Yesterday, Thom Rainer wrote about influential leaders in his life. Like Rainer, I am thankful for many men that God sent my way. In my childhood and early teen years most of the men who influenced me were the big fat guys in boots and tights I saw wrestling on Saturday nights. If Tommy “Wildfire” Rich is your biggest male influence as a kid, your future isn’t looking to bright but, for a time, that was the case for me.
But God graciously put several men in my life who in their own way taught and are continuing to teach me what it means to be a man. In no particular order, here are the most influential men in my life.
1. Robbie Floyd
Robbie lived across the street from me for a big portion of my childhood. My father didn’t live with us and there were a lot of bullies in my neighborhood. That made for a bad mix. Whenever I got in a jam I knew that if I could just get away, all I would have to do is go knock on Robbie’s door and he would take care of things. He did. Within seconds, he’d load me up in whatever car he was driving at the moment with Def Lepard bumping through the speakers and go have a talk with my adversaries.
Robbie taught me how to play sports, how to stand up for myself and he introduced me to rap music. I think God used Robbie’s compassion towards me, a kid 7 years younger than him, to show me the importance of speaking up for those who do not have a voice. I’m thankful for Robbie.
2. Turk Holt
Turk is my spiritual father. He was my youth pastor in middle school but he was more than an activities director or sanctified babysitter. Turk taught me how to study the Bible on my own and he was the first person who taught me how to develop sermons. When I read or teach from the Old Testament, every time I get to the great heroes like Abraham and David, I think about Turk. In my mind he is the picture of what a godly man should. I feel his impact on my life everyday.
3. Keith Keller
I’ve written before about Keith’s influence on me. He has a heart for getting the gospel to the nations like I have never seen before. At the same time, when I’m with Keith I know I’m going to laugh. Keith is the wisest person I know and I am a better man for having followed in his footsteps a majority of my life.
4. Todd Wright
Todd was my pastor from the time I was in middle school until my early college years. He couldn’t have been more than 25 or 26 when he became the senior pastor of our huge church. I can’t imagine the pressures he felt. Like Keith, when I think of Todd I think of his laughter and his heart for missions. But the most prominent word that comes to mind when I think of Todd is perseverance. Halfway through college, in spite of the best wishes of all of those around me, I wanted to quit school. It was Todd that finally got through to me and told me to finish, if for nothing else, to get into a personal rhythm of finishing what I started. I’m sure my mom was glad that he had that talk with me over pizza that afternoon.
Little did I know but at that time Pastor Todd was persevering through his own trials. Some in our church were attacking Todd and it was destroying our church. Maybe it has, but I’m not sure if that church has recovered even today from those power grabs and personal attacks. But I do know that Pastor Todd is still serving Jesus by serving the Church. He’s modeling the advice he gave me 15 years ago and he’s finishing strong. I’m thankful that Todd taught me not to be a quitter.
5. Marty Duren
The church where I grew up and where Todd Wright pastored is responsible for raising up a lot of young men who still today are serving Christ. Marty is the poster child of those young men. As a kid, Marty showed me from afar what it means to continue loving Jesus when everything else is falling apart. As I have grown older, Marty continues to show me on a more personal level what it means to truly live a missional lifestyle. I am a better pastor because of Marty Duren.
6. Gerald Fowler
I have never known anyone who has engaged the local community with the gospel quite like Gerald Fowler. The small town where I served as a youth minister was, like most small southern towns, racially divided. Generally speaking, most of the white folks lived on family land while a large portion of the black population lived up on a place called Baptist Hill. Gerald was one of the bridges between these two communities. Gerald’s impact in the community was most visible with his involvement with the Greenville Patriots football team and the well documented illness of their former coach, Jeremy Williams. Before Jeremy ever got sick and before most people cared about Greenville football, Gerald came along as a volunteer team photographer, hoping that his camera would open doors for him to speak the gospel into the lives of young men. It did.
At a time when most men his age were considering retirement, Gerald was diving in deeper to serving Jesus by loving others. Gerald is a living example of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
7. John Piper
Shortly after we were married, my wife played a sermon for me from John Piper. That one sermon from Romans 9 began my journey away from anemic, watered-down preaching and theology towards a greater grasp of the sovereignty and glory of God. I’ve met John once but I don’t know him. Still, I’m thankful that God used him to give me a bigger, more biblical picture of Jesus.
8. Wayne Grudem
Wayne Grudem is another influential man who I do not personally know. But his massive book, Systematic Theology, has been the most helpful extra-biblical resource to my ministry. Every believer should own this book if for nothing else to help you with those nagging questions we all get about the Bible and our faith from time to time. Friends who do know Grudem speak very well of him as a humble man who loves Jesus and is lovingly devoted to his wife.
9. Dr. Stan Wilkins
It’s not original with Stan but he used to always tell me, “Get into God’s word until God’s word gets into you.” Stan was one of my first seminary professors and he taught me the ins and outs of pastoral ministry as well as the skills necessary to develop a sermon. But Stan wasn’t the kind of professor who was content just teaching in the classroom. I had many conversations with Dr. Wilkins over the phone and in person that went beyond our syllabus. Stan’s passion for God and his word was contagious and I’m better for having been around him.
Shortly after I really got to know him, Stan died. I’m glad he’s with Jesus now but I really wish I could give him a call.
10. Voddie Baucham
I do not know Voddie Baucham but his book Family Driven Faith is one of the most influential I have ever read. I picked it up when my first kid was barely a year old and I’m glad I did. Baucham’s book taught me the importance of manning up and be the spiritual leader of my home. Last night I had the joy of sitting with my wife and two sons as we read scripture and sang songs. I’m afraid I would have missed out on times like those if I never read Voddie’s book.
All of these men are sinners, just like me, so they make terrible gods. But they were and many of them continue to be great influential men. As I write this, I am overcome with joy that God saw fit to put so many men in my life that would, in their own way and whether they knew it or not, help me to love and serve him better.
Most of the men on this list are not famous. Some of them aren’t even on Facebook. Half of them have never written a book. But God doesn’t need our fame. What he asks for is our availability. I’m so thankful that God made these ten men available to me.
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
(Hebrews 13:7 ESV)