I had the rare privilege of knowing Dr. Hyles in the last years of his life. What most people do not know is that Dr. Hyles fought a battle within himself that was greater than almost any other battle he faced. It was a battle that he spoke of privately.
Quite frankly it was a battle that surprised me. To me Dr. Hyles was always self-assured and confident so this was a battle this would have seemed the least likely for him to face. What was that battle? He battled a feeling that perhaps he had outlived his usefulness.
Dr. Hyles often wondered if he was truly qualified to preach to teenagers. He would ask out loud why would these teenagers listen to an old man. He wondered if the college really wanted him around. At one point he even said, “It’s not my college anymore. If others want it, let them have it.” He wondered if maybe a younger man could come in and take his place and do a better job as pastor.
For a time he pondered retirement from the pastorate. He told me that he was not the only man that in his later years felt that same insecurity. He spoke of his heroes, many of whom wondered if their ministries were over, which is why so often he promoted those men.
I will not tell the personal stories he told me that there was a reason why he invited men like Dr. Lee Robertson to spend the week at Hyles-Anderson College every year. He knew these men felt their age. He knew that they wondered if maybe they had lost their touch with the new generation. He felt their insecurities.
Now I know how Dr. Hyles felt. At the age of 70 I sometimes wonder if I am irrelevant. I know the young men have their new methods and their new ways. I wonder if my experience and wisdom even matters anymore. I have fought this more and more as I have grown older.
As one man said, “The older I get the more insecure I am because I do not know if I matter anymore.” Dr. Hyles taught me with his life how to combat these feelings. He did not teach me how to avoid them, but how to respond to them. If you are out there wondering if you matter anymore allow me to share a few suggestions.
1. Remember that if God was through with you you wouldn’t be here. When God is finished with Bob Gray, Sr., he will take me home. Until then I know there’s something for me to do so I must do it.
2. Hang around younger men. Some of Dr. Hyles contemporaries resented that they were no longer close to him. Many of them were close buddies with each other, but Dr. Hyles did not stick with them. It was not that he didn’t love them, quite the opposite in fact. He not only loved them but he missed them. But, Dr. Hyles did not want to die being apart of a group of good old boys. He knew that he needed young men to keep him vibrant and alive. He brought them into his midst so that he could influence them, but also so they could challenge him.
3. Keep starting new ministries. Dr. Hyles once said, “The way I fight old age is by birthing new ministries.” I have been criticized for starting new ministries by those who have no idea why I have done so. My goal in life is not to outlive my usefulness with mature ministries, but to consistently birth new ones. Independent Baptist Online College, IBOC, is such a ministry. I feel like a young man again. This is something Dr. Hyles did. He birthed new ministries that allowed him to stay alive and vibrant. One of the reasons I know God is in this is because of the opposition.
4. Influence young men as much as you can. There are many young men who see me as a relic, but there are some who see me as someone with experience. I walked with men that they didn’t know. I preached with John Rice, Lee Robertson, Tom Malone, Bill Rice, John Rice, Lester Roloff, Jack Hyles, and many more. I got to know them and they got to know me. I can offer to those young men who are interested a glimpse into those men’s character and ministries.
5. Don’t act old. I decided not to be an old man. I decided to stay young. I still try to look good and to be in good physical health. I don’t walk like an old man, I don’t talk like an old man, I hope I don’t dress like an old man. I don’t do what a lot of old men do when they are in retirement. I want to stay vibrant until God takes me home.
7. Never retire. In fact, keep re-enlisting. Recently I was ridiculed by a man because I have always said that I never felt the call to preach. That man ridiculed me without understanding what it is I am saying. There were some men who went into the military because they were drafted, but there were others who saw the need and enlisted.
I was one of those men who chose to enlist. In so doing I gave my life to ministry. God never stopped me. I did not retire from the ministry when I resigned my church. I merely changed my duties. I reenlisted to another area of ministry. Don’t retire from the ministry. Find something you can do even if you cannot pastor any longer.
8. Keep learning. I have learned more in the past seven years than I probably learned in the first 63. It is confusing for people to hear me teach things that seem contradictory to the way that I once did them because they do not understand that I’m still learning.
There are so many things I would’ve done differently. I have learned what I now know, so I teach in light of now not then. I only hope that men will listen to what I’ve learned and not just judge me merely by what I did. Don’t misunderstand me God blesses us in spite of us, not because of us. Even if we didn’t do it the best way, God sees our hearts and blesses our motives.
9. You knew I was going to say this. Keep winning souls. Do you want to say stay young and relevant? Keep winning people to Christ. I was recently with Dr. Russell Anderson at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Dr. Anderson began to witness to the waitress. In a few moments she bowed her head and asked Christ into her heart.
Dr. Russell Anderson leading
a young lady to Christ
At the next table there was an older lady who had tears in her eyes. She said, “I was praying for you as you spoke to that young lady.” Dr. Anderson said, “Really, are you a Christian?” She replied, “Yes, and I’m also her grandmother. I’ve been praying for her salvation.” I think I saw Dr. Anderson walk with a little more lilt in his steps as he left Cracker Barrel than when he came in.
I cannot take away the occasional feelings, but I can determine not to let those feelings affect my behavior. I don’t physically or mentally feel like an old man, but sometimes I feel like an old man.
Some of the greatest works of God have been done by an old man who decided not to allow the feelings of his age determine his actions.