As I was preparing to teach preaching class here at Southern Seminary last week, I thought about all the twists and turns my own call to preach had taken before it led me here, there, and here. It slowly occured to me that a key facet of my call to preach was a waste of time.
My home church, Woolmarket Baptist Church in Biloxi, Mississippi, called an interim pastor, in 1993. He was a professor of preaching from nearby New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary named Argile Smith. My first recollection of him was that nobody could figure out how to pronounce his name ("Ar-gyle? Like the socks?"). My second recollection was that he preached like no one I'd ever heard.
I'd been running from a call to preach. I was in the whirl of what seemed to be a bright and happy political career. But something wasn't right. I worked up my courage to go see Bro. Argile about it. I don't know how many times we met, but it was a lot. We would sit in a Sunday school room there in the back of the church and I would ask question after question after question, usually starting with the words, "But, what about…" And he'd answer every one.
It wasn't until the other day that I realized how much of his time I'd wasted.
This guy was, after all, a professor with a full load of classes, speaking engagements all over the map, and a house full of young children. He was preaching on Sundays morning and night at our church…and meeting with me to answer, often, the same question over and over and over again.
My interim pastor turned out to not be interim at all…at least to me. He taught me preaching when I wound up at the seminary (and I took every class he taught). He met with me to talk through when to propose to my now wife ("Go ahead and do it," he said. "Nobody ever thinks they can afford to get married. You'll be fine." He was right). He met with me to talk through the decision to take my first church position, and to help me through the (often stupid) decisions I made there. I don't remember wondering how much time I took from him that he could have been writing another article, attending another committee meeting, preparing another sermon.
I was wasting his time. He never showed it for a minute. And it changed the whole course of my life.
Of course, what he was modeling for me was Christ Jesus. After all, wouldn't it have seemed a waste of time to keep having to say to Simon of Galilee that the future apostle Peter didn't know what he was talking about? To keep waking up these lazy dolts who don't even pay attention that their Teacher is sweating blood a few yards away?
I wonder how much time we waste on our ministries when we refuse to waste more time?