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David McKinley: determined to be a blessing

Warren Church in Augusta's new pastor shares his journey to Georgia


AUGUSTA — Few people could have a richer spiritual heritage than David McKinley, the pastor of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta. McKinley grew up in Memphis and proudly identifies himself as a product of Bellevue Baptist Church.

Twenty days before his birth R.G. Lee, Bellevue’s pastor and perhaps Southern Baptists’ greatest pulpit orator, wrote David’s mother a letter saying, “I am thinking of you and praying for you during these days of expectancy.”

The McKinley family was closely tied to Bellevue and David’s mother served the church as the youth director during a portion of Lee’s pastorate. Shortly after David was born the venerable pastor took him in his arms and prayed for him.

After 33 years as pastor of the Memphis church Lee retired and the church called Ramsey Pollard to be pastor. During the eleven years of Pollard’s ministry at Bellevue, McKinley was nurtured by the spiritual life of the church and was baptized at the age of nine.

Gerald Harris/Index

Warren Baptist Church Pastor David McKinley counts R.G. Lee, Adrian Rogers, and Jack Graham as the three most influential people in his life. April marks McKinley’s first anniversary in serving the Augusta church.

“However, I did not settle the issue of my salvation until Adrian Rogers became Bellevue’s pastor. During those formative teenage years Dr. Rogers spoke my language and helped me understand that the Scriptures were not only truth, but also wisdom for life. I was baptized again at age 18 by Pastor Rogers because I wanted to get my baptism on the right side of my salvation.”

McKinley wistfully recalled, “Although Dr. Lee was quite elderly at the time of my high school graduation, he wrote me a letter of congratulations.”

Then he added, “But Adrian Rogers baptized me, married me, and ordained me. In fact, the three most influential people in my life have been R.G. Lee, Adrian Rogers, and Jack Graham. I loved Dr. Lee for his truth and brilliance. Adrian gave me the ‘fire’ I needed for ministry. Jack put the wind in my sails. He pushed me forward in ministry.”

McKinley earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Memphis State University, a Master of Divinity degree from Mid-America Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Talbot School of Theology.

When the Augusta pastor graduated from Mid-America Seminary, Jack Graham, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., brought the commencement address. On the day of the commencement there was a luncheon and McKinley was seated at the same table where Graham and seminary president Grey Allison were eating. He noticed that the two men were having what appeared to be a private conversation and he somehow had the eerie feeling that they were talking about him.

After the luncheon Allison approached McKinley and said, “Jack Graham wants to meet you.”

When the commencement speaker met the graduate he simply said, “Send me your resume.”

McKinley recalled, “That was May 5 and I didn’t hear from Jack again until late September. I was working on a landscaping crew that summer after my graduation and praying for an opportunity to fulfill my calling in ministry. In fact I was working in the yard at the Rogers home when Jack called Adrian about me. Adrian came out into the yard and said, ‘David, that West Palm Beach church is hot on your trail.’”

In October of 1983 the Mid-America graduate was ordained at Bellevue and headed to First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach to serve as the Young Married Adult Pastor. Reflecting on those days in West Palm Beach McKinley stated, “God was using Jack’s gifts to reach people and change lives. It was a ‘Camelot’ in ministry.”

When Graham accepted the call to Prestonwood Baptist Church just north of Dallas, Texas, he asked McKinley to go with him. David explained, “I went with Jack as a 31-year-old and tried to mesh with a veteran staff and take all the infrastructure of Jack’s ministry from West Palm Beach to Prestonwood.”

In 1992 McKinley was called to First Baptist Church of Merritt Island, Fla., the church Rogers had served prior to being called to Bellevue. After six years Boca Raton Community Church called the Memphis native to be their pastor.

Since the Boca Raton church is not affiliated with any denomination, David’s friends warned him, “It will be denominational suicide if you go there.”

McKinley insists, “It was a great experience. I encountered some of the greatest believers in that church anyone would ever want to meet.

“I was in Boca Raton at a critical time in our nation’s history. It was the epicenter of the 2000 presidential elections – right where the ‘hanging chads’ claimed national attention. A year later America experienced the horror of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. Nine of the fifteen terrorists lived within five miles of our house. It was during that same period of time that the anthrax scare surfaced no less than a mile from where we lived.

“However, it was a time when our son, Joseph, had his faith galvanized and strengthened.”

In 2002 Jack Graham, who was to be nominated as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, felt the need to call McKinley back into service at Prestonwood and asked the church to call him as a “teaching pastor.”

David commented, “While we were in Texas in view of a call someone broke into our house in Florida and robbed us. I told Jack, ‘I think God moved us out of Florida while I was visiting you.’”

At Prestonwood, McKinley became the regular teacher on Wednesday evenings and during Graham’s presidency preached to 15,000 worshippers 12 to 15 weekends a year. “I was the designated hitter. I would get in the game and do the best I could,” he stated.

“Jack wanted to take some time off and had given me the privilege of preaching a Christmas series at Prestonwood in December of 2007. At the end of one of those December worship services Jack stood up and put his arm around me and said, ‘David could be a pastor anywhere in America, but we are blessed to have him here.’

“The next day I got an email from Mike Sizemore, the chairman of the pastor search committee at Warren. The email simply stated, ‘We’ve got a church for you.’

“We didn’t come to Augusta until April 2008. The committee was so patient with us. But when I met them I told my wife I liked those people. I like all eight of them.”

In looking back upon the experience with the Warren committee McKinley explained, “I realized it was a good time for a transition in my life. I turned 50 and became a grandfather last year. I knew I had another chapter in my life that needed to be written.

“In addition to all that I heard an incredible statement that greatly impacted my life. I heard someone say, ‘Die to the dream of being a success and live to be a blessing.’ So, I had been praying, ‘Lord, I believe you have given me gifts and experiences that you want me to use. I don’t want to know where I can have the most success, but where I can be a blessing.’”

McKinley expresses great certainty about being where God wants him. With tongue in cheek he expressed delight in being pastor of a church on the same road where the famed Master’s golf tournament is held each spring. Being a golfer himself, he said, “When I announced my resignation at Prestonwood I explained to them that I had heard the Master’s call.

“Warren is a great church – one with a great disposition.”

Jim Overstreet, one of Warren’s stalwart members, appraised McKinley’s first months of ministry at the Augusta church by saying, “For our church to gain his favorable attention was remarkable in the first place. It is hard to put into words what he has already meant to our fellowship. The spirit of the church is wonderful and the dynamic between the staff and the congregation is profound. David fosters a love for one another. His leadership has been the catalyst to create the wonderful atmosphere we enjoy at Warren. I love my pastor.”

McKinley is married to the former Connie Hall. They met in the college department of Bellevue and recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.

David and Connie have two children. Their son, Joseph, is a graduate of Liberty University. Joseph’s wife is Abigail and they have provided for Joseph’s parents a granddaughter, Isabella, who is four months old. The McKinley’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Mary Liz), is a sophomore at Liberty.

David testifies, “Connie and I were married for seven years and could not have children and we made the decision to adopt. Nothing is more significant in my life than our two kids. Through the whole process with our children I have learned a great lesson – God allows us to travel a pathway we’d never choose in order to experience a blessing we could never have comprehended.”