Mike Cope's blog

Monday, September 27, 2004

I wasn't a good Bible major. My hair was too long. I got devo-ed out easily. And I listened to Three Dog Night and the Stones. So I can't really claim that I was a regular Timothy Club attender. Occasionally I did go, though, because of my fanatic appreciation for Jerry Jones, the chairman of the Bible Department at Harding at the time. But now I'm thinking about how ministers were trained. And about how little much of that training has to do with the actual work and calling of ministry. There was the Hyper-Discipler who came in from Florida to tell us that if we really wanted to train people, they had found the way. That was pretty early in what became known as the "Crossroads Movement" and later the "Boston Movement," but it was enough to make several think, "Finally, someone has found THE way," and several others to think, "uh-oh." There was the well-known preacher from Dallas who came in and talked to us about how a minister should dress and how he should negotiate his contract carefully on the front end. You know, Apostle Paul's sort of issues: what you wear and what you make. There was the logician who came in from Tennessee to teach us how to prove everything so that you could be absolutely confident that you were right about everything. It was as simple as a "if this, then that; this, therefore that." Or something like that. Good old gospel syllogisms. The kind Jesus used in his teaching. In some ways it was refreshing, because very rarely in your life do you meet anyone who will outright tell you that he's right about everything. (Some suspect it, but are too humble to admit it.) The experts were a bit of a disappointment. But I contrast that with how much I've learned about ministry from some older ministers who have been heroes of mine. I've written before about Jim Woodroof and Lynn Anderson. When I grow up, I want to be like them. (I've already mastered Lynn's ability to lose things. But I mean in other, more substantial ways.) Here's the truth, though: many of the best models have never been quite as famous as Jim and Lynn. They have ministered faithfully in out-of-the-way churches decade after decade. They nurtured their children, loved their wives, counseled, taught, married, buried, and ate more casseroles than can be counted. They set up chairs, fixed the sound system, and prayed for the lost. They have done just what Eugene Peterson said faithful ministers should do: "The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God." This morning, I'm thankful for those older ministers who have modeled this responsibility for me. Some are well known; others are tucked away in obscurity. But they have taught me what I so often forget: that my central job is to help keep people attentive to God.


  • Mike, great thoughts and comments today. We had a preacher like that at the College church in Searcy for several years in the 80's and early 90's. God, working through him, was able to impact this community GREATLY!

    By Blogger David U, at 9/27/2004 06:50:00 AM  

  • Man, I'm so glad to find out that there are other non-prototypical Bible majors that made it through Harding, and have made a decent go of being a minister!

    I was in TNT, spent more time at softball and football than my Greek, and read SI or ESPN The Mag during Alpha Chi Malachi meetings (I think that the Bible major's club is sort of what the Timothy club used to be). You don't think Ken Neller reads this blog, do you?

    By Blogger Greg Kendall-Ball, at 9/27/2004 07:10:00 AM  

  • Greg, don't worry about Ken Neller seeing this. He spent a good part of yesterday's sermon saying the same thing about himself!


    By Blogger don, at 9/27/2004 07:22:00 AM  

  • One of my early mentors was my father-in-law, an elder for a small church north of Denver. I remember one morning when a child sitting in front of him got sick all over the pew. Thankfully, it was near the end of the service. This elder quietly went to the front and gathered several baptismal towels, returned to the pew and begin cleaning up the mess from the pew, the floor and off everyone who happened to be within pukeshot. One of the other elders' wives came by and said, said, "Burton, you don't need to do that. Let someone else clean it up." Burton, now on his hands and knees wiping the floor, just kept on doing what Jesus would have done." That's the way he lived his life.

    There were other mentors who changed my life with their words and works of Jesus: Landon Saunders, Stanley Shipp, Terry Smith, Martha Burton, Bill and Sherrill Lynn, my Mom. Praise God for these preacher trainers!

    By Blogger MarkS, at 9/27/2004 07:45:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Thanks for the refreshing post. I loved the Peterson quote - which book is it from?

    By Blogger Steve Duer, at 9/27/2004 08:00:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    You brought back some memories this morning. I was present at all three of those Timothy Club meetings. Two of the three speakers were at one time my preachers. Jim and Lynn were also my preachers. I don't think Timothy was a very good Bible Major. He had way to much power for a Church of Christ preacher.

    By Blogger David Michael, at 9/27/2004 08:19:00 AM  

  • Greg, if Dr. Neller (or, hrm, come to think of it, any of the HU Bible faculty) reads this blog, we're both in trouble. ^_~

    By Blogger Q, at 9/27/2004 08:30:00 AM  

  • Mike, Could it be that we need to looka at a page from the Evangelical world's lexicon - bsed on Ephesians 4? Could it be we have allowed ourselves to be limited by terminology?

