Dear young men and women in ministry:
As I write, fall is upon us — not of falling leaves, but of falling Church leaders. Scarcely a week goes by that we don’t read about wayward pastors, dallying denominational executives and bureaucrats, and others who should be models of chaste and heroically respectable living.
Even my beloved Southern Baptist Convention, from whom I gained a love for the Scriptures and a passion for evangelism and missions, reportedly is being investigated by government agencies.
I call aging an “ascent up ‘Mount Hoary.’” That old word in another era brought to mind whitish-gray hair as a symbol of wisdom and respect. “Hoary with age” was in those times a title of honor.
So, young ministry leader or student, I want to share with you priceless principles to which I have turned often when I wanted to succumb to disappointment, and, Jonah-like, hop a ship to Tarshish. The principles I will discuss came from great men and women who mentored me, or whom I watched from afar … people who had no idea that the eyes of a young, impetuous eager beaver were focused on them.
One of the nice things about Mount Hoary is that the higher up its slopes you get the more you can see where you’ve been, and where you’re going. As I look back down there, those heroic and faithful people are still cheering me on, in God’s wonderful reality they are also up there on the peak of Mount Hoary, shouting at me not to give up no matter how hard the climb.
As I age, I understand better the importance and blessing of the “great cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 11-12.
One of those in my life was Professor Hudson Baggett, under whom I studied at Samford University. Dr. Baggett was not a timorous type, but a well-focused straight shooter. In 1960 he was not far in time from the Second World War battlefield where he was gravely wounded. He still winced from the pain.
Though he has been gone from us for many years, I can still hear his unwavering voice rolling out his wisdom.
Dr. Baggett had been toughened by the wounds, but his faith had also been greatly enlarged. He suffered not fools and beat no bushes. Hudson Baggett always told the truth whether one wanted to hear it or not.
The principle he taught me came in a moment of deep disappointment. I had just read that the evangelist who had led me to Christ in 1956 had committed adultery and was leaving the ministry.
“How could he do that?” I asked Dr. Baggett. His answer has stuck with me across six decades: It happened to my hero-evangelist because he had gotten so haughty, he believed it could never happen to him. Temptation took him by surprise because he made himself vulnerable.
Never forget, young minister, though you have the call of God on your life, and the Holy Spirit within, you are still human — no matter how old and “hoary” you may be, still you are a person of flesh. Flee temptation even if you must drag yourself or hobble away on a cane. Recognize situations where you could be easily compromised. Be like Joseph in Potiphar’s house when his wife tried without let-up to lure Joseph to hang out with her. But Joseph was honest about himself, so he “did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her” (Genesis 39:10 NKJ).
By contrast, think of Samson’s self-coverup of his own weaknesses, and of David’s lack of self-honesty while he watched Bathsheba bathe. Pornography is today’s version of those temptations. Don’t assume that you are beyond temptation.
Don’t set your eyes on those who have fallen … but do watch those who have fallen, repented, and gotten back in the race.
That brings my mind to Pastor Harold Proctor, who was invited to speak to a group of ministerial students at Samford. He scanned the audience, looking intently at each of us. If trends of that period in the 1960s held, only about 20% of us would still be in ministry in our middle years, he predicted.
His words hung on to my brain and heart. I remembered them many years later when I drifted away from church ministry into other fields. I continued to seek to bear witness for Christ and was part of prayer groups — the most impactful was one that met every Thursday morning in the White House West Wing.
However, I began to get jealous of my pastors, Neil Jones in the Washington area, and Harper Shannon in Birmingham. They were eloquent men who proclaimed the Kingdom. I remembered Harold Proctor’s words many years earlier, and very much did not want to quit. Graciously, the Lord renewed my call in 1974, and before the year was over, I was pastor of a church in south Alabama, after more than a decade in journalism and government.
The principle that I still cling to is, determine not to quit … but if you do, seek a comeback, give yourself once more to the Lord, and practice ministry at whatever level you can, whether a neighborhood group, a street mission, certainly to your family
Though at 80 I am no longer on a church staff, I still believe the local church to be the most important entity in society and am driven by the passion to edify the Church wherever I am needed.
I thank God for using Harold Proctor to set before me the challenge not to quit when I was a sophomore in college. I thank Him also for Hudson Bagget’s alerting me not to think too highly of myself, but to know my vulnerabilities.
With love and regard for your calling,
Wallace B. Henley
Wallace B. Henley is a former pastor, daily newspaper editor, White House and Congressional aide. He served 18 years as a teaching pastor at Houston's Second Baptist Church. Henley is author or co-author of more than 25 books, including God and Churchill, co-authored with Sir Winston Churchill's great grandson, Jonathan Sandys. Henley's latest book is Who will rule the coming 'gods'? The looming spiritual crisis of artificial intelligence.