How do you celebrate the life and ministry of an “ordinary” man used by God to launch church planting movements around the world, disciple Christian denominations, counsel internationally-renowned ministry leaders, mentor CEOs of billion-dollar companies, and reform the culture of one of America’s most violent prisons?
You do what that same ordinary man has done daily throughout his ministry – draw near to God through prayer and Bible study.
Such was the emphasis during a two-day celebration of Henry Blackaby’s 80th birthday at First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ga., as hundreds of people recommitted themselves to God’s call on their lives while also paying tribute to the author of the widely influential Experiencing God – Knowing and Doing the Will of God.
Since its debut in 1990, the discipleship study has been translated into more than 45 languages and sold more than 7 million copies. And yet the miraculous multiplied effect of its influence worldwide finds its roots in the early morning devotional time of an obscure Canadian Southern Baptist pastor whose own teenage daughter was battling cancer.
Photo by Turner PhotoDesign
Henry Blackaby, author of “Experiencing God,” and his wife Marilynn enjoy a lighthearted moment during a two-day celebration of his 80th birthday at an Atlanta-area church where his son Mel is pastor.
“This is an ordinary person who rises early to meet an extraordinary God,” said Richard Blackaby, the eldest of five children, president of Blackaby Ministries International (BMI) and coauthor of the revised edition of Experiencing God, released in 2007.
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, called Blackaby “a prophet of God” who has “taught millions and millions [of people] to say, ‘Speak Lord, Your servant is hearing.’ And he’s taught us how to position ourselves where we can hear the call of God and experience the call of God on our lives.”
Burl Cain, warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola for the past 20 years, credited Experiencing God with setting hundreds of death row inmates and “lifers” spiritually free.
More than 2,000 inmates at the prison near Baton Rouge, La., have completed the 12-week study – helping spawn a 73 percent decrease in prison violence. “Experiencing God changed the culture of the prison,” Cain said. Now, hundreds of inmates are part of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s extension program within the prison.
Claude King, who coordinated the editing of Experiencing God for its publisher Lifeway Christian Resources, recounted that assimilating Blackaby’s pre-dawn devotional writings and teachings for publication revolutionized his biblical worldview.
“I realized so much of what I said was man-centered rather than God-centered,” King said.
Blackaby said he was never interested in simply writing another Bible study course. “I told Claude King, God’s people don’t need another course book,” he said during the April 17-18 gathering. “Is there another way we can write this so it won’t be just another course, but will become a deep experience with God just in the process of studying? That’s the one comment I hear more than any other – ‘This study became the deepest experience with God I’ve ever known.’ Please understand that’s what we prayed.”
Johnny Hunt, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., said Blackaby is one of his heroes.
“I am a byproduct of your life and your ministry,” Hunt said. “Thank you Henry for giving to the Lord. I am a life that was changed.”
Photo by Turner PhotoDesign
“Experiencing God,” first published in 1990, opened doors for international ministry for Henry Blackaby, whose 80th birthday was celebrated in an Atlanta-area gathering of friends April 17-18.
Hunt cited an Experiencing God principle he’s employed over the last 28 years at First Baptist Woodstock: “God is not our servant to bless our plans and desires. He is our Lord and we must adjust our lives to what He is doing and to His ways.”
To that end, Hunt said the Atlanta-area church he leads had commissioned its 136th family to the international mission field and has started 120 new churches.
“When you labor where [God] is already at work, He accomplishes His purposes through you,” Hunt said in citing another principle from Experiencing God.
Mel Blackaby, Henry and Marilynn’s third son and pastor of First Baptist in Jonesboro, said his parents’ track record in ministry reflects the biblical principles taught in Experiencing God.
As in 1970, when Blackaby resigned as pastor of a large church in Downey, Calif., to become pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Over the next 12 years, the once-dying church grew from 10 members to a thriving congregation that launched 38 mission churches as well as the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and College.
In the early 1980s as a director of missions in Vancouver, British Columbia, Blackaby led an evangelistic initiative that resulted in 20,000 people professing faith in Christ during the World’s Fair.
Before retiring at the age of 65 as director of the North America Mission Board’s Office of Prayer and Spiritual Awakening, Blackaby had also served as an adviser to the presidents of the International Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.
And over the last 15 years through Blackaby Ministries International, he has provided spiritual counsel to countless pastors, missionaries and corporate executives around the world as well as former President George W. Bush.
“The most profound contribution of Henry Blackaby may not be what he has already written or spoken but what will be done in the future because of his life,” Richard Blackaby said.
At the birthday celebration, Richard Blackaby announced the establishment of the Henry Blackaby Legacy Fund which has a goal of $2 million of which $250,000 has already been pledged.
“His five children and 14 grandchildren will continue to serve the Lord and Blackaby Ministries International will continue to promote biblical teaching on the Christian life to churches around the world,” Richard Blackaby said. “God has mightily confirmed BMI’s global plans to sustain my dad’s legacy as we continue to challenge church and marketplace leaders in joining God where He is at work.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lee Weeks is a writer based in the Atlanta area.)