gospel-conversations

By Chuck Lawless

“Brother Jack” was my pastoral hero, yet I heard him preach no more than twenty times. I met him after he retired from decades of ministry. He had no obligation to do so, but he invested in me as a young “preacher boy.” Every major decision I made in ministry I made at his feet until he passed away several years ago.

There is so much that made him a leader in my life. Availability. Wisdom. Experience. Knowledge. Commitment. Prayerfulness. Faith. Perseverance. Discipline. Ability. Humor. Respect. Love. This list could go on and on, but what I recall most about Brother Jack might surprise you. I remember what he said and what he did not say.

Brother Jack liked to go out to eat when we met. I did, too, but not because I wanted a meal. More than that, I wanted to watch a saintly older man interact with people. Jack had a unique ability to connect with anybody, and I knew we would have several conversations during our outing. People in a waiting line, the server at the table, the employee behind the cash register, guests at the next table – all were potential conversation partners with Brother Jack.  He not only naturally engaged them in dialogue, but he also somehow worked conversations into a word about God and His goodness.

I watched it many times. I can hear it now, in fact. “How are you doing today?” Brother Jack would ask. In response to the same question politely returned, he would say something like, “Doing well for a sawed-off, bald-headed Baptist preacher. God’s been good to me.” His sweet demeanor and gentle voice almost dared even the most ardent atheist not to want to talk more. It was not uncommon that we quickly knew another person’s spiritual background, current church attendance, and prayer needs.

In just a few minutes of conversation, Jack could offer attention and respect to another human being, gain his/her hearing, and introduce a brief Christian witness. I don’t think I ever saw him miss an opportunity to speak about God.

But I also remember Jack because of what he did not say – and this point is even more amazing to me. You see, I never heard him say anything I thought would be displeasing to God. For example, I never heard him speak a negative word about another person.

Ever.

Even when he disagreed with others.

Even when others criticized him unfairly.

Even when I lapsed into negativity during our conversations.

Instead of criticism, Brother Jack always turned to prayer. “We just need to pray for him,” he would say. He had learned that praying for others helps guard your heart against a critical spirit. He had lived long enough to know that except for the grace of God, all of us could make dumb decisions.

Moreover, I never heard Brother Jack speak an off-color word. He modeled for me obedience to Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4—“No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up of someone in need . . . And coarse and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable.” I looked forward to my time with Brother Jack, knowing that our conversation would be fully God honoring.

I think much about Brother Jack these days, as God has now placed in my life another man with similar traits. He always evangelizes and never criticizes. His words are measured, pure, and edifying. He, like Brother Jack, is careful in speech because he knows his words are central to his ministry.

That’s the way it is for all Christian leaders. Leadership is obviously more than words, but Christian leadership cannot be separated from our words. Gospel leadership is leadership through proclamation of the Word. We speak the gospel to individuals, teaching them of their need for a Savior who loves them. We announce that message to congregations that gather to hear a word from God.

Ours is a leadership by verbal example. When we keep the gospel to ourselves, we fail in that area of our leadership. Using ungodly words on Monday makes it difficult to trust our words on Sunday. Because words are our ministry, that cost is a heavy one.

We need more leaders like Brother Jack who understand these truths. Our conversation—both what we say and what we don’t say—really does matter.


Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

Get these posts delivered to your inbox daily

Subscribe today and receive my free downloadable resource on the minister's salary!

Comments

  1. Chuck Lawless says

    I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially for young pastors. What practical steps can we take to make sure we guard our speech? How can we make certain not to miss evangelistic opportunities?

  2. says

    Dr. Lawless:

    First of all, Amen to everything you said in this post! It reminded me of the men that God placed along my path, all of which made be a better man, just by being in there presence.

    The one thing I really appreciated is that Brother Jack’s conversation was always clean. It’s amazing how easy it is for preachers to slip into “unsanitized” language when get alone with each other. I’ve always had an appreciation for men who were always pure, even when they could get away with not doing so.

    As to your question in the comments, one thing I try to do (although I fail) is never use language that in and of itself can be criticized. I know that when we take a stand for truth we will be attacked, but I would much rather be attacked for the truths I stand for then for the words I used in the process.

    Thank you, Dr. Lawless, for sharing this with us, it brightened my day. God bless you.

  3. Michael Cassity says

    Rev. W. H. Blackburn was my “Bro. Jack”. Served the church where I commited my heart to Jesus at age 11. Loved that little dirt road community and servd both Christian and non-Christian. Never a critical word. At 50 years old, I still thnik of His example often. ” Using ungodly words on Monday makes it difficult to trust our words on Sunday.” That is a jewel I will remember. Thanks

  4. JW says

    I had a “Bro. Jack” too. His name was Lester Kite. There’s so much I could say, but I just don’t know where to start. So..I’ll just say this: I am the man that I am today because of Preacher Kite’s life and testimony. I miss our Sunday afternoon talks. He went to be with the Lord in 1984 when I graduated from High School. I carry his picture in the front leaf of my preaching Bible and look at it just about every Sunday before I preach. Preacher Kite loved Jesus and everybody else. You would have liked him too.

  5. Derek Futrell says

    Dr. Lawless,
    Thanks for sharing your story about Bro. Jack. I’ve been extremely blessed to have a few Bro. Jack’s. My earliest “Bro. Jack” was a Pastor & Evangelist Rev. Mark Stone. Amazing man of God, had every reason to complain, but he honored the Lord in his physical condition even late in life by praising God though confined to a motorized scooter and he constantly kept us all in stitches. When he was younger he had been burned badly (over 75% of his body had been burned), and though his skin was visibly scarred, his hands gnarled, and his face unappealing, his joy was contagious, his love for Christ was infectious, and his humor in daily situations was lovingly witty. He taught me by example that when you proactively use your speech to praise the Lord and encourage others, you don’t have to be as concerned with guarding your speech because you are not always reacting to others. He lightened up a room and a conversation by his words of affirmation. I saw him even in his correction of others (and when he corrected me), he did it in a way that made you love him more after he corrected you. His everyday speech was seasoned with the Word of God – and he didn’t always quote the reference. He created evangelistic opportunities in the normal everyday occurrences like it was natural…because it was.

    Thanks for stirring my memories of him today.

    Derek

  6. Rita McIntyre says

    Just saw this blog printed in the South Carolina Baptist Courier. We knew a young man named Chuck Lawless and a beloved preacher called “Bro. Jack” when we were at Pisgah Heights church in Westchester,OH back in the early 80′s. Was wondering if this is the Bro. Jack of whom you speak? Your description of him certainly fits!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


4 + one =