William “Bill” L. Bennett Sr., 93, died early Jan. 11, but many Christian leaders shaped by his mentoring ministry said his influence continues.
“His contribution in Kingdom advance will not stop even though God has chosen to call Bill Bennett to glory,” said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, in an email to the Biblical Recorder.
“The investment he made throughout his life as a pastor, a seminary professor, in training thousands of believers to share their faith and the mentoring he has done with a large number of men will continue to produce a harvest resulting in many more lost people coming to faith in Christ. I thank God that He allowed my life to intersect with this great influential servant leader.”
Founder of Mentoring Men for the Master (M3), based in Wilmington, N.C., Bennett served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Fort Smith, Ark., for 19 years. During his tenure, the church became an international base for Evangelism Explosion (EE) training. M3 began as a small group, but eventually grew into a worldwide ministry.
He is a graduate of Wake Forest University (1948) and received master of arts and master of divinity degrees at Duke University (1948-1953). He earned a doctor of theology degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1965.
Bennett was a 12-year member of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), now known as LifeWay Christian Resources, and a trustee at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He served as interim pastor at Wilmington’s Calvary Baptist Church in the 1990s and two interim terms at First Baptist Church in Leland, N.C.
He was professor of preaching and pastoral ministries, as well as campus chaplain (1998-2015), at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, N.C. In recent years, he attended Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington.
Bennett penned several books, including Handbook for Mentoring Men for the Master, Thirty Minutes to Raise the Dead, The Book for Beginners, The Life You’re Looking For, 10 Absolute Life Changers of Men, The Indispensable Role of the Holy Spirit and Politically Incorrect Answers to Today's Burning Issues.
“It’s based on a relationship with Jesus,” Bennett said of his mentoring book, in a 2012 Biblical Recorder article. “You’ve got to depend on the Holy Spirit.”
Bennett commented that men were desperate to learn how to be spiritual leaders at home and incorporate the Bible into everyday life.
“Most men are not the head of their home at all,” he said at the time. “They don’t even lead in prayer. We show them how to disciple their families.”
Jim Henry, former SBC president and longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla., said Bennett touched his life deeply.
“At New Orleans Seminary, he became my friend and taught me accountability, discipline and generosity. He mentored me in small things that ended up being big things,” said Henry. “One day, he greeted me by asking, ‘Brother Henry, have you prayed today?’ What an unbelievable man! He had one of the brightest minds of any man I have ever known. We lost a treasure.”
Bud Russell, minister of education and administration at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, said God used Bennett in a “dynamic way,” especially through the most difficult time of his 35 years in full-time ministry.
“The challenges and losses in our personal family, multiple tragedies that affected my family and our church family and community were compounded many times over,” Russell said of the year 2012.
Bennett advised and shepherded Russell through specific Bible verses, which Russell has in turn used to help others.
“His command of the scripture, an enormous amount of which he had memorized, maintained and used so fluidly was absolutely amazing,” he said. “I seldom saw him open the Bible except for using it as a prop as most every text he used he quoted and many times those were multiple verses at a time. It was obvious that the Bible was Dr. Bill Bennett’s most valuable earthly possession!”
Hollifield heard Bennett preach at a church in Fort Worth, Texas, while the N.C. leader was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He learned about EE, the well-known method of training people to share their faith.
After Hollifield’s graduation, he was serving West Asheville Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C., and wanted to be certified as an EE trainer. He went to Bennett’s church in Arkansas.
“In those days, this was one of the largest churches in the SBC because they had a strong evangelism-equipping ministry utilizing EE,” Hollifield said. “From the first devotion he presented in that conference, even before he began leading the training sessions, I was convinced that Dr. Bennett had an intimate walk with Jesus Christ and was greatly anointed by God’s Spirit as a pastor, preacher and a wonderful teacher. As I listened to him throughout the week, I seemed to catch at least a measure of Bill Bennett’s zeal to help others come into a salvation relationship with Christ and mature as a follower of Christ. I quickly grew to love Dr. Bennett as a brother because of his love for Christ and his love for reaching lost people.”
Even after the training was over, Hollifield continued to listen to Bennett’s sermons and closely followed the establishment of his M3 ministry.
“Dr. Bennett had a greater impact on my life than he was ever aware even though I attempted to convince him,” he said.
In 2012, the Biblical Recorder published two articles on Bennett’s influence with his mentoring group, including one on Jim Gillespie, pastor of men’s ministry at Richland Creek Community Church in Wake Forest.
“Dr. Bill sacrificed his time and resources to meet with me in order to mentor me into becoming a godly man who fulfills the Great Commandment and also the Great Commission,” said Gillespie.
Gillespie was a drug addict, high school dropout and had just left an outlaw motorcycle club, when he began to read his wife’s Bible. He was saved in 2003 in his living room. When he started attending a church, someone mentioned Bennett to him, and they met.
“From that day forward he poured into me all of God’s Word,” Gillespie said. “Walking me through every aspect of life as a Christian man. As a husband, father and disciple of Jesus. He pushed me to live a life pleasing to God and obedient to His Word in every detail of life. He made great sacrifices for me so that I could find work and get an education.
“Dr. Bill Bennett was a great man of God who loved Jesus with all of his being, and he mentored thousands of men to fulfill the great commandment and great commission. His ministry brought glory to God around the world. I thank God He sent Dr. Bill into my life.”
Gillespie has continued mentoring the men of his church.
“It is hard to say how much I owe him and love him,” he said.
Danny Akin, president of SEBTS, said, “Heaven is certainly richer today with his homegoing. Bill Bennett was a wonderful pastor and incredible mentor. I lost count many years ago of the number of men he poured his life into and who looked to him as a father in the ministry.”
An upcoming colleague at SEBTS, Scott Pace, said, “The impact of the life and ministry of Bill Bennett is inestimable. Those who knew him will celebrate his life as a model of godliness and faithfulness. His personal investment in pastors and people will continue to spiritually reverberate through generations to come.”
Bennett is survived by his son, William “Bill” L. Bennett Jr. of Dothan, Ala.; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Doris Palmer Bennett, and two sons, Philip Judson Bennett of Greenwood, Ark., and David Palmer Bennett of Wilmington.
Visitation will be Mon., Jan. 15 at 1 p.m. at Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington, with the memorial service at 2 p.m. Senior Pastor Phil Ortego will conduct the service. A graveside service will follow at Manley Bennett Cemetery in Calabash. The funeral will be streamed live via the church website: scottshill.org/live or through its Facebook page.
If anyone would like to share a story about Bennett with family members, please email [email protected].
Memorials to M3 through the website (mentoringmen.net; under special instructions, add that the donation is in honor of Bill Bennett) or send a check to 1213 Culbreth Dr., Wilmington, NC 28405 with a note about the donation’s reason on the memo line.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – K. Allan Blume, Biblical Recorder editor, contributed to this article.)