A verse came to mind today. Its in 1 Corinthians 1:11. It says simply, “And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ (NLT). It came to mind as I again pondered where I am headed in ministry, epsecially since I’ve recently taken a huge swerve by faith in my professional career path. Thinking about this more and more over the past few days, I am realizing something. The need for role models in the body of Christ is great. Of course Christ is out great model. He is our prototype. He is who we should aspire to be like above all, yet even He left Apostles to model Him in the flesh for us who were left upon the earth. Yes, we also have the Holy Spirit to assist and lead us in the newness of Christian life that we receive at salvation, but in every aspect of society there are leaders who should be modeling behavior that uplift men. This need is even more enhanced in the church. There is a great need for men and women of integrity to stand up and be role models for young and upcoming Christians in the church. They need something to aspire to.
For me, I have always looked up to Pastors. In my lifetime, I have had around 7 Pastors. There are four who really stand out in my life as models of behavior that i hope to emulate. First there was my uncle, Pastor John Chapman. He was the children’s church pastor at my home church in MS, Mt. Helm Baptist Church. He was an amazing man, so tender and gracious. He taught us using stories as illustrations of the Godly life that we were called to live. He encouraged participation. He encouraged period. Somehow he saw the dormant potential in every child that came through his church, and he loved that potential out of them. For “Uncle JC”, you wanted to be great, because he knew that there was greatness inside of you. I remember that he would always rub my head and say that he was anointing me. He never said what for, but that sticks with me like almost nothing else in my lifetime. He was an amazing man, and from him, I learned the value of acting in love, being tender with people, and being sensitive to their needs above my own. He gave tirelessly until he died. I still think about him, and I miss him.
The second Pastor was a man by the name of John R. Johnson III. He came over to Mt. Helm during my early college years. It was a time when I was a tad bit rebellious, but for some reason he latched on to me. What stood out about him was the way in which he worshipped God, and how excited he got about preaching the word of God. He would become so animated, and even without raising his voice in the tradition of old Baptist preachers, he got acrosss the goodness of God to us. He preached messages of repentences without beating everyone over the head with the “Hellfire and Brimstone” stick. He interacted with the members on the same level, but also at different levels depending on their needs. He was the Pastor who sat down with me for counseling sessions. He saw something in me when I didn’t really care to believe that anything else was there. I really believe that had he stayed at Mt. Helm and I was still there, he would have groomed me to be an Associate Pastor beneath him. He was not only my Pastor, but he was my friend, and from him I learned sometimes God places connections between people that go beyond status or title. In those situations, we must recognize the worth and purpose in those relationships and treat them with great importance. Pastor Johnson left Mt. Helm a month before I publicly accepted my call to ministry.
The third relevant Pastor in my life was my godfather, Calvin Thomas. If you’ve ever met anyone with a boisterous spirit, then you’ve met someone like my godfather. He played the organ with such a gusto, surely the angels in heaven took note. He made the pipes exclaim worship like nobody that I have ever met to this day. In a church of 250-300 people, it was his ovice that was heard above all others, leading worship in hymns, yet spurring it on with a joy that was infectious. He was always happy. He always had time to listen. He laughed and cried with people. He lived his life for others. The thing that stands out about him for me is an extremely personal moment that we had. He anointed me after I had started preaching. He came over to my mom’s house, and in the presence of only my wife, mom, and God, he poured olive oil on my head and prayed for me…for my destiny in ministry, for my integrity, and for my walk in God. It was such a profound moment in my life. I felt the oil running down my head and onto my face, and his hand on me as he prayed aloud for me. It was just more amazing than words can say. I think about him often too. I learned from him that there is nothing wrong with following old conventions. They still have power when done in the Spirit of God.
Finally, my current Pastor, Gene Bebee is having a profound effect on my life. The thing is, he hasn’t taken me under his wing. He doesn’t anoint me. I’m not in any personal relationship with him, or at least, not beyond any other member of the church who is active in ministry. Yes, my wife and I are church leaders in some ways, but from a pastoral training aspect, there is not that kind of relationship right now. And yet, I believe that I am learning more from him than I have from any in the past. This is where that verse comes into play, I believe. Paul wrote that the church in Corinth should imitate him as he imitated Christ. I find myself watching everything that pastor Gene does. How he speaks to people, and what he says. How he preaches. How he prays. How he exhorts. How he encourages. How he gets tough points across with so much love. How he allows the Holy Spirit to flow. How he plans. I find myself drawn to the way that he operates in his gifts, and how those translate so fluidly throughout our church, from his staff to the rest of us.
Yet, even in my deep admiration and respect for my Pastor, I don’t want to be him. I want to imitate how he does things, but in a way which will take advantage of my own gifts and talents. I want to imitate how he bears fruit, but perhaps not all of the ways in which he plants them. I see so much in him that I find myself drawn too. Its amazing. It gives me something to aspire to, and this in itself is the reason why we need good role models in church. Christians need aspirations. Without aspirations, we become complacent, regardless of what we see in the Bible. I can read the Bible all day, yet when I see it physically in action before me, it spurs something in me to want that same work to be active in my life. I believe that it opens us up for God to do the same work in a personal way in our lives. If we need faith, I believe that being in a body of faith with people who model that, helps us to become more faith dependent. I believe that God placed the 5 fold ministry in the church for equipping, but also as models of what He expects His children to become. So, I watch my Pastor. I want to be just like him, but in a way that God grows me up to be as an individual. I’ve learned so much from him…things that can’t be put into words, and he will never know the impact that he has had in my life.
I also think about Matt and Crystal Ingle, Jeremiah and Cassie Skiles, Jimmy and Melissa Patillo, Joe and Jennifer Dillard, TJ and Courtney Williams, Tom and Debbie Harlen, Andrew and Christine Moyer, Daryl and Deb Billings, Shane and Julie Munn, Howie Nunnelly, Melody Bebee, Treven Davenport, and so many more….I have so many to look at, and draw from.
One day I’m going to Pastor. I waver sometimes on this fact, and get frustrated that I don’t seem to be moving towards that goal at times, but at my core, its who I am. I’m sure of it. I have had some incredible role models in my lifetime, and I pray that I can be that same kind of model for someone coming up now or in the future. Its our responsibility as Christians to model Christ to the world, but also to each other. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I think God knows this as well. I think Paul understood that when his disciples imitated him, they flattered God above all else. We need that in the church.
And as I think about the men and women who have had such a profound impact on my ministry life, I pull from each of them, and allow God to shape those things into something that more closely resembles the bond that He and I have.
Until next time, be blessed!