Dr. O.S. Hawkins – A Continuing Legacy of Faith in Fort Lauderdale

Dr. O.S. Hawkins
Dr. O.S. Hawkins – Photo Courtesy of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

A Spiritual father to many, Dr. O.S. Hawkins helped lay the foundations of faith in Fort Lauderdale, leading First Baptist Fort Lauderdale, as pastor, for 15 years through a period of revival and growth in the 1980’s that included construction of the landmark church in the heart of downtown and establishment of the beloved Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant. An iconic pastor, prolific author and passionate advocate for Israel, Hawkins currently serves as chancellor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary but keeps Fort Lauderdale close to his heart, returning often as an honorary speaker at the church he formerly pastored and acting as a pastoral mentor in our community.

 

Advocating for Israel

Just weeks after the October 7, 2023, attack on Gaza led by Hamas, Hawkins traveled to the war-torn region of Israel to visit the massacre sites and provide support. Having traveled to Israel annually since the mid-1970’s, Hawkins and his wife, Susie, have had the privilege to meet many of the prime ministers and consider Israel a big part of their ministry. “I have so many friends in that land,” said Hawkins, “and when they go through a catastrophe, you just show up and stand with them. It’s the ministry of presence.” On this trip, however, he said, “I saw things I never thought human beings were capable of doing in those slaughters. It was just horrendous.”

Dr. O.S. Hawkins
Dr. O.S. Hawkins and Pastor Tim Dilena, of Time Square Church in NYC, stand with an Israeli soldier at one of the massacre sites in Israel

Israel is a very important part of the plan of God, explained Hawkins, who believes we have a responsibility to the land and the Jewish people. “God made so many promises to the Jews and to the nation of Israel, and we know God keeps his promises,” said Hawkins. “He warned them in Ezekial 36 and Daniel 4 that He would scatter them all over the world, and that’s exactly what we saw. After 70 A.D. when Titus and the Roman Legion destroyed the city of Jerusalem, the Jews were scattered all over the world just like prophecy tells us. In Amos 9, God said He would gather them back from the four corners of the earth. And in Zachariah 12 we have the promises that He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that the land would be theirs for an everlasting possession.” And while he has friends on both sides of this issue, he said, “In the final analysis, I’ve chosen to view the culture that’s around us through the lens of scripture, and when I do, I see that God has special promises to Israel, everlasting covenants that he’s going to keep, so I stake my life on the truth of God’s word.”

 

Sparking revival

Hawkins served as senior pastor at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale from 1978 to 1993 and took a contingent from South Florida to Israel every year after Christmas, ringing in the New Year from Jerusalem. At 30 years of age, he was the youngest lead pastor the church had ever had when he was called from First Baptist Church in Ada, Okla., to First Baptist Fort Lauderdale, and the church exploded under his watch. Beginning with a congregation of about 500 in 1978, First Baptist Fort Lauderdale attracted enough parishioners to fill its newly constructed 4,000-seat auditorium for two services each weekend 15 years later.

The late Gene Whiddon, founder of Causeway Lumber Company, was on his search committee and became fast friends with Hawkins as a fellow visionary. Whiddon’s son and former president of Causeway Lumber, Scott Whiddon recalled Hawkins and his father “often had breakfast together early in the morning and did a lot of strategizing and dreaming about the future of the church.”

Together they spearheaded a capital campaign entitled “Lord, do it again,” raising several hundred thousand dollars to purchase adjacent property and construct the beautiful, large auditorium that now stands downtown.

 

Attracting people

Hawkins recalled how the building drew people in. He shared the story of the late Harvard lawyer, Bob Miltenberger, who looked down on the church from his office in the former Landmark Bank building until one day he decided to check it out. His visit to First Baptist led to a decision of faith that helped transform his marriage, and he became an active member of the church for years.

“God just began to bring all sorts of people to our church from all walks of life,” said Hawkins. “One of the great days was when Stephan and Gigi [Graham] Tchividjian moved to Fort Lauderdale. Stephan was a Christian counselor with a Ph.D. from Marquette who opened up our counseling center, directing all of our Life Management Training. He and his wife Gigi became very close friends with my wife and me. And Every January when Gigi’s father, the Rev. Billy Graham would come down to spend time with Gigi and their kids, I would usually take him to lunch. We had a big crusade with him in 1985 at Lockhart Stadium and Gene Whiddon was the chairman of the crusade, of course.

Dr. O.S. Hawkins
Susie and Dr. O.S. Hawkins at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

They started the annual Feast of Plenty, feeding 5000 people a full course turkey dinner the Saturday before Thanksgiving on Broward Boulevard in front of the church. “We had probably 1000 people working on different committees to make it happen with evangelism people at every table sharing Christ.” They also initiated the Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant, which remained a holiday mainstay in South Florida for 36 years with more than 1.2 million people attending the Emmy Award Winning Pageant over the course of its history.

“Those were some of the greatest days of our lives,” recalled Hawkins, fondly. “In those 15 years, we were able to see what few people have ever seen in a local church – lots of people whose lives are transformed. Since I left, I’ve preached all over the country two or three Sundays a month, and it’s very seldom I don’t have somebody come up to me and tell me that they came to Christ during those days in Fort Lauderdale. In those days, “Money” magazine called Fort Lauderdale the most transient city in America with a third of the population moving in and out every year, so people were scattered all over the world.”

