Thabiti Anyabwile on Ministry Heroes

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In this video, TGC Council member Thabiti Anyabwile shares his two ministry heroes. His hero in history is Lemuel Haynes, the first ordained black clergyman in the United States, a fiery preacher with deep doctrine and a keen approach to the social issues of his day. His hero of today is pastor Peter Rochelle, the pastor who discipled him and modeled faithful exposition. To read more about ministry heroes from other pastors, pick up a copy of TGC’s 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry, edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson.

One of my ministry heroes from history has to be Lemuel Haynes. Lemuel Haynes is an African-American born under what most folks regard as suspect circumstances in his day in the late 1700s, born to a white woman and a black man. He was, as an infant or very young, sent into indentured servanthood, where he was raised by Deacon Rose and his family, and that’s where he learned the basics of the faith and the doctrines of grace. And it was the Rose family’s custom to read a sermon from Whitefield or Edwards or some such figure at their family devotions. One night, Lemuel Haynes read a sermon, and the family was deeply moved by it.

Deacon Rose asked, “Is that Whitefield?”

Haynes shyly said “No.”

“Is that Edwards?”

And again, Haynes answered, “No.”

Finally, he admitted that it was his own sermon.

Deacon Rose thought to himself, “He is far more profitable to Christ and the kingdom if he is trained to preach and to serve the church.”

And so, Lemuel Haynes became the first African-American awarded an honorary degree by Middlebury College. He pastored for over 30 years in an all-white congregation in Rutland, Vermont before moving on to pastor also in New York. And what I love about Lemuel Haynes is his firm grasp of deep doctrine, the fire with which he preaches evangelistically, and his almost Puritan-esque style of laying down the law and applying it to the hearers while lifting up Christ.

But not only was he an heir of Jonathan Edwards, a sort of New Light Calvinist, but he improved Edwards’s legacy. Because where Edwards failed in his thinking about the major social justice issue of his day, slavery, Lemuel Haynes would also write about and defend the liberty of Africans. His essays, “Liberty Further Extended” and “True Republicanism Defined”, are to this day elegant works in biblical exegesis. They call for justice and for Christians to live out a truly Christian ethic. And so Haynes becomes one of those early exemplars—in the late 1700s into the early 1800s—of what it would mean to be faithful to the gospel and faithful to justice in your context. He demonstrated how you could live out the liberating power of the gospel in your context.

I think one of the heroes for me sort of in my personal life living is one of my first pastors, Peter Rochelle. He is a man who is faithful to the exposition of Scripture and preaches it with a warm heart. He is for me the definition of a pastor’s heart, serving with a pastoral ministry of tenderness and care for God’s people. I had the privilege of sitting under his ministry and then laboring with him as one of his elders for a number of years. And to this day, some 15 years later, his is a guiding example for me of being tender, patient, and kind. He responded even to those who opposed him as 2 Timothy 2:24 says, with gentleness, teaching with patience and long-suffering that God might grant repentance. And so he is for me a dear friend and a hero in the faith.