You probably do not know Horace Sims. As for me, I never will forget him. Horace was the pastor of Abney Memorial Baptist Church in Greenwood, S.C., while I was pastoring churches in Edgefield and Greenville. Horace became a good friend to me while I was getting started in the ministry. For some reason, Horace liked me.
Because he liked me, he taught me how to be a pastor. Sure, I had gone to college and graduated seminary. I knew about the Greek and Hebrew languages, a lot of German theologians, and several theories of the atonement. What I did not know how to do was pastor a church.
Whenever Horace and I found ourselves in the same town for a conference, denominational meeting, or we had just decided we needed to talk to each other, we found ways to get together and talk about church. There is an art to being a pastor; like most art, you cannot learn it from reading a book. You can only learn it by hanging around other artists such as Horace Sims.
Similar to everything else in our world, being the pastor of a church has changed. If you had told me 35 years ago I would be trying to type out the gospel in 140 characters or less, I would not have known what you were talking about. Now, I’m asked by the communication team to try to include phrases and thoughts in my sermons that easily can be translated to social media. Who knew?
None of that mattered to Horace. He always kept it simple. He was self-educated. Sometimes, I thought Horace had read every book that had ever been written. He always had a quote or a great story, but it was his worn-out Bible that was always with him. “Have you ever noticed,” he asked me one day, “whenever we hear these great conference speakers, they always tell us what great book on leadership they have read? They never tell us about what happened when they just read the Bible.”
Horace read the Bible. He always could talk about the passage he had read that morning and what interesting discovery he had made. His Bible was full of notes. He called it his travelogue. I keep the Bible-reading habit I learned from him. I do it old school—no computer for me—just a Bible, pen, good journal and plenty of time to think through it all. It’s basic, but it is all you need.
“Be gentle with your people, Mike,” he said. I wanted to know why. After all, I had been called to preach, and that meant calling out sin when I saw it. “Because,” he said, “most of your people will use all of their faith just to get to church. All week long, life will beat them down, but on this Sunday, they won’t give up. They’ll come to church. Give them a word to make them come back.”
He was right. It would be years before I would begin to understand the stories that made up the lives of my church members. Most of them were dealing with stuff in incredibly brave ways. The more stories I heard, the more I admired the courage of my members. I never would have known if Horace had not taught me to listen.
Now, all these years later, young pastors call me the way I once called Horace. We are having discussions about how to prepare sermons in the crush of the week’s demands, how to handle a business meeting, and the best way to respond to an angry church member. I am passing along the lessons Horace Sims passed down to me.
Being a good pastor is a learned art. If you are a young pastor, find an older pastor who will be your mentor and friend. If (as I did) you realize you are the older pastor, call a younger pastor and take him out for a cup of coffee.
It will be good for both of you. You can teach him about being a pastor. He can teach you how to use social media. Pastoring is an art, and it is only learned by hanging around other artists.
Mike Glenn is senior pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. He is a contributing editor of Preaching.