With the overwhelming responsibilities of being a full-time pastor whose message is broadcast weekly via television to 40,000 cities in the U.S. and 202 nations, a daily half-hour radio program and 90-second radio feature, it’s a wonder he can carve out any time on the courts. Yet to achieve all that he does, he knows he must not only keep his spiritual side tuned, he must keep his physical side tuned as well.
“I enjoyed skiing with my wife, Anne, up until two years ago but the last couple of years health problems have made that difficult,” he said with a touch of remorse.
Staying off the ski slopes isn’t the only thing that’s been difficult for Kennedy. Being a committed Christian and preaching the gospel has come with its share of painful experiences—ones that include inaccurate and detrimental media reports, piercing insults and periodic death threats.
While not out to deliberately create enemies, he acknowledged that the “truth of Jesus” isn’t a message everybody wants to hear or readily accept. “If I didn’t make somebody mad, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a Christian,” he stated, unapologetically.
Kennedy was converted to Christianity at the age of 24 when he was awakened on a Sunday morning by a preacher’s stern question on his clock radio—“Suppose you were to die today and stand before God and he were to ask you, ‘What right do you have to enter my heaven?’ What would you say?” He soon discovered the answer and shortly thereafter was called into the Gospel ministry.
Born in Augusta, Georgia, Kennedy was reared in Chicago and moved to Florida while in high school. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Tampa, a Master of Divinity from Columbia Theological Seminary, Master of Theology from Chicago Graduate School of Theology and Ph. D. from New Work University–facts all readily available on his one page biography or on the church’s web site. Few know the whole story. It started with his love of music.
While playing in a band concert during his senior year of high school, the University of Tampa’s music director was on a scholarship-scouting mission, something unbeknownst to Kennedy. Upon hearing his clarinet solo in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the music director offered him four-year scholarship—a most fortuitous event. Just a few days earlier, his father had leveled the unhappy news that he wouldn’t be going to college. They couldn’t afford it. Majoring in conducting, Kennedy went on to become the university’s drum major and lead clarinet soloist.
In response to whether he still plays the clarinet, he laughed warmly then replied, “Every few years the church has an amateur talent show and they will prevail upon me to open the clarinet case and let the moths fly out. That’s the only time I ever play anymore.”
Along with his love of sacred music, he also enjoys big band, classical and tenor or soprano operatic arias. Kennedy is an avid reader, enjoying biographies, history and science (as a child he wanted to be an Astronomer). He is also a prolific writer and is currently completing book number 58. His more popular titles include: What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?, Led by the Carpenter, Solving Bible Mysteries, Skeptics Answered and God’s Absolute Best for You.
In addition to his pastoral, recording and writing responsibilities, in 1962 Kennedy founded Evangelism Explosion International, a lay-witnessing program now used in every nation and territory on the globe. Westminster Academy, a fully accredited K-12 academy with over 1200 students, was founded in 1971, and Knox Theological Seminary was launched in 1989.
Kennedy would like the non-Christian community to see him as “a caring human being and a man of God, hopefully a sincere one.”
And of his legacy?
“My goal is to try to bring the gift of eternal life to as many people in this world as I can before I leave it, in fact, let me add, and after I leave it because I’ve tried to plan things that will have an impact for years to come.”
With all he’s accomplished, it appears he’s doing just that