Purpose: The Stephen Olford Center at Union University is dedicated to facilitating educational programming that embodies the ministry legacy of Dr. Stephen Olford as expressed in the Founding Vision and Core Commitments and advances the mission of Union University by encouraging and equipping students to serve through the Church and in society with Christ-centered excellence.
Dr. Stephen Olford (1918-2004) was one of the world's most dynamic Christian leaders of the 20th Century. Throughout his life, he taught boldly and effectively about the importance of expository preaching, evangelistic teaching and spiritual growth. Many of his sermons, lectures, and books can be found on this website.
Stephen Olford was born in Zambia as the son of missionaries, Frederick and Bessie Olford. The Olfords had three sons, Stephen, Paul, and John. Paul Olford with his wife, Joy now resides in the south of England. Stephen was raised in Angola, where he committed his life to Christ and witnessed first-hand the transforming power of God and His Word.
He spent his college years in the United Kingdom and a crisis experience led to his full surrender to the Lord and his call into the ministry. After receiving ministry training, Olford was appointed an Army Scripture Reader during World War II, and he launched a Young Peoples Christian fellowship in Newport, South Wales. After the war, Stephen was involved in extensive evangelistic and preaching ministry throughout the U.K. and overseas.
In 1953, Dr. Olford's years of pastoral ministry began by serving the Duke Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Surrey England (1953-1959) and then the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City (1959-1973). He pioneered a Christian TV program, Encounter, in New York, and his Sunday morning services were broadcast around the world on radio. His weekly half-hour radio program, also called Encounter, aired in the United States and some overseas countries.
Dr. and Mrs. Olford, and their son David, moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1985 to develop a training program and Center to encourage and equip preachers and teachers of God's Word. Dr. Olford had already been involved in an extensive teaching, preaching, and writing ministry to help preachers, establishing the Institute for Biblical Preaching in 1980 and later in 1988 the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching was dedicated to this end. These were both at the Stephen Olford Center at Union University's current location.
Stephen Olford was recognized nationally and internationally for his powerful exposition of Scripture, and his Christ-centered ministry. In recent years he has been viewed as a mentor and model to thousands of preachers, teachers, and pastors in the United States and around the world. He has also received numerous awards, honorary degrees and distinctions. As an ordained Baptist minister and a conservative evangelical by conviction, Dr. Olford ministered across many denominational, cultural, and racial lines. Besides his extensive preaching ministry, he authored numerous books, booklets, and preaching resources.
Dr. Olford's influence upon thousands of pastors and preachers cannot be measured. He has had a significant role in the lives of many, including his longtime friend, Dr. Billy Graham. He has been called "The Preacher's Preacher."
He was a beloved evangelist, pastor, teacher, preacher, leader, mentor, and friend. He was also a loving father, husband, grandfather and family man in every sense of the word. On August 29, 2004, Dr. Stephen Olford, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Olford Ministries International, passed into the presence of the Lord. His wife of 56 years, Heather, and their sons Jonathan and David and their wives Catherine and Ellen and their five grandchildren, Jeremy, Justin, Joshua, Lindsay and Stephanie, succeed him.
“His love of life was demonstrated through his love for his family. I watched a man that loved his wife, Heather, with all of his heart, soul, and mind, and always put her first. I watched a man that loved and mentored his two sons, Jonathan and David, and equipped them with Godly instruction.
“I watched a man with such a passion for Jesus that he would pray for special opportunities to come his way to share the good news of Jesus. He was truly a man of prayer. I watched a man that was transparent before God and others whether on the golf course hitting a bad shot or preaching from his heart. I watched a man share Christ with a golf caddy in the Dominican Republic. The following year, as he led a dedication service for a tiny new church, we all wept as that same golf caddy got out of his seat and walked forward to give his heart to Christ.
“I watched a man, like no other man I know, have a passion for the Word of God. His Bible truly was his best friend. He knew God’s Word from cover to cover. I watched a man that always had a humble spirit and attitude. I watched a man of Godly determination and commitment to the Lord Jesus.
“I watched a man with a passion to equip pastors with the art of expository preaching. His motto was: ‘Ministry to ministers is ministry to multitudes.’ It was more than a motto; it was a lifestyle. I watched a man that dearly loved his Board of Directors and accepted the full responsibility to nurture and train us to love the Word of God and to teach us how to exegete God’s Word.
“On behalf of Olford Ministries International Board of Directors, we commit to helping you, the Olford family, carry out the vision, the passion, the legacy of Dr. Stephen’s ministry of training pastors from all over the world. David, your father mentored you. Trained you. He shared his life and his vision with you. You caught the passion and the vision of OMI. Your dad recently told you, ‘Son, preach the Word. Preach the Word.’”
