Personal memories of John W. Rawlings
By Mike Randall
I became aware of John W. Rawlings as a first-year student at Baptist Bible College in 1960. I painted signs for businesses and R. O. Woodworth, the school’s business manager, hired me to paint Rawlings’ name on the door of the remodeled vice president’s office. Later I got to hear him speak in chapel and learned that he was also the dynamic pastor of Landmark Baptist Temple in Cincinnati, OH, one of the largest churches in America. He was part of the school’s leadership team that challenged BBC’s graduates to success. He helped motivate a “charge hell with a squirt gun” mentality. BBC graduates became known for winning people to Christ and planting churches.
I was a pastor in Ohio during the late 1970s. I had endured some personnel problems in my church, felt defeated and discouraged. I invited John W. Rawlings to be a featured speaker at a Michigan/Ohio Fellowship meeting hosted at our church. I have a vivid memory of his challenge to us pastors. He urged us to do the work of the ministry. Then he spoke what seemed a direct word from God to me. He said, “Forget your failures! Get busy winning people to Christ and move on!” That was just what I needed. I immediately put aside my self-pity and got back to work doing what God called me to do.
In 1996, I was serving as editor of the Baptist Bible Tribune (1995-2002). John W. Rawlings had stepped down from his Cincinnati church and decided to establish the Rawlings Foundation with his family. As the administrator, Rawlings guided the foundation to provide funding for churches, schools, youth camps, and other enterprises around the world, including a yearly conference for BBFI leaders. His vision and burden blessed numbers of BBFI missionaries and their works.
In my own ministry, gifts from the Rawlings Foundation allowed the Tribune to make significant improvements and put our magazine in the hands of pastors from several likeminded groups — over 100,000 for several months. At the same time, he led the foundation to make many gifts to Baptist Bible College and Boston Baptist College as well. In fact, when I served as Baptist Bible College president (2002-2008), a gift from the Rawlings Foundation in 2005 was crucial to the school achieving regional accreditation. It is proper and fitting that the school’s administration building bears his name.
Over the years, I recall several occasions when John W. Rawlings and I didn’t see eye to eye. When he disagreed with me, he let me know it and wasn’t hesitant to share his views with others. Still, I remember occasions when we put aside differences and came together to achieve goals to advance our common purpose. The purpose and priority of winning people to Christ always won out in the end with John W. Rawlings.
John Rawlings was a giant
By Elmer L. Towns
I first met John Rawlings when I was writing the book The 10 Largest Sunday Schools And What Makes Them Grow. I first interviewed Harold Henninger of Canton Baptist Temple; he helped me understand large churches. The second person I interviewed was John Rawlings; he helped me understand pastors of large churches. The very fact these ten pastors had built the ten largest churches in America made them giants.
I knew John Rawlings for 44 years, since 1968. He did not change in all those years. He was big on Landmark Baptist Temple from the beginning. He was big on evangelism, and there are many he personally won to Christ, not counting those who came to Christ under his preaching. There are people all over Cincinnati who were saved at Landmark, also including those who heard the message across America through his radio broadcast. He was big on gospel music, the music that moved the hearts of those who came to his church, or attended his evangelistic crusades. But most of all he was big on serving the Lord. No one ever doubted his obedience to Jesus Christ. Those of us who knew him could say he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his mind, and with all his soul.
John Rawlings was big on helping young preachers. He always had time for them when preachers visited his church. He wanted to help them build a bigger church.
John Rawlings was a giant who shook up pastors’ meetings. He spoke at many Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings, both state and national, not to mention other denominations and interdenominational meetings. When he spoke everyone got his point, whether or not they agreed with him. He shook up lethargic preachers, sometimes they determined to go build a great church, and sometimes they crossed their arms and rejected what he said. But John Rawlings was a giant who could not be ignored, just like no one can ignore a giant when he walks into a room.
Giants defend their family and friends. The Baptist Bible Fellowship and fundamentalism in general have lost a great giant who was a staunch defender of the fundamentals of the faith, the integrity of the local church, and the American right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But even giants must die. God has given a life cycle to everything that grows. There is conception, growth in the womb, and then birth. There are lessons to be learned of walking, speaking, running, and in school lessons of fighting for survival. John Rawlings learned these lessons well. There are lessons about work, love, marriage, children, and plans for the next generation. John Rawlings also learned those lessons well. He grew greater than most men, and more influential than most pastors, and he lived 99 years, longer than most … and then God took him home.