“Dear Friend”

In 1999, theologian and evangelical statesman Carl F. H. Henry contributed a brief essay to Lessons in Leadership: Fifty Respected Evangelical Leaders Share Their Wisdom on Ministry.[1] It is Henry at his best: warm, insightful, taking his gospel seriously and himself lightly. Young people in general and young ministers in particular will find it to be a helpful and penetrating essay. Further, as it was written when Henry was 86 years old (four years before his death), it also provides a remarkable reflection upon a life well lived for the evangel and for evangelicalism.

Dear Friend,

I wish someone had told me that you would really welcome an occasional pat on the back. It would presumably help to offset that boot in the derrière targeted by erstwhile friends who give way every now and then to a lust for prominence and power, and who walk over anyone to get it. Don’t let such misguided kangaroos embitter you. Just join the Almighty in a good laugh, or keep your silence altogether.

A Welsh revivalist once told me that many American preachers don’t know what to do with their silences. They feel they must fill every vacuum with words, even when preaching. Sometimes the most powerful moment in a service, he said, occurs when the Spirit’s hush falls. Give God a chance to speak now and then, especially in the silences.

Don’t forget to pray. I’ve always believed in prayer; more than that, I have prayed. But not enough. Nobody told me that in those supposedly “golden” years (when one turns over what little gold he has to doctors, dentists, and hospitals) that the loss of memory and recollection would unexpectedly puncture holes in my prayer list. I start out praying for Russia and find myself wandering through Hong Kong. My petitions get shorter while my prayer list gets longer. I wish I could be steeped in prayer even if I can no longer easily shift my knees from first to overdrive. But God sees me, and He is not hard of hearing.

Don’t aspire to leadership. If it comes you will lose a lot of friends. Aspire to be “Number Two.” You will have the field to yourself. When the right time comes the Lord will call you up higher. And you more likely will be ready.

Beware of money. Give away some of it, lest it burn a hole in your pocket. Designate it for ministries you know you can trust. You are moving into a century when self-promotion will be slicker than ever. The mail will be preempted by city slickers, country slickers, and just plain slickers. They want your savings. Invest in devout individuals, twice born, who can bring along some friends that Christ has redeemed or whom the prophets and apostles would have welcomed.

When on the road, don’t take a laptop computer; take an extra towel. You may unexpectedly happen onto a fellow believer and, overjoyed, feel impelled to wash his feet. He in turn may unwittingly think he has been overtaken by an angel. That sort of fellowship is risky business; it might start a revival! Let me know if that happens. I’d like very much to get in on the action!

Your friend,

Carl F. H. Henry

(If about halfway through you began reading Henry’s essay in the meter of Baz Luhrmann’s “Sunscreen,” you would not be alone.)

[1]Carl F. H. Henry, “Learning to Avoid Subtle Temptations,” in Lessons in Leadership: Fifty Respected Evangelical Leaders Share Their Wisdom on Ministry, ed. Randal Roberts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999), 136-137.

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