As the potter presses his clay, he has in mind a final design. Each spin of the wheel brings this design closer to reality. Scripture uses this pottery metaphor to describe our sanctification, “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” And in this life-long process the Spirit uses faithful pastors to press grace into our souls.
When most people hear the name R. Kent Hughes, they probably think of homiletics. His many expository commentaries, long tenure of preaching at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and leadership in The Simeon Trust have rightly earned him the reputation. But I think of something else. Having served alongside of Kent for a number of years, I see him primarily as a mentor. Reflecting on this time together, I have compiled three lessons from his leadership that every gospel-oriented mentor should embrace.
1. Take Time to Listen
My office was located between Kent’s study and the Dewey Egbert coffee machine, so he routinely passed my door. Occasionally, he would step inside for a visit. Since I was the pastor of evangelism, he’d sometimes ask my opinion on an issue pertaining to outreach. Frankly, I’m not sure that he really needed my input (especially during those days when I was brand new to ministry). After a few minutes of conversation, he might respond, “Why don’t you raise that point in our elder meeting. Take ten minutes to lead us through a conversation about it.” What a gift. These are the opportunities that cause young leaders to blossom. Unlike a more corporate approach to church business that tends to centralize decision-making and discourage other stake-holders, Kent fostered a collegial ethos in which every team member had a voice.
2. Allow Others to Take Risks
Summerfest was the name of our annual community outreach. In addition to feeding 900 people each night, running a 5-K Race, and providing a host of special interest classes, we also featured a guest evangelist over four nights. These sessions were normally held in a space that looks more like a nice hotel lobby than a church building and therefore (we figured) more suitable than the sanctuary for welcoming un-churched guests. Unfortunately, this area could only seat 500 people, while the sanctuary could hold 1,000. So I proposed that we hire artists to create an enormous curtain for the front of our sanctuary (to hide the pipe organ) and—get this—send in the evangelist on a zip line (young pastors try to make their mark in unusual ways). I discerned by Kent’s facial expression that he wasn’t fully persuaded. Nevertheless, he gave his consent. Thanks to the work of some phenomenal artists, the sanctuary was transformed, and the event was a fabulous success. When the week had finished, Kent thanked me for taking the risk. In reality, he deserved thanks for providing the opportunity.
3. Invest in Relationships
We admire those whom we trust. And we develop trust by sharing our lives. This is what leads me to think of Kent as a mentor. Whether it was around a campfire eating S’mores, behind his Benelli shotgun shooting targets, over a billiard table, on a hospital visit to a congregant with terminal cancer, or at dinner with him and his wife, Kent routinely shared life and ministry with his colleagues. Conversations tended to be full of laughter and sometimes tears. In either case, my wife and I would drive home from these occasions knowing we had received a valuable gift. We had a front row seat to observe the routines that animate a godly marriage, family and ministry.
Looking back in hindsight of several years, I recognize that Kent’s legacy is still alive in our ministry. It is evident, for instance, in how my wife and I extend hospitality. When my intern and his bride visit for dinner, we express the same sort of interest and concern that Kent and Barbara would convey to us. This is discipleship—we serve others as we ourselves have been served. In Kent Hughes I’ve caught a glimpse of what Paul intended when he exhorted the Philippians to “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil 3:17).