Mr. Herbert Fisher, Jr.
Chairman & CEO of Fisher Companies
Vice-Chairman of the OMI Board of Directors
“The most important memory of my life is the one I am about to share, that I think summarizes what I think when I think of Stephen Olford. When you came to the Institute for teaching you would get a chance to go into the study and he would take the time to show the books in the study, the great cloud of witnesses. We would listen to Dr. Olford’s heart. I remember one time I had an afternoon with him alone and we spent time talking about so many things relating to life and family and ministry. And then he was sitting behind his desk and I looked right into the eyes of Dr. Olford and I said, ‘Dr. Olford, would you please tell me what is your mission in life? If you could just sum it up for this young preacher, what is your purpose statement? What is it that cranks your tractor, Stephen? What really motivates you?’ And he looked at an inscription and he pointed at it. Ten simple words I think summarize Stephen’s life. And these words are these: ‘To be as holy as a saved sinner can be.’ And after he spoke those words into my life, we knelt there beside a chair; he laid his hands on me, and prayed that God would anoint my life. That was the kind of reachable and touchable person Stephen Olford was.”
Dr. James Davis
National Evangelists Representative for the Assemblies of God
Co-founder the Global Pastors Network.
“In 1988, when the Stephen Olford Center moved to its present location, three banners were prominently displayed in the lecture room. The first banner reads ‘Jesus is Lord’; the second, ‘Be ye holy’; and the third banner, ‘Preach the Word.’ These were more than just banner statements in the life and ministry of Stephen Olford. They were the philosophy of his life. They were the driving truths of his life.
“‘Jesus is Lord.’ He taught us that the lordship of Jesus Christ is the cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. Then he revealed to us, his young Timothys and all who were under his ministry and touched by his ministry, what life lived under the lordship of Christ looks like.
“The second banner says, ‘Be ye holy.’ How many times have we heard him preach with thrust and power, ‘Be ye holy, be ye holy.’ He would say to us that ministry issues out of life. And then this statement that has so often resonated in my mind, ‘God is more concerned about who you are than what you do. And if who you are does not please him then what you do is virtually useless.’
“And then that last banner, ‘Preach the Word, Preach the Word, Preach the Word.’ His word to his Timothys was that word, ‘Preach the Word.’ I would like to say today that we Timothys have received that baton and we intend to move forward into the future heeding the admonition of our teacher, our friend, our mentor. We are going to preach the Word.”
Dr. Roger Willmore
Deerfoot Baptist Church, Trussville, Alabama
Minister-at-Large for the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching
“He also taught me and the Calvary Baptist Church Congregation a lot about social justice. Because when Dr. Olford, a son of Africa and a son of England, was called by a sovereign God to New York City in 1959, Calvary Baptist Church had been in existence for well over 100 years. And yet, during that time, had not allowed people of color to enjoy equality in the congregation. Dr. Olford began to preach and to teach the love of God for all and that God is not a respecter of persons. As he began to preach and teach that with such conviction and such love, hearts began to be changed and the church went through one of those watershed events in its history, which literally held the potential to bless the ministry and the people or perhaps to even destroy it. He held his ground and God’s people began to hear the truth and to be moved. It came to a head in one major meeting, when Dr. Olford had prayed and preached, and basically they called for the vote and the congregation overwhelming voted to allow people of color equal rights in the church of Jesus Christ. And I remember reading his sermon. He said, ‘It’s not at all, in membership, about the color of one’s skin. It’s about the attitude of one’s heart with God.’ We were all moved deeply, even reading it years later.”
Dr. David Epstein
Calvary Baptist Church, New York, NY
“It was not the largest crowd that I have ever spoken to. There were only about sixty or seventy men in the room. But I can still remember today, my palms sweating, my knees beginning to shake, my voice crackling and crumbling when I stood up for the first time to preach at the Olford Ministry Institute and looked down and saw Dr. Olford sitting on the front row. There was something about being in the presence of a holy prophet of God that made me feel as if I had never preached before.
“But I want to tell you today that there was something about being in the presence of a holy prophet of God that made me want to preach like I had never preached before. It was encounters with Dr. Olford that set my life on a course that has the prayer that its end will be to be able to say the same thing that the Apostle Paul said, and that I believe Dr. Olford could say today, ‘For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5, NKJV).”
