Fifty-five years ago, a young man helped his newlywed wife unpack their meager belongings and settle into an apartment in Zion, Illinois. Within days, he was thrust into the world of English Bible survey, Greek, church history, systematic theology, New Testament, preaching, and Old Testament classes (the last two on that list he especially loved).
In short, he was a beginning seminary student, much like anyone else who took seriously a call to the pastoral ministry. As many of us who serve as pastors, he had that humble starting point in the halls of theological training.
Over the years, that man’s passion for God’s Word and its proclamation have only increased. Many people have mentioned how he has made the Scriptures come alive for them, that his humor and stories amplify the truth of the Bible, and how precious has been his wise and applicative counsel to them in critical times.
All that is undeniably true about Dale Ralph Davis. He has ministered for over fifty years, serving numerous pastorates and teaching at the seminary level. A reliable and energetic Bible expositor, he has authored more than twenty books, many of them commentaries on Old Testament books. He and his wife Barbara are now retired and live in Cookeville, Tennessee.
But speaking as his son, I can also say Dad has been one who seeks godliness more than giftedness, who pursues character and not charisma, and who desires holiness and eschews hype. Throughout October, it’s a blessing to honor one’s pastor during Pastor Appreciation Month, but it’s an even greater blessing when the pastor you can honor is your own father.
Great Preacher, Better Father
One time, another pastor mentioned what a great preacher Dad was, to which I replied, “Yes, a great preacher, but an even better father and better man.” Would that we could say that for all those who serve in pastoral ministry.
Dad has been one who seeks godliness more than giftedness, who pursues character and not charisma.
It’s true: No one I know prepares for preaching in more careful fashion. There aren’t many PhDs in Old Testament studies who have a humorous and creative streak running at torrential strength. Need a commentary or a book on preaching the Old Testament or something that will encourage you in your ministry? Chances are Dad’s written something excellent. But there’s more to him. Because Dad knows serving the church is not about amassing fans, but being a man of faithfulness.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne is often cited as saying his people’s greatest need was his personal holiness. I have had the privilege of watching my father live that out, giving renewed emphasis to Paul’s urging for an overseer to be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3).
Dad has done that through marked humility. In an age of increasing public one-upsmanship, ministry branding, and pastoral attention-grabbing, my father has approached his calling with an abiding confidence that effective ministry does not equal visibility. Dad has been content to use the gifts God has given him in faithful measure.
He never sought out attention. He never asked, “Why didn’t ______ include me at that conference?” He never obsessed over public launches of any of his books. All of which proclaimed a clear truth to me and my brothers: You don’t need the praise and attention of others, but God does want your faithfulness.
You don’t need the praise and attention of others, but God does want your faithfulness.
That fidelity spilled over into family life, as well. Dad has been a devoted husband to my mom, Barbara, for 55 years. It is hard to recall any athletic event of ours at which my parents were not present.
And Dad faithfully pressed the story of Christ into our hearts over the years. It would have been completely appropriate merely to read Scripture together as a family, which we did daily. But Dad then would circulate among me and my two younger brothers later each evening and read and pray with each of us, one on one. Looking back, I now realize what staggering amount of time that took and what a huge commitment that was. Dad would have just seen it as a logical extension of what it meant to be a godly father to his boys.
Never has Dad laid aside that humble, faithful direction, and he readily passes on those truths to others, including me. In 2004, when I was first ordained to the ministry, Dad preached at that service. That day, he gave me a handwritten letter, which said, in part:
Dear Luke, I have been thinking recently about 1 Timothy 6 and the man of God with the Word of God. There he stands . . . with only, as it were, the Word of God. That is where I pray you always take your stand, with no reason to be ashamed. . . . It is a distinct pleasure to be with you this weekend, which coincides with the 35th anniversary of my own ordination to the ministry. As I look back, I can’t note many exuberant “victories.” I can honestly say that a ministry under the Word is neither easy nor is it particularly lauded. But it is the only refuge for you and your people. . . . You and Christi are ever in our prayers.
Faithful to Christ. Faithful to the Word of God. To minister as God has called you is demanding. And to that demanding journey, we must bring—not cunning, ingenuity, or cleverness—but a heart devoted to Christ and tenderly faithful to God and his people in the power of the Holy Spirit. How grateful I am for a father who models that well.
No matter who your pastor is, pray that he labors diligently and faithfully. Godly ministry is crucial, and your prayers hold more power than you might think.