In the first church I served, I attended a local ministerial alliance meeting at a local church’s monthly men’s breakfast. It was at a small country church sitting next to an old cemetery. The biscuits and gravy were delicious, the coffee was stout, and the bacon was cooked crispy, which is the only good way to cook bacon. After breakfast, the preachers who were there broke off into another room to carry on the business of the day. There were only eight of us there that day. Southern Baptist, Freewill Baptist, Church of God, and a couple community churches that weren’t affiliated with a denomination. We took care of the business of planning our upcoming Thanksgiving service with the usual conversation.
After a few of us left, the real conversation began. Several of the men took turns sharing how God was working in their lives, oftentimes sharing how they had led someone to the Lord. Finally, one of the men who I had come to know and respect started to share. This preacher was an old-fashioned “whoopin’ and hollerin’” sort of preacher. He came from a mostly-baptist background but didn’t really belong to a denomination. He didn’t have any kind of degree and he couldn’t quote a theologian to save his life, but he proceeded to share a remarkable story that I will never forget.
He began to share about a man named “Catfish.” Catfish was a friend of his, but he was not someone who ever darkened the doors of the church. His wife had gone to my preacher friend’s church for many years, but Catfish wouldn’t come with her. Catfish got cancer. Each time my friend would visit him in the hospital, he would ask Catfish if he was right with God before he left. To this, Catfish always replied, “The Lord’s Spirit don’t strive with me anymore, because I denied him and missed my chance.” This happened a couple times before my friend returned to find Catfish in terrible shape, on the verge of death. They began the same conversation they always had about various things from the weather to fishing to how the doctors thought he was doing.
Before leaving, my preacher friend reached out to hold Catfish’s hand. He said, “You know what I’m going to ask. I want to know if you’ve made your peace with God.” Again, Catfish said, “The Spirit don’t strive with me anymore. I’ve missed my chance.” My friend’s voice slowed and became more intense as he continued the story, “Right then, I tightened my grip on his hand just a bit…and I looked him in the eye.” In a quiet trembling voice, he shared with us the words he spoke to Catfish, “I said, my God is more merciful than that.” At this, he said, Catfish broke into tears. At that moment, he entered into relationship a merciful, forgiving, and loving God – a God who doesn’t give up. Catfish made a commitment to Christ right then and there, with his wife and my preacher friend weeping tears of joy by his bed.
Over the years, I’ve heard educated preachers flippantly talk about rural uneducated ministers, dismissing the possibility that someone without a seminary education could possibly be effective in a modern world. Hearing that sentiment makes me sick and reminds me of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth,
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
God doesn’t need someone with a degree or a pedigree to carry out His work in the world. God works with those who are willing to be obedient. Granted, God can just as easily call someone with a doctorate or a GED, but the only absolute requirement is to receive him as Lord and walk in obedience to His Holy Spirit.
John Wesley, in his advice to preachers, reminded them, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most.” While education has value, there is nothing more important than spending and being spent in the work of inviting the lost into a saving relationship with Christ, which is made possible by the amazing mercy and love of God.