Dr. Jim Shaddix
Dean of the Chapel & Associate Professor of Preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, LA
Pastor-Teacher of Edgewater Baptist Church, New Orleans, LA
“I was born and raised in the metropolitan area of New York, over on the New Jersey side. I gave my heart and life to Jesus Christ the second Sunday in January 1964. I was thirteen and a half years old. From the very being of my walk and relationship with God, He placed in me a hunger and a thirst to know the word of God. I recall every Sunday morning before we would go to church – I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old, this was a ritual of mine – I would get up, go in my parents room, their bedroom, and they had a large radio there. And I would listen to this preacher from Calvary Baptist Church, over the bridge in New York. I was spellbound. Every Sunday morning I would do that. I remember praying as a teenager, ‘God, if I ever preach, help me to preach like this man.’ That man was Dr. Stephen Olford. I guess what moved me (no one can preach like Stephen Olford. I’ve heard many of us try – it ain’t happening. Don’t have a dog in that fight. So just be the best you can be), what I was really praying for and what I was really moved by, and I couldn’t wrap words around the impression, was the God-honoring way in which he approached a text of Scripture. And to this very day it’s like the wallpaper on a computer, it’s the backdrop of my life in ministry, whether I stand in front of a stadium of full of people, or in a small discussion group, the man’s signature is all over my soul. That launched me into a lifetime of honoring God and His Word.
When I got the word that Dr. Olford facing death, for whatever reason, as soon as I read the email I thought of a line from a secular song that Dan Fogelberg wrote. It says:
The leader of band is tired and his eyes are growing cold,
But his blood is in my instrument and his song is in my soul –
My life is just a poor attempt to imitate the man,
I’m just the living legacy to the leader of the band.
Dan Fogelberg, Leader of the Band. Album: Innocent Age. Released August 1981 on Epic Records. All compositions by Dan Fogelberg (©1979-81/ Hickory Grove Music-ASCAP)
And that’s what we are today. Thank God for Dr. Olford.”
Dr. Crawford Loritts, Jr.
US Ministries Associate Director
Campus Crusade For Christ, Union City, GA
“I am what I am by the grace of God and the ministry of Dr. Stephen Olford. I was only eighteen years old when I had the privilege of walking into a crusade in Messina, Sicily. I didn’t know a word of English and I saw this little man preaching the Word of God with such a power as I have never seen before. I wasn’t interested in the translation. I was caught up with the way this guy was preaching the Word of God. I came to the Lord two days after that, and my mother, my father, and my little brother came to the Lord the same night. Stephen Olford was instrumental in leading me to the Lord Jesus Christ. He was instrumental when, as a young student at Columbia Bible College, I happened to be down in Florida and Stephen Olford was there and he said to me, ‘Guy, I want you tonight to give your testimony.’ I could hardly speak any English but you know Sicilians, we’re not scared of anything. We just went all the way back there; after all we were with the godfather, right? I still remember him telling me, ‘Guy, now you give your testimony. Don’t preach. I preach. Remember, I preach. You don’t preach.’ I didn’t like that but I gave my testimony that night. At the end he was instrumental because he told me, ‘Guy, you are an evangelist. You are an evangelist.’ And of course, he gave the calling on my life. When, in 1983, I was in Amsterdam translating with the Italian delegation I met Papa, because I called him Papa, in a pizza parlor. I shared with him what I wanted to do. In that pizza parlor, he said, ‘Guy, I think this is what you need to do and you need to have a ministry.’ And Italy for Christ was born in Amsterdam in a pizza parlor with Dr. Stephen Olford. He was very instrumental. He was my Papa. Why did I call him Papa? Because my father died right after he basically met the Lord Jesus Christ and Dr. Stephen Olford was so interested in my life that I just felt like he was my spiritual father. I was a son in the faith.”
Dr. Gaetano Sottile
Founder/President of Italy for Christ, Rome, Italy
“I honor the passing of my father here as the lover of my wonderful mother, his sweet Heather, and the father of my brother, David, and me, and the loving and doting grandfather of Lindsey and Stephanie, Jeremy, Justin, and Joshua. In an age of watered down character and profoundly distorted values, character, integrity, love, admiration, investment, truth, honesty, transparency, and meaning were all personified in the life and work of my father, as you have heard. What does this mean? Well, I think my mother said it best as she reflected on his life with three of the wonderful and dedicated nurses who cared for him at Baptist Memorial Hospital, when she said: 'I have never known another man who was so like Christ.'
