By David Dawson
Contributing Writer, B&R

170313jim-henry-bookNASHVILLE — As those who have spent their lives in the ministry can attest, the phrase “retired pastor” is often a misnomer, perhaps even an oxymoron.

That is certainly the case for Nashville native and former Tennessee Baptist pastor (Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville) Jim Henry.

The former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Henry definitely hasn’t been sitting around with his feet propped up since his retirement in 2006 — unless it was sitting in airports or vehicles getting to his next assignment. 

“I’m busier now than I’ve ever been,” said Henry, before adding with a laugh, “or maybe it just takes me longer to get everything done. (It’s) one of the two.”

Joking aside, Henry has indeed maintained a hectic pace throughout the past decade. He has served as a transitional pastor before taking on his current role as the senior pastor  of a rapidly-growing congregation at Downtown Baptist Church Orlando three years ago. (Before moving Orlando’s First Baptist Church to its present site, Henry had pastored in the Downtown Baptist location. The church is now experiencing new growth, with many millennials preparing to live closer to their downtown jobs.)

Henry also recently completed an autobiography — entitled Son of a Gunn — which was published last month.

“I didn’t retire, I was redeployed,” he said. Henry noted he recently crunched some of the numbers and realized just how loaded his schedule has been: “I looked back over the last two years, and I figured out that I’d preached or ministered in 90 out of 93 weeks.”

When Henry does have any “free” time, he often spends it doing something he is passionate about — but it isn’t fishing or playing golf. Rather, Henry is passionate about encouraging and supporting deacons by leading conferences across the nation. He has led three conferences for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board since January and has one more on March 25 at Sevier Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville.

“I just love it,” said Henry about leading the deacons conferences.  “I feel a special anointing on it. I don’t know what it is except the Holy Spirit.”

Henry said deacons have impacted and shaped his career in countless ways, and he is delighted when he can provide encouragement for them.

“(When the) deacons and the pastor get along, the church can really go forward,” he said.

As for his recently published autobiography, Henry said writing the book enabled him to count his blessings all over again.

“Junior Hill and Jerry Vines — who wrote their autobiographies — told me ‘You’ll get more out of (writing the book) than the people who read it will, because you’ll look over your shoulder and see the goodness and faithfulness of God.’ And that’s exactly the way it’s happened. … My biggest problem was what to leave out. I just kept saying, I need to put this in and take that out. So that the biggest challenge I had, I think, was what to take out and what to put in. I felt like I left out so many things, so many wonderful experiences of the Lord’s grace. I hope there’s enough in there that it will be a blessing.”

Even while writing the book, Henry maintained his typically hectic schedule.

For the record, Henry doesn’t seem to have plans of slowing down any time soon.

“It’s been a wonderful run and God had given me a word (about it),” said Henry. “One day in the Scriptures, it seems like his word just jumped out to me in Psalms: He says ‘you’ll teach this generation, you’ll blossom like a fig tree, you’ll grow like the cedars of Lebanon in the house of the Lord, you’ll bear fruit in old age, you’ll be fresh and green, proclaiming the Lord is my rock, the Lord is righteous and there’s no unrighteousness in Him.’ And when I read that, I said, ‘Lord, I know that’s for everybody, but I’m especially claiming it for me. If You’ll give me extended life, I’d like to encourage churches and pastors.’ ” Henry added, “And that’s exactly what He’s done.”

So, for now, retirement — in the truer sense — is simply on hold for “Bro. Jim.”  And perhaps it always will be.


Henry Also Gives Tips for Revitalization

NASHVILLE — Jim Henry, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, says that one of the most fulfilling aspects of his work in the ministry is seeing the revitalization of churches and watching congregations reach their potential.

Below, Henry has outlined some keys to revitalizing the church body, including some of the most important factors that have led to growth at Downtown Baptist Church Orlando, where he is currently the senior pastor:

(1)                   The willingness of the people to follow. “The church has to have a sense of mission. There has to be an understanding that God has put the church here for the Light to shine; that’s why we’re here.”

(2)                   Understanding the DNA of the church. “Any church, wherever it is, has to understand who they are. Understanding the kind of people you can reach is also important.”

(3)                   Be patient. “It’s not just going to take off all of a sudden. You have to dig in for the long haul. It’s about teaching the people to keep working and keep praying.”

(4)                   Building a team. “I have found that if you get competent, dedicated people who have a heart for it, you can jump in there and get things done. It’s about having a team with a mission, who have spiritual giftedness, and talent.  It’s like the old adage, ‘If you get the right person, on the right seat on the bus, going the right direction, you can go a long way.’ ”

(5)                   Be generous. “At Downtown Baptist Church Orlando, we said we were going  to put the Lord above ourselves and be givers and be a generous church.”

(6)                   The sovereignty and providence of God. “This is the biggest thing. The church is His work. … It’s wonderful how God works.”