You have probably guessed by now that I preach and teach. I preach and teach about Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is not what I do. Being a Christian is what I am. For me, preaching is not about declaring some rules and regulations. Nor is it about seeking to control people’s behavior—controlling people is the game of power politics, the game of greed, and the game of training life forms that act by conditioning rather than by thoughtfulness. Jesus Christ teaches me how to look at people, how to look at the world, how to look at life, and—most of all—how to look at me.
It would be impossible for me to separate the thoughts I share with you from the impact that Jesus has on me. Literally, I am what I am because of Jesus’ influence on me. I wish to share my experiences and journey, but there will be much that will not and cannot make sense to you if you do not understand that I am a Christian. Being a Christian is not a means of support. For me, being a Christian is a means of being.
To illustrate what I am saying, this writing will be placed on the Internet to be read at no cost by any person who wishes to read it. I never have considered seeking to sell these thoughts. Why? That choice has to do with my view of people, which has to do with Jesus’ influence on me and my thinking.
My Early Years
I literally do not remember the time when I decided to preach and teach. I come from a committed Christian family. My mother comes from a committed Christian family. My father became a Christian in his late teens or early 20s. Neither my father nor mother challenged me to consider preaching. My mother’s father at times was a part-time preacher and a congregational leader, but I had little contact with him because of the physical distance between him and my family. There is nothing I can point to and say, “This is the influence that resulted in my being a preacher.”
I began preaching regularly when I was fourteen. My father and a good friend named Ray Cope drove me to Sunday appointments to preach before I was old enough to have a driver’s license. (You know the situation had to be dire for congregations to listen to a fourteen-year-old boy preach.) In the area where I lived as a teenager, there were thirteen congregations, one full-time preacher, and very few part-time preachers. Most of these congregations had no one to speak or teach on Sunday. Therefore, most of them were happy to invite me to come.
When I was fourteen, I worked with three congregations.
Once a month, I went to two congregations.
Twice a month I went to one congregation (not on consecutive Sundays).
That arrangement continued until I went to
At the age of fifteen, I, by invitation, held my first gospel meeting. Then, a gospel meeting consisted of the guest preacher speaking about forty-five minutes on the topic of his choosing. The topic had to relate to conversion to Jesus Christ. Two of us (the other was Jackie Fox, who was a year younger than I) alternated nights as we spoke to the Eastland congregation. (My brother, Jack, [who is five years younger than I] has for years preached for the same congregation, and in recent years also has served as an elder there.) By college age, I had conducted gospel meetings and had regularly spoken to congregations.
The College Years
When I attended college, I did not preach the first three
years while in school. I did teach
an adult class at the Park Avenue congregation in
Joyce agreed to become my wife the summer before my senior year in college. We were childhood sweethearts who dated though high school and the first three years of college. Because of a family situation, her mother never said anything negative about the church. Joyce was destined to get an “up close and personal” exposure to congregational problems and politics. She jokes that she thought the church was perfect until she married a preacher!
About the time Joyce and I became engaged, we and some other
dating couples visited a mutual friend (Jackie Fox) as he spoke to the Hickory
Flatts congregation near
The summer prior to my senior year in college, I was one of
the few full-time preachers my home congregation had ever had, and that was for
three months! When Joyce and I went
We arrived in
My dad was skeptical about me “earning a living” by preaching. To do Sunday work was okay, but to do nothing but preach was, to him, a huge question mark. We reached a compromise. I would be qualified for a “fall back” career if we began to starve while I was preaching. That accounts for my weird educational background—a B.A. degree with a major in chemistry and a minor in speech, and an M.A. in New Testament.
Though Dad had huge question marks, he personally saw that we
never starved. For years he gave us
beef he grew on my childhood farm. His
financial help made it possible for my three children to attend
The Master’s Degree Years
Upon my graduation from Lipscomb, we moved to
That week they offered me the position. I promptly accepted and gave up my chemistry assistantship.
I worked full-time in that congregation for almost two years.
In that time, three significant things happened: (1) Joyce worked for the
maps division of the library at
As a true act of faith, we moved from
Shortly after we arrived at Looxahoma, it increasingly became obvious that something was wrong and getting worse. I discovered that the minister before me had left (in a kitchen drawer) a written evaluation of every member of that small congregation. All the evaluations (but one) were negative. When the members had prepared the house for our arrival, everyone had read his or her evaluation.
While I paid little attention to the evaluations, the members gave those evaluations a LOT of attention. They decided those evaluations would determine what Joyce and I thought of them. Before we arrived, they “knew” what we would think of them. Not until they understood that we would not use those evaluations to determine the basis of our relationships with them did the situation normalize and relationships blossom.
I graduated from Harding Graduate School of Religion in 1966. Upon my graduation, we moved 6 miles to the Senatobia congregation. In that move, we were introduced a second time to the strange dynamics of leaving one congregation to work for another. I found it strange to be ministering to feelings of rejection and feelings of elation simultaneously!
The Years After School
I have no desire to talk about my life as a preacher, and you
probably have even less desire to read about it.
From 1966 to June of 1970, we worked with the Senatobia congregation.
From 1970 to 1974 we worked with people in Cameroon, West Africa, with
the Eastside congregation in Sheffield, Alabama serving as our “overseeing”
congregation. We began work with the
It is my hope that this is enough background information to make what follows sensible. If it is not obvious by now, let me say that I am blessed with an unusual woman as a wife. In every endeavor I have been a part of, it has been an “us” work, not a “me” work. She has been supportive and helpful in every adjustment. She has never complained about anything—even when we had to make unusual adjustments. I trust her strengths, and she trusts mine. In the true sense of the word, we are and always have been partners in all things. I never wonder if she is “there for me,” and I hope she never wonders if I am “there for her.” In the crisis I will share, our relationship is a rich blessing.
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