According to his autobiography, Pawson’s immediate ancestors were all farmers, Methodist preachers or both, dating back to John Pawson, a friend and follower of John Wesley. His father, Henry Cecil Pawson FRSE (1897–1978), was head of Agriculture at Durham University and Vice President of the Methodist conference. From his childhood in the north of England David Pawson had wanted to be a farmer, but by the time he had completed his studies for a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree in agriculture at Durham University, he felt God was calling him into full-time Christian ministry. He then studied for a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Master of Arts (MA) in theology at Wesley House, a Methodist theological college in Cambridge. On 1 September 1956, after training, he was commissioned in the Chaplains Branch, Royal Air Force as a chaplain with the relative rank of flight lieutenant. He served in Aden, and relinquished his commission (thereby leaving the RAF) on 1 September 1959.
After leaving the RAF he served as a Methodist minister, but became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of infant baptism. After appearing before a doctrinal committee of the Methodist church, he volunteered to leave the denomination, and did so. Shortly thereafter he accepted an invitation to become the pastor of Gold Hill Baptist Church in Buckinghamshire.
Later, as pastor of Guildford Baptist Church (‘Millmead’, which he helped to design), he established a reputation among both evangelicals and charismatics as a Bible teacher. From here his teaching tapes – originally made for the church’s sick and elderly members – became popular worldwide. Under his ministry, Millmead became one of the largest Baptist churches in the United Kingdom.
Pawson left Millmead in 1979 and engaged in an itinerant worldwide Bible teaching ministry predominantly through seminars for church leaders in Asia, Australia, Africa, England, Europe, and the United States. Millions of copies of his teachings have been distributed in more than 120 countries. He was a writer and speaker with a reputation of urgency, clarity, and faithfulness to the Scriptures. His overviews of the books of the Bible have been published and recorded in Unlocking the Bible, available on CDs, DVDs, and YouTube.
Pawson died on 21 May, 2020 at the age of 90.