 

Following Jesus

Stephan N. Tchividjian, co-founder and CEO of the National Christian Foundation South Florida, said, “I remember meeting O.S. as a young teenager, having just moved into South Florida. He was my parent’s pastor and therefore mine. During those impressionable years it was critically important for me to have leaders who were authentic followers of Jesus. O.S. wasn’t just a preacher, but he had a pastor’s heart. His versatility inspired me. He had this unique ability to pastor the business titans in our city all the while caring for the homeless person on the bus bench. He served as an evangelist, acted as mayor, connector extraordinaire, had great sense of humor and was always up for an adventure. Lisa and I were honored to have him be one of three officiants at our wedding, which was a great honor for us. Lastly, I admired the way O.S. did marriage… in that there is no O.S. without a Susie. Susie’s spunk, wisdom, graciousness and strength are evident as we all see the incredible wake that this couple has left in our world. South Florida’s Christian community stands on the shoulders of team Hawkins and we are forever grateful.”

An author and speaker in her own right, Susie Hawkins remembers their move to Fort Lauderdale as a young couple as a little scary, but invigorating and adventurous. “You never really know if they’re going to embrace a young pastor and his new ideas, and coming from Texas originally, [South Florida] was a foreign culture to us.” However, they were received with a “spirit of cooperation,” and she was grateful for the influence of Grace Chavis, an influential church member who led a women’s Bible study at the church. “Grace Chavis was a mentor to so many women and was way ahead of her time in women’s ministry. She was evangelistic, an intercessory prayer person and strong on marriage. I learned so much from her and when she stopped teaching, I taught for several years.” Susie was also involved in youth ministry, serving as a chaperone for the teen girls on summer camp trips while also raising two daughters of their own.

 

Embracing change

In 1993, Dr. Hawkins was called to serve as senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas after the retirement of Dr. W.A. Criswell, who led the church for 50 years and was among the most influential ministers of his time. “Dr. Criswell grew the church to be the largest Baptist church in the world for many of those years and he was a real mentor to me,” said Hawkins. Although the decision to leave Fort Lauderdale was emotional, Hawkins said, “We really sensed God was leading us and we feel like he has been all these years since.”

Hawkins served at First Baptist Church of Dallas until 1997 when an opportunity came to head up GuideStone Financial Resources, one of the largest Christian mutual funds with $22 billion under assets, where he continues as president emeritus. Serving there for 25 years, Hawkins said, “It gave me an opportunity to take Christ into the marketplace where I would have never had opportunities to pastor.”

About18 months ago, Hawkins began his current role as chancellor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, that enrolls about 4000 students in their master’s and doctoral programs annually. Engaged in the leadership of the school, Hawkins teaches a few classes, sometimes conducts chapel and said, “It’s given me a great opportunity to stay sharp and be with young people going into ministry.”

 

A mentor

One of those charismatic young ministers Hawkins now teaches at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is Charlie Hughes, the son of David Hughes, who now leads First Baptist Fort Lauderdale and Church by the Glades.

Hawkins said, “We’re thrilled with David’s leadership! I preached there last Easter 2023 when [First Baptist Fort Lauderdale] was without a pastor, and to see that great building with just 300 or 400 people in there was a heartbreak for me. But I said in that service that I believe next Easter you’re going to see this building overflowing. And sure enough, when David opened the newly renovated building Easter Sunday a few weeks ago, they overflowed both those services with more people than they’ve had there in 30 years. So, I’m very ecstatic about his leadership and what God is doing there. I’ve gotten re-engaged with them and I’m sharing every victory God’s giving them as if it were my own.”

Dr. O.S. Hawkins
The Code Series

When Hughes was pastoring his first church in his early twenties, he recalls Hawkins calling to take him to lunch. “He was always very thoughtful and encouraging. Now he’s a peer, he’s a colleague and he’s one of my heroes. I joke that when O.S. calls me, I turn into a 26-year-old church planter again. His ministry was so impactful. He’s just a unique, charismatic, smart, funny, larger-than-life personality in all the best ways, and he’s keeping evangelism on the front burner. South Florida is a world class mission field, and this is the place where we need to be winning people to Christ. That’s always been his heartbeat.”

Interestingly, the first book Hawkins published in 1980 was titled, When Revival Comes and retold stories from his first two years at First Baptist Fort Lauderdale, drawing principles from Nehemiah. Since then, he has written about a book a year, including The Code Series. For example, The Joshua Code discusses 52 scripture verses every believer should know and The Jesus Code espouses 52 questions every believer should answer. There are 12 books in The Code Series and all the royalties from them go to Mission Dignity, a ministry that serves retired pastors and their widows living at the poverty level. Hawkins’ most recent book is a biography about his hero, Dr. W.A. Criswell, entitled Criswell: His Life and Times, which was released in April.

However, it’s the relationship Hawkins has developed with those around him that impressed Scott Whiddon the most. “When I think of O.S., I think of the word LEGACY,” said Whiddon. “He has embraced, encouraged and enthused the next generation of Christian Leaders. True Leaders are those who care less about their ego in this life and establish their legacy in the lives of others – who invest their time, talent and treasure in the lives that follow theirs. The evidence of this can be readily seen in O.S.’s life through his relationship with his wife, Susie, his family and his commitment to his faith and his Lord and Savior. Long after he is gone, his legacy will thrive… not because of a book he has written, not because of his name being on a building, but because he has loved people and especially loved the next generation.”

For more stories by Shelly Pond, visit https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/shelly/

 

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