My uncle died four years ago in the home he was raised in, the home his grandfather built. Our family farm has been owned by a Carlson for more than 100 years. With the exception of a small stint in the Navy, my uncle lived either on that farm or a mile away on another farm, both of which were on the outskirts of a 900-person town. All his kids graduated from the same high school he did.
He never owned a computer or wrote an email. Near the end of his life he upgraded to a flip phone. I don’t think we ever talked on the phone for more than a few minutes, but we did spend a lot of time together.
Would you want to be his pastor?
My uncle was a godly man, but not in the way some think about it. He wasn’t an evangelist, a Bible study leader, or even a big reader. His prayers were short and meaningful. He carried the same KJV Bible his entire adult life and listened to David Jeremiah and Charles Stanley regularly. He didn’t get involved in church leadership. It wasn’t his thing.
These types of Christians sometimes get a bad rap from young believers. Where was his radical commitment to Christ? Where was his passion for the nations? Why wasn’t he reading any good books? What was my uncle’s problem?
Perhaps Paul was giving the Thessalonians an easy way out when he wrote the following?
We urge you, brothers and sisters, to . . . make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thess. 4:10–12)
Of course, this passage was written at a certain time to a certain people in a certain situation. But were they not facing many of the same issues and scenarios as we do today?
Godly Man’s Picture
The type of questions listed above move us into dangerous territory when we begin to compose benchmarks for godliness. Sometimes our soaring rhetoric helpfully rallies the troops and shakes people from a malaise. It can be necessary. Often, though, it doesn’t land in reality.
The entire town knew my uncle. I once had breakfast there (where I’ve never lived) and someone stopped me to ask if I was his nephew. When my uncle was on the farm, he taught countless kids how to work, hunt, fish, laugh, and play. He was a legend to every kid in the area during the time he was delivering mail, often bringing candy and gum too. He would stop almost daily at the barber shop for a game of chess with his closest friend. When I was a kid, I would wait there for him to finish his route so we could golf together. He was the game leader at AWANA for years. He could hold 100 kids’ attention, and he always had a game to play. He could crush your hand with his handshake, but he could also walk young children around with tender care.
Every summer he raised more than 100 ducks for fun. When grandkids came, he invested heavily into them. He took his first two, at age 4 and 2, on a crop duster without telling their mom. A few years ago he chased an F5 tornado with a grandson as it approached a mile from his house. When one of the kids lit his huge shed on fire, the story is he prayed with him and never brought it up again. He would attend all their events and call to check in. In the last 10 years of his life, he volunteered most of his time by driving people all over the state to medical appointments.
Pastors Need Uncle Dons—and Vice Versa
My uncle was the guy always serving when many pastors retreated to their office to read. When potholes appeared in the church parking lot, they would disappear quickly; he would fix them without telling anyone. He was the one who’d buy ice cream for everyone with him and secretly pay for all the widows’ meals throughout the year. Could this man be a hero of the faith? Would he be strategic enough for you to consider? There are many men and women like my uncle out there, all of whom need shepherds.
Would he be strategic enough for you to consider? There are many men and women like my uncle out there, all of whom need shepherds.
Uncle Don was a hero and a man worth modeling, but not because he crossed cultures, left everything behind, shared the gospel with everyone, or dove into heavy theological treatises. He was a hero because of what Christ did in his life and how Christ used him to serve others in obscurity.
He loved his wife of 57 years, raised kids and grandkids with faithful presence, worked hard farming his land and delivering mail, played games, drove people to appointments, and so on. He was judgmental toward none. Loved by all. Respected by outsiders. This isn’t hagiography. This is a picture of a godly man. This is radical. Would you be his pastor?