Pastor Scott Lamb and Don Hinkle, editor of the Missouri Baptist Pathway, have started a new weekly feature on their “Thoughts and Adventures” site, “Tuesday Is for Testimonies.” The first installment is an interview with me about my conversion, call to ministry, and other matters. Keep an eye out for “Thoughts and Adventures.” It is an interesting and thought-provoking blog from two faithful Baptists I admire.
I have posted the interview below.
I grew up in Woolmarket Baptist Church, a rural, blue-collar congregation is a small community just north of Biloxi, Mississippi. My grandfather, Herman Russell Moore, had served as pastor of that congregation and died when I was six years old. His widow, my grandmother, lived next door to us all of my life and had an incalculable influence on me, especially when it comes to loving the church and the gospel.
I was active in all things related to Woolmarket Baptist Church: Sunday school, training union, Vacation Bible School, Royal Ambassadors, youth choir, youth council. At about the age of twelve, I was walking home from a revival meeting at the church, a revival at which our pastor preached (I assume because the visiting evangelist could not), contemplating my own guilt before God. I looked up into the stars and cried out for forgiveness through Jesus. I can still remember exactly where I was standing, and often go there when I return to my hometown. I knew I was heard.
Shortly after my baptism, I began to wrestle with a call to pastoral ministry. This was spurred along by the fact that I had very good role models in ministry, especially my pastor during my junior high and high school years, M.L. Faler who was and is a great man. Woolmarket was good to me in this, insisting that I preach for “youth night” when I was twelve years old.
In time, I turned away from this call and pursued a political career instead. At the age of seventeen, I was very involved with the congressional campaign of a state senator named Gene Taylor. Taylor, a Democrat, lost the 1988 congressional election in the Republican sweep that elected George Bush the Elder president and Trent Lott to the United States Senate. I began college the next year and shortly thereafter the incumbent U.S. Congressman, Larkin Smith, was killed in a plane crash. I then was very involved in the special election, especially in registering and recruiting college-age voters. Gene was elected in the special election, and I almost immediately joined his staff first as an intern, then as intern coordinator, and then as a staff member, while finishing up my college degree. I was back and forth to Washington D.C. and all over our congressional district but I had the energy of my late teens, early twenties. In 1992, I served as communications director and press spokesman for Congressman Taylor’s reelection campaign, a tense campaign against a Republican retired general who took issue with Gene’s vote against the first Gulf War. During that 1992 campaign, I found the calling to ministry to be after me still.
The Library of Congress would give away books to congressional staffers, excess books to be discarded. I found myself picking up, and reading, an old Free Will Baptist Guide for Pastors. I remember asking myself why I was interested in this, hiding among my other materials when going with Gene to committee meetings or town hall gatherings. While speaking at a Pearl River County gathering of Democrats during the 1992 campaign, a point at which I was sleep deprived and dog tired, I found myself ending my speech by saying “Every head bowed, every eye closed, no one looking around…” and realized that I was on the verge of giving an invitation. It was one more manifestation of my desire to preach the gospel, not to elect candidates.
Through this time of decision, my now wife Maria was a confidant, as was Argile Smith, then a preaching professor at New Orleans Seminary. I announced my surrender to ministry in 1993 behind the pulpit at Woolmarket Baptist Church.
The most influential figures in my life have included my grandmother Agnes Moore, my pastors M.L. Faler and Argile Smith, Gene Taylor, my mentor and friend R. Albert Mohler Jr., and my student and friend Robbie Sagers. I have also been impacted greatly by men with whom I have had the privilege to serve: Thom Rainer, Chuck Lawless, Brad Waggoner, Randy Stinson, Jimmy Scroggins, Dan Hatfield and others. My predecessors in this role, David Dockery and Danny Akin, have been vitally important to my life and ministry. There’s not a day that goes by that I am not in constant contact with longtime brothers Randy Stinson, Pete Schemm at Southeastern Seminary, and Pastor David Prince. These four, in a unique way, keep me in touch with reality, and they aren’t afraid to tell me when I’m veering off course.
My favorite figures from church history would come down to a tie between Irenaeus of Lyons, a man who recognized the centrality of Jesus in all of Scripture and who challenged the winds of doctrine in his day, and Andrew Fuller, a fiery theologian-evangelist who confronted the winter chill of high Calvinism with a gospel worthy of all acceptation.
My favorite authors are Wendell Berry, C.S. Lewis, William Faulkner, Walker Percy, Wilie Morris, Shelby Foote, Russell Kirk, Allan Carlson, and George Eldon Ladd. My favorite modern books are Percy’s Signposts in a Strange Land and Berry’s Life Is a Miracle.
My favorite musical artists are Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Sr, and Michael Card. My favorite hymns are those of Fanny Crosby, especially “To God Be the Glory.” My musical “language” is thoroughly Sandy Creek: “Victory in Jesus” and “Just As I Am.” I recognize that that is because of my upbringing but I’m thankful for my upbringing, and more and more every day.
My favorite living preacher is David Prince, the pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky.
It is hard to narrow down to a favorite passage of Scripture, but it would probably be either “And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isa 25:9) or “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3-4). My favorite books of the Bible are Genesis, 1 Samuel, Isaiah, John, and Hebrews.
My advice to pastors is to saturate yourself in the English Bible. I think it is important to know Greek and Hebrew, that’s why we require it here. But it is more important to know the whole Bible, the storyline, the connections, the focus on Jesus than it is to know how to look microscopically at a pericope. I also advise young pastors to love their people, avoid the smug superiority that comes with a movement, whether that movement is “more Reformed than thou” T-shirt Calvinism, hip emerging church faddishsness, or technologically-obsessed church growth relevance.
Finally, I advise pastors to follow the Elijah/Elisha, Jesus/John, Paul/Timothy model of discipleship. “Mentoring” is too programmatic a word, but I’m not sure with what to replace it. I have been shaped and formed by things as seemingly undramatic as drinking coffee with Albert Mohler in a Denny’s off the highway in Michigan, hearing about how he prays and how he witnesses, how he handles conflict, how he avoids bitterness.
I’m not sure what kind of man I would be without year after year of that kind of seemingly unintentional discipleship. Now that cannot be packaged as a program. It only worked because we were friends who actually liked being around one another. But it wouldn’t have worked either if Al had prized his privacy over ministry. If I only knew him as a talking head on “Larry King Live,” or even if we had met twice a week for “mentoring,” he would never have impacted my life in the way that he did simply through the seeming randomness of living out life, working together. I seek to follow the same pattern now, and see that as more important than the books or articles I write, more important than the sermons I preach, and as important to my calling as the seminary I lead.