Senior pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg (founded by his late father, Jerry Falwell)
Executive Vice President of Spiritual Affairs at Liberty University (37,000 students)
Appeared on Oprah, CNN and Fox News Network
Accomplished photographer whose work is featured in Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, Washington Post, and others
BS, Liberty University
MA in Religion, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary
JD, William Howard Taft University in Santa Ana, California
Jonathan Falwell: Carrying a Legacy
By Christy Biswell
The 700 Club
ONE SPRING MORNING
Jonathan Falwell says that May 15, 2007 started like any other day. He went to work at Thomas Road Baptist Church where he had served as Executive Pastor since 1995 under his dad, Jerry Falwell. He did not know the drama that was unfolding before him across campus. When Jonathan’s dad was reported as “missing” from a daily appointment, his secretary sent some people to his office to see if Jerry was in there. When they walked into the room they found Jerry Falwell on the floor, unconscious. Jonathan quickly received word to go over to his father’s office.
“I didn’t know what I would find at Dad’s office, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the reality,” Jonathan recalled.
Rescue personnel were already on scene feverishly working over his dad to try and revive him. Jonathan grabbed his dad’s hand and began to plead with him to open his eyes.
“I’d never felt more desperate and alone in my entire life,” Jonathan said.
He prayed diligently that his father would breathe again, but he did not. Jonathan can still remember the heartache he felt as his dad, friend, mentor, and hero was dying.
As the ambulance raced through the streets of Lynchburg, Jonathan thought to himself, “No, this can’t be happening.” At the hospital, the emergency personnel tried everything possible to revive Jonathan’s dad, but he was gone.
NOT I, BUT CHRIST
Just a few days later, Jonathan would stand before more than 10,000 people and potentially millions more through television, and comfort them as he also grieved the death of his father.
As Jonathan prepared for his sermon, he was physically and emotionally spent. He even began to second-guess his ability to think clearly. So, he emailed Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and asked him to look over his sermon. Ergun emailed him back a quote by Charles Spurgeon, Jr. In that quote, Jonathan found the words from Galatians 2:20 (KJV), “Not I, but Christ!”
These words gave him the strength to stand in the pulpit a few hours later and share a message of hope as he grieved the loss of his father with the congregation that was grieving the loss of their pastor.
The service ended with thousands gathered around the altar for a time of personal prayer. Jonathan shares how the message, “Not I, but Christ” continues to encourage people to this day.
Jonathan says he has learned a lot about himself and his need to depend on God since his father’s death. Two of the important lessons that have brought him daily comfort are:
- The End is Worth the Beginning – Remain focused on the end, not the present despite your circumstances.
- The Reward is Worth the Cost – God doesn’t make a mistake, even when we can’t see the big picture.
A NEW, EXPANDED VISION
Two weeks after his father’s death, Jonathan was called to be the Senior Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church by a unanimous vote of the church congregation.
“It would have been easy to simply coast along on all that God had performed over the past 51 years of their church history,” Jonathan said. “Millions had heard the gospel, tens of thousands had been educated through the school system, and thousands were attending the services, but I knew God wanted more for us.”
He believed that God wanted to expand and enhance their vision.
“He wants to give us a brand-new vision that, while connected to the past, will carry us into the future,” Jonathan said.
Over the past several months, Jonathan has seen God’s blessings continue to be poured out on the ministry with 1,800 baptisms, 5,000 salvations, 2,800 new church members, and over 18,000 members in attendance weekly.
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