A Life of Preaching--Rev. John Harrell

A Salute to Rev. John Harrell--UPC Bridge City, Texas--Part 1

On March 20, 2011 the United Pentecostal Church in Bridge City, Texas will celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Rev. and Mrs. John Harrell in the role of pastor of the church. For the next several days, I intend on saluting Brother Harrell on the Barnabas Blog. He literally has lived out a life of preaching and has affected a vast amount of people, both laity and ministry, with his preaching ministry. Perhaps the noblest thing about it is that he rarely ever preached out of the church in Bridge City. His preaching in that pulpit has been the sole place of his efforts. In fact, I only know of four places that he has been to outside of Bridge City over the years. He preached for Pastors David Fuller at Atlanta West UPC, Ken Raggio in Commanche, Texas, Ken Gurley at his 25th anniversary in Pearland, Texas, and Ron Macey at Royalwood in Houston. Pastor David Fuller was a peer and the rest of these pastors were those whom Brother Harrell spent time working with when they were young preachers.

I first heard about Brother Harrell in the mid-90’s when I went to preach for Ken Raggio in Birmingham. Generally when I get around closer friends, I immensely enjoy talking about preaching, sermons, the craft of sermon building, books and tools that will help me become better, and other various elements of pulpit ministry. I can remember so well talking about preaching one night in Birmingham with Brother and Sister Raggio. We were at the kitchen table and as the conversation progressed, I told them who one of my heroes was among our men in the UPCI.

Almost immediately, Brother Raggio said, “I know where he is getting his ‘stuff.’” Mentally, I went into my scoff mode and asked, “Really! Where is he getting his stuff from?” Brother Raggio then told me, “From Johnny Harrell in Bridge City, Texas.” The scoff mode really went up then because I had never heard of Johnny Harrell much less Bridge City. But I went along with the whole thing and got a little more inquisitive. I asked him about some tapes and he told me he had a drawer full of them but did not have any blank cassettes to make copies. However, he promised me that the next time I came up to preach in Birmingham, he would have some tapes for me.

As time went by, I forgot the conversation until six or eight months later when I went up to Birmingham to preach again. I look back at the foolishness of some of the things I did when I got an opportunity to preach. I was still full-time at the hospital so I had to be back at work on Monday morning at 7:00 AM. I would drive up to Birmingham and get there in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, and then preach Sunday morning and Sunday night. After the Sunday night service, Teresa and I would go out with the Raggio family and I would be pulling out of Birmingham around 11 or so and drive the three plus hours home arriving usually a little after 2 or so. By the time the car was unloaded with kids and such, it would be pushing three and I would have to be back up shortly after six to make it to work. I look back on that time and wonder how in the world it was managed.

On that next trip back to Birmingham, Brother Raggio had a bunch of blank cassettes and Chad, his son, made me a set of twenty-five of the sermons that Brother Harrell had preached. Still somewhat skeptical because I had never heard of Brother Harrell, primarily because he was not on the conference circuit, I put in one of those tapes. I started south on I-65 and hadn’t gotten ten minutes into the tape before I thought to myself, “Where has this man been?” It wasn’t long before I put in the second and the third and the fourth one before I reached home. I wasn’t the least bit sleepy despite it being after 2 AM; I had discovered another hidden treasure among Pentecostal preachers.

I still have those cassette tape copies that I got from Brother Raggio. The first sermons I heard of Brother Harrell were:

• The Lame Shall Take the Prey
• The Root of Prayer
• When Wounded Men Rise Up
• A Talk about Prayer
• Conformed to the Image of the Son
• Moab Is My Washpot
• Snow, Hoarfrost, and Ice Melted by His Word
• The Snare of the Fowler
• A Sermon on Diamonds
• No More Sea
• The Palanquin
• The Favorite Sermons (total of 12 which I will blog about later)
• You Don’t Choose Your Own Cross
• Messages of Comfort (total of 10 which I will blog about later)

Those tapes were my introduction to the preaching ministry of Brother Harrell. I finally met Brother Harrell in October, 2003 when I was honored by the Raggio family to assist in preaching the funeral with him for Sister Raggio who fought a long drawn out fight with cancer before passing away on September 29, 2003. It would be in December 2003 that I would go to Bridge City and spend a weekend with the Harrell’s and Brother Raggio. (The connection with the Raggio’s and Brother Harrell is that he was their pastor in the early ‘80’s.)

