In May 2000 I graduated with a Doctor of Ministry degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ken Hemphill was the President of the seminary at that time. I had never met him before but was scheduled to have my picture taken with him, as was common for doctoral graduates, and was invited to attend a reception at the Presidential Residence. All of the events of that week were a bit of a blur. But I do remember that he was cordial, relational, and wearing cowboy boots. I was glad that he was the seminary President. He preached at the commencement ceremony and was outstanding in the pulpit, wearing cowboy boots. What a charge! Again, I was glad that he was the seminary President.
In 2003, I found myself in a new pastorate in Lynchburg, Virginia. A wonderful church, West Lynchburg Baptist Church, had called me as pastor, so my wife, Joyce, and I had moved from Calvary Baptist Church in Inola, Oklahoma, our home state, to the beautiful, scenic state of Virginia. On Sunday morning June 13, 2004, Joyce and I were in the Lynchburg Airport, a small regional airport, waiting to catch a flight to Atlanta and from there to Indianapolis to attend the Southern Baptist Convention. After checking in and taking a seat, I spotted none other than Ken Hemphill and his wife, Paula, also in the airport. I took the initiative to introduce my wife and myself to Ken and Paula. He had just concluded a speaking engagement in Lynchburg and was also enroute to the Southern Baptist Convention. They were both so very friendly, and he was still wearing cowboy boots. I was glad that he had been my seminary President.
We all flew, seated apart, to Atlanta. Once we arrived in Atlanta, we learned that our connecting flight had been delayed in Houston due to thunderstorms. This left us wandering the Atlanta airport for the next eight hours – with Ken and Paula Hemphill. I had a chance during these hours, and even over dinner, to get to know Ken as a personable, relational, man of God. As it turned out, we had something else somewhat unique in common. Years earlier, Ken had been heard by the Pastor Search Committee of my current pastorate, West Lynchburg Baptist Church! A lady on the Search Committee, whom I had actually met, didn’t like the fact that he wore cowboy boots when he preached, so they didn’t call him! He ended up being called to First Baptist Church, Norfolk, Virginia, – and the rest is history. Once again, I was glad that he had been my seminary President.
Since that time, I have maintained a friendship with Ken, through emails, text messages, and visits to his Empowering Kingdom Growth, Auxano Press, or North Greenville University booths at the Convention each year. Of all the fine men holding denominational posts in the Southern Baptist Convention, Ken stands out to me as being a uniquely personable, relational leader, willing to connect with me, return my calls, spend time with me, and make me feel like I was important to him and to Kingdom work. I am not claiming that we are BFF’s. But I am stating that he is a man of God who has both a heritage and a history of stellar Kingdom work through ministering as a pastor in local SBC churches and as a denominational servant, and he has neither forgotten his commitment to Christ, to Kingdom advancement, nor to his denominational moorings, nor has he forgotten his manners. He is a uniquely relational leader.
Southern Baptists would do well to see the value of Ken Hemphill and enlist him in Dallas in June 2018 as the next President of the Southern Baptist Convention. We will be glad that he is our Convention’s President; and he will still be wearing cowboy boots.
For the sake of this article, it is necessary that we define the term “prophet” because many people probably don’t understand it. Men called of God may see themselves in different ways. Some would say that they are and “exhorter.” Others define themselves as an “encourager.” But the prophet is a little different. A prophet is someone called by God to transmit God’s message to God’s people no matter the consequences. He is given the gift of being able to “cut to the chase” and get to the heart of the matter instantaneously. It is a natural attribute and a gift the prophet possesses to be able to see the root of a matter while others are trying to figure out the peripheral issues surrounding it. He takes the shortest route between two points quickly and is able to discern the situation and the solution. This gift is not something he practices and acquires. The prophet is viewed as a person of few words. He sees no value in dancing around the issue. The unvarnished truth gushes out of him like oil from a well or water rushing through a breech in a dam. The core problem is so obvious to him that he often gets irritated by those who complicate the issue at hand by not being able to see what is so very obvious to him. He is often accused of being brash and uncaring with little mercy and compassion. In reality, the prophet has both these attributes but is so straight forward that others think he lacks them. He simply wants to deliver God’s message as quickly and strait forward as possible so His people can avert the problem at hand. This politically correct world drives a true prophet to the brink of despair because he has no patience with it at all. He sees himself as captured by something far greater than himself; the call of God to be a prophet. There is nothing he can do but speak the truth. So, the prophet will tend to come across as hard, opinionated and gruff when compared to one who sees himself as an exhorter or encourager. The exhorter will come closer to the approach of a prophet than will the encourager.
Many preachers of today spend their lives trying to attain something that being a prophet of God was never meant to entail. God’s men in the Bible were never popular and trendy. Their concern was not how they were perceived or if they were accepted. They were not self focused narcissists. They were not comfortable. Their calling was not easy or fun-filled and certainly not profitable. It was grueling, costly and punishing. But, the reward was great. As long as one is seeking to gain something for himself, he will never be a true prophet of God. He, himself, will be in the way. If he abandons himself for God’s calling upon his life, then God’s best is for him, and His best won’t be things the world can bestow. In fact, God’s “best” for him may not be realized until he is no longer locked into this worldly system of things. And, if he is faithful to his calling he must realize that the world will hate him simply because he is speaking God’s message to them.
