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Noted expository preacher Stephen Olford dies at 86

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Stephen Olford, a champion of expository preaching and a mentor to many evangelical leaders, died Aug. 29 at age 86 after suffering a massive stroke.

Olford founded the Stephen Olford Institute for Biblical Preaching in 1980 to promote biblical preaching and practical training for pastors, evangelists and lay leaders because he believed strongly in the importance of a verse-by-verse explanation of Scripture. In 1988, Olford established the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching in Memphis, Tenn., to house the institute and to serve as headquarters for Olford Ministries International. More than 2,000 pastors and Christian leaders have attended training sessions at the center.

Recently, two Southern Baptist seminaries formed partnerships with Olford Ministries for doctor of ministry in expository preaching degrees. A partnership with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., began in 2003 and gave students the opportunity to study under Olford during a weeklong seminar in Memphis. A similar partnership with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., began this year.

Born in Zambia as a son of missionaries, Olford hosted the weekly radio show “Encounter,” which is heard on Christian radio stations in the United States, Canada and overseas. He was educated in England and wrote several books, including “Anointed Expository Preaching,” co-written with his son and ministry partner, David, who is president of Olford Ministries International.

During the National Conference on Preaching at Southern Seminary in March, Olford said Spirit-anointed expository preaching is missing from the pulpits of contemporary churches and also from much of modern evangelism.

“Paul held these two principles as overarching for every preacher … namely, that the Word of God is not only inerrant, it has an eternality, saying one and the same thing [throughout eternity],” he said. “There is no time from creation until we get to glory and crown Him Lord of all when we will need to change our message because the so-called culture demands it.”

Adrian Rogers, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., told Baptist Press that Olford had a profound effect on his life since the first time he heard Olford preach in New York City years ago.

“Stephen Olford was indeed a theological giant, a great Christian leader and a preacher without peer,” Rogers said. “His impact on evangelical preachers is absolutely without dispute. He has left for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ an incalculable treasure of preaching materials.”

When Rogers became president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979, he asked that Olford be invited to present an emphasis on revival at the annual meeting. Later, he was pleased that Olford moved his ministry headquarters to Memphis.

“By this time he had developed the Stephen Olford Institute for Biblical Preaching. He was looking for a location near many churches where evangelical preachers could more easily attend,” Rogers said. “Dr. and Mrs. Olford moved their membership to Bellevue Baptist Church and I was privileged to have the most intimate fellowship with him.

“We often hear the cliché that a godly man is the same in ordinary life as he is in the pulpit. With Stephen Olford this was more than a cliché. I never visited with him but what the subject was quickly moved to the things of God and spiritual revival. Each visit caused a flame to burn in my heart,” Rogers recounted. “Stephen Olford preached many times in Bellevue Church and is greatly loved by our congregation. The Christian world has suffered a great loss in the homegoing of this man, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt he finished well. He stayed on course and came across the finish line with a torch ablaze.”

Among additional comments from Southern Baptist leaders who were influenced by Olford:

— “Dr. Olford was an authentic preacher of God’s Word and helped to equip thousands of Great Commission pastors for pulpits across America,” said Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC’s Executive Committee. “He preached the Bible as God’s inerrant and eternal Word, and this passion permeated his work at the Center for Biblical Preaching named for him.

“Dr. Olford will be greatly missed by so many in Southern Baptist life. We pray that God will ease his family’s grief and allow each of us to know how to effectively minister to them during this time of sorrow.”

— “One of the heaviest burdens on Dr. Olford’s heart was to bring preaching back to a place of preeminence in the life of the church,” Roger Willmore, pastor of First Baptist Church in Boaz, Ala., and vice chairman of the trustees at LifeWay Christian Resources, told Baptist Press. “Olford Ministries International exists for that purpose, to teach and train and equip preachers, pastors, missionaries and evangelists in the art of expository preaching because Dr. Olford saw the value of the Scriptures in the life of the church. He labored under a burden of sensing that we were beginning to replace preaching with a lot of other things, and he really wanted to encourage all who preached the Word to make it preeminent in their ministries.”

Willmore has been minister-at-large for Olford Ministries International since 1992.

— “Dr. Stephen Olford was the premier expositor of our day. Many living expositors were helped greatly by his teaching and example in the field of expository preaching,” Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., told Baptist Press. “He’s one of the people God used to really help me in my own expository preaching ministry.”

— “The death of Stephen Olford is a wonderful blessing for heaven and a great loss for us,” Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, said in a statement to Baptist Press. “I have never known anyone who more faithfully exemplified what it means to be a man of God. His love for his wife and family set a standard for all of us to follow. As an expositor of the Word of God, he impacted the lives of thousands, showing us how to rightly handle the Holy Scriptures. His input in my own life has been enormous, and I will never be able to express adequately all that he has meant to me personally.”

As part of Olford Ministries’ partnership with Southeastern, Akin teaches a course called “Essentials of Expository Preaching” each June and January at the Olford Center in Memphis.

— “Stephen Olford was one of the most gracious Christian servants I’ve ever had the privilege to know,” said R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Seminary. “A master expositor of God’s Word, he demonstrated by the power of his preaching and the power of his personal testimony what it meant to be absolutely called and committed as a Gospel preacher.

“He touched literally thousands and thousands of lives through his sermons, messages and teaching. He will be dearly missed. We have lost a dear friend and a great model and mentor for preachers,” Mohler added. “Our hearts go out to Mrs. Olford and the Olford family during this time of grief. I’ve never known a man who was more energetic, excited and focused on the future than Stephen Olford. And that was true until the very day he died. He is now with his Lord, whom he served so faithfully and helped so many others to know as well.”

— “Throughout his ministry as a pastor, evangelist, and teacher, Dr. Stephen Olford powerfully illustrated a simple truth: Effective evangelism, church growth and discipleship is built upon the practice of expounding the Word of God,” said Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “At [NOBTS] we are working every day to raise up a new generation of pastors and evangelists who will pick up his torch and carry forward the passion for biblical exposition that was his life’s work. There will never be another Stephen Olford, but may God give us a great army of preachers who will be like him.”

Olford is survived by his wife of 56 years, Heather, two sons and five grandchildren.

Funeral services for Olford include visitation from 3-8 p.m. Sept. 7 at Olford Ministries International and a public memorial service at 1 p.m. Sept. 8 at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. Donations may be made to Olford Ministries International, 4000 Riverdale Road, Memphis, TN 38115.
With reporting by Jerry Higgins, Lawrence Smith & Gary Myers.

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  • Erin Curry