“7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)
God often bestows a “gift” upon an ordinary, “broken” human in order to develop and prepare that man or woman for a life of purpose in His Kingdom. Dawn and I spent a few years in North Carolina in the 1980s working in the ministry of quite an enigmatic leader. Everything could be correctly described in superlative terms when it came to his talents. His gifts to grasp and understand the Scriptures were surpassed by few in his generation. It didn’t stop there. His ability to articulate those ideas through writing books, teaching seminars and preaching conferences were every bit as impressive as his intellectual capacity. Add to that a strong, solid, prophetic unction and everyone saw the powerhouse that this leader was in kicking the bricks of “man-centeredness” out of the spiritual foundations of American Christianity. The impetus of His ministry was Kingdom advancement through a “Christ-centered” Gospel. His influence has literally touched a multitude of nations around the world. I say that it will be a couple of generations before we really understand the reach of his legacy.
Having had the privilege of literally working more closely with him on a daily basis than anyone else in the 1980s, I saw not only the “giftedness” but got a complete picture of the “broken” human that God had graced with these amazing gifts. The strangeness of it all is that the level of brokenness required an unexaggerated description in superlative terms as well. The man who commanded the attention of vast conference crowds was one of the shyest and admittedly the most insecure men that I’ve ever met. The contrast between public ministry and private life was stunning. Hear me here – I’m not talking about “sin” issues. To my knowledge, my dear brother walked and demonstrated an example of holiness with his wife, children and business dealings that could be described in impeccable terms. His ability to move crowds was well known. His inability to relate to the individual “one-on-one” was also well known among the people of his local congregation. I saw people come and go in the 1980s in the midst of a growing church and ministry. Because I had the opportunity to see the “heart of the gifted/broken man” it gave me the ability to understand Him and love Him on a level that few others (the elders of the church) did.
Anytime something begins to experience rapid growth, people flock to it in order to identify with it, and sometimes to stake their claims and get their piece of the unfolding destiny that the future was to bring. The 80s saw a variety of people come and go – some with self-willed and rebellious attempts by those who desired to “do their thing” under the blessing of this man’s ministry. Others were sincere and were wounded by misunderstandings and poor leadership decisions – mistakes that every leader has made at one time or another. Understand that I’m throwing no stones here, nor am I uncovering anyone in this short article. The point requires a high level of honesty.
The fact of the matter is my dear brother was a very gifted teacher and writer. It took him all too long to discover that his giftings and personal make-up didn’t design him to “pastor” people. He has said this very thing out of his own mouth. Unfortunately, he came to grips with that 20 plus years after he’d planted his church. From all that I hear, that church is now under the direction of capable pastoral leadership and is beginning to flourish. I wish that local congregation God’s best as they take steps to define their local mission and identity apart from the shadow of the great man that founded it.
I want everyone to know that I dearly love this brother and His family. He went to be with the Lord a couple years ago this month. I write this short article today because I see a couple of extremes being represented in how people are remembering him. There are those who “demonize” him because of their personal experience of wounding either by their own doing or possibly by his personal leadership shortcomings due to his “broken” humanness. Then there are the “fans” who’ve only read the books and listened to the recorded messages who tend to “divinize” him.
I have no desire here to be unkind to either group except to say, both of these are completely skewed views of his leadership. If we focus on the giftedness and ignore the broken humanness of anyone, we’re guilty of man worship. However, if we focus on the brokenness of any leader’s humanity and don’t walk in grace and forgiveness and refuse to see the “hand of the Lord” upon him/her in giftings and purpose of God, we are guilty of demeaning the gifts and callings of God. I don’t want to be guilty of either. I love this brother. I’m thankful for all the amazing times of fellowship that we had – the friendships that were built that are still on-going. I was blessed to have him directly invest in my life. I learned things by both positive and negative example as all of us do in any station in life. Somehow, Dawn and I managed to leave there in late 1988 and plant the church where we are now in 1989 and look back on the almost 6 years in Richlands with fond memories and grateful hearts that God would let us really get to know one of his choice servants – a man who was amazingly gifted and deeply human at the same time. I thank God for him.