Everyone needs a model in ministry. One of mine is my mother’s younger brother Uncle John.
John Crocker served as a pastor for over 40 years. He first served as senior pastor of three churches in Indiana, California, and Illinois for 33 years. He then became the interim senior pastor of six churches in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska for 7 years. He’s also written a very helpful book on the Lord’s Prayer. He’s now retired.
I’ve been watching him for a long time, and his example has shaped my life in significant ways. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.
He Loves God
When you’re part of the same family, you get to observe someone when they’re unguarded. You can act one way in public, but who you are comes out in private moments.
Here’s what I’ve observed about my Uncle John: he truly loves God. When I spend time with him, I get the sense that I’m spending time with someone who has spent time with God. In private, he is who he appears to be in public. He’s not perfect, of course, but he’s quick to repent and has spent decades growing in his walk with God.
I remember him remarking one day that if he was called upon to preach in an hour, and had to divide his time between preparing his heart to preach and preparing a message to preach, he would spend most of his time preparing his heart. That shocked me, but I think he’s right. He models the life of someone who’s spent a lifetime preparing his heart to proclaim God’s grace, and it shows in how he serves.
He Cherishes His Wife
One of the things I love most about Uncle John is how he loves my Aunt Liz. They’re crazy about each other. When I see them with each other, they’re kind to each other. Their eyes sparkle when they talk about each other. They’ve both cultivated kindness, courtesy, and respect in their love for each other.
Pastors often sacrifice their marriages on the altar of ministry. I love the way that my Uncle John has continued to love and serve his wife, just as Christ loves the church.
He Preaches the Bible
Uncle John doesn’t follow fads. His ministry isn’t characterized by what’s cool. He’s dedicated his entire ministry to guarding the good deposit, and faithfully passing it on through his preaching and leadership.
I’ve never heard him preach a sermon that’s not driven by the text. He clearly explains and applies it every time. He does so with clarity and passion. You know exactly what you’re going to get in his ministry. He preaches and teaches for a verdict. He’s a Word-shaped man with a Word-shaped ministry.
He Endured Hardship
Anybody who’s been in ministry for four decades has endured some hardship. I’ve seen Uncle John go through the ups and downs of life and pastoring. I’ve seen him pay the cost. As he did, he provided a model for me of how to endure hardship in my ministry.
In fact, Uncle John prepared me for some of what I’d face. When I went through situations, I’d been prepared by how he had gone through similar challenges. He showed me what it’s like to respond by trusting God and loving others, even when being treated unjustly.
He Listens to and Encourages Others
Some people make every conversation about them. They enter a room and the energy shifts to what they want to talk about.
Not Uncle John. When he’s in the room, he’s doing one of two things: listening, or encouraging. He draws you out, wanting to know what’s happening in your life and what God’s teaching you. He’s also encouraging. I don’t think I’ve ever left a conversation with him without feeling more encouraged.
He came to hear me preach at least once. I’m sure he could have pointed out many flaws in my sermon, and I would have been grateful for his advice on how to improve. What I remember, though, is how much he encouraged me. He looked for ways to think and speak the best of others.
He Remembers How to Have Fun
One of my favorite memories of Uncle John is when I visited him in California. He pastored a large church, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to spend as much time with me that week as he’d like. He somehow managed to leave the office early one day and take me to Disneyland. We rode a roller coaster. I looked over and saw him laughing and enjoying a moment.
I remember thinking: that’s how I want to be. I want to remember how to laugh and enjoy simple things like roller coasters, even as I get older, and even as the seriousness of life begins to crowd out the joy.
The older I get, the more I realize that it’s rare to find someone who finishes well. Uncle John hasn’t quite finished yet, but he’s getting closer, and he’s served as an example to me of what it looks like to love God and serve well.
I’m grateful for him. I wish you could know him as I do. I want to imitate him as he continues to imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Praise God for faithful servants like Uncle John who show what it means to love God, love others, and serve well over a lifetime. May God give me the same grace.