Grace College Remembers Dr. Rick Blackwood
On August 4, Dr. Rick Blackwood (DMin 97) went to be with His Lord and Savior. Blackwood was named Grace Theological Seminary Alumnus of the Year in 2019 and was also a visiting professor in the Grace Theological Seminary Doctoral Program as the leader of the Advanced Expository Preaching track. A dear member of the Grace family, we mourn his passing and honor his legacy of faithful service to Christ.
“I met Rick Blackwood in 2003 when we were both studying at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY,” said Dr. Freddy Cardoza, dean of Grace Theological Seminary. “We became fast friends, and for the last 20 years that followed, I had the joy of being enriched by his contagious laughter, inspired by his indomitable spirit, and challenged by his profound faith. Rick had a consistently powerful anointing on his preaching. This was evidenced by the lives of people from all walks of life being transformed as he put forth the truth plainly— in its unvarnished, raw power. Rick’s tremendous skill in communicating God’s Word was complemented by his winsome humor, warm friendliness, and penetrating insight into spiritual wisdom.”
Over the past few years, despite his healthy lifestyle, Blackwood endured major setbacks that he surmised openly would ultimately claim his life. His candor and courage in the face of those things served as an inspiration to all who were aware of those things. As you read the following article featuring Blackwood, published in Grace Story magazine Vol. 29, Issue 1 / Spring 2019, we hope that you are encouraged by his dedication to the Scriptures, his love for both the church and his community, and his unfettered excitement to meet His Savior face to face. We celebrate the fact that his hope is realized today.
Miami Vices & Ministry Virtues
By Bryan and Chelsea Thompson
When Dr. Rick Blackwood arrived on the doorsteps of Christ Fellowship Church as its new pastor, he was full of anticipation. The fast-paced city life of Miami, Florida, excited him, to say nothing of the new congregation that awaited him.
Miami was a far cry from Winona Lake, Indiana, where he was finishing his final year as a doctoral student at Grace Theological Seminary (GTS). You can hear the smile in Blackwood’s voice as he recalls the first time he drove into the small, idyllic lake town. “I remember looking at this quaint college and thinking, ‘This is the perfect place to study.’”
It also prepared him for the unforeseen uphill battle he would face during his first few years as a new pastor. While most of the congregation welcomed him, there was a group of leaders who made it clear to Blackwood, right from the beginning, that they ran the church, not him.
“I did not have the ability to overpower them,” Blackwood admitted. “I’m just not that strong a personality. But what I found was that I could get behind the Bible, and it had the power to do it for me. I could lead from the pulpit! I learned that at Grace — that’s where I got my energy to move us forward.”
The Power of Scripture for Change
Blackwood remembers his experience at Grace as being incredibly peaceful, surrounded by good people and professors who invested personally in the lives of the students. “I’d been to other schools, but never one that was as personable as Grace,” Blackwood said. He also remembers the indelible lesson he received in his studies about the power of expositional preaching. “The confidence I got from Grace is that Scripture is accurate, inerrant and powerful,” he said. It positioned him well when he arrived in Miami, where he saw, right from the beginning, that he was in for a battle.
“I found Miami to be a city like few others — spectacularly beautiful but pervasively lost,” Blackwood remembered. “I knew the city was extremely lost at that time — about 90 percent unchurched. After about two months, this pastor came up to me and said, ‘You need to get the hell out of here. This place is awful. It will kill you. It will kill your kids.’”
Blackwood found out later that church leaders were fleeing the city in droves. In fact, he was told that the Baptist Convention had given up on the city altogether. “It scared me. I started thinking ‘God, where have I come? What does all this mean?’ I remember God saying to me, in my heart, ‘Rick, I need you to stay. I need somebody to start a movement in this city, and you’re the one to do it.’”
“I wasn’t even sure what ‘a movement’ meant. So I decided to just pick a book [of the Bible] and go.”
Blackwood launched into a series of sermons on 1 Peter, building his messages around application of Scripture to their life as a church. “A lot of times, expository preaching is just information dumping, without pushing people to do something about it. So as I preached expositionally, I pushed people to be more than mere hearers of the Word; I pushed them to be doers of the Word. There were a lot of changes that had to be made in terms of the governance and traditions of the church. It was very stuck in the past; it was not poised to grow. I would say things like, ‘Our constitution and bylaws say we can’t do this. So what’s the authority — the bylaws or the Bible?’ I remember people shouting, ‘The Bible!’ So we’d change it.”
The shakeup didn’t sit well with the group of leaders who felt they ran the church. As Blackwood remembers it, “150 of them wanted to kill me.” He laughed. “Or at least fire me.” But he believed in the power of preaching the Bible to win the battle, and it’s what he committed to, in order to lead the church to make necessary changes. “When the church interviewed me, they asked what I thought I could bring to the church that would help. I remember saying, ‘Not much. But I do have the Bible, and I believe it’s sufficient.’ And that was drilled in me at Grace.”
The Bible proved to be absolutely sufficient. Today, under Blackwood’s leadership, Christ Fellowship is known as one of the fastest growing and largest churches in America, with a membership of nearly 10,000 people and campuses in Cuba, Colombia, El Salvador and Jamaica. To an outside observer, it would seem that Blackwood’s greatest battle was behind him. But the future held another, far more personal battle for which he’d once again need the assurance of Scripture.
‘It’s Going to be Amazing’
In 2011, terrible chest pains woke Blackwood out of bed at 3 a.m. “I was pouring sweat, my color was gray. I started to wake up my wife and realized I’m not going to make it.” Blackwood’s wife woke up and immediately identified what was happening: He was having a heart attack. As she ran downstairs to let the paramedics inside, Blackwood lay alone in the bed and watched the room go dark around the edges. He was surprised by how he felt — not afraid, but sort of excited. “I remember thinking, ‘Everything I worried about today is about to not matter. I started thinking about that scene in Revelation 5, where everybody’s around God’s throne — I thought ‘I’m about to be in that crowd, and it’s going to be amazing.’”
Just then, he heard someone calling him, the darkness cleared away, and the paramedics rushed around him. Blackwood remembers thinking, “Oh, all my problems are back.” He laughed. “I was actually looking forward to going to heaven.”
He had a chance to revisit that same perspective again in 2016, when a minor pain sent him to the doctor, only to discover that he had stage 3 colon cancer. After battling through six months of hard chemotherapy, while continuing to preach and lead the church, Blackwood was declared cancer-free and has remained that way in the two years since. But he’s never forgotten the perspective on heaven that his close brushes with death taught him.
“I remember one class at Grace where we talked a lot about heaven. A lot of my excitement about the hope of heaven came from those classes. Why are we afraid of heaven? Why are we hanging onto this place, when that’s the future?”
Typically, Blackwood said, we only think about heaven when we or our loved ones are facing physical challenges. But in fact, it can inform every battle we face in our lives. For anyone facing relational challenges, financial issues or anxieties about the future, the thought of heaven can infuse our situation with hope.
“One of the things that has helped me, more than anything, is that if your hope is genuinely in heaven — if you think ‘my greatest days are there, not here’ — you’ll never really dread anything in this life,” Blackwood said. “The worst that can happen to me is that I die and go to heaven, and that’s the best that can happen to me! Once you really get your arms around it, the future is so much brighter.”