A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell--Part 4--Helping Preachers
Along with the consistency and stability that Brother Harrell has modeled for the last forty years, there is another outstanding quality that he has that goes along with his preaching. He is very willing to help preachers. Whether it is with a sermon they may be working on, a church problem they are attempting to work out, or personal problems that are deep-seated and challenging, he does his best to help them out. This is not something that has just started but has been going on for years.
He was also more than willing to help young preachers get the hang of preaching. For those who listen to preaching, I will tell you that it is a whole lot harder than it may look! In years gone by numerous young preachers have gone to Bridge City and sat down with him and while he talked, they scribbled furiously on legal pads. They ended up going away from that meeting and working with that material and turning it into a sermon. I know of several prominent men both in the UPC and in other circles who would have a series of camp-meetings to preach and would spend time with him preparing for it. Brother Harrell laughingly told me one time that then they would go off and preach it better than he could. Just for the record, I don’t believe it!
One such man he has helped who has in turn done the same thing is Pastor Ken Gurley who is also the South Texas District Superintendent. Brother Gurley has helped multiple young preachers over the years. In fact, Brother Gurley was one of my instructors in Bible College and I attended his church numerous times during my time in Houston. He is also a masterful preacher.
After the service, I found out that he did not have any commitments and so we went to a local Appleby's in Huntsville. So for about two hours we talked about preaching, books, putting messages together, and sermon delivery. I left that night with the proverbial wagon loaded and further forged my friendship with Brother Gurley.
Here is where Brother Harrell enters the life of Brother Gurley. He told me that in the early days, that he was an administrative assistant to E. L. Holley, Texas District Superintendent. One of his responsibilities was to go and preach in churches that were in transition between pastors. After he had been out of the circuit a bit Brother Holley started getting complaints about how terrible of a preacher that he was. He told me that everyone would always say, "Brother Gurley is the nicest young man but he is the most terrible preacher we have ever heard!!!" He was devastated by all of this and started trying harder to put it together but he just could not do it. It seemed as if the harder he tried, the worse it got.
I am not sure if Brother Holley sent Brother Gurley to Bridge City, Texas or if he had Brother Harrell to call him. However Brother Harrell soon took an active interest in Brother Gurley. He said that Brother Harrell started calling him twice a week. He would call him on Thursday night and say, "Ken, what are you preaching Sunday?" Brother Gurley would say, "Well, I don't know yet." He said then that Brother Harrell would start "rambling" about a story that he had heard and then would connect it with basically a Scripture that went with a sermon. Then Brother Harrell would call him early the next week to find out how things had gone.
Brother Gurley said that it took him about a month to figure out what Brother Harrell was doing when he would call. He said then that as soon as Brother Harrell would call on Thursday or so, that he would go flying through the house and find a legal pad and then scribble down everything that Brother Harrell said while they were on the phone. Then he would go preach it on the weekend!
But then the piper had to be paid!!! Brother Gurley said that when Brother Harrell would call him early in the week and ask him what he had preached that Brother Gurley would say, "Ahh, uhh, well you know, Brother Harrell, ahh, uhh, I just sorta preached what ahh, uhh. . . me and you talked about last week." I will never forget Brother Gurley telling me this in that Appleby’s in Huntsville. I laughed until my sides hurt when Brother Gurley told me about all the hemming and hawing he did on the phone. He said that Brother Harrell never criticized, castigated, or humiliated him. He said that Brother Harrell was always very affirming with his comments.
Brother Gurley told me that Brother Harrell called him for a solid year or so until he had determined that Bro. Gurley had a grasp on putting things together. What a thing to be said! This is where mentoring must play a role in the lives of preachers! As time has passed, I have met a number of men who Brother Harrell has helped.
On yesterday, I requested that those who had heard Brother Harrell preach memorable messages to send me an e-mail with those sermons. I got the following responses.
Tony McCall—In my opinion his legacy is much like that of Spurgeon, who he often references. He is truly the "Prince of Pentecostal Preachers." I have a neighboring pastor that originated in his church. Every time I'm around him he gives me a handful of Harrell CDs to listen to. I've never been disappointed and often I've been challenged. Many of them have found their way into my preaching. In response to your request, my all time favorite sermon by Brother Harrell is "The Bitter is Better", about the bitter springs that God first took the Israelites to in the exodus from Egypt.
Alfred Gibson—Brother Harrell was my pastor for 17 1/2 years. One of my all time favorite sermons was "Treasures of the Snow."
Jonathon Sanders—One of my favorite sermons that Brother Harrell preached based on Pilgrim's Progress was "Forgetful Green, the Most Dangerous Place In All These Parts." Powerful message. “When Prayers Are Feeble" changed my life.
Thanks for reading. . . More on Monday. . .