answers the calling
Dwayne Pickett Turns Old Canton Road Church into Ministry For Faith And Education
Each Sunday, thousands of resident heads to church to hear one man. Pastor Dwayne Pickett preaches twice every Lord’s day at New Jerusalem on Old Canton Road (former home of Colonial Heights Baptist).
The Rev. Pickett is not the average minister. Having not always felt the pull toward God, he’s made it his life’s work to help anyone he can through Christ.
In 1990 everything changed for him. Until that change, Pickett lived a difficult life, even though his family was supportive and caring and he was raised in the church.
“The year 1990 is when I got saved,” he said. “I had lived a real rough life, rough life. So much so, that my dad took out a life insurance policy on me when I was 15, because he thought I would die by the time I was 18, even though I came from a great family. My father had a PhD, and my mother was a specialist — educated people.”
He grew up in Itta Bena until the10th-grade year, when his family moved to Terry, where he graduated from high school in 1987. He then attended University of Southern Mississippi (USM), but was deployed to Operation Desert Storm in the Mideast. Pickett joined the Army National Guard in high school, did basic training and was in the reserve.
Soon after his service, Pickett became a saved follower of Christ. “I lived such a horrible life, and while I was at USM, I asked God, ‘What do you want me to do?’… I was driving down Interstate 59… I was going to see my first son, and God said, ‘Preach my word.’ Not only was it shocking to me, but there was not one person that knew me that believed it.”
Pickett graduated with a bachelor’s in elementary education from USM in 1994 and a master’s in education administration in 1995.
He wanted to be an educator, not a preacher. But one day, 26 years old and having just earned his master’s, Pickett visited New Jerusalem Church with his father, who was making a presentation as a Mississippi educator. While there, some members asked him to come back and preach one Sunday.
“So they call me, sure enough, and ask me, will I come preach for some kind of youth program. The night before I go preach, I had a dream I was pastor in the church… I forget about it. When I walk in, the pastor tells me, ‘I’m leaving in December’… A month later, they ask me, will I be willing to be interim pastor until they find a permanent pastor… I’ve been preaching ever since.”
He has since earned his master’s from Reformed Theological Seminary in Christian education and a PhD in Christian education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Dwayne has also served as an educator at Bolton/Edwards Elementary, taught sixth-grade math at Rowan Middle School and served as assistant principal at Brinkley Middle School.
Since he began preaching at New Jerusalem, the membership has increased from less than 200 to more than 7,000 in the congregation.
The church has four campuses in Jackson and Pickett preaches every Sunday at all of them.
He’s also founded New Jerusalem Christian School, which serves six-week-olds to sixth-graders in two different Jackson locations.
“We’re involved in foreign and local missions around the world… There are things going on here every night. We have a continuing education program through New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary training ministers, missionaries and leaders… We’re really just community-focused.”
Pickett’s biggest project is a retreat that target inner city, at-risk youth.
Located on 230 acres in Terry, the center will offer outdoor activities and focus on discipleship, education and economic empowerment.
The land is his inheritance from his father. His brother bought adjacent land and donated it to Dwayne for the cause.
“I’m building a residential retreat center that’s targeted for inner city youth… My dad grew up in the inner city of Jackson, and he said that’s what saved his life, was going out to the country with his grandfather to plow, swim in creeks and ride horses.”
The focus of the retreat will be to give more time to children and teenagers, based on need, instead of a few hours at a day organization.
“The issue is, we want to help change a life, but we get them in our churches or in our Boys’ and Girls’ clubs for a few hours… This would really be about reprogramming… We don’t just give them God, but we give them the tools to be able to live this life differently”
The center will be residential as well as allow weekend retreats, and families and inner-city minors to stay based on need. The retreat, done through D.K. Pickett Ministries and the federal nonprofit Kingdom Community Development Corporation, will house anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people at a time.
“We’re hoping to have a component that would work in conjunction with the court system. Instead of a young man being sent where they often times become worse, they’ll be assigned (to us). Different schools, different churches and organizations that deal with young men, we’ll partner with them.”
Dwayne’s favorite thing about preaching at New Jerusalem is the people, but he struggles to be able to provide for those that live with less than what he can help give.
“I love dealing with people, but the desire to give people what I have and not having the resources to do it, that’s the most frustrating thing.”
His wife, Dr. Tracy Pickett, has a PhD in science education with an emphasis in physics. She formerly taught at Jackson State University, and is currently completing a master’s in Biblical studies. She serves as the Christian education director at New Jerusalem.
“We’re serious about education,” Pickett said. “We believe education is key.”
The have five sons, two granddaughters and a grandchild on the way.