Born NOVEMBER 3, 1930
It wasn’t a great start! When he concluded his first twelve months pastoring he’d reduced his congregation from 45 to 17. That’s how gung-ho seminary graduate, Dennis James Kennedy, ended his first year in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
How did he get to be a pastor? How did he rise above the disappointments of that first year to become so influential around the world? The answers help define one of Christianity’s great success stories of the Twentieth Century.
DANCING TO A DIFFERENT TUNE
D. James Kennedy, commonly known as Jim, didn’t become a Christian until age 23. When he was 20, the Tampa, Florida resident took a job as an Arthur Murray dance instructor. Skilled at what he did, Jim expected to make his career on the dance floor.
One day while giving lessons, Jim met his future wife. He became Anne’s dance instructor. They started dating. They agreed on many things, but didn’t see eye to eye concerning church. When she tried to get him to attend with her, Jim told Anne, “You don’t have to go to church to be a good person.”
One morning after an all-night dance party, Jim’s views began to change. He was sleeping in from a hangover. His radio alarm clock did more than wake him; it gave Jim a spiritual wake-up call. It wasn’t music that poured from his radio that morning in 1953; it was a preacher’s voice.
The radio preacher, Donald Grey Barnhouse, stated firmly, “Suppose you were to die today and stand before God, and He were to ask you, ‘What right do you have to enter into My heaven?’ — what would you say?” That ended Jim’s restful sleep, but the question sent him on a search.
Jim went to a local newsstand looking for a religious book. He purchased a copy of The Greatest Story Ever Told. When he finished reading it, Jim got on his knees, asked God’s forgiveness for his sins, and committed the rest of his life to following Jesus Christ.
THE STEPS OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN
Jim plunged into his new life with fervor. He read the Bible, memorized portions of scripture, and was soon leading the Sunday school class he’d started attend-ing. Jim quit his job as a dance instructor and began preaching at a mission church, Bethel Presbyterian Church in Clearwater.
Some highs and lows awaited Jim in those early years. On August 25, 1956, Jim and Anne were married. He worked on his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Tampa. They moved to Fort Lauderdale where Jim severely reduced his number of parishioners that first year. But hope awaited just around the corner, give or take a few hundred miles.
A friend from seminary invited Jim to his church in Atlanta to hold evangelistic services. Part of the agreement included the two of them visiting people in their homes. Not just visiting, but witnessing. Jim learned from those house calls that he didn’t know how to do it well.
However, the education he received from the experience burned something into Jim’s soul. Back in Fort Lauderdale, he turned what he’d learned into a witnessing training program. He named it Evangelism Explosion. That plan, also known as “E.E. turned around the attendance at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Other pastors heard about it and wanted to repeat Jim’s success in their churches. Jim held the first E.E. clinic for other pastors on February 20, 1967. The successful program began spreading across the country. In 1970, Tyndale Publishers released the book Evangelism Explosion based on Jim’s master’s thesis. The program’s impact increased.
SOME BIG SHOES
As Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church continued growing, so did its influence.
In 1974, Jim’s book, Truths That Transform, led to the church’s radio program, Truths That Transform. In 1978, TV broadcasts of the Sunday morning services began under the title The Coral Ridge Hour. The content of Jim’s sermons made him a strong voice for conservative Christianity, which led to national magazines quoting him and to invitations to interviews on national television.
Jim Pastored Coral Ridge for 48 years. During that time, the sermons he preached and the 50-plus books he wrote clearly detailed Biblically based themes that he presented as God’s Cultural Mandate.
James Dobson has called Jim, “A giant in the battle to restore traditional values in our nation.
During his time at Coral Ridge, God helped Jim build the congregation from 17 members to over 2,000 per Sunday.
On February 23, 1996, E.E. became the first ministry to reach into all 221 countries of the globe.
In 2005, Jim was inducted into the National Religious Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame.
Following a heart problem in December of 2006, Jim officially retired. He died in his sleep September 5, 2007.
LET ME KNOW: How has Jim’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Neela Banerjee. “Rev. D. James Kennedy, Broadcaster, Dies at 76,” The New York Times, September 6, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/06/us/06kennedy.html?_r=1&.
- Sarah Pulliam. “Empire Builder D. James Kennedy Dies at 76.” Christianity Today, September 6, 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/septemberweb-only/136-42.0.html.
- Williams, Herbert Lee. D. James Kennedy: The Man and His Ministry. Nashville, TN.: Thomas Nelson, 1990.
- You can find books by Jim at Christianbook.com here- http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/easy_find?Ntt=D.+James+Kennedy&N=0&Ntk=keywords&action=Search&Ne=0&event=ESRCG&nav_search=1&cms=1&search=.
- Books by Jim at Amazon.com begin on this page- http://www.amazon.com/D.-James-Kennedy/e/B001IXO3BK.