In a surprise announcement, Mac Brunson said April 20 he is stepping down after 12 years as senior pastor of the 10,000-member First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
Brunson, 60, said in a statement posted on Facebook that he and his wife have sensed for several months “that the Lord was bringing our ministry to a close here in Jacksonville.”
While he does not know what lies ahead, Brunson said the couple believes “that some of our most productive and fruitful days of ministry are ahead of us.”
Brunson came to Jacksonville in 2006 to replace recently retired pastor Jerry Vines from the pulpit of First Baptist Church in Dallas. Brunson had served there seven years and was followed by current Pastor Robert Jeffress.
The transition was rocky. Criticism of Brunson’s handling of money by an anonymous blogger escalated into litigation involving the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office that was settled out of court.
Church leaders said in statement that no scandal is involved in Brunson’s departure. “Dr. Brunson’s service has been characterized by moral and ministerial faithfulness, and no individual or group within our church asked him to leave,” it said.
Brunson’s successor is already in place. In 2016, Brunson asked Heath Lambert, associate professor of biblical counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., to join him as co-pastor in anticipation of a seamless change in leadership when Brunson retires.
The church-approved transition plan gave both senior pastors the freedom to depart whenever they wished, leaving the remaining pastor as the sole senior pastor of the church. Vines, named pastor emeritus in 2007, initially joined First Baptist in a similar arrangement in 1982, serving as co-pastor with Homer Lindsay Jr., who retired in 1999 and died the following year.
Lambert said on Twitter he is “grateful for the ministry of Mac Brunson” and “praying for his next phase of fruitful ministry.”
Lambert, who received his Ph.D. in biblical counseling from Southern Seminary in 2009, advocates “biblical” counseling, a method of pastoral care that uses teaching in the Bible in lieu of secular therapies and medications to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns.
Last fall an online petition blamed Lambert for the firing of a fellow professor who teaches Christian psychology, drawing on both spiritual resources and practices of contemporary psychology. Lambert denied orchestrating his colleague’s dismissal but apologized for the tone of remarks about him in a lecture recorded in 2016.
In 2012 Lambert was elected executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He announced his resignation April 6, saying his plan to lead both the organization and First Baptist Church “was not as successful as I hoped it would be” and that he was spreading himself too thin.
Lambert’s replacement, Dale Johnson, an assistant professor in biblical counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, will be installed at the group’s annual conference in October in Fort Worth, Texas.