The older I get, the more I’m grateful for older brothers in Christ who take time to seek out and cheer on the younger generation.
And the older I get, the more I want to become like them.
Last week, I heard the news that a gray-haired brother who meant a lot to me had died. Kendell Easley was a long-time writer and a professor at Union University. At the earliest stages of developing The Gospel Project, I received his name as a potential writer, and so I sought him out.
I remember getting breakfast with Ken back in 2011 at the Holiday Inn across from LifeWay in downtown Nashville. More than 30 years my senior, with a head full of white hair and a face that glowed with the joy that comes from years spent with Jesus, Ken exuded personal warmth and an unmistakable enthusiasm for ministry. His eyes sparkled as he talked about leaving an established church in order to assist a contemporary church plant, where he was by default the senior citizen of the congregation. I knew at once this was not a man who would look for the easiest paths of ministry or merely coast through life in his later years. He would pursue with passion new fields of ministry and cultivate the next generation as best he could.
Over time, Ken became one of my favorite writers for The Gospel Project. He always delivered his sessions before the due date; he combined scholarly acumen with accessible exposition, and best of all, he knew instinctively how to be faithful to the Christ-centered orientation of our curriculum. He accepted my edits with the kind of humility you’d expect from someone who had spent time with Jesus. He cheered us on when the curriculum launched and expanded. And when I took up the role of Bible publisher, he reached out to congratulate me, and he offered to serve in whatever way I might need.
Until last week, I didn’t know that Ken had been ill for much of the past year. The news of his death came as a shock. His vibrant personality and passion for Jesus overshadowed his white hair and smile-shaped wrinkles to the point that I hadn’t given much thought to his age. He was 69 when King Jesus welcomed him into his presence.
Ken’s death came just a month after another older brother died, someone who had encouraged me multiple times over the years—Paul Clark, a worship and music specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
I didn’t seek Paul out for help on a project; he was the one to seek me out. In our first correspondence, he told me he had been reading my blog for a couple of years, and he presented himself as an “old man” who “needs your sage advice.” He asked if I would be open to having coffee with an “old state denominational servant.”
Paul and I met for lunch a couple of times in downtown Nashville, but most of our interactions were via email. He and Kendell had different personalities. Paul was soft-spoken, and our conversations focused on worship, not writing. He was passionate about experiencing the grace of God and deepening the worship of the church. He had a hunger for continual learning, evidenced by the fact he wanted to learn from me, when all the while I wanted to learn from him—a man who seemed to overflow with wisdom. I cherished my conversations with Paul because I could sense his deep and abiding commitment to Jesus and his people. Our last correspondence came in late 2015, just before a massive stroke forced him to retire.
Strengthening the Young
One of the temptations that come with age is to look down upon younger brothers and sisters, to find areas of weakness and to criticize them. Constructive criticism has its place, and we need words of confrontation from those who are wiser and who can foresee the challenges we may miss. But unless these words of caution come from a heart of wisdom and love, they can become a tool for maintaining power and control, unintentionally draining life and energy from younger believers, who are forced to expend energy in trying to validate themselves before their fathers and mothers in the faith.
With age comes temptation, but also opportunity. One opportunity is to seek out younger brothers and sisters, discover their areas of strength and encourage them. The gray-haired brother with long-lasting influence is the one who draws life from giving it, who is revived by reviving others, who finds strength in strengthening others.
Kendell Easley and Paul Clark were two men who strengthened me and built me up for the tasks ahead. They came alongside and cheered me on in the race. Now that they have joined the large cloud of witnesses, I imagine in their adoration of Christ they are still cheering on those of us still running. I thank God for gray-haired brothers like these. And I hope to be like them one day.
God, you have taught me from my youth,
and I still proclaim your wondrous works.
Even while I am old and gray,
God, do not abandon me,
while I proclaim your power
to another generation,
your strength to all who are to come.
Psalm 71:18-19, CSB