Each year, TIME Magazine releases their special issue with the 100 most influential people in the world. One year they broke the list down by leaders and revolutionaries; scientists and thinkers; heroes and pioneers; builders and titans; and artists and entertainers.
In scanning the magazine, I began to think about the people who have influenced my life through the years. While I don’t know that I could name one hundred, I do know there are people who have marked me for life. Everything I am, I owe in some way to them. I realize that Jesus is first and foremost, but I’m talking specifically about the people God has used in my life.
The youth workers at my home church. I am a product of the Jesus Movement. I was a church member and “religious” growing up, but I wasn’t saved. I didn’t love Jesus. But, I had adults who loved me in spite of myself. There was Dr. Smith, my tenth grade Sunday School teacher—I can’t remember a word he said, but he was a great encourager.
There was James Toney. I have no idea where he is today or what happened to him, but he was my Sunday School director in the 12th grade. I remember sitting on the back row with my friends the first Sunday in that department. Mr. Toney pointed straight at us and said, “I’m not impressed that you guys are seniors. I am praying for every one of you by name that before this year is over, you will get your life right with Jesus.” That thought haunted me as I tried my best to run from Jesus.
My youth minister. James Miller was youth minister at my church from the time I was a child until after I went to college. I remember thinking at first that he wasn’t a preacher because he didn’t look like one. He didn’t wear a suit every day. Some days he didn’t even wear a tie. He loved sports, young people, and those early contemporary Christian music songs. He was a friend to students.
James started a prayer meeting for students at the church. Before it was over, there were hundreds of high school and college students who would gather every Tuesday and Thursday night for hours to sing, pray, and share testimonies. God moved in those times and they marked me forever.
Vance Havner. Anyone who knows me knows the impact Vance Havner had on my life. He came to my home church in the early 1970s and blew me away. He preached like no one I had ever heard before. He was a prophet. He did spiritual surgery without anesthesia. He was small of stature but a giant for God.
For the last fifteen years of his life, he and I corresponded and I would catch up with him whenever he was in the area. My last visit with him was shortly before he went into the nursing home. That day, he laid hands on me and prayed that a portion of his mantle would fall on me. There are many days when I have failed to live up to who he was, but I am daily reminded of what he meant to me in those formative years of ministry. I am eternally indebted to him. I still read his books and listen to his messages on a continual basis.
Ron Dunn. He was the greatest Bible expositor I’ve ever known. I first heard Ron in the mid-1970s. I got to know Ron right after Vance Havner died. It was as if God knew I would need someone to fill the void. Ron Dunn was one of the dearest friends I had on the planet. I loved him as a mentor, friend, hero in the faith, role model, and confidant.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss Ron. I miss his voice. I miss his wisdom. I miss his humor. I miss his preaching. In the two churches I’ve pastored, I was privileged to have Ron sixteen consecutive years. I would give anything for one more Bible Conference with Ron. The hardest task I’ve ever been given in ministry was preaching his funeral.
Warren Wiersbe. I first met Warren at the Cove. Our friendship began over a breakfast by the window in the dining room there. Every year Warren was teaching at the Cove, I was there. I loved to sit under his teaching and listen to him expound the truth of God’s Word.
Over time, a friendship grew. Warren asked me to help him with 2 Prophet U. Without him, there would be no website. He is one of the greatest writers and thinkers I’ve ever known. He makes me think through not only what I’m going to say, but also the way I need to say it.
Three or four times a month, we’ll catch up on the phone. It’s always good to hear his voice. He tells me about a book I need to read or he’ll give me a sermon idea. He speaks out of the overflow. I’m grateful that I can catch a few drops in my bucket.
The Pulpit Committee at First Baptist Ada. They took a chance on me. I had been in youth ministry for fifteen years. It’s hard to get a pulpit committee to look at a youth minister. God moved on that committee individually and collectively. They were sitting in FBC one weekend when they weren’t traveling, and they heard the interim pastor speak of finding David and not settling for Saul. They threw away all the resumes and asked God to point them to His man for the church. God led them to come hear me. Three weeks later, I was in view of call.
I am grateful to Pete, Bill, John, Jerry, and Jim for taking a chance on me. It’s not many men who have a first pastorate with over 600 in Bible Study. Even though I had fifteen years of experience in ministry, it is different pastoring. These men stepped out in faith. I am grateful they gave me a chance. I pray I have made them proud.
The Pulpit Committee at Sherwood. I actually turned this committee down three times. I didn’t think God was through with me at Ada. I felt the timing wasn’t right. For some reason, they kept my name on the back burner. When God did release me from Ada, they called a few weeks later. For over twenty years, I’ve been privileged to be the pastor at Sherwood. There were many, many pastors who wanted a crack at this church, but God allowed me to be the pastor. I’m grateful the committee was willing to call me and stand by me in those early months.
The youth workers who served with me. There are hundreds of names I could mention here. I was blessed with incredible lay leaders while I served in youth ministry. These folks gave of their time to invest in students. Today, I often tell people there are at least seventy-five of my former students serving the Lord in ministry. In reality, those workers had a great deal to do with the spiritual development of those students. I couldn’t have done it alone.
Prayer warriors. I owe so much to the people who pray for me. They are the unnamed heroes of the faith. They have undergirded me in times of trouble, stress, strife, and uncertainty. They have stood by me in times of loss and grief. They have prayed for the vision I have for the church. Whatever I am today, it’s because of the people who have prayed for me. My life has been blessed by praying people.
Don Miller. He the first person I ever met who dedicated his whole ministry to prayer. He and I met while I was on staff at Sagamore Hill in Fort Worth, Texas. Don is the greatest man of prayer I know. He has taught thousands of God’s people to pray. He is one of the unsung heroes of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is truly a man of prayer. It was his influence that caused me to understand that the churches I pastored needed to have a vibrant prayer ministry.
Roger and Linda Breland. I’ve known them since the late 1960s. TRUTH was a vital part of my life in my early years in the faith. I know I have attended at least 200 TRUTH concerts through the years. Roger always had time for me. He was always willing to come help me in a church. We always had our biggest crowds with TRUTH. Roger invested in me in ways he will never know this side of glory. Linda has been one of my most faithful prayer warriors. She knows how to get before God. Roger and Linda are dear friends. God has given us wonderful memories. I am grateful that they have been such a vital part of my life. I don’t know what I would do without them.
Well, that’s my list, or at least part of it. What about your list? Have you told the folks who have invested in you how much they have meant to you? They influenced you and are part of who you are. If TIME can recognize the most influential people in the world, surely we can take a few minutes to say thanks for the people who have molded our lives.