It was 1985 or 1986. I was a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary in New Orleans Louisiana. I was browsing in the bookstore and noticed a little book entitled How To Make Your Church Hum. It was written by a man I had never heard of: Paul W. Powell from Tyler, Texas. He was Pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church. I bought the book and was blessed by it.
Shortly after that, in the spring of 1987, I drove to Natchez, MS, where Dr. Powell was preaching a revival at First Baptist Church of Natchez. After the service, I drove him to his hotel and we spent about two hours drinking coffee and talking church. That conversation was the beginning of a thirty-year friendship with Dr. Powell. Over the next thirty years I took advantage of every opportunity to meet Dr. Powell when he was in the area. I met Dr. Powell several times at the airport when he was in Mississippi preaching for the Mississippi Baptist convention. Once when he did a revival at New Orleans seminary, I went down and we went to lunch together. One year when the Southern Baptist Convention was in San Antonio Texas, Holli and I went to Tyler to go to church at Green Acres before going to the convention. On one occasion, he preached a revival for me when I was pastor at First Baptist, Vancleave on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
Dr. Powell was a prolific writer. Every time he wrote a new book, he would send me a copy. When he was President of the Annuity Board, he wrote a book every year and gave them away to pastors when they visited the Annuity Board booth at the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition to his books, at one time, Dr.Powell mailed a quarterly newsletter to Pastors. Each newsletter had a story, a sermon idea, and some quotes. Each one had great information for pastors.
About two weeks ago, I called Dr. Powell. I hadn’t spoken with him in a while so I just called to chat. He told me he was planning to have a stent put in that Friday. We talked about life and death. Dr. Powell said he was ready to go if it was his time. I never dreamed that would be my last conversation with him. Dr. Powell suffered a stroke before he had his surgery and he passed away late Wednesday night in Tyler Texas.
As I think about his life, a couple things come to mind; First, he always returned his phone calls. You may think that’s not a big deal. But it was a big deal. Paul Powell was a busy man but he always had time to talk. In a day where some think they’re too important for the little man, Paul W. Powell always returned his phone calls and always had time for you.
Second, he was a hard worker. When he went to Green Acres Baptist Church, they were averaging 700 in Sunday school. When he retired, they were averaging 2,400 in Sunday school. Dr. Powell majored on personal visitation. Once he visited s prospect during a snow storm. Most people would be sitting at home by the fire drinking hot chocolate. Not Paul Powell. When he arrived at the home he was visiting, the man asked “Preacher what are you doing out in this weather?” Dr.Powell replied, “I’m out because you’re in.” He was a hard worker.
Third, he was a great leader. He inspired me every time I was around him. Whether it was a phone call or a note or a book or a personal visit, he always motivated me.
Dr. Powell grew up poor in Beaumont, Texas. To say that he overcame a lot would be a great understatement. The Lord reached down into Beaumont Texas and called a young man whose family was not in church. He sent him to Baylor University where he worked his way through school and then on to Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary. He would become one of the greatest Pastors in the history of the Southern Baptist convention. Dr. Paul W Powell is proof that God can use all of us in spite of our background.
When Bum Phillips was Head Coach of the Houston Oilers he once said of Earl Campbell, “He may not be in a class by himself but it doesn’t take long to call roll.” The same is true of Dr.Paul Powell; he may not have been in a class by himself but it didn’t take long to call roll.
II Samuel 3:38 says, “… Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?” A great man has fallen in Baptist life/ Southern Baptists and Texas Baptists lost a great man when Paul W. Powell passed. I lost a friend and mentor. I am so thankful for every conversation, every book, every note, every phone call that I received from Dr.Powell. He was a great man whom God used to touch thousands of people.