On May 8, 2014, Bob Jones University’s Board of Trustees elected Stephen D. Pettit Sr.—a man who has faithfully served the Lord for nearly 35 years in evangelism and college ministry—as BJU’s fifth president.
Pettit replaces Dr. Stephen Jones who, for health reasons, announced in December he would end his nine-year tenure as BJU’s president at the end of Commencement May 9.
Searching for BJU’s fifth president
Over the past several months, BJU’s seven-person Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees conducted a presidential search in which they interviewed a number of candidates before unanimously recommending Pettit to the Board.
“With his emphasis on discipleship and his extensive experience in working with college students, Steve is a natural choice for BJU president,” says Larry Jackson, chairman of the Executive Committee. “He is committed to BJU’s biblical positions and academic objectives, and we look forward to the leadership he will bring to the University.”
Pettit will assume the presidency May 10. A formal installation ceremony will be held in the fall.
“I’m overwhelmed by the opportunity to serve as BJU’s president,” says Pettit.
“For decades, I’ve appreciated the ministry of BJU and the Jones family to me and my family. I truly desire to honor BJU’s heritage and continue—by God’s grace—to fulfill its mission. I particularly want to emphasize the primacy of the local church, encourage relational discipleship among our students, faculty and staff and continue the emphasis on academic excellence and living a godly life.”
Born in 1955 in south Georgia, Pettit was the first of four children of William Pettit III and Elinor (Jones) Pettit. His parents had met in the Air Force, married and were now setting out on their new life together outside of the military. “My parents moved to Columbia, South Carolina, when I was three,” he says. “And that is where I spent my entire childhood.”
Recalling his childhood, Pettit says, “I was a typical Southern kid that just wanted to have fun.” At age 7, he started playing sports: baseball, football and soccer—and soccer became a lifetime passion. From age 10 to 15, he took drama lessons and participated in a number of plays at the Workshop Theatre, which his mother founded. In high school he played the tuba for South Carolina’s All-State Band, was elected class president for three years in a row and became the captain of the soccer team his senior year.
Growing up, however, Pettit never gave spiritual things much consideration. “I grew up in a nominal Christian home,” he says. “I had a basic belief in the tenets of Christianity without understanding the way of salvation.”
It wasn’t until his junior year of high school that Pettit heard a clear presentation of the Gospel. “I really came to understand the Gospel at that time,” he says. “I understood how to be saved, but I didn’t want my life to change.”
Surrendering to Christ
In the fall of 1974, Pettit chose to attend The Citadel—the military college of South Carolina. He pursued a business administration degree with plans of perhaps one day entering the military. “I just felt like I needed to go to The Citadel,” he says. “I wanted to do something with my life, and I was always drawn to the military. My dad was in the military. People I respected were in the military. I just grew up with that.”
During his freshman year, however, God changed his plans.
His roommate, and fellow teammate on The Citadel’s soccer team, was a devout Christian and began sharing the Gospel with Pettit. He soon found himself under deep conviction and sensing his need for a Savior. That Easter Sunday in 1975, Pettit heard a Gospel sermon on his car radio. “The speaker invited people to trust Christ,” Pettit says. “It was at that time that I called on the Lord, and He saved me by His grace.”
That single moment ignited a lifetime passion to serve Jesus Christ. “Christ is my life,” Pettit says. “He is my whole life. It’s what I live for every day.”
His life verse is Phil. 1:20—“According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.”
Coming to BJU
During his junior year at The Citadel, Pettit felt that God was calling him to preach. Around the same time his family relocated to Washington, D.C., where they attended a church pastored by a BJU graduate.
One of BJU’s board members also attended this church and, seeing Pettit’s desire to preach, invited him to visit the BJU campus. “I didn’t want to come to BJU at first,” Pettit says. “But I think it was the working of God in my heart—first of all because I fought it and then because when it came time to surrender, God gave me an incredible peace.”
After receiving a BS in business administration from The Citadel, Pettit enrolled in Bob Jones University Seminary and Graduate School of Religion.
Pettit’s life took another unexpected turn when his family once again relocated to Denver, Colorado. There he met a young woman named Terry Elkins, who was traveling as a singer for a revival ministry.
She too decided to come to BJU, and there Steve and Terry’s relationship blossomed. They married in 1980 after he graduated with his master’s degree in pastoral studies, and together they have four children: Rebecca, a filmmaker in Washington, D.C., Rachel, a paralegal in Washington, D.C., Stephen, a BJU senior and Michael, a rising high school senior.
Ministering the Gospel
Pettit never imagined that he would one day return to BJU to become president. “This certainly was not on my bucket list,” he says. “But the Lord opened the door. My wife and I believe that God has called us to BJU, and we will be obedient to His call.”
Following his BJU graduation, both he and Terry saw their calling in pastoral ministry and evangelism. For five years, Pettit served as youth pastor for First Baptist Church in Bridgeport, Michigan, before entering full-time evangelism. For the last 29 years, the Pettits have traveled year-round in evangelism, conducting more than 800 campaigns, crusades and camps throughout the United States and preaching in 21 countries.
Pettit formerly served as camp director and staff evangelist for Northland Camp and Conference Center in Dunbar, Wisconsin. Additionally, Pettit has also served for the last three years as the national director for Cross Impact Ministries, a ministry which partners with local churches to minister on college campuses across the nation.
