Tom Fred Tenney, a longtime leader in the United Pentecostal Church International who is credited with increasing the denomination’s missionary work and doling out pithy one-liners on how to live right on social media, died peacefully on Friday. He was 84.
Joseph went through three dreams of others before he saw his fulfilled. By buying into the dreams of others God test our humility.
— T F Tenney (@TFTenney) May 30, 2018
“Tom Fred Tenney, friend to all and longtime UPCI minister, statesman, leader, executive, and General Board member, passed from this life on June 1, 2018. Please keep the Tenney family and especially Sister Thetus Tenney in prayer as we mourn the loss of this great man of God,” the organization announced.
In a statement to the Associated Press on Saturday, UPCI’s general superintendent, David K. Bernard, called Tenney an innovator in the mission field.
“He was an innovator. He introduced many new plans and ideas, one being the concept of partners in missions, whereby individual churches would sponsor missionaries around the world. That created a tremendous increase in giving and a tremendous increase in world missions,” Bernard said.
Pam Nolde, Tenney’s personal secretary for the last 33 years at The Pentecostals of Alexandria church in Louisiana, told The Christian Post Monday that he died peacefully surrounded by friends and family just after 2:00 p.m. Friday. She said he had struggled with heart disease prior to his death but remained faithful until his last breath.
“I was privileged to be in the room with him [for] basically a little bit over the last hour of his life. And the last sentence that he spoke was ‘His sustaining presence has kept me.’ There’s a scripture in Psalms 3:5 that says ‘I lay me down and slept, I wake for the Lord sustains me.’ And that’s [a] peaceful passing of a true Christian man of God,” she said.
Nolde said her family knew Tenney before she was even born.
“My grandparents had a home where he frequently stopped in to get coffee and all that. On his 84th birthday I gave him a list of 84 things I had learned from him. And the first thing was that he taught me the value of arriving in a cloud of dust,” Nolde said.
“My first memory of him as a child was my grandfather saying, ‘Ida, (my grandmother’s name) put the coffee on, Tom Fred Tenney is coming down the lane. And he would come down this old dusty road. He’d come pull right almost up to the porch and out he would step in that cloud of dust. And we laughed about that,” she said.
On Friday, Nolde said she recorded the 85th lesson she learned from Tenney.
“He taught me how to depart in a cloud of glory,” she said.
Tenney was born December 6, 1933 in DeRidder, Louisiana. He authored 12 books and was in the process of writing his 13th when he died. He ran a ministry called Focused Light with his wife of 66 years, Thetus.
The Focused Light website said Tenney began his ministry in 1949 at the age of 15, and by the time he was 19 he assumed his first pastorate in Monroe, Louisiana. He attended Apostolic Bible Institute and in 1992 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the institution.
In 1978, he was elected UPCI district superintendent for the state of Louisiana where he would be responsible for overseeing approximately 300 churches and 800 ministers and pastors for the next 27 years until he retired and went into full-time mobile ministry.
The UPCI has about 4 million members spread across more than 40,000 congregations globally. Members adhere to the non-Trinitarian theology of Oneness, which some Christians consider unorthodox.
“It is impossible to even estimate the number people who have heard T. F. Tenney speak since he began preaching at the age of 16. From conferences and crusades around the globe, to small and large local churches in Louisiana and across our nation, his preaching was anointed, life-changing, and certainly memorable,” The Pentecostals of Alexandria wrote in an obituary shared with The Christian Post Monday.
“It’s really been astounding to everyone to have him leave us … He was an icon of Pentecost,” said Louisiana’s UPCI District Secretary Randy Harper. He said the last time he spoke with Tenney was about three weeks ago when the minister called to check up on him because he recently got a pacemaker implanted. “It’s made a lot of folks sad but at the same time we are also glad that he’s not having to go through pain and suffering.”
Popular Georgia Pastor Jentezen Franklin, who leads the multi-campus Free Chapel Church, called Tenney a “spiritual giant” in a statement on Instagram.
“I don’t have words to say what TFTenney has meant to me and cherise and our family. Today he went Home to be with Jesus. Jesus was the magnificent obsession of his life. To his dear wife Thetus, and his son Tommy and daughter Teri and many grandchildren our hearts and prayers are with you. He was a spiritual Giant to me and I will forever be grateful God put us together. Greatness is the only word I can think of to describe this man,” he wrote.
Tenney, who has more than 44,000 followers on Twitter, has also not shied away from pithy lines on social media.
“At 84 don’t tell me they can’t teach an old dog new tricks! I’m Twittering away! Love to dispense life lessons from the journey!” he declared on his profile.
In one of his last tweets two days before he died on Friday, he said: “Joseph went through three dreams of others before he saw his fulfilled. By buying into the dreams of others God test our humility.”
Asked how she expects her life will change after sharing it with Tenney for the last 33 years, Nolde shared some remarks she prepared for distribution at his memorial service.
“He wanted me to say something. I think all the while he knew I wouldn’t be able to because it was always marked ‘if you can’ or he’d add ‘or write something.’ So I’ve written … the obituaries, collected some captions, shared some notes. Had I been able to speak tonight, though, it would have been the words of W. H. Auden, an excerpt from a poem called Funeral Blues:
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that he would last forever: I was wrong.
“My world will never be the same because he was in it … and now because he isn’t,” Nolde said.
Visitation ahead of his memorial service will take place at the Pentecostals of Alexandria church on Tuesday June 5 from 1:00 – 7:00 p.m. His memorial service will begin at the church at 7:00 p.m. while he will be buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Alexandria at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday June 6.