    Ephesians 4
    10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. 11It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

    The Evanglicals believe "Pastors and Teachers" is a hyphenated 'title' "Pastor-teacher, that the Elders and Pastor-teachers are to build up the Body of Christ so the individual members are then prepared to be the ministers - that they are the ones that visit the sick, care for the poor, attend to the widows and orphans, reach out to the lost with the Good News, etc.

    Just a thought. :)

    By Blogger Kathy, at 9/27/2004 08:53:00 AM  

  • Thanks for bringing back some memories, Mike. I can also say that I was not a 'typical' Bible major. Like Greg, I was in TNT (a club not known for Bible majors when I was at HU in the late eighties). I also listened to rock music and didn't really enjoy Timothy Club meetings (I seem to remember that we were required to attend a certain number of meetings) I dated a girl who once told me, "You don't act like a Bible major." She didn't mean it as a compliment.

    I am blessed with a father-in-law who has been preaching for over 30 years. He has been a powerful and extremely helpful model/mentor for me.


    By Blogger Jeff Slater, at 9/27/2004 09:16:00 AM  

  • Thanks, everyone, for the comments. Steve, the Peterson book is "Working the Angles"--one of the five or so most influential books in my ministry. It begins with this nuclear (or, as the President would say, nucular) bomb: "American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationery and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn't the remotest connection with what the church's pastors have done for most of twenty centuries." And now, having typed out those words, I think I'll have to pick myself up off the floor--again.

    By Blogger Mike, at 9/27/2004 09:39:00 AM  

  • I remember that my preaching proffessor at Harding told us that a preacher "should shower and shave everyday" because "people don't trust men with beards." The next day, I began growing a goatee.
    Thanks for the challenges today Mike.

    By Blogger Micheal, at 9/27/2004 10:13:00 AM  

  • Mike, great thoughts today. My dad was one of those quiet ministers in small churches-- everywhere from Iowa to Ohio to Florida. Your old high school buddy, Larry Sharp is one of the best in the world!! Looking forward to hearing you this weekend in Nashville! Blessings!! SkipD

    By Blogger SkipD, at 9/27/2004 12:15:00 PM  

  • Mike - Wow! You sure brought back some old memories from my Harding days! All my life I had heard about the church; but never about Jesus! I can still remember Jim Woodruff, when I was a freshman in 1976, teaching on the gospel of John. I can still hear him talking about the relationship of sheep to shepherd; shepherd to sheep; sheep to sheep, etc. Life changing stuff to be sure. I, too, yearned to go to preaching 101, i.e., "Jones' Good Time Hour". Man, those were good days! Thanks for bring back those memories and for the reminder of who need to be.

    By Blogger randy, at 9/27/2004 12:16:00 PM  

  • Skip - Larry Sharp is EXACTLY the kind of minister I was talking about today. His ministry has been steady, relational, and gospel-formed all these years.

    By Blogger Mike, at 9/27/2004 02:50:00 PM  

  • I was actually just discussing a similar subject with a fellow student today. We were chatting about our common interest in church planting in New England, and I made the comment about how even today, ministers are often trained separately from missionaries. In fact, ministers are not even taught how to live the missional life -- they are still, in many cases, taught the ins and outs of pastoring a congregation but not how to relate to and communicate the Gospel to the lost in their communities. And the result is sad: We have lots of preachers who preach twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday, attend staff meeting on Monday, fill up their schedule with lots of really great stuff, and prepare the sermon at times during the rest of the week. Sadly, they are content to "live out their faith" by being a good example to people in which they come in contact, but never intend to develop meaningful relationships with the lost.

    In post-Christian America, preachers are missionaries. They have to be. They always should have been, but today, they are needed all the more. If the minister is not active in the community with non-Christians (just being their friend, in many cases), the rest of the congregation will not have a missional outlook. And if the congregation doesn't have a missional outlook, it will certainly be in good company in Western Christianity.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 9/27/2004 05:33:00 PM  

  • I wish my minister read your blog.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/27/2004 07:16:00 PM  

  • Thanks for the encouragement. That is a great book. I need to get it out and re-read it. A good friend and fellow preacher gave it to me.

    By Blogger JD, at 9/27/2004 08:07:00 PM  

  • I know this is completely aside from the point of your post... but I can't help but try and peg those characters. (Which is quite funny considering I live on the other side of the world and would never have met any of them ;)... but... Tennessee logician convinced of his incontrivertible inerrancy....

    Without naming names, sounds a little like a T. B. Warren to me. No, that's to obvious... Thomas B. W.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/28/2004 06:48:00 AM  

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