My wife and I chose Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for our graduate programs for three reasons: (1) We felt led of God to be there, (2) they had fluffy green grass, (3) the authors of “the books” taught at the school. While #1 was paramount, God used #2 to convince my wife and #3 to convince me.
When I walked into the seminary bookstore, I was blown away. There was Steps to the Sermon, the text we had used in my college preaching class. “Wait, what? Al Fasol, one of the authors, teaches here?” Dr. Fasol became one of my mentors and continues to be a friend. Other books along the rack of seminary authors was New Testament scholar Jack MacGorman, biblical backgrounds authority Tommy Brisco, Greek scholar Curtis Vaughan, and many others. I was privileged to later have most of these men as my professors.
One other name caught my eye – Calvin Miller. Dr. Miller had delivered a lecture series at Louisiana College during my junior year. His creative style of preaching enamored me. Seldom, if ever, had I gone from laughing to weeping in one message! After the lecture series, I purchased When the Ardvark Parked on the Ark, one of his books of clever poetry. It is like Shel Silverstein for Christians. I still have my autographed copy in my office: “To Stewart from Calvin Miller. 9-11-96.”
When I realized Dr. Miller was at Southwestern, I made a goal to take as many of his classes as I could. Because he had planted a church in Omaha, Nebraska, and grown it to 3000, Dr. Miller taught classes on church growth. The classes were engaging and inspiring. We talked principles and practicalities, theology and theories. In Dr. Miller’s classes, we laughed and cried as we were motivated and inspired to grow a great church. My wife and I were impressed when Dr. Miller and Mrs. Barbara hosted an end of semester celebration in their home for his classes. That party is one of the best memories of our seminary days. I remember being double inspired when he showed us his study/studio.
“This will be our Christmas card this year,” he said, pointing to a half-finished painting on an easel.
“You paint your own Christmas cards?” I asked.
“Well, yes! We want them to be special. We get them printed and mail them to hundreds people who’ve been part of our life.”
I hoped I might make it on the Christmas card list. I didn’t. Drat!
Dr. Miller beat us to heaven in 2012. Last week, I stumbled across his memoirs, Life is Mostly Edges (2008). My rule of thumb is, if I see a book by Dr. Miller, and I don’t have it, I buy it. I know I could go to Amazon and buy them all, but there’s something fun about “the find.” I love reading Calvin Miller because when I do, my preaching gets suddenly more engaging.
I’ve been devouring the book the last couple of days. Once again, I’ve gone from laughing to weeping in the space of one page. Last night, as I read, a leader lesson came to me: young leaders need to hear your struggles.
As I began to read of Dr. Miller’s years in Omaha, I thought, “This will be great! Success and growth!” As I read, yes, there was that, and I was inspired. But there were also struggles and stressors similar to things I’ve been through.
Dr. Miller told of trusted friends who broke his heart (been there), money being tight (I had just arrived home from finance and deacons meetings partly dealing with that issue), the insane schedule of a pastor and the sacrifices his family makes (yep), a church leader who wishes you were gone (that’s no fun), and the emotional roller coaster that rides the outward successes, or not, of ministry (I hate roller coasters – in my mind and at Six Flags). About the only thing I couldn’t say I have experienced was an attempted coup by a staff member.
As I closed the book, turned off my light, and laid my head back on my pillow, I prayed, “Thank you, God, that Dr. Miller shared the good and the bad, the successes and the fumbles, the rejoicing and the heartache. When you realize your heroes are human, they become even greater heroes.”
As you lead others, be sure to tell them the whole story. They see your successes, so remind them that not every day is success. When you do, you will be better for it. They will be too.
Praying for You and Your Leadership,
Lagniappe: Did you know a search committee from First Baptist Pineville tried to steal Dr. Miller away from the church in Omaha? He doesn’t mention our church by name, but he tells the story. I’ve heard the story from search committee members, so I knew it when I read it. F.B.C. Pineville wanted him. Dr. Miller wanted to come. Ultimately, though, God said no. I learned from the book that the Pineville search committee was the only one ever to visit Dr. Miller in Omaha.