to get people in the church,” Graham said. “It’s my responsibility to make sure that Jesus is in the church. … If Jesus is in the church by our prayers and by our focus, he will draw all men unto himself.”

A growing church, Graham said, is a church with members whose lives have been changed.

“What the world is looking for today is not more gadgets and gimmicks, bells and whistles, but lives transformed by the power of Jesus. … Never lose the wonder of what Christ has done for you.”

Graham challenged students training for ministry at the Wake Forest, N.C., seminary to avoid viewing their seminary experience as simply a means to an end.

“What you are doing and what you’re about will be happening 10 billion years from now,” Graham exhorted. “You are investing your life in something eternal. You are living a legacy that will outlive you.”

In other convocation activities, four new professors signed Southeastern’s Abstract of Principles. This document, also known as the seminary’s Articles of Faith, states the seminary’s commitment to the belief that the Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God.

Those professors signing the seminary’s Abstract of Principles were Kenneth Scott Coley, assistant professor of Christian education; Daniel B. Forshee, assistant professor of evangelism and church growth; Louis Keith Harper, assistant professor of church history; and Andreas J. Kostenberger, associate professor of New Testament and Greek.

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  • Lee Weeks