Earl Hodges has taught physical education in our weekday school for all the years I’ve been at this church, nearly 14 now. On the side, he runs a karate school. And writes for the Times-Picayune. And serves local churches as a part-time minister of education. At the moment, Earl is enrolled in a local theological school where he is taking a course on great revivals through the centuries. And he’s studying Spanish. At 55, Earl Hodges has found the secret to staying young: never stop learning. Keep on expanding, learning, growing, pushing yourself.
Carl J. McKeever has long been my role-model in this. Dad will be 92 on April 13 and his mind is as sharp as ever. He reads constantly—not books, but newspapers, magazines, and articles people send him. Every morning he works the puzzles in the paper with his coffee, just after devouring the newspaper. Granted, the (Jasper, Alabama) Daily Mountain Eagle is not a five-pounder like the Washington Post, but it’s Mom and Dad’s lifeline to the outside world. I’ll spend this Friday night with them, and about the time I sit down, Pop will hand me a stack of clippings he has cut out and saved. He’s always growing new wood. Staying young. Considering that he cut short his formal education at the seventh grade in the early 1920s to go to work in the coal mines—where he labored for the next 35 years without missing a day from sickness or injury—he’s fairly impressive. If I do say so myself.
I’ve tried to emulate my father, mainly by always reading and learning, by constantly reaching forward, never satisfied with the job I put in today. While some pastor friends spend a lot of money every year on golf and fishing, I buy books. Books on every subject imaginable line the walls of my front and back offices, plus the pantry down the hall where we keep groceries for the needy. The walls of my study at home are solid books. Invariably, someone will ask, “Have you read all of those?” I answer, “I’ve read a lot of them. I’m working on many of the others, some are reference books for looking up something, and the rest I intend to get to one day soon.” But the constant acquiring of books is coming to an end.
This week, I’ve started giving away books. Located as we are in New Orleans, we are always blessed with young preachers in our membership while they attend the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary across town. I’ve been calling them in and giving them books.
I’m moving. Easter Sunday will be my last day in this church.
In the middle of May, I will move to 2222 Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans where the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans (BAGNO) is quartered. I’ve been named the next Director of Missions, succeeding my friend Fred Dyess who served with distinction for nearly 14 years.
Explaining “director of missions” (DOM) to non-Southern Baptists ranks up there as one of my harder tasks. No, he’s not a bishop. Each SBC church is autonomous and self-governing, and no denominational leader has authority over it. The DOM appoints no pastors, but works with them in training and ministry. He issues no edicts but he and his team exist as a resource for the churches. The DOM visits the churches and worships with them in order to know them and their leaders, and he preaches when he’s invited. As one who loves pastors and the Lord’s churches, it appears to be the ideal job for me, I have decided reluctantly.
I was serving on the search committee to find our next DOM. Since I will reach age 64 later this month, whenever someone suggested I take the position, I dismissed it as simple kindness. Eventually, when the seventh or eighth person brought it up, I decided to ask the Father. And here we are. The committee has asked me to stay with the position for five years. I suppose I should be complimented that at the age of 69 they think I’ll still have something to contribute.
So, I’m starting a new career just when most of my friends are winding theirs down. Learning a new job, trying to grow new wood. At a meeting last Thursday of the DOMs from around the state, I discovered that several were approaching retirement. I said, “This feels strange. I’m the oldest person in the room and starting this job at the same time some of you are leaving. I feel like all the ships are deserting a sinking rat.”
The good side is we will not have to move and can keep our membership in this wonderful church for the time being. I will end a daily radio program we’ve done since September 1997.
I have lots to learn in this new job. Lucky for me, I love to learn.