And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets,
and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers
By definition the word pastor simply means, a spiritual overseer. It is important that throughout our lives we have men whose job is simply to oversee our spiritual life and wellbeing. They are to give us guidance, instruction and principles from the Word of God to help us in our journey. They are to pray over us and be concerned about our eternal destination. This month I wanted to take a moment to focus, reflect and thank the men of God who have shaped my life, family and ministry.
I first want to recognize my dad as my first spiritual overseer. I’ve watched as my dad has led our family; navigating us through turbulent times. He taught me that church was not an option, it was a privilege. We made every service, every week. If there was a revival or a prayer meeting, we were there. If there was a call to fast, we fasted. When he saw that his son was struggling with church and God, he made the change to get me and his family to a better place. He never questioned or compromised doctrine, always stood for truth and when he was called to serve, he did. He sang, worked with youth, taught Sunday School, ushered and has served on church boards for over 30 years. An indelible mark he left on my life was one of the few times I saw him cry. I had just walked in for prayer before a Sunday night service. When I walked into the prayer room, he along with other board members were wailing and sobbing, I thought someone had died, but in reality it was that his pastor was leaving. This is the kind of love my dad showed me for God, church and his pastor.
The second man of influence is Pastor N.A. Urshan. He was a man of vision, he understood that the church must remain relevant, a man ahead of his time and a man who wasn’t afraid to go against the religious norm. He wasn’t aware of the influence that he was having on a 13-year-old life, he didn’t realize that one day I too would pastor and had no idea that his beliefs and ideals would become mine. We came to his church in a time where my interest in God was waning. It was a time where it seemed churches preached against everything that was “fun.” Pastor Urshan went against the grain. He understood who he was, he understood his time and he understood what it took to reach the next generation and the world; he preached more about a relationship than rules. It wasn’t too long after we arrived that our family got a TV, I went on my first gym bowling day and high school football game…I thought that I had arrived! He had young people in the orchestra who played basketball on the high school teams and young people who didn’t have it all together in the choir. My parents approached him about his methods at one point and paraphrasing him he said, “as long as they are here I have a chance for the gospel to change them.” It wasn’t but a few years later that I was filled with the Spirit and felt my call to the ministry. Now forty years later, I find myself pastoring much the same way as Pastor Urshan. I pastor as I do because I watched how Pastor Urshan never wavered off the doctrine yet had understanding for the need to stay relevant. I learned what he understood, that methods may change, but the message never will. Today, I try to mimic his methods in my generation and teach the next generation the same.
The third man of influence is Pastor James Larson. He came into my life at a critical time and tattooed my heart with a love for prayer and worship. He was 25 years old, was 6’8” and loved basketball and God. I was 15 and when I saw his passion for the things of God I decided that was what I wanted too. He had more faith than common sense, but his faith built what is still one of the largest church auditoriums in Indianapolis and tried whatever to get people to Jesus including billboards, commercial radio spots, bumper stickers and even an egg hunt in a park. But it was his passion for prayer that forever changed my life. Every Sunday night an hour before church he would be in the prayer room crying out for God to pour out his Spirit. He would circle and every once in a while you would feel his shadow as it stopped over you and you knew it was coming, his hands would go on your head or back and he would pray over you like Jesus was coming that night. He had all night prayer meetings and weeks of prayer and fasting and I saw how it changed the church and reached a community. He attacked the platform the same way, tambourine in hand and the spirit of worship in his heart. I know there were times when he had more stress and more problems than we could ever imagine, but when it was time to worship, he came to worship. He’s been away from my life for over 30 years now, but the influence of prayer he put in my life has shaped my beliefs and my ministry in a way like no other. If you wonder why I’m so driven for prayer, it was because of my pastor and his love for prayer. James Larson gave me the passion and understanding of the power of prayer and I if I can pass anything on to another person or generation, it would be the same. Pray.
Time prohibits others who mentored me from a distance but I must mention men like Pastor James Kilgore who taught me how to live and preach with humility and Pastor Anthony Mangun who gave me a passion for the world and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Then there are those men who influenced Mary, thereby influencing me. I recently heard a message by her dad, Pastor Wayne Odum, preaching on the power of the Holy Spirit. She speaks so fondly of Pastor Kenneth Haney, his incredible faith and joining him and others at the church at 5 a.m. for prayer and it was Pastor Stephen Drury and his love for kids at the Tupelo Children’s Mansion that has created such a love for kid’s ministry in her. These, along with Paul Mooney, and so many others, God put in our lives to shape us, our family and me as a pastor. It is because of them that Mary and I are together, have the type of home and family we have, and love God and His church the way we do. We are a product of the wonderful men who have poured into us, prayed for us and shepherded us. We have been blessed by so many so that we could bless others, we’re thankful for our pastor’s, our heritage and what they have put in us so we could serve others.
* This blog is a part of a series called the Tribute Series, My Influencers.