Our Greatest Honor: Dr. Timothy Tennent
One of the longest serving Trustees of Asbury Seminary was Dr. Ira Gallaway. He passed into the presence of the Lord in March of 2015. I will always miss him. I often walk by the house where he lived and reflect on our times together. I have cherished memories of dozens of conversations with him. One of the things which he regularly shared with me was the following statement: “Other than preaching the gospel and leading people to Christ, I have had no greater honor in my life than serving as a Trustee of Asbury Seminary.” His statement was meant to highlight his love for Asbury. However, the more I think about it, it was the first clause which should be remembered: There is no greater honor in the world than preaching the gospel and leading people to Christ.
I was ordained in the United Methodist church in 1984 and received, as many of you reading this, the title Rev. on my name. Since then, I have received several other academic degrees and positions, and am often referred to as “doctor” or “President,” and so forth. However, whenever my own mother writes me a letter (yes, hard letters, never email, texts, instant messaging, or WhatsApp) she addresses them to Rev. Timothy Tennent. The reason, my 90-year-old mother told me quite emphatically, was because there is no greater honor than being called into the full time ministry. Her testimony is true.
So, although I have spent many years as a seminary professor and now as the President of Asbury, many of my best memories are in serving the church. There is no greater joy than seeing someone come to faith in Jesus Christ. In 2000-01 I had the privilege of pastoring a church in Massachusetts known as West Congregational Church. Of all the churches I have pastored, this is the one which I found the most exhilarating and healthy. The church is located in a city called Haverhill. A century earlier, this city, located on the Merrimac river, produced more shoes than any city in the world. However, the manufacturing base in Haverhill had collapsed decades ago, and the city has been plagued with high unemployment, drug use and rising crime rates. Yet, in the midst of these challenges, this church was vibrant and thriving and, for the record, still is.
The people there loved the Lord and were actively witnessing to unbelievers. I always worshipped at the first pew, and when the time came to preach, I would climb the steps to the platform and pulpit. One of my memories about that was that I would sometimes need to step over people who were prostrate before God crying out to him for forgiveness, grace and redemption. It was amazing. People were coming to Christ every week. There was always a sense of the freshness of God’s presence and grace. I was the joyful recipient of decades of faithful pastoring by my predecessor, Dr. David Midwood (who passed away in 2014). I was there as an interim while they searched for a new pastor. But, the church was alive and vibrant!
One of my memories was of a young man who had been caught in drugs and who joyfully received the gospel through the witness of some of the men in the church. He was covered in tattoos. One Sunday, a few weeks after his conversion, he came up to me, with great excitement, and told me how much Christ was transforming his life and he insisted that I follow him into the church bathroom, because he wanted to show me something. With some combination of hesitancy and curiosity I followed him into the bathroom and he proceeded to unbutton his shirt to show me a new tattoo he had received that week. There it was on his chest in the center position: Jesus Christ is Lord! I have never been an advocate of tattoos, but in this case it seemed like the right step for this man. This was his way of showing his friends and neighbors that he was stepping into the kingdom. I saw him grow by leaps and bounds in the coming months. This is just one story. All of you have your own stories. But, I encourage you to not lose the joy and excitement of being part of the most important work in the world: preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You will have the opportunity to serve in many ways over your lifetime. You will serve on Boards. You may teach regularly in the church or even a seminary. You may serve a key role in a renewal movement. But, I hope and pray that at the end of your life, you will join me and our beloved Ira Gallaway and say that you never had any greater honor than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and leading people into faith in his glorious Name.
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