What does your job involve?
My primary responsibility is communicating vision to the body of Christ here at First Orlando, and leading and teaching from God’s Word to accomplish that vision.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but raised primarily in Arkansas, where my father pastored several churches during my growing-up years.
How large is the family you grew up in?
Besides my parents, I have two siblings, a brother and sister. I’m the youngest, the baby.
When and how did you come to know Christ?
When I was 9 years old, I was sitting in a worship service at the church where my dad pastored in Dardenelle, Arkansas. We had a visiting pastor who was describing what Jesus had done for us. As the preacher described heaven and hell and talked about the atoning death of Jesus, I just remember being so overcome with my need for Christ. It was at that moment I realized that Jesus died for me, and the only way I could go to heaven was by trusting Him. So, I walked down the aisle to my dad and said, “I want to go to heaven and I know Jesus made the way for me to go, so I want to invite Jesus into my heart.” I was baptized shortly after that. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
What was the first job you ever had?
The first job I ever had was working for a veterinarian during 9th and 10th grades. I worked at a clinic and helped take care of the animals. I really thought that’s what I wanted to do with my life. My second job was working at a children’s daycare as an activities director. I’m sure it was rather interesting watching me, about 6-foot-5 at the time, being chased by the kids. I loved it and I love kids to this day. The next job I had was being a pastor, and that was it after that. I have served as a pastor continuously since 1976.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Ouachita (pronounced Wash-i-tah) Baptist University in Arkansas, where I received a B.A. in religion. From there I went to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where I received a Masters of Divinity in 1983. I remained at Southwestern and earned a PhD. in New Testament in 1991.
When and whom did you marry?
I married Rachel Leigh Moore on January 6, 1979. We met at Ouachita Baptist University when she was a freshman and I was a junior. We married in the final semester of my senior year. We had been married only four months when we loaded up everything we owned in a Ford Grand Torino and a little U-Haul and moved to Texas to attend seminary.
How many children do you have?
Three, two sons and a daughter.
How did you get into ministry?
I went on a mission trip to Junction City, Kansas, with my youth choir when I was 16. We went to a downtown, inner-city park where we sang and ministered to people. Many of the people there were drug addicts and homeless. We prayed and talked with them. Even at 16 years old I began to feel God say, “I want you to spend the rest of your days giving yourself to people.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant — if I was supposed to be a pastor, a counselor — I just knew that I loved people and was to spend the rest of my life helping them.
It was not long after this that you rebelled. Talk a little about that.
There was a period of about two years when I ran from God and His will. I tried to deny the truth that I knew — the truth that God had called me. It was a very difficult two years. But thankfully, He took me back and didn’t take the call away from me. He never removed His hand of blessing or grace from me, and I was able to return to that compassion for God and for others that I had experienced when I was 16.
What brought you out of this time of rebellion?
It was definitely the prayers of my mom and dad and the love of God. The tangible thing God used was basketball. I was playing one night in college and injured my ankle. I went to the emergency room, but the injury was too severe, so they just gave me pain medicine and sent me home. I was supposed to go the next day to Little Rock, Arkansas, to have surgery. It was during that night that I cried out to God. I said, “OK, God, I’m tired of running. What do You want?” And He said, “I just want to love you.” I really believe that the love of God changed my life. I had experienced salvation at age 9, but then later I ran from Him. But it was God’s love that would not give up on me or leave me alone until He claimed me for Himself. I will always be grateful for that.
Have you ever done any long- or short-term mission trips?
A few years ago my family and I made a commitment to the Lord that every year we would try to go together on a mission trip. We started in Zambia, Africa; then went to Olanchito, Honduras; then, the next year, to the capital of Honduras — Tegucigalpa. The next summer was our “long-term” mission trip to Orlando, Florida, when I became pastor here. The following year we went to Brazil with a group from FBC Orlando and we have been going back ever since. We’ve also been to Canada. Going back to the 1980s, I remember almost every year I would lead a mission trip somewhere in the U.S., mostly out West, in Colorado around the Denver area. We just had some good connections and relationships in that area, and spent a lot of time working there. We also started working in Wyoming, because I had a connection up there.
Where else have you served before coming to First Orlando?
