Sometimes it’s good to be a ‘yes-man’. Let me tell you about one; his name was Arch. That’s his real name, and a few readers may have known him. He was a deacon and church secretary of the first church I pastored and one of the best men I have ever known.
He was already elderly the first time I met him. I was visiting preacher for the day and he was there to welcome me. The tea and biscuits were welcome but not unusual; the warmth of his smile for a young stranger was.
A few months later I became pastor there, and he served with me as church secretary and general adviser for around a decade.
He did not always understand me; neither my Calvinistic convictions, nor my (often rather immature) prejudices. But he always supported me. Over the years I learned from others of several occasions when he had encouraged folk not to be critical, but to be patient with the young pastor.
It is probably not an exaggeration to say that it was because of Arch I survived those first few critical years of ministry, when so many pastors do not.
I also remember more than one convert giving their testimony prior to baptism and relating how they had come nervously to church the first time. It was Arch’s welcome that helped them settle and helped them listen. Every church needs an ‘Arch-deacon’!
But the incident I want to tell you about, the one that most sticks in my mind, is different. It didn’t involve me at all nor newcomers to the church.
A good friend, one of the church officers, was arranging his father’s funeral. His father had been a member of the church too and, though he had been ill for quite a long time, his death was in the end rather sudden. His son was left to make all the arrangements.
‘All the arrangements’. What a lot that covers! Family had to be told throughout the UK and in different parts of the world. All the legal documents had to be obtained and signed and submitted properly.
He had to liaise with the funeral directors and church about the details for the funeral. Anyone who has been in this position knows just how much there is to be done and just how little time there seems to be. It keeps the bereaved busy and, while that is often a good thing, it can be overwhelming.
My friend telephoned Arch, wanting his help with one particular part of the arrangements. But, in the turmoil of busy-ness and emotions, he forgot why he had phoned. He ended up saying, ‘I’ve phoned to ask for your help with something, Arch, but it’s completely gone! I can’t remember what it was!’
The answer he got was classic Arch and has stuck with me down the years: ‘Well, whatever it was you wanted, the answer’s “Yes”.’
The ‘yes-man’: whatever I can do to help, the answer’s ‘Yes’.
That’s rather beautiful, isn’t it? It very much carries the stamp of Christ, who came (we love to remember) not to be served, but to serve. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet (John 13) and commented: ‘I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’ (v. 15).
The New Testament has many exhortations for us to show our love for the brethren in many different ways, even if it involves sacrifice. Coming across a brother who takes that seriously is such a beautiful thing.
Sad to say, it’s also rather extraordinary. How big a contrast this is with our attitude as Christians, so many times! We’ll help, provided it’s the kind of thing we want to do. And provided it’s not too much trouble for us. Even — sometimes — provided we like the Christian who needs help.
When Elisabeth Elliot wrote the preface to Shadow of the Almighty, she asked at the very end if Jim’s life was extraordinary, and commented: ‘I offer these pages so that the reader may decide for himself. If his answer is yes, if he finds herein the “stamp of Christ” and decides that this is extraordinary, what shall we say of the state of Christendom?’
As much as anything in that remarkable book, those words have resonated with me for almost 40 years.
And as I think of Arch, I find myself asking often the same question: if the character of his willing, joyful service is so extraordinary, so rare in the church, what must we say of the state of our churches?
The author has pastored Moordown Baptist Church, Bournemouth, since 1997. He and Elaine have two grown-up children, who are both active in the church,
and three granddaughters.