They Walk Among UsThey walk among us – This is the title of a podcast in the UK that covers all manner of crimes committed by people who “walk among us.” It also is the title of a one-act play by Nicholas O’Neill, the youngest victim claimed in the Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island back in 2003. Sometimes, the phrase is used by comedians to point out the ridiculous behavior associated with “normal” people who “walk among us.”
Let me flip the analogy a bit, if I may. As I look back across my life in ministry, I have encountered true giants in the faith-----who just walked among us. Today, I want to pay tribute to them.
I cut my teeth in ministry during a turbulent time in Baptist history. I arrived at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1981. My wife and I felt a call to mission and we were uncertain where that call may take us. However, we were certain that the first steps were to be given to preparation. So, we married the month of our college graduation and moved 700 miles to Texas to begin our journey.
We were not privy to the “goings-on” in the Southern Baptist Convention in those days. Cindy and I were naïve young people who simply wanted to serve Jesus and prepare ourselves for a lifetime of service. My interests in convention life were stirred as a young seminary student as I observed the machinations of denominational life for the first time.
Eventually, I would actually attend a Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting myself. I went to the convention meeting in Dallas in 1985. Wow. Over 40,000 of us showed up for that one!
I became enamored with all of the forces at play in controversy in our convention. In fact, I completed a PhD in Church History at Southwestern and actually wrote my doctoral dissertation on the controversy itself (Factors Contributing to the Resurgence of Fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist Convention: 1979-1990).
During those days in my life – and across the years that followed, I was influenced and shaped by true giants in ministry. Some of them were in the academy, some were in the local churches, and some of them were denominational servants. They walked among us. Praise God that some of them are still walking among us!
As I have attended funerals this week for two of those giants, I have been reflecting upon the men and women who shaped me in ministry. They were role models for me. They took an interest in me. Some of them I knew very well, and some were only known at a distance. But they all had shaping influence in my life and I am forever indebted to them for all I learned from them.
They walk(ed) among us:
Russell Dilday, W. R. Estep, Jack Gray, Jack MacGorman, Leon McBeth, Curtis Vaughn, Bruce Corley, David Kirkpatrick, John Newport, James Leo Garrett, T. W. Hunt, James Brooks, Justice Anderson, Bert Dominy, Keith Parks, Bill O’Brien, Delanna O’Brien, Carolyn Weatherford, Bill Pinson, Paul Powell, Ralph Langley, Herschel Hobbs, Jimmy Allen, Winfred Moore, Charles Wade, Richard Jackson, Dan Vestal, Henry Blackaby, Beth Moore, Rick Warren . . .
This is not an exhaustive list. But this list contains an incredible brain trust of leaders who have helped make me who I am today. There have been many more folks of course. I have had church members who have left indelible kingdom imprints on me. But this list of leaders shaped my understanding of ministry and mission.
What did I learn from them? Wow – where would I start?
Lordship of Christ – I watched these people through the years serve the Lord Jesus faithfully. They taught me to surrender my daily walk to the Lord. They never lost sight of claims of Christ on their lives. These leaders were (are) Jesus people.
Love for the local church – These leaders have loved the church well! Paul Powell used to tell me, “You should always have fire in your belly for the local church.” These men and women demonstrated their commitment to the local church in how they engaged in ministry and mission.
Authority of the Bible – These leaders also demonstrated a commitment to the authority of the Word of God. They maintained their loyalty to the Scripture for the duration of their lives. They never succumbed to the “winds of the day” in their understanding of God’s truth. Even when the teachings of the Bible ran counter to the prevailing view in society, these leaders demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the authority of God’s Word.
Centrist Orthodoxy – These leaders resisted the temptation to be pulled too far right and too far left theologically. They rejected the hard-edged notions of both liberalism and fundamentalism. They refused to be pulled off the pavement into theological ditches. They demonstrated to me how to remain vibrant and buoyant in the face of great challenge.
Grace under fire – These leaders also helped me understand how to be gracious in the moment—particularly in the heat of battle. They all have experienced some level of crisis, accusation, and challenge. I watched them weather these storms with great aplomb. They never lost their way in the midst of the challenge. They had the unique ability to see the best in others ---- even in the face of profound disagreement. They were not vindictive or vengeful. Their deep devotion to the Lord kept them in touch with the grace of Christ.
Work Ethic – These leaders modeled a great work ethic for me. I learned from them that life is not handed to us. These leaders gave great effort to their ministry and life endeavors. They worked hard in every arena. I am inspired daily still by their example.
Hope – These leaders inspired me to never lose hope. Our hope is rooted in a Gospel of Hope that emerged from a God of Hope who has provided us with a Savior Who has secured our Hope. My hope is not in some cause, some theological perspective, some political victory. My hope is the Gospel of my Lord.
Thank you, Lord for the giants in my life!