11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-13
As Providence would have it, I have, in my present state in life, found myself in ministry in close proximity to a friend who I know from earlier in life. With that said, it is also true that we have greatly benefitted from a common pastor who poured into our lives (he moreso than I for obvious reasons to us). Still, our conversation lately led me to the following thoughts. I am thankful, very thankful, for the men that God put in my life to Shepherd me. I could only hope that I could have the opportunity to influence others a fraction by which these men have influenced me.
Brother Billy was my pastor at the most awkward stage of my life. I was disproportionate, as most teenagers generally are, growing facial hair at an early age, and hoping the South would rise again. All of this did not prevent a former chemical engineer called to preach from being a strong influence in my life when God called the boy out in the field to the ministry. I decided I would like the opportunity to go to a church camp that had been planned for quite some time because of girls there. Brother Billy went to the trouble of getting my name on the list within a week or so before departing. I had no idea that that week God would speak to me, break my little fourteen year old heart, and beckon me to preach. I returned home, meeting with him as soon as I had the opportunity. He was relieved. Because of earlier issues I’d had and some of the things going on in the world in 1998, he said he had no idea what I might have to talk about. He immediately began discipling me and giving advice. He told me If God is calling you into the ministry, then He isn’t doing so when you graduate high school, college, or seminary, He is doing so right now. Brother Billy gave me every opportunity available in this way from having me make announcements on Sunday morning, to sharing in our youth classes, and even (yikes!) allowing me to stand in the pulpit as a fifteen year old boy. That lesson in the immediate call into ministry has been one that I have now had the opportunity to share with others in similar calls later in life. Brother Billy also admonished me not get married until, “you have finished four years of college; If you can help it, do not get married until you have finished seminary; if you do get married in seminary, by all means, wait to have kids.” He himself had a wife and three kids and commuted to Seminary every day of the week (a little over 2 hours away.) After my one semester of commuting from a close location, I cannot express my admiration for what this man was doing as he faithfully pastored our flock. I was married one week after I graduated from Seminary.
Brother Wayne was my Pastor at the most impressionable stage of my life. I left our small country church as a junior in high school to join with the First Baptist church of our small town. I would not advise most teenagers to take this route, but it is what happened to me. Whether by my own stubbornness or a sure call at the time, the Lord knew I needed a pastor, and he gave me Brother Wayne. Before I joined, I loitered a bit after a service and he asked me if I wanted to come to his office and chat. I did, and we did. I shared with him my call to preach and my concern knowing that Brother Billy was about to go to another church (something I also understand so much more now later). Brother Wayne prayed with me and began immediately pouring into my life. I did join First Church, and he immediately told the congregation of my call to preach. For the few years we were there together, he would drop everything and invite me into his office to do a little more investing. He told me he had a pastor that said he always had a coke in the refrigerator for any of the young people who would come by, and that he wanted to do the same for me, and I am so glad he did (though we never had a coke). However, our relationship would continue into my college career where he taught as an adjunct, and we would share several cups of coffee after his night class, where he continued pouring to me. Here was a former Seminary professor (now a University dean) who sat in his office memorizing scriptures (that he had me pick out, and he obviously already knew), advising me and listening to me. He gave me several opportunities to preach as a high school student, and as a college student, ensured that I was licensed and ordained, and even came to hear me preach at a small family chapel where I preached in college. He endeared in me a love for the Word of God, pulling an oil lamp out of his desk and visibly illustrating Psalm 119:105, by pointing out if the Psalmist said Thy Word is a light and lamp unto my feet, then he had this little clay lamp in mind, and that meant he could not see far in front of him, so we have dependence upon the word of God. Ultimately I believe because of inadvertent influence of Brother Wayne, I would study Biblical Languages in college, and major in the same in Seminary. This has proved to be the best oil I could find for my lamp. He also advised me on how to preach, “John, never preach to step on people’s toes, preach where the Lord leads you, and if you step on their toes, then their feet are in the wrong place.”
Brother Terry was my pastor in the most unsure stage of my life. It was my senior year of college. Hurricane Katrina hit, I was in a class on the Holocaust, and I endured what seemed to be a major break up. I felt dry and allowed my academically spiritual exercises to become more academic. Brother “Fudd” (as he is better known) and I would meet at a Pastors conference featuring Brother Wayne after he had once again became an Academic dean. I shared that I had no idea what I was doing when I graduated but was thinking about living on my best friend’s couch while he attended summer school not far from where Fudd was a pastor. He told me to look him up if I came that way, and we would talk about the possibility of me serving with his church and working with youth and some other stuff. In the mean time I went back, graduated college, wrestling with the thoughts of where to go to Seminary or Divinity school. I walked in the back door while they were having Bible study. Luckily before calling the police, Fudd recognized me. He then loaded me up afterwards, drove me around the area and painting the picture of how tough, and what ministry was like there. I came back the next week, the deacons voted, I was there, for an eternal three months. He was my pastor, but we became friends. Through Fudd, I realized that Seminary is not what makes a pastor. God does. This man loved the Lord, the word, and people – and he understood them. I survived a lot with Fudd, even being on a bus when the accelerator was stuck, and coming down a mountain when the breaks on the same bus went out. I learned humor, and the necessity to laugh, even at myself. I had become prideful and academic, and here was a humble student of the Word. As I struggled with thoughts of school he challenged me, “If the Lord told you, ‘John, do not go to school’, would you be comfortable with that?” At that time, I would not have been, and this prophetic word cut to the heart of my pride. It was not until this deep cut that my heart was again open to the leadership of the Lord (though he lead me even when I did not perceive it). While up there, I left in August to tour New Orleans Seminary, came back, told him that is where God wanted me, was in orientation the next week, then went back for the greatest send off and commissioning a church could ever give. Fudd taught me how to deal with hard people. He taught me how to visit hospital rooms, how to minister to the very recently bereaved (the body was still in the room), how to pray for everything immediately, and to love Jesus even in a hard place. He is why I survived Seminary still determined to pastor.
I cannot express my thankfulness to the Lord for these men. If you are a pastor, I hope you will consider the models of these men of God who invested in the least of these. If you have benefitted from the ministry of such a pastor, I urge you to thank him.
Thank you Brother Billy, Brother Wayne, and Brother Fudd; you now pastor people you may never meet this side of glory, because of your investing in an awkward, impressionable, and unsure young man.