“Today we grieve in part for we have lost someone remarkable, someone truly great, my hero. Yet, the angels have been celebrating the homecoming of a choice servant who ran the race well. And we celebrate, too, the victory over death, knowing full well that soon we shall be reunited in the Lord’s presence. And knowing that at that time we will get to join with him and play, as he would say, the only game they play in heaven. And hear him call out ‘A hole in one!’ I look forward to that day when I can yell again, ‘Good shot, Dad!’ If I may, I am an old coach and I like audience participation, I would like to ask you to join me in standing to your feet to honor this man, consistent with the theme that Dr. Rogers spoke about. When one runs the race, it is truly wonderful. When one finishes the race strong, it is truly worthy of recognition. But when one wins the race it is worthy of applause. I would like to ask you to please join with me in applauding the victor, my father, Stephen Olford.”
Dr. Jonathan Olford
President, Crisis & Consultation Services, Fresno, CA
“I believe what my father would like me to say and my first responsibility is to give glory to the Lord. If he was standing right here right now I think after those applause, his head would be a little bit to the side like this, he’d have that smile, he’d have that right arm up into the air and his finger would be going just like this. And in that gesture you know what he is saying. He’d be saying, ‘All the glory, all the praise, all the honor goes to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.’ You see my father lived that text of Scripture that challenges me so much when I read it, where Paul said, ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7, NKJV).
"My father was a chosen vessel. He was choice vessel. I’d like to say he was a greatly used vessel. But he understood that the role of the vessel was to expose the treasure which is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God and the face of Jesus Christ. He would want us to leave this place today giving glory to God because that’s the role of the vessel, to let the treasure be seen, the treasure of the gospel. And he gave his life to that. And so to God be the glory. To God be the glory. To God be the glory. Great things He has done.”
Dr. David Olford
President of Olford Ministries International
“The world was at war. Night after night the enemy bombers came, troops by the thousand roamed a dark inner city. The Olford’s ran a rest home where soldiers and sailors could come in, sit down, have some cookies and some coffee and some conversation if Stephen was around. He led many a man to Christ in that place because that was just like him.
“Then came the Normandy invasion. As it drew near, our town was embarkation place for boats and barges and troop ships by the score, lining up to take on soldiers to deposit on the beaches of Normandy. Many of whom would die – most of them perhaps. Then Stephen Olford made his move. He found a vantage point. He raised his voice. He told those storm troopers how to make their peace with God. And then, as the troop barges and ships pulled away, he would dip into his capacious pockets and throw out New Testaments to all the soldiers nearest to him. That was just like him.
“I wanted to be like him – greatly gifted, wonderfully attractive, totally committed. That was Stephen Olford, my boyhood hero and friend.”
Dr. John Phillips
Bible Teacher & Speaker
Author of Life & Legacy of Stephen Olford
“Stephen Olford left his footprint upon my heart and life, as he has on people around the world. It began at a conference in Hildenborough Hall in London, October 7, 1946. My late wife, whose name was Billie, Billy Graham and I were there. We heard Stephen preach on the Spirit-filled Life. It really challenged us and changed our lives as we looked forward to six months of ministry in England. Stephen was always on hand to encourage us, to pray with us, to instruct us, to mentor us. We saw then a young man with a passion for the Word of God, a passion for Christ, a passion to teach and to mentor, a love for youth and a love for life.
“He took me flying many times in my spirit to the Word of God. And surely the book of Philippians must have been one of his favorites. I never read Philippians 3:10 but what I think of Stephen. That’s been true for 58 years. That I may know, in his beautiful alliterative style, the person of Christ, the power of His resurrection, the power of Christ, the fellowship of His sufferings, the passion of Christ, being made conformable unto His death, the provision of Christ. I thank God for this dear man who has impacted Billy’s life and my life all these years. And I would simply say,
Servant of God, well done!
Thy glorious warfare’s past;
The battle’s fought, the race is won,
And thou art crowned at last.
Servant of God, Well Done! Hymn. Verse 1. Words by John Wesley, 1770, on the occasion of the death of Rev. George Whitefield.
"Thank God, dear Jesus, for letting me know Stephen Olford, and for what his life and ministry has meant to all of us.”
Mr. Cliff Barrows
Music Director for Billy Graham Crusades
Radio & Television Program Director
“Twenty-five years ago, I went to a conference to hear Dr. Stephen Olford. I sat there, tears streaming down my face. I heard the Word with such purity and such passion. Something grabbed my heart that literally to this day continues to challenge me. But the thing that I saw was not what a man can do for God, even though he’s intellectual and schooled, etc. But what God could do through a man. I saw Christ in Dr. Stephen Olford. He’s taken that truth many times and watered it in my life. He became such a friend and mentor to me.”
