Known by many for his close friendship with beloved evangelist Billy Graham — and serving as Graham’s pastor for many years — Don Wilton recently announced plans to retire from his longtime role as pastor of First Baptist Church Spartanburg.
Wilton has served as pastor of the South Carolina church for 29 years. He preached the convention sermon at the 2006 SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., and he served that year as president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Wilton reportedly served with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s schools of evangelism in the 1980s but didn’t meet Graham until 1993. Just prior to their meeting, Baptist Press reported, Wilton had preached his first televised sermon through the church’s television ministry. Wilton currently is president of the Encouraging Word television ministry.
“Following my very first message, my telephone rang, and it was Dr. Billy Graham,” the native of South Africa recalled after Graham passed away, according to the news report.
“He was most kind to me,” Wilton noted. “One can only imagine what was going through my mind.”
Graham would eventually become a member of the church from 2008 until he passed away in 2018.
Wilton thanked his congregation during his Aug. 14 announcement for allowing him the opportunity to serve them, and he noted the decision to retire has been in the works since 2018.
‘We need fresh leadership’
Wilton recalled how he knew it was time for new leadership even though the church was experiencing a time of growth prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Lord, we need fresh leadership,” he recalled praying during his announcement. “I need to make way for a new pastor, just as I was when I was that age. Our church needs to go and find God’s man.”
While the pandemic initially delayed his retirement plans, Wilton told the congregation, “We knew it was time and that the time is now.”
The church noted that Wilton plans to retire sometime in early 2023. An author of several books, Wilton also has written a variety of magazine articles.
EDITOR’S NOTE: With reporting by Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.