Seventy-three-year-old Charles Williams is the embodiment of the famous "never surrender" speech which Winston Churchill delivered during the darkest hours of World War II.

Williams' commitment to those well-known words bore fruit yet again in December. The Monticello, Fla., native graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, receiving a doctor of ministry (D.Min.) degree in church consultation. He now holds seven degrees alongside more than forty years of experience in ministry.

"I adopted Churchill's advice a long time ago," said Williams, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict. "And that is to never give up. I think the secret to success is not necessarily intelligence but perseverance."

Williams' story is one of perseverance and accomplishment. In his seven-plus decades of life, Williams has served as pastor for eight churches in Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida, attended six different colleges, receiving degrees from five of them, and held seven different positions within Christian education.

The veteran minister now holds the honor of being the oldest person to receive a degree through Southern Seminary's Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth.

"When I first asked [an official] at the Graham School if I was too old to enroll in the program, their reply was the only way that my enrollment would be a problem is if I were too young and inexperienced," Williams said. "So I went into the program with forty-plus years experience."

Williams' list of degrees reads like the synopsis of an academic catalog. It includes bachelor, master of theology, and doctor of theology degrees from Luther Rice Seminary, a bachelor's degree from Southwestern College, a master of arts degree from Pepperdine University, and a doctor of education degree from Nova Southeastern University.

Williams began his educational pilgrimage in 1961 and by 1978 had earned six degrees. His decision to add a seventh from Southern Seminary came as a result of a new direction in ministry.

After serving as a pastor and Christian educator for many years, Williams is now putting his vast pool of knowledge to use for local churches, offering consulting services for congregations that are in decline both spiritually and numerically.

Williams is presently working with eight small rural churches that are in decline. He does not charge small churches for his counsel. He recently bought a motor home that he and his wife use to travel for consultation visits to these small churches.

"Since I have this motor home we are able to park at the church, so the churches do not have to pay for a place for us to stay," he said. "Many of these areas are somewhat remote and don't have hotels or motels."

Williams and his wife, Georgia, have two children, two grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

At the outset of his ministry, Williams' only goal was to spend the remainder of his life as pastor of a rural church. But while attending Luther Rice Seminary, then located in Jacksonville, Fla., in the mid-1960s and pastoring a church there, Williams realized God had also called him to work in Christian education.

In the years since, he has served as a teacher, dean, and executive vice president for Luther Rice. In 1981 he organized the Southern Baptist School for Biblical Studies in Jacksonville, of which he remains president. The school offers theological education for ministers who desire to remain in the fulltime pastorate.

Williams hopes his decision to work for an additional degree later in life will serve as encouragement and inspiration for fellow ministers.

"If I can use this to encourage and inspire others, that will be great," he said.

Thom Rainer, dean of Southern Seminary's Billy Graham School, said Williams' vast knowledge will be of great use to local churches.

"Charles has vast experience in the local church," Rainer said. "He is the first to complete the consultation emphasis in the doctor of ministry in evangelism and church growth. He will be able to apply his experience and training to help churches all over America.

"I am impressed with his work and tenacity. I really think he can be an invaluable asset to many churches."

Williams does not have any plans for retirement. Genealogy says he may have many years left in ministry, with Williams noting that his mother is ninety-three and still strong and healthy.

"I feel that I have fifteen to twenty years of active ministry left in me," he said. "I am starting my third career within ministry now and don't plan to retire anytime soon."

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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