Dr. Wayne Barber
Sr. Pastor, Hoffmantown Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Living Grace Ministries, Albuquerque, New Mexico
“I have been given the privilege to say a few words today from the Holy Scripture. I know Stephen would not be satisfied if we did not take a passage of Scripture and look into it. And the passage I have chosen is a very, very familiar passage, especially to preachers, and a passage that has been enunciated and elucidated over and over again in the Pastors Institute. Second Timothy 4:6-8, the Apostle Paul has an idea that its time for him to finish his journey, and here is what he says:
I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (KJV)
“These are the last words of a mighty man of God, and he’s looking at his life. He’s trying to assess it. And he thinks about the past. He thinks about the present. And he thinks about the future. So for Paul there was a time of review. In verse 7 he says, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’ And he’s looking backward at the ministry that God had done through him.
“Like Paul, Stephen Olford could say the same thing. Paul finished as a spiritual soldier. Stephen finished as a spiritual soldier. He was a warrior for God. You may not think of him as being a big man but, friend, when he stood behind a pulpit he weighed 300 pounds. What a mighty man of God. And what a warrior this man was. Some 25 years ago we were in battle for the Bible in the Southern Baptist Convention and I had the privilege of being the president. I invited Dr. Stephen Olford to come and I said, ‘Dr. Olford, I want you to preach on the Word of God because we’re in a battle.’ What a monumental message that man preached to help turn the tide of the Southern Baptist Convention back to her roots. He was a soldier but he fought a good fight. I’ve never known him to be rude. I’ve never known him to be ugly. I’ve never known him to be harsh. He fought a good fight.”
Dr. Adrian Rogers (deceased)
Former Sr. Pastor, Bellevue Baptist Church
Union University will now help to carry on Dr. Stephen Olford's legacy, after the board of directors for Olford Ministries International on April 3, 2007 approved a transfer of a large majority of the ministry's assets to Union University. The transfer became final at the end of May 2007. The gift to Union included the Stephen Olford Center, located on 18 wooded acres in the heart of southeast Memphis. "The work of the Stephen Olford Center over recent years has earned the respect of the entire evangelical world," said Union President David S. Dockery. "We count it a great privilege and a sacred stewardship to be benefactors of the legacy of Stephen Olford. We are excited about the new partnership and trust God's providential favor to rest on this new aspect of Union University's expanding outreach." READ MORE
The Stephen Olford Center has always exhibited an incarnational, international, interracial, and interdenominational focus. That approach to ministry will continue uninterrupted. Stephen Olford died in 2004, leaving behind his wife of 56 years, Heather. She still lives on the Stephen Olford Center property and has played a key role in the operation of Olford Ministries since her husband's death. In addition to their son David, the Olfords have another son, Jonathan, and five grandchildren.
The Olfords moved to Memphis in 1985 to develop a training program and a center to encourage and equip preachers and teachers of the Bible. The Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching was dedicated in 1988. Stephen Olford said his years of missions and evangelistic work led him to conclude that there was not enough expository preaching from the world's pulpits. The Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching became a teaching resource for ministers around the world. Courses taught them the practicalities of preaching from a biblical text.
The organization's mission statement reflects that commitment: "To provide biblical instruction and practical training to equip pastors, preachers, teachers and leaders - anyone who proclaims the Bible - to do so accurately, incarnationally, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We do this with a global concern to see the church revived and the world reached with the saving Word of Christ." What started in 1988 quickly grew into a comprehensive organization. The Olfords welcomed conference participants from around the world to short but intensive on-site training seminars. Some of the sessions offered in Memphis were then taken to other cities across the United States and to a number of international locations. As technological opportunities advanced, courses became available through live streaming on the Internet.
"We have had, by God's grace, a continued sense of spiritual blessing upon the ministry over the years, even after the death of my father," says David Olford. "Seeking to be good stewards of this ministry, we have needed to look seriously at how the ministry can be maintained, improved and expanded in the future."
The 18-acre complex in southeast Memphis includes more than 40 hotel-style rooms for conference attendees; dining facilities; a patio and swimming pool; a newly donated library with about 32,000 volumes; classrooms and offices; and a chapel. Union University has established the Stephen Olford Chair of Preaching, held by David Olford, Stephen Olford's son, who joined the Union faculty at the time of the merger. David Olford has a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Wheaton College and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Sheffield. David Olford views his teaching opportunities as a way to fulfill the commitment to expository preaching that was so important to his late father. "In the marrying of ministries, we believe more can be accomplished under God's hand in coming years," Olford said. "The ability to offer academic credit through an accredited university will meet the needs of many, and strengthen what happens at the center." In addition to existing program offerings at the Stephen Olford Center, Union began its own programming, with a new emphasis on expository preaching in the university's offerings. Programs now offered at the Center include an Associate Degree in Ministry, a Masters in Christian Studies, and the newest program, a Doctoral Ministry degree in expository preaching.