Harber settling into new role as pastor

After a Diet Coke and a few donuts, Frank Harber is ready to talk. In about an hour, he'll bring a message to the Panhandle Pastor's and Laymen's Conference participants gathered at Wayland Baptist University's Harral Auditorium.

But for now, he's excited to share how God has changed his life and, most recently, his career path.

Harber is probably best known for being a former atheist who converted to Christianity and now speaks and writes using apologetics. But for the members of First Baptist Church in Colleyville, located in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Harber is simply pastor.

Unlike most evangelists who started out in the pastorate, Harber has done exactly the opposite. His ministry started with evangelism, leading crusades and sharing his apologetics-based message before hundreds of churches across the globe. He then joined the faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he still holds the distinction of holding the fastest earned doctorate. Despite all that, he feels right at home as pastor of the Colleyville congregation, a position he's held for only seven months.

But Harber admits it took some convincing to get him there. He actually happened upon the church while looking for a housing development in the highly affluent community. Stopping to ask directions, he said the minister at the church asked him to guest preach on Mother's Day - the only free Sunday Harber then had in his schedule. From then on, the search committee was convinced that Harber was the man to fill their empty pulpit and bring life back to a dying church.

He thought otherwise.

"I told them I had no pastoral experience. I had taught church growth methods at seminary but had never practiced them," he said. "They said they knew God was calling me to be their pastor and they knew I'd be coming."

Harber soon felt God telling him the same and he joined the staff, which also includes Grammy and Dove Award winning singer/songwriter and former Imperials member Paul Smith as minister of music. He said the new experience has been rewarding for a variety of reasons.

"It's been great being at home; my family actually gets to see me preach every week," he said, adding that the church has also exploded back to life. "We've tripled in attendance and baptized more than 100 people in six months. It's been nothing short of phenomenal."

Harber's road to the pastorate was not the first time he'd taken a challenge that had changed his life. His new life in Christ came much the same way.

At 21, Harber was about to finish his undergraduate education at the University of Texas at Tyler. An admitted "atheist of ignorance" at the time, he responded to the witness of a Southern Baptist pastor with complete disbelief, declaring Jesus a myth and the Bible fiction.

The minister was not to be dissuaded.

"He had all this evidence, and it really dumbfounded me," he said. "He challenged me to prove that Christianity was not the truth. I studied Christianity and all the nine major world religions and ended up converting to Christianity."

From there, Harber's future changed dramatically. Once set for law school, he now enrolled at Southwestern seminary and became a much sought-after speaker. He's also somewhat of an expert in the field of apologetics and has published a book, "Reasons for Believing."

"I pretty much dedicated my life to helping people understand not only how to become a Christian but also why," he said. Much of that apologetics is available through a website he maintains as president of the Institute of Christian Defense (www.defendingthefaith.com).

It also is an integral part of a personal evangelism program he co-wrote with Southwestern President Ken Hemphill, titled "got life?" The simple witnessing tool is available online (www.gotlife.org) as an interactive, multimedia presentation that Harber said averages about seven conversions each day. The pair also developed teaching materials for use by churches and other groups and a line of products to aid in the witness effort.

That tie-in with modern technology and pop culture is common for Harber. In his brief tenure at FBC Colleyville, he's led two successful sermon series based on hot topics. One, titled "The Weakest Link: Don't Get Voted Out of Eternity," played off the popular game show format, while another dealt with "Mysteries of the Bible." His current sermon series is titled "Dumb and Dumber," exploring the 13 dumbest people in the Bible and how to learn from their mistakes. A four-color postcard with a scratch-off trivia game was mailed to 160,000 local residents to promote the series, another example of using media to reach people for Jesus.

At 36, Harber is hesitant to predict where his ministry will go from here. He said he tries to take life one day at a time and said only God's call will change his direction.

"I don't think I've ever fit the preacher mold," he said. "But the secret of life is being in God's will. God's blessed the church and that helps confirm my call. Also, there's a sense of peace that I'm doing what He wants me to do."