Joel Gregory

From the pulpit to the chile patch, the career path of Joel Gregory has been a singular one. Between 1990 and 1992 he was one of the best-known Baptist preachers in Texas. Possessed of an incisive intellect and a deeply resonant voice that could arouse a sleepy Sunday morning congregation like a sonic boom, the 42-year-old minister seemed poised for a brilliant career as the head of the monolithic First Baptist Church in Dallas. But two years after his ascension, Gregory resigned without warning one Wednesday evening, stunning the congregation. He moved back to his hometown of Fort Worth and for a year and a half sold cemetery plots door-to-door. Then he wrote a book, Too Great a Temptation: The Seductive Power of America’s Super Church, in which he explained his resignation as the result of a power struggle with the church’s revered senior pastor, W. A. Criswell. The book proved to be a turning point. In 1994 Gregory was hired by its publisher, the Summit Group, to promote the book and help manage the company. In 1999, branching out on his own, Gregory and two business partners bought the special-interest magazine Chile Pepper. He is currently its publisher and president. Gregory, now 53, likes the direction his life has taken. “I have actually found the world of business pleasant and challenging,” he says. But the call of the pulpit has been hard to resist. “After I left First Baptist, I did not seek further speaking commitments, but in the mystery of Providence, they sought me,” he says, lapsing into the familiar oratorical style. Most weekends he preaches by invitation at Baptist churches in Texas and around the country. Gregory may have found a new career, but his old calling is still alive.

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