DALLAS (BP)–Jack Graham believes there has never been a better time to be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. “We have settled our doctrinal issues and the focus now becomes world evangelism, our emphasis on the family and Empowering Kingdom Growth,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Florida Baptist Witness.
On June 11 Graham will be nominated to serve as the next president of the 16-million-member denomination when messengers gather in St. Louis for the annual meeting of the SBC.
After 32 years of experience pastoring churches in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida, Graham’s strategy for growing a megachurch of more than 20,000 members depends on the same principles he upheld in his college pastorate where the average Sunday School attendance was 13.
Graham is committed to providing servant leadership to a congregation, offering biblical preaching and a small group strategy for Bible study. Through evangelistic outreach, Graham has led the churches he has served in Cross Plains, Fort Worth and Plano, Texas; Hobart and Duncan, Okla.; and West Palm Beach, Fla., to reach people for Christ. Training and discipleship are provided to new members along with opportunities for dynamic worship as he pastors Prestonwood Baptist Church.
“I hope I’ve gotten better in what we do and how we do it,” Graham said, “but the principles have remained the same. Every church has to be who they are in the culture and community and the programs should be designed to reach that community.”
While attending Hardin-Simmons University in Texas, Graham’s method of evangelism at Eastside Baptist Church involved driving with his wife in his Ford Pinto to pick up kids not attending church. “It’s the same motivation today to reach the unchurched.”
He told a chapel audience at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “What the world is looking for today is not more gadgets and gimmicks, bells and whistles, but lives transformed by the power of Jesus.” He urged seminarians to “never lose the wonder of what Christ has done for you.”
For Graham, that transformation took place in a tent revival led by evangelist J. Harold Smith. Influenced by godly parents and grandparents, Graham professed faith in Christ at the revival meeting and was discipled at First Baptist Church of Conway, Ark. “I cut my teeth on the backside of a Baptist pew,” he said. “Through the years, that faith has grown as I’ve studied God’s Word and determined that Southern Baptists are vitally connected to the Word of God and the scriptural mission to reach the world for Christ.”
With his entire ministry spanning the years of denominational controversy, Graham is appreciative of the changes that have resulted. “The fact that the Southern Baptists have changed for the good in the past 20 or 30 years has only strengthened local churches where I served,” Graham said. “The conservative resurgence has solidified the strength of our biblical and doctrinal commitment. It has fortified my own life in terms of proclaiming the gospel, preaching God’s Word and watching God work in response to the message.”
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary honored Graham last year as a distinguished alumni. He received his master of divinity there in 1976 and doctor of ministry in 1980. In addition to serving on associational and state denominational boards, Graham served the SBC on the Committee on Committees, Tellers Committee, and Home Mission Board during the 1980s and now serves as a member of the SBC Executive Committee.
Graham told messengers to last year’s convention in New Orleans, “Sharing the gospel, witnessing of God’s grace and his love is why we live and why we breathe.” During his interpretation of the evangelistic theme, Graham noted, “This is the reason we exist as a convention, to be united together and cooperating together for that purpose, for that passion, for that priority.”
Prestonwood has participated in the Strategic Focus Cities strategy developed by the North American Mission Board. The church is helping plant a church in the Brighton area of Boston, sending groups to support evangelistic efforts and church leadership development. During the official pre-race program of last year’s Boston Marathon, Graham shared the gospel from the starting line, with athletes from a two-block area expressing a desire for prayer.
Prestonwood has also supported relief efforts in New York City and Southern Baptist mission efforts in Europe. Church contributions to Southern Baptist causes totaled more than $1 million last year channeled through Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. An additional $5,000 was given to the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The church is involved in Restorative Justice Ministries designed to evangelize and disciple inmates within state prisons. Hispanic and Romanian congregations are among the ethnic ministries of Prestonwood while multihousing ministries incorporate worship, Bible study, literacy and employment opportunities.
SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards expressed enthusiasm for Graham’s candidacy as the successor to current SBC President James Merritt of Snellville, Ga. “James Merritt has served Southern Baptists well during the last two years. There is no one I know who has a greater passion for souls. Jack Graham will build on that foundation as he leads the SBC to focus on the challenges of the future,” Richards said.
If elected president of the SBC, Graham is eager to promote the emphasis on the family led by the SBC Council on Family Life chaired by Tom Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, Okla. “In view of the disastrous situation we have in the American family, Southern Baptists are speaking to the most important issues of our times.” A “first-ever convention-wide rally to save the family” set for June 19 following next year’s annual meeting in Phoenix will provide an opportunity to “champion the family,” Graham said.
Graham is also anxious to see more Southern Baptist churches involved in offering Christian schools on the elementary and secondary levels. Prestonwood Christian Academy is a part of the church’s ministry to build “homes of influence” based on a biblical worldview. “Through the years Southern Baptists have been involved in college and seminary education, but kingdom education for high school, junior high and elementary students is also very important.”
Another ministry related to family concerns is the provision of pro-life ministries, Graham said. “I want to continue to herald the need to declare the sanctity of life and help women in crisis, using this opportunity to introduce people to Christ.” Prestonwood supports a pregnancy and family care center to minister to individuals facing unplanned pregnancies or in need of recovery from abuse, immorality or abortion.
Graham also is eager to encourage Southern Baptists to make disciples and enlarge the kingdom of God by emphasizing the recently announced SBC strategy of Empowering Kingdom Growth. “We need to get our people thinking about how can I expand the kingdom of God, how can I be a kingdom Christian, how churches can be kingdom churches and how the Southern Baptist Convention can be a kingdom coalition of churches.”
He believes Southern Baptist life is centered on the local church, noting that denominational leaders of the SBC have served on local church staffs and carry that priority into their ministry to the denomination. “Anytime you’re around our current Southern Baptist leaders you sense their heart and compassion for the world and evangelism.”
Through his service on the SBC Executive Committee, Graham said he has seen networking of Southern Baptist churches across the nation. “I see the results of Cooperative Program giving and our commitment to work together. We’re a part of a world strategy to carry out the Great Commission. To see the integrity of our leadership, the commitment of our Southern Baptist staff, and the devotion of our missionaries, all of that has made me see the big picture.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: JACK GRAHAM.