UPDATED, 3 p.m. Central time April 30 with statements from First Baptist Church in Jacksonville and co-senior pastor Heath Lambert.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) — When Mac Brunson, co-senior pastor of 10,000-member First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, stepped into the pulpit Sunday, it began as any other worship experience.
But by the time the April 29 service ended, Brunson had announced his immediate resignation from his pastorate of a dozen years and left the sanctuary with his wife Deb.
Heath Lambert, a counseling professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, joined Brunson last fall as senior co-pastor of the Florida church. Lambert, in a statement to Baptist Press, said Brunson has served First Baptist “with faithfulness inside and outside of our pulpit. He has remained faithful to the Word of God and the centrality of Christ in a generation that has found it easy to sacrifice those realities.
“A huge reason I came to First Baptist was for the privilege of serving with such a man,” Lambert said. “As he goes to his next assignment he leaves behind a church that is grateful for his service and committed to praying for him, Debbie, and their family.”
The FBC JAX congregation was stunned by Brunson’s announcement, sources told Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index. In his announcement Brunson noted there is no place of ministry awaiting him and his wife, but they are “excitedly waiting for the Lord to show us His perfect will for our lives.”
In a letter of resignation posted online, Brunson, 60, who was the 2003 president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference, stated that while “Deb and I are stepping away from the church at the end of the month [April 30]; my last Sunday to preach will be next Sunday morning, May 6.”
He recounted that “Deb and I have sensed for the last six or seven months that the Lord was bringing our ministry to a close here in Jacksonville. … We believe, as the Lord has confirmed in our hearts, that some of our most productive and fruitful days of ministry are ahead of us.”
First Baptist, in a statement issued Monday, noted, “Whenever a pastor leaves a place of service it is common for rumors of a scandal to circulate. We want to be clear that no such scandal exists at First Baptist, or in the ministry of Dr. Brunson. Dr. Brunson’s service has been characterized by moral and ministerial faithfulness, and no individual or group within our church asked him to leave.
“On the contrary, we are grateful for the years of service rendered by Dr. Brunson and his wife Debbie,” the FBC JAX statement continued. “We wish them all the best in their future ministry endeavors, and Dr. Lambert hopes to welcome them as guests at First Baptist very often in the future.
The church also stated that Brunson’s announcement was in keeping with a transition plan for him and Lambert approved last September.
Brunson, who came to First Baptist in February 2006 after seven years as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, told in his resignation letter of spending “these last days and weeks of ministry” with his wife looking “in three directions — inward, outward, and upward. Allow me to reminisce as we look back over our ministry here.”
— First Baptist Academy, launched under his pastorate, “has become one of the top Christian Academies in north Florida. My heart’s desire these last few years has been to expand the Academy and start a high school. After much prayer and planning, the high school will open next fall.”
— He reminisced that as he first drove around town with retiring pastor Jerry Vines, he sensed the need for a satellite church in the area south of downtown. “Our South Campus began on Easter Sunday morning, eight years ago. … The groundbreaking for our newest Campus is in a few weeks. This past year the Lord, once again, miraculously provided as we raised over seven million dollars in gifts and pledges.” According to the church website, the groundbreaking is slated for 5 p.m. May 20.
Brunson detailed how the downtown facilities “have seen tremendous change” as the sanctuary was renovated, Sunday School classroom space was upgraded for access by senior adults and the youth area was refurbished.
He also listed improvements to the Lindsay Memorial Building and how “doors of opportunity” were opened to the Ortega Campus and the College Campus. He celebrated the lives that had been reached and families strengthened through those advancements.
Brunson noted how the congregation, in its commitment to missions, has become one of the top giving churches in the SBC to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. He lauded the church for expanding its missions footprint around the world. “The sun never sets on the ministry of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville” due to God calling out “young and not-so-young in our church to serve Him in places literally around the globe.”
He closed his comments by stating that he prays he has “pointed the church to Christ these past twelve years by opening God’s Word week by week. Every decision we have made here has been bathed in prayer, seeking the Lord’s guidance and direction.
“Now, Deb and I look to our Father for guidance and direction in our own lives … and we pray His continued blessings on this wonderful, historic church. In the days ahead, in everything, in every way, I challenge you to look upward and seek the Lord’s will for your own life, for your family, and for this great lighthouse called First Baptist Church Jacksonville.
“We love you. We leave a little of our hearts here with you. We take a part of you with us as we look to the future. We trust that the greatest days are ahead for First Baptist Jacksonville,” Brunson wrote, quoting Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”
Florida Baptist Convention Executive Director-Treasurer Tommy Green said he is thankful for the friendship and partnership he’s had with Mac Brunson.
“He has been a strong leader in Florida Baptist life and I appreciate his faithful service at First Baptist Jacksonville,” Green said. “I pray for God’s continued blessings upon him in this season of transition.”
Brunson, a native of Greenwood, S.C., holds doctorate and master’s degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas; a bachelor’s degree from Furman University and an associate degree from North Greenville University, both in South Carolina. After seminary he became pastor of South Norfolk Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va., and then Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, N.C., before being called as senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas in 1999. Brunson and his wife are parents of three children: Courtney, Trey and Wills.
Lambert, who has held pastoral ministry positions in Kentucky and North Carolina churches, has been First Baptist’s associate pastor since January 2016. He joined Southern Seminary’s faculty in 2006 and also serves as executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, with members in 18 countries, and is a founding board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.