Pettit is also currently a member of the boards of both the Central Africa Baptist College in Kitwe, Zambia, and Bob Jones University.
2014 Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team
Inspiring Christian young people
With a deep burden for this generation of young people, Pettit has devoted a large portion of his ministry to inspiring young people to pursue relational discipleship while reflecting a commitment to godly living. “I have spent nearly every day of my life for the past 20 years working together with young adults and college students,” he says. “I know the culture that most BJU students come from, and I want them to come away from college not just with an education but with a changed life.”
According to Mark Egerdahl—who graduated from BJU in 2009 and has been traveling with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team for the last five years—Pettit is the perfect fit for BJU students. “He knows this generation because he has been working with 20-somethings for the past 25 years,” Mark says. “He is very relational. I’ve been confronted by him, challenged by him, and without his loving discipleship, I know that I would not be who I am today by God’s grace.”
Mark also points out that Pettit is a faithful expositor of the Word and will greatly benefit students in chapel. “He’s not a man who preaches the same sermon year in and year out,” Mark says. “He’s a student of the Word, who loves the Word of God. And he explains it in such a clear way. He’s intellectual, yet he’s very practical. You are going to see an outflowing of discipleship in the student body. I think he is going to be a huge blessing for students.”
In addition to life-on-life discipleship, Pettit also has a burden to revitalize BJU’s ministerial program. “I’m a preacher, so I want to see another generation of preachers and ministers of the Gospel,” he says. “Bob Jones University is a liberal arts school, so I also want to educate people to be leaders and disciple-makers.”
Coming to serve at BJU
If Pettit were to summarize his role as president of Bob Jones University in a word, that word would be service. But it’s not a type of service that has its ultimate end in BJU. Rather, he sees BJU as educating people who are Gospel-oriented. “They are God’s people walking around in this world as pilgrims on their way towards Heaven,” he says, “spreading the light of the Gospel wherever they go.”
His desire is to see the entire university community embody this vision. “It’s about developing people with a kind of character that serves and loves people. So love has to be modeled by everybody that works and teaches here. A disciple-maker and a leader are not two different things. They are the same thing.”
“I do believe there ought to be a place where people take seriously biblical obedience, holiness and the commands of Scripture,” he continues. “And I believe that Bob Jones University is a place where we take these things seriously. Character has to have an end, and that end has to be love.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Pettit officially becomes president Saturday, May 10. He will be in the office several days in May and full-time in early June.
No. He finished his last tour in May.
The Pettit Evangelistic Team will dissolve almost immediately; they have already closed out this year’s evangelistic tours. His team is in the process of cancelling meetings scheduled for the future.
The Board will meet in June to determine the future of the organization.
Yes, as president he will be an ex officio member of the Board of Trustees.
He’s ministered as a pastor, evangelist and camp director for nearly 34 years.
His intention is to speak in chapel twice a week.
While he will initially focus on listening and learning, he intends to engage immediately with the BJU team and BJU’s day-to-day business.
Yes, he has had several discussions with the two executive vice presidents and looks forward to many more in the coming days.
He looks forward to a meet and greet with them on May 10 and regular meetings as BJU starts a new academic year.
He and his family will be living on campus. The details are being worked out.
He will make that transition right away, fully by early June.
His first priority is the students, and being on campus with them; however, he also wants to meet with prospective students, alumni and pastors as his schedule allows.
He fully supports the University’s music policy.
No. He ended his association with Northland Camp and Conference Center three years ago.
Yes. He’s been briefed as a voting member of the Board of Trustees. It will be one of his initial areas of focus as president.
Pettit earned a BS in business administration from The Citadel in 1978 and his masters in pastoral studies from BJU in 1980. He has had the privilege of serving on the BJU Board of Trustees for over 5 years and on the Marketing and Development Committee of the Board of Trustees. He also serves on the board of Central Africa Bible College in Kitwe, Zambia.
No, fulfilling the responsibilities of the presidential role does not require a terminal degree.
Pettit has had the opportunity of traveling with college-aged students and enjoyed having them at his dinner table for nearly two decades. He’s also worked with them for over 20 years in a summer youth camp ministry as an evangelist and as director for nine years.
In addition to his work at Steve Pettit Evangelistic Association (SPEA), he’s served as National Director of Cross Impact Ministries for nearly three years, a ministry which partners with local churches to minister on college campuses across the nation.
The Steve Pettit Evangelistic Association has many facets—in addition to the team members they employ, there is a publishing division called Heart Publications, a number of trucks and campers in which the team travels and lives in while travelling on evangelistic campaigns, and multi-media equipment. All of this—combined with the summer evangelistic and camp ministries, as well as the Cross Impact Ministries—requires a diverse portfolio of management skills.
God has blessed him with outstanding business training with a degree in business administration from The Citadel in 1978, and the Lord knew how much of that training would be used in the years to follow. He’s also been privileged to serve on several boards, all of which required expertise in the areas of finance, leadership and administration oversight.
Yes. Pettit was ordained in 1980 at South Sheridan Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado.
Yes, he served for five years as an Assistant Pastor — Youth Ministry at First Baptist Church of Bridgeport, Michigan.
He became an evangelist in 1985 and has conducted over 800 evangelistic campaigns across the United States and in 21 countries.