George W. Truett: A Texas, Baptist and Baylor legend
If you know of George W. Truett today, there’s a good chance it’s because Baylor’s seminary bears his name. That honor was based largely on his half-century as one of Texas’ (and even our nation’s) leading pastors — but the important role he played in keeping Baylor University alive at the turn of the 20th century should not be forgotten, either.
Truett was born May 6, 1867, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and spent his youth in North Carolina and Georgia before following his parents to Texas as a young man. Even at a young age, his abilities were evident; he began teaching at the age of 18, and even founded a school as a 19-year-old before moving to Texas and eventually coming to Baylor.
Almost immediately upon his arrival at Baylor in 1891, Truett made a meaningful impact. The school was facing major debt problems — more than $90,000, an incredible sum at the time — and needed someone who could tirelessly raise funds to right the ship and keep the university afloat. President Rufus Burleson chose Truett to lead the effort, and the 24-year-old (who had not even attended Baylor yet) came through, raising enough money to eliminate the debt in just two years.
With his task completed (and the university on solid financial footing again), Truett enrolled as a student in 1893 and graduated four years later. Along the way, he also met his wife, fellow Baylor graduate Josephine Jenkins-Truett (an 1890 Baylor graduate).
Shortly after graduating from Baylor, Truett accepted the pastorate of First Baptist Church of Dallas — a spot he would hold for almost 50 years, until his death in 1944. Under his leadership, the church grew to become the nation’s first megachurch — from about 700 members to nearly 8,000 — and Truett became a household name throughout Texas and even across the country. During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson chose Truett as one of 20 ministers to go on a six-month tour to preach to Allied forces stationed around the world. He also served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention and Baptist World Alliance.
Many of Truett’s sermons were recorded, and a 26-album set was released by Waco’s Word Records in 1966. Those and many others have recently been digitized and made available online through Baylor’s George W. Truett Sermons Collection.
Truett’s name can be found elsewhere, from Dallas ISD’s George W. Truett Elementary School to a church in North Carolina to various university and seminary buildings across the country; even Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy was named for the prominent preacher. But it’s at Baylor where Truett’s legacy remains strongest, as thousands of ministers are trained at George W. Truett Theological Seminary to “prepare persons to carry (the) Gospel to the churches and the world.”
Sic ’em, George W. Truett!