Larry Burkett, founder of one of the first Christian financial teaching ministries, was remembered at a memorial service July 11 as a man of unquestionable faith and integrity who was sold out to the authority of Scripture on his life.
Burkett, cofounder of Crown Financial Ministries, died of heart failure July 4 following an extended battle with cancer and heart disease. The sixty-four-year-old Burkett was a member of Blackshear Place Baptist Church in Flowery Branch, Ga.
About 500 people attended the nearly two-hour memorial service July 11 at The Church of the Apostles in Atlanta to pay tribute to Burkett's life and ministry.
Burkett was remembered most by family, colleagues, and friends as a caring and compassionate follower of Christ who fully embraced the message of the cross.
Howard Dayton, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, said Burkett's life and ministry were marked by a promise he made to himself and God shortly after becoming a Christian in 1971, at age 32. Dayton quoted Burkett as saying, "I may make mistakes out of ignorance, but I will never knowingly disobey Christ."
A commitment Dayton said Burkett honored even though at times it was quite costly. Dayton told how Burkett sold his electronics business to go into fulltime Christian ministry, shortly after becoming a Christian.
"The Lord asked him to give every penny he had earned, $2 million, away to fund the work of the Kingdom and out of obedience he did so," Dayton said.
After serving on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ for three years, Burkett founded Christian Financial Concepts in 1976. In 2000, Burkett merged his ministry with Dayton's Crown Ministries to form Crown Financial Ministries.
Dayton said he and Burkett shared a vision that Crown Financial Ministries would teach God's financial principles to 30 million people in the United States and 300 million people worldwide by 2015.
"It was his calling," Dayton said of Burkett. "It was his passion to see people get their financial house in order by learning and applying the principles found in God's Word."
One of many people whose life has been changed by Burkett's ministry is Dean Webb, a member of First Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga., who attended Burkett's first seminar before he had incorporated his ministry. At the time, Webb was a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch and in the midst of his own personal financial crisis.
Webb later served for twenty years on Burkett's board of directors including helping manage the ministry's daily operations for four years prior to the merger with Crown.
"What you saw is what you got," Webb said of Burkett. "What you read in his books is who he is. Behind closed doors he was the same as he was in public. He didn't say one thing and do another."
For example, one of the main tenets of Burkett's teaching was that followers of Christ are not to claim exclusive ownership of their possessions and financial resources, but are to be biblical stewards and managers of what God has entrusted to them.
Calling it a "defining moment" for Burkett, Webb shared how the founder of Christian Financial Concepts planned to close the ministry in December 1983 after its headquarters relocated from Norcross, Ga., to Dahlonega, Ga.
By the end of that year, a lack of donations had failed to fund the ministry and Burkett planned to honor the promise he made to God that "if it's Your work, You've got to provide the funds."
Webb said as board members prayed for funding at their year-end meeting, a postal truck arrived with duffle bags of mail that had not been forwarded to the ministry's new address. Four and a half days later, ministry employees had finally opened all the mail, which contained funding for four months.
"Here's a man of God," Webb said. "He really believes this is God's ministry, not his."
Steve Moore, co-host of Crown's radio programs, said Burkett personified Philippians 2:3-4: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should not look only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.
"And that is Larry's legacy to me," Moore said.
Describing Burkett as a pioneer in Christian talk radio, Moore said listeners to his radio programs, which first began airing in 1982, immediately identified with Burkett as someone they could trust.
"Larry's legacy will include the fact that his radio programs won many awards and broke much new ground, and will forever have a lasting impact on Christian broadcasting," Moore said. "During a generation when talk radio took on a harder edge, Larry spoke softly with patience, understanding, clarity, and compassion. Listeners knew that he cared. He always carried them back to God's Word."
Burkett was the host of the syndicated radio programs Money Matters, How to Manage Your Money, Money Watch, and A Money Minute. He also wrote more than seventy books and authored two resources published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention: How Much is Enough? 30 Days to Personal Revival and Jesus on Money.
James Austin, Burkett's former pastor at Blackshear Place Baptist Church, described Burkett as a prayer warrior, faithful servant of God, and dear friend. Austin said he was amazed at how "upbeat and positive" Burkett remained over the last few years as he continued working despite his declining health which included vision problems and an operation that rendered him practically unable to use his left arm.
In 1989, Burkett suffered a heart attack and six years later he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Burkett's fight against cancer took him to the Czech Republic and Holland for treatment and inspired the writing of two books on his struggles: Damaged But Not Broken, 1996, and Nothing to Fear, 2003, both published by Moody Press.
"Christendom has truly lost a giant with the passing of Larry Burkett," Austin said.
Burkett's impact on the larger evangelical Christian community was noted as national ministry leaders from around the country voiced their thankfulness and admiration for Burkett through recorded audio messages broadcast during the memorial service.
Some of the speakers included Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta; James Dobson, founder of Focus on The Family; Kay Arthur, of Precept Ministries International; Jay Sekulow, president of the American Center for Law and Justice; and Joseph Stowell, president of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
Dayton showed the audience a gold baton that Burkett had given him shortly before his death. "He knew that his lap in the race was just about finished and he was confident that God had allowed an excellent board to be assembled," Dayton said tearfully, his voice breaking with emotion.
"By God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we who have the baton now will be faithful in seeking to fulfill the dream that Larry had of training God's people so that we could fund the Great Commission in this generation," Dayton continued. "… By God's grace, we commit to do it in a way that honors the memory of Larry Burkett out of obedience and that glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ who he served so faithfully."
Burkett is survived by his wife of forty-four years, Judy, and four grown children: Allen, Danny, Kim, and Todd, as well as nine grandchildren. The family asked that in lieu of flowers, memorial gifts be given to Crown Financial Ministries.
More information about memorial gifts is available at www.larryburkett.org.