It is interesting how just a little taste of something can awaken an appetite that you didn’t know you had. And obviously, that taste doesn’t have to be food. It can be an experience, a relationship, a word of encouragement, or an opportunity to use a latent gift.
In 1990, I was a recently married salesman for an industrial gas company. We had just begun attending Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which was pastored at the time by Frank Barker, one of the finest, most humble and effective pastors I have ever known. Frank led a men’s Bible study small group on Wednesday mornings at 6 o’clock. His wife Barbara led a women’s Bible study at another table nearby. His teaching and leadership was simple, low-key, and interactive. He had been doing this for many years (he had planted the church some 30 years prior to that, starting in a small storefront, growing to a congregation of over 3,000 people).
He helped to biblically ground me in the essentials of the faith that I had grown up believing, but didn’t always know why. Also, he helped me to develop a devotional approach to reading the Scriptures, seeking out God’s voice to me in the Word. It was a growing time at a critical juncture in my life as a newly married man.
However, another incident during that time was to have a bigger impact than I could have imagined. One week, Frank was not going to be able to lead the study due to a travel commitment. He asked me to lead the study. I had never done this before, so I was a bit anxious. I knew how to make a presentation due to my sales training, but this was different.
As I nervously led the study with those professional men (some who were significantly older, and all more professionally advanced than me), I felt a very real sense of place. A sense of “naturalness”, if that was a word. I know I wasn’t particularly awesome, or even very good at leading it that morning. However, I knew that it was something that I was supposed to be doing. I came away from that study with an uplifted spirit like a door had opened in my heart that I didn’t even know existed.
I substituted for Frank a couple more times. I realized later that he did this to give younger men the opportunity to test their gifts, to see if it was something that they were drawn towards. It was a very low-key beginning of leadership development, something that Briarwood (and Frank in particular) did very well.
Over the years, in other cities, as I moved with my work, I had more opportunities to lead small groups, serve as a deacon, teach Sunday School classes, and later serve as an elder. Eventually, it led to my pursuit of pastoral ministry and preaching. However, my first love has always been teaching. It is more intimate, relational, and interactive than the pulpit. There is more of an exchange that goes on because people can ask questions real-time, even if you may not be able to answer them at that moment.
I don’t remember Frank ever saying, “I don’t know”, but I’m sure he did as a younger pastor. Three decades of pastoring tend to build up quite a mental Rolodex of wisdom and experience. However, his humility and proactive willingness to let me handle the reins of that Bible study at the Copper Kettle in Homewood changed my life. I thank God for putting a man like Frank into my life at that time.