There are a few things I will do today when I walk into my office and begin a week full of ministry.
At some point today, I will open God’s Word and beg God to speak to me, to change me, to guide me. There is a great difference in studying for life change and studying to help other people experience life change. The Word must speak to me before I speak it to others.
At some point today, I will thank God that he has put me at this place in His kingdom and worry very little about where I might one day be.
At some point today, I will be more concerned with pleasing God, glorifying Jesus, and living empowered by his Spirit than I will about critics, difficult days, and greener grass.
At some point today, I will connect with someone whom I can pray with, guide, speak Scripture over, and practically bring them the Good News and ministry. I may prepare for a baby blessing, a hospital visit, a funeral service, or a wedding ceremony. From life to death, I am tasked with helping people experience God’s presence in their day to day activities.
At some point today, I will use the Bible software program Accordance that enables me to have all my teaching and study materials all in one place.
At some point today, I will read a little Greek.
At some point today, I will attempt to navigate the waters of being a scholar pastor. I will try to learn much while loving people more.
I will do all these things today and every day because I had the opportunity to be profoundly influenced by Dr. Ken Neller.
Dr. Ken Neller, professor at Harding University and shepherd/minister at Downtown Church of Christ, passed away suddenly last Thursday. His memorial service was yesterday. I was unable to attend the service but, over the last few days, a few thoughts have bubbled to the surface and I would like to share them today as a tribute to his influence on me and many others.
Dr. Neller was one of the best professors at Harding and I was privileged to have his New Testament Survey, Greek 3, Christian Ministry and Christian Worship Classes. My freshman year, the powers that be decided to place all the Bible majors into the same Old Testament Class and New Testament class. As far as I am concerned, that was the greatest thing the University could have done for us. It created a group of men and women who could rely on one another as they navigated the experience of learning to love God and love others. We became a close knit group of majors. So much so, that in the Spring semester we organized a “field trip” to the old fairgrounds in Little Rock for a Bible Majors Night at the Hockey Game. We invited our OT professor, Dr Dale Manor, and Dr. Neller came along with us as well. I have so many fond memories from that night and that entire semester. It was a year in which I experienced, without a shadow of a doubt, confidence in God’s call on my life for ministry.
As time went on, I had Dr. Neller for Christian Ministry. This was a class that covered the practical, day to day flow of life as a full-time minister. We visited hospitals and funeral homes. We visited retirement centers and served within our community of Searcy. His insight and leadership from that one class has had a profound impact on the way I approach ministry to this day.
I grew up in a very large congregation (1700+) deep in the heart (clap, clap, clap) of the Bible Belt. To me this was normal and so, of course when I graduated, my first ministry position would be in a similar congregation. That’s just how it works. I wasn’t delusional I was simply naive. Dr. Neller stopped class one day out of the blue and said, “Gentlemen, realize this. The average church in America is less than 100 people. The vast majority of you will not end up at large churches in Dallas or Nashville.” My immediate reaction was to push back and argue. Instead, because of his genuine care and concern for us that was on display every day, I let his statement wash over me. An overwhelming sense of peace came over me. I knew that he was right. From that day forward, I never once looked for a position or a church that was big. I have instead tried to find where God was leading me. Some big congregations have looked at me, interviewed me, passed on me, or offered me a job. A minister can go crazy trying to jump through the hoops, worrying about image and disappointment, moving from job to job in an effort to climb the ministry ladder. Instead, I know that my God is faithful and will place me where he wants me, when he wants me there, and for as long as he wants me there.
After Sandy and I were married, we were invited into the Neller’s home on a weekly basis for a Young Marrieds’ Bible Study. We were with two other future ministry couples and two other great couples who were incredible influences on us. These weekly Bible Studies were an opportunity for us to grow in so many ways and I will never forget the times we spent with the Nellers, the Stockstills, and the Fryes. Their dedication to God, one other, us, and ministry was on full display for us to glean from. Many nights, I think back to those evenings gathered together with God’s Word, good friends, and incredible mentors.
I was shocked to hear about Dr. Neller’s death. It hit me and the rest of the Harding community hard. The outpouring of love and support toward Barbra, his wife, his sons and their families is proof that the Neller’s live lives that impact others to the glory of Jesus Christ.
I’m not nearly as articulate as some others who have expressed their tributes and memorials this past weekend on blogs and social media.
All I can say is that I loved Dr. Neller and knew that he loved me and my family in return. I am a better Disciple, Husband, Father, and Minister because I was able to be impacted by a great man of God.
Thank you, Dr. Neller.