The Value of Hearing from Our Past . . . and Our Future
The Value of Hearing from Our Past . . . and Our Future

By Jerry Harris

I’ve always been an admirer of old souls in ministry. Their simple, godly lives are inspiring to me.

I’ll just go ahead and say this . . .

The latest book or ministry techniques typically don’t enthrall me, nor do the youngest and brightest stars of Christianity who are at the forefront of the speaking circuit. I confess to having cynical thoughts about this new breed’s sense of fashion—the tight shirts that highlight countless hours in the gym—and their huge social media followings and what seem to be nearly perfect lives.

Sometimes I battle judgmental thoughts when I hear about a hot-shot pastor who confesses to one or more affairs, or who admits to financial misconduct or staff abuse or substance abuse or deceiving the public in order to bask in greater fame. When bad behavior is made known, I think about how the reputation of Christ and his church also take a hit. It affects us all. And, inevitably, I am reminded of my own inconsistencies, and I wonder how I would respond to a similar level of fame.

Maybe that’s why I like old souls so much. They have gone the distance. They have kept their marriages strong. They carry old and well-worn scars that bear witness of valiant ministries. They have stood the test of time; they have not withered under pressure but have continued to reflect the radiance of the message of Christ.

Years ago, I was at a gathering where many bright stars shared the stage. Michael English, Sandi Patty, and others filled the room with songs of praise . . . and the crowd of 11,000 praised them for it. Then an old man stood and was helped to the platform to sing just one song: “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” His name was George Beverly Shea. After the event, I made my way down to the front to shake Shea’s hand and thank him. I felt honored to do so. I thought about all that Shea had experienced in his life. He wrote the tune to that song in 1932 and then, starting in 1947, traveled with Billy Graham for decades.

A few years ago, an Exponential event with a discipleship emphasis was being planned for Orlando. I was part of a conference call that was discussing the lineup; many big names were scheduled to speak, but a few more were needed. In the moment, I suggested Robert Coleman, who wrote what is probably the most famous work on discipleship, The Master Plan of Evangelism, back in 1963. The book has sold more than 3.5 million copies and been translated into 100 languages. The others on the phone call didn’t know his availability or how to contact him . . . or even if he was still alive. I set out to find him, and ultimately emailed him asking about his interest and willingness to speak.

A couple of weeks later I received a phone call from brother Coleman. As he spoke, I could hear evidence of his long walk with Jesus. His prayer that day, over the phone, transported me to a well-worn place where he had spent countless hours. He spoke that year at Exponential and, in my opinion, brought down the house! My leadership team attended that year, and I asked brother Coleman if he would pray over my guys. None of us will ever forget the power of that precious experience.

I share these stories because I believe in the incredible value each generation brings to the table of the Lord. We enrich one another. The path of least resistance is to hear from our own generation, but so much more is gained when we also hear from past generations and future generations. It’s one of the reasons I care so much about Christian Standard. This historic publication reminds us of our roots, our plea, our distinctives, and the voices that blazed the trail, while also introducing us to the voices of our future and the fresh perspectives they have of God’s timeless message.

Someone once said, “If you don’t know where you come from, it’s hard to know where you are. And if you don’t know where you are, how can you get to where you’re supposed to go?” We are best when we let all generations speak into our hearts and ministry.

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