BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — David Platt opened his last sermon as senior pastor of the Church at Brook Hills by saying he’s not usually an emotional person. But even preachers far more reserved than Platt—known for his impassioned, pleading calls for radical discipleship—would have struggled to keep their composure during Sunday’s commissioning as he leaves Brook Hills to take up his new job as president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Before Platt preached the second service in a full auditorium on the sprawling, suburban Brook Hills campus, he baptized his 8-year-old son, Caleb, adopted from Kazakhstan when he was only 11 months old. David Platt looked on beside the gently flowing baptismal waters as Caleb read his testimony from a laminated sheet, then the father immersed his son as a brother in Christ. Near the end of the 105-minute service, Brook Hills announced that they had donated $20,000 in the Platt family’s name to Lifeline Children’s Services, a Christian agency based in Birmingham that assists families in international adoptions. Rather than return to an auditorium named for him at Brook Hills, church leaders told Platt as they announced the gift, he could one day look out on families that have followed in his example and cared for the orphans.
Sniffles could be heard and reddened eyes could be seen throughout the auditorium as Platt preached from 1 Corinthians 15 on three reasons to hold fast to the gospel with radical faith. Even though the message may have been familiar to anyone who knows Platt’s preaching and bestselling books, the occasion lent special urgency and import to his summary of the message that transformed Brook Hills and shook up evangelical churches around the world. Praying that his work has not been in vain, Platt urged Brook Hills to resist “comfortable, casual, cultural Christianity, because that’s not Christianity.” He reminded the church of 1 billion people—many of them Christians—living in desperate poverty and billions more who do not believe or even know the gospel of Jesus.
“We don’t have time to waste on games in the church,” Platt said.
Southern Baptists and other evangelicals can expect to hear much more from Platt along these lines as he assumes his new role with the IMB. While he fulfills previous speaking engagements this fall, his family will continue to live in Birmingham. He plans to launch a 30-minute teaching podcast intended in part to encourage missionaries with the IMB, currently headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. Platt also said Secret Church, which first introduced him to the wider church with intense evenings of topical teaching, will continue as planned for April at Brook Hills as he develops a long-term strategy.
Platt, 35, arrived in Birmingham eight years ago as the youngest megachurch senior pastor in America—perhaps ever. He inherited a church that prospered in the 1990s but floundered in the wake of scandal after the retirement of its founding pastor. Platt’s messages, which eventually became Radical with more than 1 million copies sold, upended Brook Hills and eventually other Birmingham churches, which came under general criticism for capitulating to cultural standards. On Sunday Platt continued to insist that even large, Bible-believing churches such as the one he’s departing must not become comfortable with the “American dream.”
“Birmingham Christianity falls short of biblical Christianity,” Platt said.
Platt brings a bold, uncompromising vision to the crown jewel of America’s largest Protestant denomination. The IMB inspires pride even in some of the most skeptical young Southern Baptists who bemoan the denominational politics that directs funding and leadership. Platt’s administrative skills will be tested as he seeks to recruit new missionaries and raise additional funds. The challenges of leading a megachurch may be surpassed by responsibility for nearly 5,000 missionaries supported by more than 40,000 churches.
The experience Platt gained in Birmingham as a controversial (especially among other established churches) yet widely beloved (especially among college students and young adults) pastor will be invaluable as he calls Southern Baptist churches to radical, sacrificial, risk-taking faith. If Jesus had not been raised, Platt said, such faith would be rightly pitied. But since he has been raised, such faith should be envied in this world. And Jesus advances his kingdom through such radical, obedient children.
Platt closed his last service with Brook Hills by, appropriately, reading the Great Commission with the congregation. The words of Matthew 28:18-20 had commissioned many Brook Hills members during the last eight years to sacrifice their time, money, family, and much more so that others might hear and obey what Jesus commanded. Now Brook Hills read these words over Platt and his family as they sent them away for a new calling with unseen challenges and untold promise for kingdom expansion.