I was deeply blessed by a recent phone call from a Christian leader who has never failed to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:8) for Christ and his Kingdom.
His name is Jim. He joined the staff at St James Newport Beach in the early 1970s as an assistant Youth Pastor, when I was still in high school. As I recall, he was working on his college degree at a small, local Christian community college. But what I remember most about Jim was his love for Jesus Christ, his love for the middle schoolers that he was assigned to pastor, and his love for me. Jim spent a lot of time with me personally. He challenged me to read my bible and to love God’s word, its clarity and its authority in my life. He really challenged me to expand my prayer life with God—even giving me a book or two to read! Nothing academic, it was all plain and simple and practical. That was Jim himself. He challenged me as a timid high schooler with leadership potential to stop worrying about myself and start discipling the middle schoolers and leading them into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. So I did, and began to discover the joy of ministry.
Even after I had gone off to college and law school, and had become a District Attorney, Jim stayed in touch and invited me to come and share my testimony with new leaders he was discipling. Jim is one of the saints in my life who helped me recognize the little “burning bushes” along the way that added up to that big “burning bush” we call “vocation to ministry.”
So on Monday I was blessedly surprised to receive a phone call from him. He was calling from California, from a hospital bed where he has been confined while battling a number of health issues. Jim was just calling to pray for me—to encourage me and pray a blessing over me. He reminded me of the Godly heritage I had, and how my father would bless the ministry I am involved in today if he were alive. He prayed over and blessed my wife and each of my children by name, my brother and his wife and children. To say that I was deeply moved is an understatement.
Then Jim asked me what I was doing now in ministry specifically. So I shared with him about how the American Anglican Council (AAC) is helping to develop faithful leaders, coach them, revitalize and equip local Anglican churches to fulfill the Great Commission. Like the great leader and coach that he is, Jim challenged me to expand my vision to reach college students and younger, future leaders. He shared with me some of the work that he has been doing in the last few years on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in the metropolitan Los Angeles area—working on several campuses. He has even reached down into the high schools and other public schools to address “character development” in the classroom—which leads to Christ-centered ministry with students and their families off campus. His ministry has been so effective that the public schools are asking him for more! According to another friend who keeps in touch with Jim, a well-known local seminary is trying to assign some interns to work with Jim and learn how to bear such Christ glorifying fruit.
And here is Jim—44 years later, calling me, to encourage me. Thank you, Jesus, for Jim and for using him as a leader in my life all along the way.
That’s what great Christian leaders do. It’s not their education, their title, or their fame that matters. It’s their heart. It’s their consistency over many years in discipling other leaders, who they know will disciple other leaders. It’s about being like Paul—continuing to “check in” with the Timothys they have raised up over the years just to love on them and give them an encouraging word. It’s about having a consistent conviction and unwavering trust in Jesus Christ, the authority and clarity of God’s word, and the power of prayer.
I have four children who are between the ages of 18 and 28. I’ve had opportunities to speak with some of my children’s friends who are nominal Christians, once churched, agnostic and atheist. So Jim’s challenge spoke to me very deeply. I am praying about what he said. I’m also praying for Jim to be healed so that he can rise up out of that bed and get back to the incredible vision he has for discipling high school and college students, and young adults. God clearly has much more for this humble servant leader to do, for the Kingdom. I hope you will join me in that prayer.
I hope and pray that I can become the kind of consistent, compassionately convicting, Christ-centered leader that Jim has been for me for the past 40+ years. He is a wonderful, Godly reminder of the kind of Biblically faithful leader the AAC is seeking to develop at every level of the church. May it always be so!
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes. Its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.