True men of God, genuine prophets, have always stood where God told them to stand. They didn’t define their own comfortable position and, most of the time, found that they were on alien territory standing against the flux and flow of society and the prevalent ideas of the day. I believe that this politically correct environment tends to neutralize and even eliminate the prophet. Too many men in our pulpits are allowing the environment to fashion what they say and how they say it. Too many are able to rationalize themselves into complicity and compromise, convincing themselves, within themselves, that their motives are pure. If God has given a word on a subject then that’s the final word. He only has to say something one time for it to be true forever. The changing attitudes of society have no effect on what God has said. Bring Him your compromising arguments all you want to but God is not impressed. One’s audience might be well pleased but they are not the ones who will be doing the judging. The true prophet could not care less about what others think. If God has laid down a principle and made a statement on a subject then that settles it for the prophet. He has judgment in view not the complimentary words at the church door following a service.
A true prophet is also one who does not fear the consequences of fulfilling his office. No where in scripture do we find where God’s prophet cowered back and failed to deliver His Word. Even Elijah did God’s will which resulted in the death of four hundred fifty of Baal’s prophets before he allowed the fear of Jezebel to rush upon him. His human emotions took over and fear fell upon him. But, God got him straightened out immediately and with God’s assurance and encouragement, he went on to do His Will completely. He is one of the few who never experienced a physical death being taken into heaven in a whirlwind of fire. John the Baptist was fearless and bold when he warned King Herod about adultery. It cost him his life but he never backed down. He had God and judgment in view, not the present situation. The Apostle John was so feared because of his message and commitment that he was banished to Patmos. A greater work came from this and we only have to read Revelation to realize that truth. The fearlessness of the Apostle Paul firmly stands as an example of how a true prophet is fearless and totally committed to God’s calling. He never wavered and it finally cost him his life. But, even in trouble and death he gave a stout witness of the fact that a prophet is fearless. I could go on and on but the point is well taken: a true prophet does not fear the consequences of fulfilling his office. God’s strong and convincing calling carries him through any crisis. The divine calling is the overriding factor of his life. Nothing else really matters to the true prophet.
The New Testament prophet’s driving passion is to forth tell the Word of God. The Old Testament prophet was one who told what was coming. The New Testament prophet makes very clear what and Who has already come. He does not fore-tell coming events but forth-tells the settled Word of God. Therefore, the New Testament prophet spends the vast amount of his time preaching directly from the Word. Topical subjects are usually dealt with as they surface during his treatment of a passage of scripture which contains principles which apply to that subject. But, he rarely preaches without dealing directly with the text. He is, almost exclusively, an expository preacher. There is a place for good topical preaching. There is nothing wrong with it as long as it is grounded in a Biblical principle. In fact, topical sermons should include an element of exposition in them just as expositional sermons will usually touch on topics to make its point. The two go hand in hand if properly done. But, the point is made that a prophet’s first inclination is to go to the scripture instead of writing on a topic. He is driven to the Word as a natural spiritual instinct. The prophet struggles with preaching topical sermons because he is bound to the scripture by his nature and doesn’t primarily think in terms of subjects except as they emerge from the text.
It is easy for a prophet to become discouraged when he sees that the people do not incorporate into their lives the principles and truths that he sees as so vitally important. He spends his life telling his people the things that God Himself has shown him and laid on his heart to preach. After a period of time observing that the people seem not to have heard him, he reaches the point of exasperation. Then, the thought comes: “why do I continue to do this? They obviously are not listening and applying what I have given to them from God.” “I am wasting my time and these people are simply tolerating me and my message.” “It really means nothing to them because, if it did, they would let it affect their lives.” “They take their notes, compliment the preacher and then the truths evaporate when they get on the parking lot.” Yes, it is easy for the prophet to get discouraged and at that point, he must refocus on his calling and not on the perceived results. If he focuses on results he will get discouraged. If he focuses on his calling from God, he will realize that the success the world seeks is not the issue. His faithfulness to his calling is the issue. The results must be left up to God. When I was in the business world, my boss would say to us: “succeed or else.” But when God called me to preach, He said: “be faithful or else.” “Leave the ‘success’ up to me.” But having been raised in a society which trumpets success, it is easy for the prophet to feel rejected. No one wants to hear his level of correction and warning. They had much rather have their ears “tickled” and will actually like it much better. When I think of a prophet who deserved to be discouraged, I think of Jeremiah. Yet, he never changed his message or approach no matter what happened to him. It cost him everything, but the call upon his life was far more powerful and all consuming than his care for his life. The true call upon the life of a prophet exhibits that kind of empowerment and commitment. To a New Testament prophet, I would say: “keep going. Don’t look back. Don’t apply your idea of success to your ministry. God’s calling has its rewards and our idea of success is far less than God’s best for you.”
A true prophet of God is also one who will expend himself for the work the Lord has placed upon him. A pastor should see himself as one to be expended for his church and ministry. But sadly, today, too many men see the church as something to be used to actualize them and their personal ministry. It is a means of providing a job, supplying an audience and giving a venue for him to perform. The idea that the pastor should be expended for the church is foreign to them. Thank the Lord that most men are not like this but we have a growing contingency of them coming along in our modern day. Hopefully, in the coming days, the spiritual “hoopla” surrounding so many preachers as they seek to make something of themselves will end. Hopefully, an utter reliance upon God and His sustaining power in them will cause them to so serve him that the world doesn’t matter and that their work will have the imprint of eternity on it.
Life for my 15 and 13 year old sons is so different than it was when I was a teenager. I’ve tried to explain to them how when I was their age, the only phone someone could use when away from home required a quarter. How personal computers weren’t connected to other computers because there was no internet. And how television had only…gulp…three channels.
“Why would anyone want to live like that, Mom?” my John once asked.
Sometimes my Generation X looks at their Generation Z like an alien species… and they do the same in reverse. But by studying Scripture, observing other parents, and learning from my own mistakes, I’m growing in my knowledge of how to shepherd this curious creature known as a modern teenager. Continue reading