Our Greatest HonorAugust 9th, 2021
Most people who are familiar with renewal movements within the United Methodist Church will know the name of Ira Gallaway. He was either the founder, organizer, or leading cheerleader for most, if not all, of them. Although he passed away back in 2015, I often think of him, and he continues to be an inspiration to many of us who are still in this struggle to preserve historic faith within Methodism. Ira Gallaway shared many tidbits of wisdom with me, but I will never forget something he used to say to me regularly. He said, “Other than sharing the gospel and leading people to Christ, I have had no greater honor in my life than serving as a Trustee of Asbury Seminary.” That statement was meant to highlight his love for Asbury. However, the more I think about it, it was the first clause which should be remembered: There is no greater honor in the world than sharing the gospel and leading people to Christ.
I was ordained in the United Methodist church in 1984 and received the title Rev. on my name. Since then, I have received several other academic degrees and positions, and am often referred to as “doctor” or “President,” and so forth. However, whenever my own 94-year-old mother writes me a letter (yes, hard letters, never email or text messages) she addresses them to Rev. Timothy Tennent. The reason for this, my mother tells me occasionally, is because it is the title which is most connected to “preaching the gospel.” Her testimony is true. This is also true for lay people as well. You may be deeply involved in an important business venture, or a job with a prestigious position. But, I hope you will see that whatever job you have (not just ordained ministry) is an opportunity to “preach the gospel and share your faith with others.” Pastors and laity sometimes do it in different settings, but sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is what gets us up out of bed every day.
So, although I have spent eleven years as a seminary professor and now I am in my thirteenth year serving as the President of Asbury, my greatest memories are still connected with seeing people come to faith in Christ. There is no greater joy than seeing someone come to know Jesus as their savior and Lord. In 2000-01 I had the privilege of pastoring a church in Massachusetts known as West Congregational Church. Of all the churches I have pastored, this is the one which I found the most exhilarating and healthy. The church is located in a city called Haverhill. A century earlier this city, located on the Merrimac river, produced more shoes than any city in the world. However, the manufacturing base in Haverhill had collapsed decades ago, and the city has been plagued with high unemployment, drug use and rising crime rates. Yet, in the midst of these challenges, this church was vibrant and thriving.
The people there loved the Lord and were actively witnessing to unbelievers. I always worshipped on the front pew, and when the time came to preach I would climb the steps to the platform and pulpit. One of my memories about that was that I would sometimes need to step over people who were prostrate before God crying out to him for forgiveness, grace and redemption. It was amazing. People were coming to Christ every week. There was always a sense of the freshness of God’s presence and grace. I was the joyful recipient of decades of faithful pastoring by my predecessor, Dr. David Midwood (who passed away in 2014). I was there as an interim while they searched for a new pastor. But, the church was alive and vibrant!
One of my memories was of a young man who had been caught in drugs and who joyfully received the gospel through the witness of the church. He was covered in tattoos. One Sunday, a few weeks after his conversion, he came up to me, with great excitement, and told me how much Christ was transforming his life and he insisted that I follow him into the church bathroom, because he wanted to show me something. With some combination of hesitancy and curiosity I followed him into the bathroom and he proceeded to unbutton his shirt to show me a new tattoo he had received that week. There it was on his chest in the center position: Jesus Christ is Lord! I have never been an advocate of tattoos, but in this case it seemed like the right step for this man. This was his way of showing his friends and neighbors that he had stepped out of darkness into the kingdom. I saw him grow by leaps and bounds in the coming months. This is just one story. All of you have your own stories. But, I encourage you to not lose the joy and excitement of being part of the most important work in the world: preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and leading people to Him. It is easy, especially today, to get “swamped” by endless tasks related to our jobs or ministry: administration, finances, problem solving, church politics, dealing with issues on the staff, putting out “fires” etc. But, we need to stop and remember our calling. This is true for both clergy and laity.
You will have the opportunity to serve in many ways over your lifetime. You will serve on Boards. You will serve in the business community. You may teach regularly in the church Sunday School program, or even as a full professor in a Seminary. You may serve a key role in a renewal movement, or a brand-new denomination. But, I hope and pray that at the end of your life, you will join me, and our beloved Ira Gallaway, and say that you never had any greater honor than sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, and leading people to faith in his glorious Name.
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