He was one of my influencers. His effect on my life didn’t come from meeting him, only by my perception of him from afar. In fact, I never met him, never shook his hand, or had an opportunity to talk to him. Regardless, I would say he was one of the most impactful people in my ministry. One of my hopes had always been to get an opportunity to meet him, but unfortunately, he passed several years ago, and I never got that chance. I only heard him preach a handful of messages, but each time there was a gentle, kind, and humble spirit that resonated from him. The intersecting moment came for me at a young minister’s conference I was attending in Louisiana. As the conference unfolded, some messages stirred my heart, others inspired my spirit, but it was the message by James Kilgore titled “Glory Robes or Sackcloth” that would change my life. As a young man I thought pastor Kilgore was old, but at the time he was probably only in his mid 50’s. He was somewhat short, had silvery white hair, and spoke with a classic southern drawl. What grabbed my attention this particular evening, along with 3000 others, was two things. First, as he stood to speak, he came with such humility as he made his way to the podium. He almost appeared to be uncomfortable as he stood before the crowd, and it was evident that he was burdened by what God was asking him to share. The second thing that overwhelmed me was the moment in his message when he put on a long fuchsia robe. Without much fanfare he began to speak about how he was afraid many ministers were living and ministering for glory robes. Today we would call it building our brand. Wearing the right clothing and shoes, running in the right circle of friends, projecting the correct social media impressions, preaching the latest trendy ideas. He wasn’t angry, no arrogance or condescending attitude, he was broken. When it would have been easier to preach something popular, he chose to preach the burden of his heart. He spoke of how authentic ministry must be about building Jesus’ kingdom, not ours. Forever I will remember him repeating the phrase, “oh, how we love to wear the glory robes,” but then he would follow up with, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” What happened about halfway through his message is what has forever been branded on my heart. He stopped and disrobed from the beautiful fuchsia robe, put on a feed sack, and for the remainder of the message, he preached in that simple sack. He wept and cried as he talked about how he and his wife had sacrificed so they could share the gospel. He shared how early in their ministry they often lived on very little. He told how the two of them would fast. He would fast every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and his wife would say,”well, if you’re going too fast, I am too. He spoke about going to small churches who couldn’t pay them and how sometimes they would have little or no food. He spoke of starting a church from basically nothing, and helping people who he knew would never be able to repay their generosity. He cried as he talked about those who were broken and they had helped, only to be betrayed once success came their way. He said, in the end it was worth it all that some might know Christ. At some point it was too much for me. I didn’t need the end of the message, I crumbled to my knees. That night I wept for over an hour, when I rose from the ground, I was empty, there were no more tears to be cried. I made a commitment, I wanted to have a ministry like James Kilgore. Sometimes the emotion of the moment wears off and you go back to life, moved but not changed. This would not be the case after this message. I returned to the college in Jackson Mississippi where I was working. Every night for a week I would go to my office and listen to the message. I still would weep, overwhelmed with conviction. During the week I would spend evenings praying for hours, pleading, and promising God I would minister as a man in sackcloth if he would use me. God granted that request, and for 35 years Mary and I have had the privilege of living out James Kilgore’s message. We’ve lived simply. We avoided drawing attention to ourselves; never seeking the limelight. We’ve lived to put others and the kingdom ahead of ourselves. We’ve prayed and fasted unceasingly, only longing to see a sovereign move of God. We’ve cried and wept enough tears to fill pools. We built a church and served the people; rich, poor, educated, uneducated, and every culture. We cared for those who had, and those who didn’t, it didn’t matter. We loved and smiled when we were hurt, forgotten, and abandoned, and we’ve given when we didn’t have enough for ourselves. When we walked away from pastoring, we knew it would come with great loss, but also knew that the Kingdom had to be above our ministry and our future. Many were shocked when they heard the news, but know this about Mary and I. A long time ago we heard a message and decided we would be ministers in sackcloth. We made a commitment that above all, it was souls that would be important, and His Kingdom would be our priority. As I mentioned, James Kilgore never met or spoke to me, but from a distance his humble life forever changed mine. Maybe when we get to heaven, we’ll get to meet him and tell him the story, but for now I share it with you. Why? Because it’s important to realize you are impacting someone by the life you live. You may never have a conversation with them or share a dinner, but you’re being an influencer. Understand the life you are living, the story you are writing, what you are doing, may be impacting someone in a far greater way than you could ever imagine. James Kilgore, thank you for your influence from a distance, I am forever indebted.
* This blog is a part of a series called the Tribute Series, My Influencers.