I gained a new-found respect for one of my mentors last week. Ronnie Rogers, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church (Norman, OK), came into the blogosphere limelight this past week in a way I know he didn’t expect. Recently he wrote a book detailing his journey away from Calvinism. Our friends at sbctoday posted a chapter from his book as well as an interview he gave. But I don’t want to talk in this post about his book or Calvinism at all…
Instead, seeing the interview made me remember a sad truth—it had been way to long since I had spoken with Ronnie to encourage him as my mentor.
You see, when I first arrived at the University of Oklahoma, and became involved in the Baptist Student Union and Trinity, I was a spiritually immature pup (though I had been a Christian for 15 years) who had big dreams of becoming a professor of meteorology. Through Ronnie’s ministry at Trinity a whole new world opened to me—theologically deep expository preaching. Most of my sermon exposure up to this point had been along the lines of topic of the week, maybe series of the month, and oh, here’s some Bible verses to go along with it. Ronnie, on the other hand, opened the word, read a passage, taught, and applied, sometimes getting into the grit of details about Greek grammar behind single words.
I was a sponge (though not a Bob)… I ate it up.
Add to this a culture of intentional discipleship in both the church and the BSU—older men and women investing and pouring their lives, wisdom, and knowledge into younger men and younger women. For the first time in my life I was challenged, taught, and held accountable by both older saints and my peers. I learned more about the Bible and theology in my first year there than I had in the rest of my life combined up to that point.
As a result, I began to grow in my faith and suddenly that desire to teach people the weather transformed into a desire to teach people about the Bible and Jesus. This is when I really came to know Ronnie. You see, out of this culture of discipleship and teaching grew the expectation that God would raise up men, young and old, to step into the role of pastors and missionaries. God used the ministry at Trinity Baptist to call men to be pastors before I arrived, he did it with several of us while I was there a decade ago, and he is still doing it today.
Because of this expectation and reality, Ronnie had devised a personalized program to mentor us young guys and equip us for our role as pastors and our studies at seminary. A busy pastor of a not-so-small church took time to personally invest in us who desired to be pastors.
Seeing the interview and such over at sbctoday reminded me of how thankful I continue to be for his influence, even if the finer points of our theology differ in places. But this also corresponded with another event occurring in the life of my church, and a church 30 miles south of mine. For the past two years I have been pastor in a rather small and seemingly insignificant town in western Missouri, I have followed Ronnie’s example and invested myself into a man who desired to become a pastor. We talk theology, we talk Greek, we talk personal issues and the like…
And finally it happened. A small church in a slightly bigger town voted for him to become its pastor. We hosted the ordination council and grilled him with questions, and then I went down to his new church and preached his ordination sermon.
Part of me feels so young and like I have so far to go (I do), yet suddenly I took a step closer to being like my mentor. Just as Ronnie is and has been the pastor of many pastors, so I suddenly became the pastor of a pastor.
Yes my friend from my church has gone off to his own church, still I bear a responsibility to invest in him and help him continue to grow. The feeling of all of this gave me that sense of new, or perhaps greater respect for Ronnie, and it gave me a greater respect for Hebrews 13:17.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
I must confess—I have a love/hate relationship with this verse. I love it because it reminds me that ministry is supposed to be a joy. I love it because it reminds me of the great responsibility I have for this particular flock of God and it motivates me to serve well. But I hate it (I know, hate really seems like a strong word…but in this case it is a fear-driven word), because I know I am a human being prone to screwing up and I’m shepherding a bunch of human beings prone to do the same…
Sometimes I’ve wondered if when standing before Jesus I will have a valid excuse in throwing up my hands and saying, “I did the best I could, they’re just plain nuts!” But then I remember I’m really no better.
Nevertheless, in the happenings of this mentee of mine becoming a pastor it hit me that my sphere of influence just grew. I have and will still mentor, encourage, and influence a man who now stands as shepherd over a flock of people that I will only know briefly but he will come to know well.
In light of Hebrews 13:17, that is quite humbling.
But it is a humility that drives me back to the very things my mentor taught me—our lives must be driven by and dedicated to Jesus through three primary means: a devotion to prayer, to the Word, and to discipleship through the church. And with that focus a greater joy pushes out whatever fear comes from staring at a verse like Hebrews 13:17, not just as a pastor but as a pastor’s pastor.