Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Leadership (Part 3)
That last post generated a lot of discussion - some of it on the topic, and some way off topic. After venting and listening to some responses, I want to give an example of rising above this pettiness that can consume us if we're not careful. At a time when churches are cracking up, leaders are not respected, and feelings are seared, we need good examples. Here is my hero when I think of church leadership. T. B. Larimore.
Larimore was a wildly popular Church of Christ preacher in Sherman, Texas in the 1890's. This was a time in our history more turbulent than even today. The restoration movement was being ripped in half. Lines were drawn, sides were taken, and the fight was on!!! What were the issues? Instrumental music vs acappella singing, missionary societies vs local congregational support for foreign missionaries, special fundraising vs Sunday collection as the only way to raise money, acceptance of previous baptism vs rebaptism in a Church of Christ, located preachers vs "mutual edification." There were other issues, and, remember, the wounds from the Civil War were still festering. (Our revisionist tendencies say that it was ALL about instrumental music.)
In 1897 two ministers who had been former students of Larimore at Mars Hill College wrote him a letter urging him to speak out on these issues. They said, "It is not best, in our humble judgment, to be silent when we see our fellow men, and especially our own family, drifting apart. Please, therefore, answer the following questions according to your judgment . . . (instrumental music, organized mission work, conventions and lectureships, paid located preachers) . . . Thousands of your brothers and sisters believe it is your duty to speak out on these questions, and strive to unite the people of God. And surely when duty calls you will respond." To this challenge, Larimore replied, "Never, publicly or privately, have I expressed opinion or preference relative to any of these matters over which brethren are wrangling and disputing and dividing the church of Christ - never! I am sorry to disappoint any of my friends, but it is clearly my duty to leave the discussion to wiser, better, abler men, and just simply preach the Word, avoiding all questions that gender strife among the children of God. I shall simply do as I have always done - love the brethren. They may refuse to recognize or fellowship or affiliate with me; but I will NEVER refuse to recognize or fellowship or affiliate with them - NEVER."
Larimore never recognized the split that even the U.S. Census recognized in 1906. He preached in both instrumental Christian Churches and acappella Churches of Christ, and he felt comfortable in both. By the time he died in 1928, Larimore had planted more churches, preached more sermons, and baptized more people (over 10 000) than any other living preacher at the time! What an example. That's who I want to be.