My very first church was in the mountains of southwest Arkansas in a town called Murfreesboro when I was only 19 years old. There were only 21 people there on my first Sunday. I pastored there for three years while I was in college. The second church I served was First Baptist Church of Briar, Texas and that was while I was attending seminary in Fort Worth. We stayed there 10 years before moving back to Arkansas, where I pastored First Baptist Church of Camden. I served there four years, then moved down to Rachel’s hometown of El Dorado, Arkansas, and pastored Immanuel Baptist Church where her family attends. It was a great joy to pastor my in-laws. From there, I went to First Baptist Church of West Monroe, Louisiana, where I served for almost 10 years before coming to Orlando. God used each of these wonderful churches in my life to help me grow in His likeness and be the pastor He wants me to be.
What was the turning point of your life?
The turning point was when I came out of my period of rebellion against God. When I realized how much God loved me, that was the greatest moment of my life. It really changed me. Another significant moment was the trip to Africa with my family. Living out in the bush in a tent together, all five of us, was unbelievable. That was another of those moments that was unmistakably a “God thing.” He did an incredible work in our lives during that time.
What do you like most about your job?
I love helping people find God’s love and helping them see what He has for their lives. That jazzes me more than anything and is the passion of my life. I thank God that I get to walk with them, know them, teach them and love them.
What are some of your most memorable ministry moments?
One very memorable moment for me was coming here to First Orlando. I wasn’t looking to go anywhere or even dreamed about pastoring a church like this. When this all unfolded and God opened the door and I came here to preach on May 15, 2005, it was definitely a defining moment for me. Little did I know all the great relationships I would form once I arrived here. The beauty of it is that every week things get better and better. Another memorable moment is the first beach baptism at Cocoa Beach. One of my favorite things to do in life is baptize. When God stirred my heart to baptize in the Atlantic Ocean, I was thrilled. Standing in the ocean during that first baptism was just unbelievable. It’s something I will never forget.
Do you have a favorite Bible verse or portion of the Bible?
That’s a dangerous question because there are so many that I love. My favorite chapter in the New Testament is Romans 8. God has used that chapter so many ways in my life. In the Old Testament, Psalm 23 has been an anchor for me and a picture of God’s love for me. Psalm 23 has provided a lot of guidance for my life.
What do you like to do with your free time?
My wife Rachel and I really enjoy getting in our jeep on a pretty day and just driving around exploring Florida. I also love the outdoors — fishing, hunting, canoeing, bicycle riding and playing tennis. But my true love is my family. I love doing anything they want to do.
If you weren’t a pastor, what would you be doing?
I’ve been a chaplain for a fire department, police department and a hospital and those experiences were very rewarding. So, if I had to do something else, it would probably be a chaplain, because that would put me in the lives of people and I would get to help others when they really need someone.
Is there something about you people would be surprised to learn?
People are surprised when I tell them that I really think I’m over my head (being the pastor of such a large church). Also, I still get nervous when I preach, even though I love it. It’s such an awesome responsibility and I want to make sure that I please the Lord. So, even though it may not look like I get nervous, I do because preaching the Word is such a big thing.
What brought you to First Orlando?
It began with a phone call from a First Orlando search team telling me that they wanted to talk to me. My first reaction was that I wasn’t very interested because I didn’t think God was going to move me from where I was. Things were going great; it was a perfect setup. But as I prayed about it, I realized that I needed to be obedient and at least speak with them. So, I met two of the search-team members in Birmingham, Alabama. We talked for a long while and they shared with me what they believed God wanted for the church. I was still unsure and said to them, “I just don’t know if I’m the guy.” I drove away that day and was wrestling with it. The only way I was going to know for sure was to come here, see it, and prayer walk — I hear from God best that way. So we planned a family vacation that spring to come to Orlando. We did that, then went home and continued to pray about it. On a Friday night, I was sitting at the kitchen table with the family, and one by one I let each one share what they were feeling. To the person, they all said it was going to be the hardest thing they’d ever done, but they believed God was in it. So, we made the decision. I called the chairman of the search team and said we believed it was God’s will that we come and meet the church and let them vote. The day I came was that May 15, 2005 I mentioned earlier. It was a good day and a real confirmation that this is what God wanted. And there have been many other confirmations since then.