Passing of Preachers

Dr. Michael L. Ford

30 March 2008


I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:13-15 

            Last week I received a message from my longtime friend Dr. W.D. Hill about a friend of his Rev. A.L. Street, one of those old time preachers who had served the Lord faithfully many years. David was asking me to pray for him because he was in critical physical condition. Brother Street was blessed at that trying time to have his wife by his bedside. Many preachers who last so long find themselves departing this veil of tears not only abandoned by the people who owe them so much but often having outlived both spouse and children. By the weekend Brother Street had gone home to be with the Lord.

            I did not know Brother Street well. He had visited the school with Dr. Hill on a couple of occasions while I was Dean, but one of Dr. Hill’s students commented he appreciated Preacher Street because he could tell little stories that helped to make his points in a memorable way. That is an ability that comes with years of experience to go along with seasoning of preaching. It reminded me of a distant relative of mine, Dr. Pate, who in the waning years of his life did interim work as churches searched for pastors. He could give a church quite a lot in under twenty minutes. I asked him once why he did not elaborate some of his points more deeply? He said there were two reasons: The first was that most people who come to church were not prepared to retain more these days. The second was at his stage of life the amount he delivered was about all he had energy for. I detected a wry note of humor in that remark.

            Over a decade ago, so many old time preachers were dying in rapid order I began to wonder if the Lord was not calling them home in order to allow prophesied situations more leeway to develop as we move toward the end of the age? I do not doubt being allowed to depart is often a blessed relief, not because of the infirmity of the body, but because preaching in this present world has a greater sadness than was present even when I began to preach. So the watchmen of God can depart after long service without regret but a sense of relief that their vigil in this untoward generation is finished.

            Some people might argue that the passing of preachers is not a bad thing because it allows room for the up and coming young generation of preachers to go to work. It is true that each generation responds better to the method of delivery and expression used by people in touch with their variation of the culture. For instance, I like oratory. By that I mean taking words and using them to build pictures and comparisons that can thrill, inform, and challenge all at the same time. It requires the minister, who used such forms, to use forty-five or more minutes in the development and presentation of an idea, but it gives the hearer concepts and phrases that make the sermons memorable. My form of preaching was more acceptable to a bygone generation than it is to one conditioned by sound bytes and television commercials to get their limited information in bursts. I know that well.

            When a friend of mine contacted Leonard Ravenhill before his death and the dear man complained he was no longer welcome to preach at his home church something happened to me I never got over. That is not an uncommon condition for preachers find as they get older. Maybe it goes with the normal changing of human ideas about how they want to get their information. But I have noticed that the most successful, in a spiritual sense, are still those churches with pastors who demand more than just benchwarmers and pittance donators among those who ask to have their names placed in the membership list.

            Each time a preacher like A.L. Street goes home to be with the Lord I bid him a sad adieu and think to myself, “Farewell my dear comrade in the faith. I fear the world will not see your like again.” And the world is the poorer for it, not Brother Street. He has gone to that place he has preached about and yearned for so many years. I dare say, as he looks over the divide, he will cry some tears at first for those he will see who did not heed his preaching and went to the place he warned them against. But soon the Holy Spirit will wipe away those tears and he will enter into that eternal joy in the Lord.

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