This week Norma Jean and I are in Hillsboro, Ohio, in a gospel meeting. While each meeting with different churches has its own story, character, and meaning, this one is special. Extra special.
We are returning to a church where I began my first full-time work in May of 1970. I was fresh out of Florida College and ready to convert the world. And of course, greatly improve the brotherhood. I was ready to preach the gospel and impart to these brethren my years of experience and vast knowledge of Scripture as a 22-year-old neophyte to full-time ministry.
But something happened along the way, this young, “wet behind the ears preacher” hadn’t anticipated. I ended up learning more from them, than I think they did from me.
I learned that the church is about people. Not programs. Policies. Procedures. Or polemics. I learned the importance of each person in the Body of Christ. Everyone has a story. A perspective. A point of view. Each member has a role to fill and offers their own value to the whole. Indeed the body is not one member, but many” (1 Cor 12:14).
I learned that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Fortunately, I had some good teachers who set an example of lovingly serving one another (Gal. 5:13). I recall the care, compassion and kindness exhibited toward the elderly, the young, the weak and the new convert. And toward a young, inexperienced preacher who had a lot to learn and didn’t always realize it.
I learned how to work with elders who took the responsibility of Shepherding seriously. Delbert Gilliland and Gordon Coffman worked together, blending their differing personalities and points of view to “tend the flock” and “watch out for souls” in the church family, including my own (Ax 20:28; Heb. 13:17). Their wives, Emma Mae and Doreen were a great encouragement and role model for my young wife.
I learned about servanthood, self-sacrifice and raising a family from the deacons and their wives. Dave and Nancy Wyckoff and Ron and Gay Gilliland. We were close enough in age to become good friends and have a lot in common, but they were just enough old to offer advice based on life experience that served us well.
I learned valuable life lessons from so many in those early years of preaching. When I think of the Browns, the Wilsons, the Fields, the Jacobs, the Kimberlys, the Walkers, the Brewers, the Blairs, the Pierces, Miss Juanita, Grandma Barnes, Fred Riley and so many others who’ve gone to their reward, I remember that each has a story to tell and contributed in some way to my early growth in preaching.
Ironically, the things I learned in Hillsboro 47 years ago, I am still learning. Still trying to improve upon. And continuing to build upon those early lessons and experiences.
My indebtedness to this church has grown through the years. It’s not our first time to return. But like the aged Paul’s reflections of the Philippian brethren the passing of time deepens our affinity and strengthens our appreciation for the fellowship of these good brethren.
I would wish for each young preacher the opportunity to begin with a church family like the one in Hillsboro, Ohio. Thank you, brethren, for the memories. It’s good to come home.
“I thank my God my God upon every remembrance of you” (Phil 1:3).
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman