“He never said it would be easy. He did say it would be worth it.”
That was one of Bro. John’s many idioms and I never forgot it. He maintained a biblical perspective no matter his personal pain or ministry hardships. And anytime difficulty arises in my life, I hear him say it.
But far more than his words of wisdom, I remember the life he lived. He was the most biblical, godly, and sacrificial pastor I have ever known. When I sift through the memories I have of him, I constantly think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Bro. John was truly all things to all people. He made a memorable impact on everyone he knew and he certainly made an impact on me.
His influence on me began in high school. He was my bus driver during my final years at Ballard Memorial High School. In no time, we were having daily conversations on the bus about preaching and the Bible. He sacrificed precious time befriending me and he did so because that’s just the kind of person he was.
Then came the invitation to preach at his church, Ohio Valley Baptist, which would become my place of ministry for five years. They were hosting a large youth rally and he graciously invited me to preach—at 17 years of age, with no formal theological training, and little pulpit experience. But he trusted the Lord and he believed in me.
A few months later, my relationship with Bro. John deepened as I accepted the call to be the minister of youth at Ohio Valley. He poured into me in ways that have made an eternal impact. His influence and leadership are the reason I’m in the ministry today. Every day, I aspire to be the kind of pastor and Christian that he was. In our relationship, he faithfully applied 2 Timothy 2:2, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” Throughout the entirety of my time serving in ministry with him, he mentored me for pastoral ministry.
I’ll never forget the day he shook my hand and presented me with my license to preach. I preached a bummer sermon that morning, but he knew the Lord had called me to preach and on November 25, 2012 he and Ohio Valley confirmed so by licensing me to preach the gospel. He also conducted my ordination on December 15, 2013 and I’ll never forget what he said: “I’m gonna tell you what the apostle Paul told Timothy and how I believe he said it: PREACH. THE. WORD!”
They say faithfulness in ministry is both taught and caught. That is, you learn to be a faithful pastor through instruction, example, and experience. He provided me with the right combination of all three. He wisely counseled me in matters of life and ministry, but he simultaneously provided the best example for me to follow and gave me plenty of opportunities to serve the Lord (and even make mistakes).
I remember vividly when he taught me how to baptize new believers. He insisted that I join him in the baptistery to watch and learn. He even assisted me as I baptized one of my best friends. He knew I needed the experience for when I would become the pastor of my own church.
Bro. John is also the reason I went to Bible college. After graduating high school, I didn’t want to do anymore schooling. But he continued to encourage me to pursue some kind of formal theological training. Recently, I graduated from Boyce College with an Associates of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies. I just received my diploma in the mail and I wish I could have shown it to him and expressed my deepest gratitude for his encouraging me to pursue it (I have a feeling he knows now).
He was a man who “walked slowly through the people.” That is, he made a real effort to spend time with people. He would listen to you—not just to reply, but to show that he loved you. He was the most relational pastor that I’ve ever known. He was there anytime he was needed. He was at every event. He had fun during church events and always made them more lively.
I remember the times he rushed to the hospital to visit people in need. Many of those times, he brought me with him. Whether it was a routine surgery, a sudden illness, or a tragic death—he was there to love and lead people who were hurting. He taught me that a pastor ought to be seen outside the church as much as inside the church.
And he always did more than what was required of him. He was a faithful pastor who always exceeded his job description. Even before he came to Ohio Valley, I am told that he got on his rubber boots and helped one of the families move things out of their house before it flooded. When there was something that needed to be done, he did it—no matter how mundane. In fact, another idiom of his was, “Sometimes if it’s not done by the pastor, it won’t get done.”
Bro. John also exemplified Paul’s command to always be ready to preach (2 Tim. 4:2). Everywhere was his pulpit. He preached outdoors on the church lawn and at the public parks. He preached at weddings and funerals. He even preached to the folks down at the nursing home. He was always ready. No matter how busy he was, he was always prepared to open and explain the word of God.
He was also instrumental in the relationship that me and my wife share. We both distinctly remember how he tenderly counseled us as we prepared for marriage. When the wedding day arrived, she and I were shaking like leaves on a tree, but he was calm and composed—which really helped ease our tensions.
Words can never express how much he means to me. There is so much more that I want to say. But all in all, Bro. John taught me how to be a faithful pastor, a devoted Christian, and a loving husband. I’m going to miss his wise counsel and quirks. I am going to miss calling him on the phone for advice regarding issues in ministry. But I am anticipating the day when we will be reunited in glory.
I love you, Bro. John. You did so much for me that you didn’t have to do. I am who I am today because you befriended and mentored the young man on your school bus.