Today I read an article by Trevin Wax describing 6 pastors who influenced his life and ministry. His blog article was prompted by this comment from Russell Moore:
When I am talking to young evangelicals, often who are in ministry, and I say, “Who has been really influential upon you in ministry and on learning to preach and to do the things of ministry?” ten years ago, most people would have given me the name of a local pastor who had mentored them and worked with them. Now they are mentioning a disembodied voice that they have heard on a podcast. That’s a very dangerous thing…
This of course made me reflect on my own learning experience from a varied degree of pastoral influence and stirred in me great thanksgiving. I tend to be a sentimentalist anyway, fondly reflecting on the memories of old, so this exercise was fun and encouraging. Here are 4 pastors who I had the privilege of interacting with that have had influence on me.
1. Gary Meade. My dad. He was the first preacher I remember seeing and hearing in the pulpit. Dad was a bi-vocational pastor during my early childhood years and poured himself into the church. I have had a great respect for bi-vocational pastors all my life because of what I saw my father do without complaint. The possibility that Christ will one day tell all of us pastors that we should have been bi-vocational is one that lingers somewhere in the recesses of my mind. Dad was not seminary trained and lived way before the onslaught of a internet/media revolution. He essentially taught himself everything he knew about the Bible and faith. Thus, his theological precision might not have been as accurate as he would have liked (is it for any of us?), but dad remains one of the best communicators I have ever heard. A good bit of my preaching, from walking to and from the pulpit to the way I emphasize points stems from dad’s preaching. In addition, dad’s heart for people was contagious. I will never forget one experience I had with my father in the study of our house in Kingsport, TN. Dad had been working with an acquaintance who had been hospitalized with a condition I don’t remember. It was a serious condition. Dad had spent a lot of time in the hospital room, talking to his friend about Christ. I had come home from school and my mom told me that she had some bad news for dad when he got home. . .his friend had passed away presumably without making a confession. Mom and I waited for dad. He came into the study and sat down at the desk. I was watching a “safe” distance behind mom. He said, “don’t tell me.” She said, “I’m sorry Gary.” And then it happened. Dad did something I will never forget.
I had not seen my dad cry too many times but this was open weeping, both for the loss of his friend and for what he thought might have been the loss of his friend’s soul. It was weeping that seem to shake the foundation of the house. It was almost scary to me. To this day I have yet to weep for someone’s salvation the way my father did on that day. It is yet another reminder of the distance I have still to travel to reach that kind of pastoral heart. My dad, once again, changed my life that day.
2. Bill Craft. Bill is the pastor of Millstone Missionary Baptist Church in Millstone, KY. I have not spent extensive time with Bill throughout the years, but his influence on me has nevertheless been important. A good part of my extended family lives in eastern KY – Whitesburg, Neon, Letcher County. Way back in one of the “hollers” in a little place called Millstone is a Missionary Bapstist Church. Bill has been preaching there since Christ walked the earth. I would go see Bill preach when I was visiting during the summers and during special events. I can remember watching him and thinking, “yep, I will be doing that one day.” Although my style of preaching compared to Bill Craft is like night and day, I hope the common thread is in the way our message is received by the congregation. Folks latch on to Bill Craft’s every word. He is engaging, dynamic, and effective. Not to mention a legend to me. Watching Bill Craft preach in that wonderful church down the holler still rings with me today.
3. Bobby Russell. Preacher Bobby has had the greatest pastoral impact on my ministry. He pastored Temple Baptist Church in Kingsport, TN and I sat under his leadership and his preaching from the 3rd grade through graduation. The influence he has had on my life is indescribable. What first comes to mind is the high level of respect he had for the Bible. Bobby preached the Bible long before I knew what an “expository sermon” was all about. When I began learning preaching in college and seminary, I was like, “Bobby has been doing this for years, whats the big deal?” I also learned about the centrality of Jesus in everything the church does, especially in worship. One of the funnier moments in my church childhood was watching Bobby almost fall out of his seat when one of the Christmas specials was “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” It’s not that he didn’t like the song. It’s that the song wasn’t Christ-centered, and therefore did not belong in a worship service. I was 9 years old when I started listening to Bobby preach and I would refuse to go to children’s church because I didn’t want to miss the sermon. I would sit next to my father and would take notes. I still have some of those notes; they are priceless to me. When I went to college, I had several tapes of Bobby Russell preaching. I would listen to them over and over when I made the trip from Nashville back to Kingsport. I still have a few of Bobby’s sermons memorized. As I was departing to Nashville, TN to attend Belmont University, Bobby stopped me in the hall of the church and said this about my future ministry:
Philip, at the end of the day they won’t remember everything you preached. They won’t remember everything you taught. They will remember you were there. So make sure you are there.
I’m trying my best Bobby. Sadly, Bobby Russell passed away just a few months ago. I look forward to seeing him again.
4. Mike Ruffin. I have been able to do what I think is perfectly unique to me – study under Dr. Mike Ruffin at Belmont University and minister alongside him in the local church, not once but twice. Dr. Ruffin was the Old Testament Professor at Belmont University and although his time at the school was relatively short (because he wanted to get back to pastoring), I was blessed to study under him during my four years at Belmont. I then worked part time as a youth pastor at Fosterville Baptist Church where Mike was pastor, and then somehow ended up in Adel, GA serving with Mike and Bob Walker (in what was one heck of a fun and, I think, powerful ministry team). Mike has influenced me in all kinds of ways, many of which he probably isn’t aware of. I learned about the integrity of the pulpit from Mike. “Don’t be a clown in the pulpit” he would tell me, and he modeled his respect for preaching Sunday after Sunday. As a matter of fact, integrity is the word I would use to describe Mike’s ministry overall. Even when Mike disagrees with folks, he handles the disagreement in a way that is always honoring to Christ and to his own ministry. Dr. Ruffin taught me about stopping and making eye contact when people want to talk to you and he has never allowed himself to get caught up in church growth schemes. Mike’s pastorate is one of steady, intentional, Christ saturated growth. I think one of the greatest aspects of our relationship is in our differences. Dr. Ruffin and I have found ourselves in different places on a host of issues. In some ways that is a testimony to his teaching and influence. A mentor who just makes carbon copies of themselves is not much of a mentor. Thus, in our differences we hold each other in the highest of respect and are genuinely thankful for the other’s ministry. The world and the Church are better off because of Dr. Mike Ruffin. So is Philip Meade.
It has taken me quite a while to finish this article because of the tears of joy I have shed. Even if you don’t have a blog or write publicly, you should make your own list and reflect on the people God has put in your life. You will be smiling.