Like many pastors my age, if you were to ask who influenced me I would be tempted to list the men whose books I read and whose sermon tapes I listened to in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Men like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Steven Lawson, D.A. Carson, Mark Dever, and Tim Keller are great gifts to the church and I benefitted greatly from their writing and teaching, but these men have never been my flesh and blood pastor. It often feels like I know them because of how often I have listened to them, but I’ve never had the opportunity to observe their lives up close or seen the fruit of their family life. There have been men though whose lives I have seen up close. These men faithfully listened to me, taught me, and invested in me. These men have been my pastors throughout the years and there is no time better than Pastor Appreciation Month to honor them and share what I learned from them.
Ed Lacy was never technically my pastor, but on March 27, 1997 he faithfully preached the Gospel and the Holy Spirit awakened my heart to my need for the Gospel and I came to know Christ. Afterwards, he didn’t treat me like a number to report the supporters of his ministry, but sought out opportunities to teach me how to faithfully follow Jesus. His single-minded devotion to Jesus and desire to see people come to know Christ has often challenged me out of my spiritual lethargy and reminded me that life is not a game. This devotion has often manifested itself in going to difficult places to preach the truth about Jesus and train pastors in the truths of the biblical Gospel. Even the mention of his name encourages me to read my Bible, spend time in prayer, and get about the business of speaking the Gospel every opportunity I get.
Almost twenty years have passed since I Johnny Kendrick was my pastor at Tompkins Baptist Church, but I often think of things he taught this wet behind the ears youth pastor who thought he knew a lot. He let me tag along with him on hospital visits and personal visits in homes, taking time afterwards to talk with me about what I could learn from these visits. Every time I heard him preach, he passionately called people to Jesus; reminding me to always have an evangelistic edge and passion in my preaching. He patiently endured my interruptions in his office to ask him questions while he was working, and taught me through his example that people are never a distraction from the work of the ministry. From his example I began to see what it looks like to have the heart of a shepherd.
During my Seminary years Charles Moore was my Pastor at North Oldham Baptist Church in Goshen, Kentucky. When I picture Pastor Charles I see a huge smile. He always had a kind greeting and an encouraging word. In personal conversations he always listened intently and was genuinely wanted to know and help you. There was never a time when he was my Pastor that I did not feel like he was for me and wanted to do everything he could to help me. He truly modeled for me what it meant to be a shepherd. His kindness and humility were even more remarkable considering his unenviable job of being the pastor to know-it-all seminary students. Never once did I see him bristle at criticism and grow impatient with our endless opinions. I consistently praise God for the three and a half years I had with him because I learned many things from him I am still benefiting from today.
For six months before we planted Chelsea Village, I had the privilege of serving with Ron Sumners at Meadow Brook Baptist Church. Without his leadership and the kindness of so many at Meadow Brook our church would not exist. Even though this is true, he never once acted as if we owed him something for this. He cheered us on with a characteristic humility I would commend to every Christian. In addition, Ron taught me one of the most important leadership lessons I have ever learned. He worked to establish some basic guidelines for our church plant, core doctrinal commitments and missions cooperation, then gave us the freedom to be who we needed to be. I would ask him for advice and he would give it followed by the words “but now you do what you think you should do.” From him I saw how to give someone with whom I am serving guidance and direction for their ministry without micromanaging them. This gives people the freedom and joy to serve without feeling like they are on an island.
Grove Hill Baptist Church called David Curtis as pastor around the time I began my Freshman year of college. At this stage of life I had no interest in Jesus, his church, or the new pastor, but God dropped him in my life at one of my darkest moments. My first memory of him is sitting in our living room after my Father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He prayed with and showed great kindness to our family, even going to Houston for my Dad’s surgery. Because of his kindness to us I started listening when he was preaching and what I heard has shaped me in more ways than I will understand. He faithfully plugged away at preaching the Bible each and every week. When God called me into the ministry, I started seeking him out to ask questions about the Bible, theology, and ministry. He patiently answered many questions, consistently pointing back to the Scriptures as our source of authority and life for the church. I interned with him for two summers and got a close up look at what it took to preach the Bible week in and week out while faithfully shepherding a congregation. I saw him leave with the sunrise to visit hospitals in Mobile and study until well after the sun went down. His faithful friendship to me since those years has been a constant source of joy and challenged me to know God’s word and proclaim it faithfully because it is the only power to change the lives of men and women.
My father-in-law Mark McCullough has never officially been my Pastor, but he has shepherded me through many ups and downs over the fourteen years I have known him. He has shown me in hundreds of little ways how to be a godly man, husband, father, and pastor. He has been willing to answer many off the wall, difficult, and awkward questions. More than anything though I have learned from him what faithful tenderness looks like. By this I mean he has shown me how a man has a tender heart towards the Lord and towards the people around him. This hasn’t been contrived or rehearsed, but flows from who he genuinely is towards the Lord. In addition he has modeled genuine wisdom for me. Once I asked him a question and an awkward silence followed as he looked out of the window. I was close to asking the question again and he began to answer. While he was talking I was trying to figure out why he paused so long before he started talking and then it hit me. He was thinking before he spoke! Very few of us do this in our culture and his example of thinking before speaking and his unwillingness to speak ill of others calls me away from my hotheadedness and propensity to put my mouth in gear before my brain can catch up. Finally he has shown me how to be a shepherd through his heart for the people First Baptist Church of Frisco City. He labors faithfully to teach God’s word for them each week while also having a faithful pastoral presence. This has shown me again the importance of both the ministry of the word and my ministry among people.
If you are a pastor I hope you saw one of the major traits these godly men had in common. The first thing I remember about them is their humility, patience, and willingness to listen. Rather than cutting me off, writing me off, or acting like I had no clue what I was talking about they patiently bore with me and encouraged me. They gave well-worded correction when necessary, but their overwhelming posture towards a brash young guy was one of kindness. If you have young men among you, don’t delight in tearing them down or act as if they are an annoyance. Give them opportunities to lead and fail. Pick them up and help them on their way when they do. Patiently listen and patiently teach as well. Above all, continue to walk with Jesus in humility. They will be paying attention and by God’s grace they will learn.
Although I did not mention it with each man, they all were men who were saturated in the Bible. Like Charles Spurgeon said about John Bunyan, if you pricked them they would bleed Bible. I saw this in their lives not just as they prepared to preach, but as they saw they would only live by the bread which comes from the mouth of God. They were men who read, memorized, meditated, and frequently quoted the Bible in conversation. Their examples consistently point me back to this fountain of God’s revelation. Pastor, be a Bible man. The world wants us to be men who are known for our catalytic leadership and promotional ability, but we primarily must still be men of the one great book.
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