In my attempt to acknowledge some of the people who have influenced me and helped to shape my life, I must mention the elders of the Chester, WV Church of Christ. My perspective of these men was developed as a young boy, but even then, I could see in them a love for the truth and people.
Some of my early memories of these men are how William McMahan would, on a weekly basis, slip into our Bible classes and ask us to quote our memory verses for the week. I didn’t dare fail to do my memory work because I didn’t want to tell William that I was unprepared. William also had a great memory, and would always know when someone had a birthday. He never failed to make you feel special on your birthday.
The elders seemed to have a good balance too. Some seemed more light-hearted to me, and others seemed to be a bit more on the stoic side. But that balance worked. I can still hear Fred Stevens laugh. He was my Bible class teacher in 5th grade, and I still remember specific discussions we had in his class.
I’ll never forget the time I destroyed some of the shrubbery around the building (one of the hazards of living next door to the church building). Dad told me that I had to call the elders and tell them what I had done. So I started dialing Fred Stevens number. Dad stopped me and told me I had to call John Cunningham instead, and tell him what I had done. Let’s just say John was a little more stoic than Fred. But I’ll never forget that phone conversation I had with John and the sense of responsibility he tried to instill within me.
I also remember times when these elders led the church in discipline of the wayward (something that many elderships refuse to do). I can vividly remember these men publicly crying as they read off the names of people who were to be withdrawn from because of their disorderly conduct. That has burned into my memory and has served as proof to me that these acts of discipline were not done out of spite or vengeance, but out of love for their souls.
The elders allowed the young men to conduct the worship services every 5th Sunday, and it was there that I began “preaching” my first sermons (i.e. reading my dad’s notes) at the age of 10. Without fail, Arnold Wright, who sat on the second row, would always be the first to shake my hand and make me feel like I delivered a masterpiece. For that matter, all of them would make a point to encourage me, and the other young men as well. I said in yesterday’s article, “Good preachers aren’t born, they’re made,” and the elders at Chester were purposeful in their efforts to make good preachers. I don’t know many congregations who have produced more preachers than the Chester Church of Christ (several dozen, but I don’t have an exact count).
Maybe the thing that had the most impact on me is how my dad talked about these men in the privacy of our home. He spoke of John, Arnold, Carl, William, and Fred with the utmost respect, and I listened. Consequently, I too respected these men who my dad thought so much of.
I am indebted to the elders at Chester for shaping my early experiences of “church,” and helping them to be positive ones. I’m thankful for all the encouragement and opportunities they gave me to preach the gospel. The fruit of whatever good I may be able to bear will certainly be credited to their account (Philippians 4:17).