Wednesday, February 09, 2005

YOU JUST CAN'T KEEP A MAN DOWN GOOD. At my church, he is the "former pastor who is not named". Joel Gregory left us for 1st Dallas, sort of like leaving your wife for her older sister. Then he left them. Then he left the ministry. Troubled times came and went. I don't know if any Fort Worth preacher except J. Frank Norris has cut a wider swath through Cowtown.

But, my old friend Joel is on the comeback trail. He has been preaching around town in African- American churches. They are a bit more forgiving and tolerant of the foibles of preachers than Anglo churches. That seems to have paid off for him. The sawdust trail has become the comeback trail.

An article in Associated Baptist Press by Trennis Henderson says that Dr. Gregory was named a "distinguished fellow" at Kentucky's Georgetown College. I think "distinguished fellow" is a term of art. His job is to leading a preaching seminar. Since Baptists are currently into having cute names for every activity, they call this one "Proclaimer's Place". (Rumor has it that "Bible Beat" was a close second, and "Gas Lite" was rejected for obvious reasons.)

Dr. G will also go on trips and take folks to England for "study tours" about "Great Preachers of Great Britain". So you can see where Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones pounded the pulpit, where C. S. Lewis drank with the Hobbit Master, and where Bunyan was incarcerated. (Lots of preachers put together trips. Usually, they get a deal where they use their name to sell the trip for the travel company and get tickets form themselves and their wives for free.)

But, best of all, he will be a liaison to African-American churches. The SBC needs this. There is still some lingering suspicion about our inclusiveness. (I don't know why that is. We believe everyone is a sinner.)

Dr. Gregory has credentials for all these. If he can stomach working somewhere called "Proclaimer's Place", he will be a great teacher. (Oh, oh, here is another one: The Happenin' Herald.) He is one of the best pulpiteers in America. When he preached at our church, I did not know anyone who could compare with him either in delivery or preparation. I used to go visiting prospects with him and we discussed sermon delivery and preparation frequently. He spends hours on sermon preparation. He has a sonorous voice and a great delivery. I have long said I could rent a vacant grocery store, fill it with rented chairs, and have 1,000 members in a few months if he would preach there.

I can still mimic all his hand motions. Seriously. And, I have a moving box full of his old outlines and my notes from his sermons. Sigh.

He has experience in the England tour as well, having taken several over the years. He is also a fan of Spurgeon, so will impart much knowledge in that realm. He actually has a large painting of Spurgeon he used to display behind his desk.

Dr. Gregory even has the good sense to continue living in Fort Worth, his home town. I'm always suspicious of people who want to leave. He will also continue intinerate preaching. I think that is what he does best.

"Gregory's star is rising again in many quarters of the Baptist world." This gushing quote is from Eric Fruge, director of church relations at the school, according to the article. Eric, you aren't doing the man any favors. Read his book about the seduction of pride in the ministry. Hopefully, Dr. G will not listen to the gushers this time, but will realize and confess that God gives the increase. Instead of gushing about his "star", Eric should stand at the good doctor's ear and whisper "Sic Transit Gloria" repeatedly, or maybe "soli Deo gloria". I'm sure Dr. Gregory knows some Latin.

Interestingly, Dr. Gregory told me many times that he believed a pastor could not regain the pulpit once he fell. That has caused me to be conflicted about his return to ministry. Romans 11:29 says that God's gifts and his call are irrevocable, however. I hope repentance and restoration have occurred rather than simply a Nixonian resurgence as public memory fades. Maybe this modern day Jonah has shaken off the seaweed and headed toward Ninevah. Is so, look for revival in Assyria.

Godspeed, Old Friend.

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