I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to interview the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church, Jonathan Falwell, for the Champion. It was a pretty interesting experience; a lot of people only know him as Jerry Falwell’s son or that guy that preaches on television. The interview had to be cut down for the paper due to space, but I decided to post the uncut version here.
What responsibilities come with the title of vice chancellor of spiritual affairs?
Liberty University has always been focused on not only training young people academically, but also spiritually. Dad always made sure that we are on track spiritually. We have to be deliberate we have to make sure that nothing will creep into this university that will head us down the wrong path, where we lose sight of what we really are. We want to make sure that we stay solid. My responsibility will be to insure that the faculty members continue to understand that this is a spiritually sound institution. We’re not going to let faculty members come here who don’t believe what we believe. We want to make sure that our students and staff stay on track spiritually, so that no one has this bright idea of trying to take us down the wrong path.
How does this position affect or complement your role as pastor of TRBC?
Liberty University was founded out of TRBC. When it was first started, all the classes took place inside the church, and members of the church gave the money to build this institution. And the pastor (at the time), who was my dad (Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr.), was always the head of the institution. So the importance of connecting the two and making sure that they stay intertwined is important. The importance of the relationship (between the church and the university) is one that we can’t take lightly. My role as a pastor here is to help the people stay on track spiritually, and also to make sure that this church will continue to do the same for Liberty’s staff, faculty and students in the years to come.
How do you hope to accomplish that?
I meet often with our campus pastors. Not one faculty member is hired without my signature; I approve all of them. We make sure I continue to meet with Dr. Towns, Dr. Caner, Ron Godwin, my brother (Jerry Falwell Jr.) and other vice presidents and deans to make sure we stay on track. If something were to creep in, such as a faculty member teaching the wrong thing or a class that’s going in the wrong direction and running counter to what the university and the church are all about, I would bring it to the attention of the dean and the vice president and try to correct it. The way it is accomplished is the fact that we stay very diligent and focused in everything that we’re doing.
How do you unwind after a long day at the office?
I have my wife and four children: a 12-year-old, an 11-year-old and twins that are 8 years old. When I leave after an incredibly long day at the church and I walk in the door, I’ve got those four kids that are chasing me down, jumping on my back, climbing all over me and shooting rubber bands at me. I pretty quickly forget what has happened at the office, because I realize that the most important thing I do, besides my relationship with Jesus Christ, is growing in my relationship with my wife and my children. It’s not difficult at all for me, because those kids make sure they keep me pretty grounded. It’s a lot of fun, and when I focus on them when I get home, I quickly forget what’s happened during the day.
What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment really has nothing to do with my ability. It’s looking back in the last 16 months and being able to be used by God to continue to grow this church, to continue to have people get saved each and every week, seeing the people that are baptized and people whose lives are being changed. It has nothing to do with me. My greatest accomplishment is willingness to allow God to work in my life and use me in a small way to be able to stand up in front of thousands of people here and millions more by television and continue to do what my dad did for 51 years. I will be the first to tell you that I am in no way near as talented and gifted as my dad was, and I never will be, because he was a remarkable man and no one will be able to replace him, at the university or the church. He was incredible. It’s humbling to be able to look and see that, in all that he did in 51 years, that now God is using me to continue that vision and path. That certainly would be my greatest accomplishment on a professional level.
My greatest accomplishment on a personal level is the fact that I married an incredible woman and was blessed with four incredible children, and I’ve been able to have a family that is just amazing. To me, that is an accomplishment that far eclipses anything I’ll ever do at this place.
What Biblical passage do you go to often to keep you grounded as you go about your life?
Second Corinthians 3:4-6 basically tells us that our sufficiency is not of ourselves; our sufficiency is of Christ. That tells me very clearly that I don’t have what it takes to do my job, I don’t have what it takes to be a dad, I don’t have what it takes to be a husband, I don’t have what it takes to be a spiritual leader. But my sufficiency is not in myself, and it shouldn’t be. It should be in Christ. That’s why a little over a year ago I put that sign on the back wall of the church that says, “Not I But Christ.” That’s what Galatians 2:20 says. The passages that I focus on often really relate back to the fact that all I’ve got to do is be willing to be used by God, to make myself available to Him, and He will give me and put in me everything I need to accomplish what God has called me to do. What’s incredible about those passages is that they’re for everyone. It’s true to anyone. It doesn’t matter the situation or how difficult things may be going at that time. My dad always said, “God will never put more on you than in you to bear it up.”
What is the Inside Out Program?
We have over 3,000 church members that are out serving in the community in various different projects. We are building playgrounds downtown and some of the school and community centers we have been involved in the local schools in providing donuts and coffee and delivering them to teachers and students in the classrooms we have been painting and fixing up other churches. We are involved in filling up trucks full of food. We’ve sent 4 tractor-trailer loads so far to Louisiana and Texas in the aftermath of the hurricanes. We’ve provided food to all the food kitchens and soup kitchens and ministries in town who provide meals to those who can’t afford it or are maybe a difficult time. We’ve filled up their pantries and will continue to do that. It all comes down to Matthew 22:37-39, where Jesus said love God with all your heart soul and mind, but love your neighbor as yourself. We want to reach this community for Christ, but we have to make sure that we earn the right to be heard that we let them know that we not only care about their soul, but that we care about their physical needs and where they are in their lives and we want to make sure we do what we can to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from this program so far?
It’s been incredible. I’ve gotten many letters and e-mails from people thanking us for caring, and I think as a church and believers, one of the greatest compliments you can get is when nonbelievers in your community tell you that they appreciate you caring about them. That tells you that they see Jesus in you. If we can make sure that we are focused on that, we will see hundreds of thousands of people who on a daily basis see the love of Jesus Christ through our actions. We want them to see that because we want to earn the right to be heard, so that when we do share the gospel, they will know that we are doing it because we truly love and care for them.
How can Liberty students get involved in the Inside Out program?
Students can get plugged in by calling the church and talking to some of our missions pastors. There are already other campus ministries, such as CampusServe and community service projects, that students can get involved in. There are plenty of areas to get involved. But the only way to actually make an impact is to step out of your comfort zone, take the first step, and go to a ministry and say, “I want to help. I want to serve.” We can’t make you make a difference in the community. But if you take the step to do it on your own, you will be blessed immeasurably and you’ll see lives being changed, and that’ll make an eternal impact on you.