The Danger of Contemporaries
In the 60’s and 70’s great churches were being built all across America. Many of Dr. Jack Hyles’ contemporaries were building the largest Sunday schools in their cities and states. Great numbers of converts were being brought into the church, baptized and growing as Christians. Dr. Hyles led the charge with many of his contemporaries following suit. It was a great time.
As the years went by many of the contemporaries of Dr. Hyles fell by the wayside. Many of them continued to pastor good churches, but they were not the great churches they once were. They had plateaued and leveled off. In many cases these men built fellowships with one another and Dr. Hyles was distanced further and further from them.
In the later years of his ministry many of those men had completely pulled away from Dr. Hyles. Oh they still loved and respected him. But, some of them became a little bit discontented with him. They were even willing to accept some of the slander against him.
Someone asked Dr. Hyles why so many of his contemporaries had distanced themselves from him. His answer was very interesting. He said, “They did not distance themselves from me, and I did not distance myself from them. We just chose a different path. I always chose to cast my lot with those who could either influence me to do more for God, or who I could influence to do more for God. Many of those good men were no longer as interested in building a great work as they once were. Now they were more focused on maintaining the work they had.”
The first era was an era of being influenced by men who had gone before him.
Dr. Hyles spent the early part of his ministry following and learning from the great men. He built relationships with them. He chose to be close to them. It was not because it was convenient, but because he wanted to learn all that he could. The byproduct was that he did not build intimate relationships with his contemporaries. He loved these men and he was loyal to them, but he did not “hang out” with them as much because he was with the older men.
Many young preachers would rather be close to their contemporaries than they would with older men.
The danger is that in doing so they are now being influenced by their contemporaries. They are more likely to go where the wind is blowing rather than learning from the men who have already tried and proven their ministries. As a young man Dr. Hyles did not follow his contemporaries. He did not choose to fellowship too closely with his contemporaries.
He was building a work for God and he wanted to learn from those who had already gone before him. He sought them out. Rather than going to fellowships of contemporaries he went to the meetings of the giants. He would rather learn from the grizzled veteran then from a novice contemporary. He loved his contemporaries but he did not choose to spend his time in close fellowship with them.
As Dr. Hyles influence grew many of his contemporaries were also building great ministries. Dr. Hyles loved these men. They were walking together because they were agreed in their purpose and cause. However, he was still looking to the older men. He was getting his inspiration and direction from men who had gone before him.
He wanted to maintain the principles of the great man. As time went by some of his contemporaries lost the drive to build. As the great men of the past when off the scene, Dr. Hyles continued to have a desire to do a great work for God.
The second era of Dr. Hyles’ life.
What once was seeking to be influenced by those before him became a desire to influence those coming behind him. Once again this was not a natural alignment. Just as he could not become the best friend of those men who went before him he could not become the best friend of those who were coming behind them.
But, the purpose of his ministry was not to be someone’s best friend. Fellowship was not his purpose. He sought to be influenced or to be an influence. His ministry went from being influenced by the greats of the past to being an influence to a new generation. He began to pour himself into younger preacher.
Some of his contemporaries resented it. They felt that he had gotten too big for them. They judged his motives. They assumed that he thought he was better than the them. They missed the point. Dr. Hyles was not seeking to be better, he was seeking to continue growing and influencing others. When a man is influencing the next-generation he has to show them what he is teaching. He cannot merely tell them what to do and not do it. He must continue in the work.
A Private in the military follows the lead of his General, but when he becomes a General he must lead those who are the Privates. Dr. Hyles knew his responsibility was to follow or lead, not merely hang out. That is what makes a man a leader. He follows and then he leads.
Many of the contemporaries of Dr. Hyles saw him as a good man and one they loved dearly, but there was a disconnect somewhere along the way. It hurt them. In some cases it even made them better. When rumors came out against Dr. Hyles some chose to believe them because they felt hurt by him. Dr. Hyles just kept on marching forward.
There was an army of men behind him who still wanted to do work for God and he became their/our leader. He was never a denominational head barking orders from the headquarters. He was a general crying, “Charge,” as he led us into the battle. He never stopped building. He never stopped battling. He never stopped dreaming of doing more for God. He was going before us as he had seen a generation do for him.
Is difficult for some to understand that a leader often does not build close relationships with his contemporaries. He becomes a leader by following leaders and then he leads others. That is why Dr. Hyles did not spend much time in fellowship with his contemporaries. The contemporaries get closer and closer to one another as he continued marching forward just as he always had. While they were licking their wounds in retirement he was still charging. While they were basking in the rewards of a ministry they once built, he continued building. While they were enjoying their influence he was expanding his.
I had the privilege of spending time with Dr. Hyles. I think he would have considered me one of his dearest friends. I think he also considered Dr. John Rice one of his dearest friends. But, his friendship with Dr. Rice was based upon what he could learn from him and his relationship with me was based upon the influence that he could have on me.
Dr. Hyles’ friendships were not formed for comfort.
They were developed for purpose. The purpose was the work of God. We were soldiers. He wanted to influence us. While some of his contemporaries were hurt by his decision he did what he felt God had called him to do.
Occasionally I will have the opportunity of coming into contact with one of Dr. Hyles’ contemporaries. We speak of Dr. Hyles fondly. However, the way we speak of him is much different. They have a respectful appreciation for him. Yet, I sense some hurt and maybe even sadness. I think they may feel a tad of jealousy for those younger men such as myself who they sensed took their place. They loved him and he loved them, but it was not his purpose to be their buddy.
I often heard him speak fondly of those contemporaries. He loved them deeply. He missed the fellowship. He hurt for those who turned against him. But, there was a battle to be fought. He did not have time to sit around and tell war stories. There was a generation that still needed to be influenced. He felt a responsibility to take what he had learned from the veterans before him and share it with the generation coming from behind.