Texas megachurch Pastor Jack Graham celebrated his 30th anniversary at the 45,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church this month, and described the journey as one that shows how God can transform a hurting congregation into one of the most robust in the nation.
The Christian Post spoke with Graham, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, to talk about his time at the Plano, Texas-based church, the future of the SBC, and hot-button issues the denomination is wrestling with at its annual meeting this week.
Below is an edited transcript of CP’s interview with Graham:
The Christian Post: How have you seen Prestonwood change since first started there in June 1989?
Graham: Prestonwood was a really good church when I arrived 30 years ago. It went through a crisis. The founding pastor was forced out in resignation and the church was struggling. Yet they were prayerful and committed to finding the next pastor.
They ended up with me down in West Palm Beach, Florida. I was the pastor of First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach. They ended (the search committee) up meeting me and hearing me preach and so on. …
We had a very happy and thriving ministry in West Palm Beach, a very healthy church. In many ways, I was certainly not looking to move and Prestonwood was not on my radar. I think many of us felt like it would be difficult, if not impossible, to recover from the predicament without a pastor.
There was a lot of chaos and confusion, hurt and disappointment. It wasn’t ideal in that sense. But on the other hand, I knew that as I began to pray about it that God was not through with His church. It was off to a great start. It had grown in 10 years to 7,000 members and was known already for reaching people for Christ and evangelism.
When we said yes and the church called us to be their pastor, we went to work and started to build on those things already present and add on ministries and missions, starting mission partnerships. We started a crisis pregnancy center.
We started reaching out into the inner city of Dallas, beyond our North Dallas community. It wasn’t long until the church was healing and healthy again and vibrant. It was living a new day to the degree to that about five years into our ministry here, we saw the need to relocate the church.
We were in a community in North Dallas packed in there. We couldn’t park everyone. We prayed and studied and we relocated in 1999 on a new piece of land with 150 acres in Plano. We built a 7,000-seat worship center and space for all of our teaching ministry and children’s ministry and our sports ministry.
Immediately, the church exploded in those years. We now have 45,000 members. The sun never sets on the ministry of this church through its broadcast ministry, through PowerPoint and our mission partnerships around the world.
We started a network of church plants and church starts. It has been a celebration to look back and to see what God has done and how God has used the people who have been willing to say yes to Him.
CP: What advice can you offer to churches today that are going through the resignation of a pastor similar to what Prestonwood faced 30 years ago?
Graham: Prestonwood stands as an example that it is never too late for a new beginning. So often in the Christian life and in the life of churches, its adversity and trial and trauma and even tragedy that propels you to your greatest days.
The people of Prestonwood prayed and believed that God still had His hand on the congregation and the ministry. God put us together as pastor and people. It was a great match, a great marriage.
After all these years looking back, we know that God is able to do that with any church regardless of any church in any situation. Our theme verses have been Ephesians 3:20-21, that God is able to do above all that we can ask according to the power of the works within us.
With those verses in mind, when we put our focus unto Him who is able, that God is able to lift up any church in any situation, especially when people are broken and hurting and crying out to Him.
Sometimes, we have to get desperate for us to ultimately be used again for God’s glory. I do believe Prestonwood was desperate for God’s will to be done and desperate for God to restore and renew the congregation. He has done that in so many ways and poured out in blessing after blessing for all these years.
CP: Do you have a favorite memory as a pastor at Prestonwood?
We’ve seen many miracles. Truly, ones that I would call miracles. And the greatest miracle is salvation. And we’ve seen literally thousands of people come to Christ.
We have this pregnancy center. I just got the numbers on this. We can account for 73,000 babies born directly as a result of clients that have come into our pregnancy center. Not all of these were abortion-minded, but many of them were of course. And just to think of that 73,000, that’s a stadium full of children. Now, many of them are adults living today because of the ministry of this church and this pregnancy center.
As far as highlights, the day we made the big trek from our church building in Dallas to this facility here in Plano [in 1991] and the add-on locations and our Espanol campus as well.
Our fastest growing segment is Prestonwood Espanol. We’re growing like crazy in our Spanish-speaking services.
I would say that day when we stood here for the first time [in Plano], knowing that that accomplishment was made was a big deal to me. And for me, the unity and the excitement, the joy that we experienced that day.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith