I just found out that Dr. Jerry Falwell passed away. He’s been gone for a couple of hours. I believe with all of my heart that Jerry is in the presence of Jesus right now.
So, here’s the deal. I graduated from Falwell’s Liberty University and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. I serve on the pastoral staff of a church in Minnesota. Prior to that I served on the pastoral staff of a church in Illinois. Graduating from a school like Liberty means that you carry baggage with you for the remainder of your life. People make assumptions about what you believe, what your political persuasions are, and how you view the world because of where you attended college.
I’m not Jerry Falwell. There are things about who Jerry was that bother me. But, on this, the day of his death, let me say that I thank God for the influence that Jerry had on me.
I went to Liberty as an accounting major. My God was money and Liberty had a great accounting program. My plans when I graduated from college were to work for Arthur Anderson, one of the Big Six Accounting firms, and retire by the time I hit 40. Something happened to me at Liberty. I learned about lordship. I learned about what it meant to really give Christ your entire self. And, my freshman year, I surrendered to God’s calling in my life. I changed my major from accounting to pastoral ministries, and I sat under Falwell’s teaching for the next six years.
From time-to-time I remember getting frustrated in chapel services. I felt like Falwell was being too dogmatic, too political, or too judgmental. But, there were also times when I learned things that I would carry with me the rest of my life.
As a pastor I often times find myself quoting things that I first heard from Jerry. Quotes like:
“If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.”
or . . .
“Our greatest failures are prayer failures.”
or . . .
“The biggest difference between us now and five years from now is the people we meet, the books we read and the places we go.”
I know that there are many more.
Jerry’s biggest impact on my life was the way that he taught me vision. Dr. Falwell was never lacking in the vision department. The guy planted one of America’s first mega-churches – in Lynchburg, Virginia, of all places. And, he did it when his greatest mentors told him not to. He started a school system that he dreamed would go from pre-school to grad school. And, it happened. He dreamed of Liberty being for the Evangelical Christian student what Notre Dame was to the Roman Catholic student or Brigham Young was to the Mormon student – competing academically, athletically and in reputation. It’s getting there. At 7,700 on-campus students and another 20,000 distance education students, Liberty is the largest Evangelical Christian University in America. They boast the number one debate team in America, a law school training constitutional lawyers, a seminary, and high rankings in U.S. News and World Reports annual ranking of America’s best colleges.
I worked in Liberty’s admission department for a two year period following my graduation from the University. It was a turbulent time for the school. We were rocked by the televangelism scandals of the 80’s and couldn’t recover financially. We were $20 million in debt. There was an entire month where I went without a paycheck. But, Falwell’s vision convinced the work force at the school (Professors, Administration, Assistants, etc.) to work for a month without pay. He couldn’t force us to. And, some chose not to work. But, the majority kept going to work. And, in God’s providence, the school came out of it.
For lessons on leadership, faith, trust in God, failing and recovering, and for the passion for evangelism that Falwell helped instill in me, I will always be grateful. Join me in praying for the family, and the faculty and staff of Thomas Road Baptist Church (voted last year as one of America’s most influential churches by The Church Report Magazine), Liberty University, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Liberty University School of Law, the Liberty Godparent Home (a crisis pregnancy ministry), the Elim Home for Alcoholics, WRVL (the radio ministry of the church), the Liberty Channel (Satellite Network), Lynchburg Christian Academy (one of the largest Christian elementary and high schools in America), the Liberty Bible Institute, and all of the other ministries associated with this man of vision. I have never met anyone who had as much influence on his community as Jerry Falwell. Love him or hate him, he’ll be missed.