This is a dangerous post…
I love teaching with Tom Campbell. The last month or so Tom and I have been teaching a class together at Spring Meadows. He is a great thinker and communicator. We are studying the book of Mark and a few weeks ago we were talking about why Herod feared John the baptist. Was it his boldness in calling sin, sin, regardless of what might happen or who was in his audience, his passion for right, his very presence? Maybe a combination of each. But for whatever reason that got me to thinking about preacher’s I remember growing up. I think it was Harvey Starling who was the “John the baptist” guy of my growing up – if I could have I would have responded twice each time he preached. He was powerful. A few things about the “other guys” I remember hearing growing up:
- Jerry Jenkins: Obviously I heard dad more than any other and my assessment of him will not be fair – it will be biased. Dad was a “5 tool preacher.” He had total game. In his preaching he was passionate (dad’s energy was always high), biblical (every sermon was deeply steeped in scripture), a minister (his lessons reeked with compassion), had high integrity (I never doubted dad was anything in private other than what he was in public), and a great voice – not to mention he was a scholar though he never came across as condescending or stilted. Unfortunately about 9th grade or so I left his preaching to “help out” in our developing deaf ministry. Looking back it probably had more to do with a girl who I was interested in (though she never knew it) but it took me away from dad’s preaching in some important years and now I regret that.
- VP Black: I remember that brother Black would come once a year to Woodlawn and preach about stewardship. I remember one Sunday morning after he had preached riding with he and dad to lunch and dad. We were in our old 1969 Chevy Impala (you could put four of today’s Hondas in the back seat of that monster ). Brother Black always dressed impeccably. That day he had a black suit on and a white cuffed-linked shirt with a white tie and that jet black hair. I will never forget asking him (I had to be under age 10) “Does VP stand for Vampire?” He cackled. What I remember about brother VP was that in his preaching he was an instructor. And I remember that he liked to use some humor. As one who had always loved to laugh that impressed me.
- Jack Exum: I’ve tried to remember the first time I heard Jack preach. I had to be a teenager already. It was a banquet at the end of some event. I remember it like it was yesterday. His lesson was entitled: “Everybody Ought To Have Box.” And he did. An old cigar box that he kept important stuff in. I think of that lesson often. What I remember about his preaching is he was a great storyteller. He carried you along with what he was saying.
- Gus Nichols: I well remember the first time I met brother Gus. It was a Sunday night. For whatever reason dad had the night off and we stopped at the gianormous new 6th Avenue building. Brother Gus preached. He spoke to each of us. And afterward on the way to our car I remember dad saying: “You will probably never meet a greater man than him.” Wow! The greatest man I knew saying that was huge. What I remember most about brother Gus’ preaching is his vast knowledge of the scriptures and his gentle presentation of it. He had a gentle, loving voice that caressed you and God’s Word as he spoke it.
- Willard Collins: If they made a movie about brother Collins they’d call it “The Voice.” Few voices of the past 100 years have been as distinguishable and unique. It wasn’t a pretty voice but it was powerful. Brother Collins had a unique way of taking the simple, ordinary and applying it beautifully to the text. He was also the consummate exhorter. A friend once said the secret to his effectiveness is that he began offering the invitation the moment he got in the pulpit.
- Jimmy Allen: Brother Allen could paint a word picture as clearly as anyone. His ability to take a Greek word and make it fit our world was unparalleled in my experience.
- Harvey Starling: Did he eat locust and wild honey on the side? I don’t know but his ability to convict the heart was unquestionable. I remember dad saying we were going to have to close a meeting with him early because everyone had already responded .
- Jim Bill McInteer: Has there been a more powerful wordsmith than Jim Bill? He was also an encourager beyond belief. He would make you want to do right by making you believe you could be better and were better than you believed you were.
- Eddie Cloer: I heard brother Eddie in two meetings growing up. He preached one of the 8 sermons I specifically remember hearing. I have used that sermon in meetings most of my preaching life. Brother Cloer could take a first principle and package it in a way that made it not “old hat” but engagingly new.
- James Pilgrim: I only heard brother Pilgrim one time. It was at the annual newcomers dinner that Woodlawn held at the Roebuck Recreational Center. He played a mandolin and sang – he was not good at either but he spoke of the importance of every individual. I was eight years old and still remember it. That’s effective teaching!
- Van Vansandt: Van doesn’t really get to be on this list – he’s much too young. But he is. I first met Van my senior year of high school. He lived life big! Big smile, big laugh and big personality. When I heard him preach he was only a freshman in College but I remember thinking I want to preach like that.
- Mid McKnight, Stanley Shipp, Jack Lewis, Batsell Barrett Baxter, Wendell Gann, Jerry Westmoreland, Thomas Warren, James Folwer, Roger Russell… I could go on and on and on but I’ve said enough to make my point. So let’s get to it:
Why is it that people like to torment preachers and compare and try to make one better than another? Statements like: “That’s the kind of preaching we need”, “I haven’t heard preaching like that in years”, “Bother ____ used to say”, “Why can’t you be like _____?”, are much too commonplace and never helpful. In the list above you will find powerful orators, passionate proclaimers, brilliant scholars, creative storytellers, and man who’s godliness was their greatest tool….what stands out? They are different from each other (in most every aspect but the last one). Each served to make me a better person. Each convicted me, persuaded me, fed me, challenged me in different ways. I needed all of them and grew from each of them.
Here’s my challenge for you: Love the preacher who brings God’s Truths to light before you. Encourage him. In doing so you will make him better. Find his strength and grow from that strength. When the next guy comes along love him too. Be thankful for those who chose this life, for those who try, for those who love God and His Word and His People. And stop expecting him to be superman – or God – or better than whoever is your favorite.
And, one more thing – I struck out yesterday. Nobody said anything that prompted this or was in anyway ugly but I knew it. I get up to bat a few hundred times a year – yesterday was the pits for me – and I hate the memory of it. I bet your favorite guys have had days like that too. We all do. And we know it. But thankfully, when it was all over – God still loves me, my wife still kissed me goodnight, my brethren were more gracious than I could have asked for them to be and I’m still blessed more than I bless. God is good.