This past Tuesday my phone rang around 5:00 PM. When I answered, I heard the voice of an old friend from the first church I pastored in 2000. Jimmy called to let me know that his Father, Jim Henry Hobbs had passed away after complications from a stroke. He was 88 years old.
Over the last 20 years of ministry, I’ve gotten a lot of calls like this, and have participated in countless funerals. But this news hit me differently than most situations. I grieved at the news of his passing. All deaths are hard, but this one touched on something far deeper than most.
In the summer of 2000, I was just 23 years old when Mr. Hobbs called me to come fill the pulpit at New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, NC. Boy was I green! And yet, after meeting me, he took a chance on me. He gave me my first opportunity to do ministry, supported me in that ministry, invested in me, gave me a place to stay for a year while I served as an interim pastor, taught me, mentored me, fed me, and told me hundreds of stories. During my year as the interim pastor at New Hope, I spent countless hours each Sunday and Wednesday in his home talking, praying, learning, and laughing. And after several months, I was surprised by the fact that this young kid could have developed such a deep and meaning friendship with an old man like him. Mr. Hobbs meant the world to me.
After a year of commuting to Fayetteville from Raleigh twice a week, I began to sense that it was time for me to re-focus my energies on finishing seminary, and more importantly, that it was time for New Hope to have a full-time pastor who knew what he was doing. Stepping down was clearly something I felt the Lord wanted me to do, but because of my friendship with Mr. Hobbs, whom I had grown to love, it was painful nonetheless. We stayed in touch over the years and this past fall I was able to take our kids back to meet him.
Last night we took the kids to Fayetteville to pay our respects and to honor our dear friend and brother, Jim Hobbs. And as I sit and reflect on his life and our friendship, I feel a sadness for me and a burden for my kids. A sadness at the passing of my friend. A burden for my own children to have the opportunity to learn from men like him.
I am often encouraged by the passion of millennials. But, I am also often concerned about their lack of wisdom and depth. What’s missing is something that could be learned by more time spent with men like Mr. Hobbs. I have been fortunate to have had men like him to invest in me, and I hope that my kids will have the same. Here are the kinds of things I have gained and hope that they will have a chance to learn as well.
- Wisdom. We forget that the elderly have their grey hair for a reason. They’ve experienced hardship, fallen on their faces in failure, and made their mistakes. They have also done much right and had their successes. They’ve been down this path before and have been at it longer than us. There’s very little they haven’t seen and much they can help us to see if we will listen.
- Calmness. Because of their experience, they know when to be concerned and when not to be concerned. They provide a steadiness and calmness in difficulty that gives us strength.
- Toughness. We like to think we’re tough when we’re young. Truth is, most of us haven’t yet faced enough difficulty to know for sure. But our elderly friends have. They’ve experienced it in the loss of jobs, loss of family members, loss of their health, and much more. Most of them have had to endure hardships that we don’t yet know about. They are an example to us of what toughness looks like.
- Tenderness. Time and age have a way of making us softer in the best way. God has a way of using difficulties prolonged overtime to knock off the rough edges and to tame the harsh soul. For those who know the Lord and respond faithfully, the result is tenderness.
- Mercy. The elderly know about bereavement and care. They know how to stand with each other when times are hard and moments are sad. Both of the churches I’ve had the honor of pastoring were predominantly elderly. And I must say, they have much to teach us and remind us in a day of young Church plants. Praise God for these young church plants, but they have much to learn from the elderly about bereavement and community care.
- Love. Nothing has been more beautiful and helpful for me in my walk with Christ than seeing older friends and brothers approach the last days of their life with a heart full of love for God and for their loved ones. When I see this in them, I’m encouraged and I am reminded of what matters most.
Yes, I know that not all elderly people embody these characteristics. But many of them do, and I believe that we have much to learn from them. I pray that we will be wise enough to recognize this and that we will embrace the opportunity to do so. I am grateful for men like Jim Hobbs. To many, he might just be another old man who is now gone. But he was my friend, my brother, someone I respect, and someone I already miss. I hope that my kids will have the same in their lifetime.