We got to Bridge City late Friday night and stayed in Beaumont. Saturday morning around 10:30, Brother Harrell let me into his world. We went to this hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Sartan’s. It was a seafood joint that didn’t look like much on the outside but to this day, I have not had fried crab like I did on that day, it was fantastic. While we were eating, I started asking Brother Harrell about the ins-and-outs of preaching. I was not disappointed! For the next six hours or so, I got my wagon loaded! We finished there and he took us somewhere in the vicinity of Bridge City to a place called Rao’s where we had coffee, dessert and talked about preaching while I furiously scribbled on multiple napkins. When I got back to the hotel, I translated those scribbles into a notebook that I kept specifically for material like Brother Harrell had given to me.

Brother Harrell told me that when he first started preaching that he was off somewhere up in a little town in Louisiana working as an evangelist. In those days (late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s) the Pentecostal evangelists would stay in the homes of the pastors. So Brother Harrell told me that one of those pastors encouraged him to read Charles Spurgeon. He said one night after they got home from church the pastor lent him Volume 8 of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit which was being published by Pilgrim Publications in Pasadena, Texas. Long into the night did he read! It ended up that the pastor realized that he liked the book so much that he gave it to him.

At the time, Pilgrim was printing one volume or so about every two or three months. They had formed a subscription service of sorts and Brother Harrell said he started getting the MTP. He told me that he could hardly wait for the next volume to get to his house and when it did he would devour it. Over and over he read the Spurgeon sermons and gleaned things from them. Another fortuitous thing happened with this also. Spurgeon read Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan over one hundred times during his lifetime and he was so familiar with the text of Pilgrim’s Progress that it would come out in the illustrations that Spurgeon used. Brother Harrell encouraged me to dig into this allegory and it has also proved very useful to me also.

A few observations for the preachers who read this blog that I have picked up from Brother Harrell along the last seven years.

• You have to be a disciplined student to preach well.
• You are no better than your devotion to God.
• Good preaching does not just happen, you have to work at it.
• Your personal library will either make you or break you. Be willing to spend money to get better.
• You’re local church is where you are going to make the biggest impact. Do your work well there and it will get out to the world without you having to go anywhere.
• Do Your Work!!!!

I will pick up tomorrow with some other things about Brother Harrell and his preaching. I have to say that I immensely appreciate the way that God used primarily Brother Raggio to get me attached to Brother Harrell. Furthermore I am thankful for the time Brother Harrell has taken with me in the last seven years primarily by way of phone. He has made me long to be a better preacher.


Pastor Greg said…
I'm looking forward to tomorrow already. There are so many ministers that no one has ever heard of but they are dynamic in both content and delivery. One of which was my father as well as my father in law who I'm blessed now to have sitting under me and is a tremendous blessing to the church I pastor. Thank God for such heroes among us.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Bro. Harrelson, I enjoyed reading that and look forward to the next!

Shirlon Davis
Michael DeLano said…
I am blessed to be a personal friend of Bro Harrell, I love his preaching and my iPod and CD cabinet is full with his messages to us from God. I am forever grateful that God put him in my life. And i'll use one of his sayings, "It would do you well" to get to know him, God Bless you all.
Anonymous said…
With 5 years under the ministry of Bro. Harrell, my wife and I still love his preaching. It was like camp meeting with every sermon. We were so sad having to go back to Sulphur.

Bro & Sister Boykin - Sulphur La
Anonymous said…
I received the Holy Ghost at the Bridge City Church almost eight years ago, and am enormously thankful to the Lord for leading me there. Bro. and Sis. Harrell have been so dear to me, and Bro. Harrell's sermons have never ceased to minister to my soul...thank you for this very informative blog about one of my very favorite people!!
Lord bless you,
Erin Betar
Anonymous said…
I learned so much during the 5 yrs I attended BCUPC. I still listen to his tapes & CDs & soak in every word.
Mary Haner
Anonymous said…
I have heard Bro. Harrell speak of you on a couple of occasions, and really enjoy what you have said, and looking forward to more...My family and I have been at Bridge City UPC for almost 2 yrs. now and have enjoyed every minute of it...Church is NEVER BORING under Bro. Harrells pulpit! So honored to be a part of this wonderful church family! Sis. Zena Matlock
becky thibodeaux said…
My husband and I attended BCPC for 30 years. 29 years ago thru the Wisdom of a Godly man the Lord delivered me from a deep dark pit from which I thought there was no hope until the Lord sent Bro. Harrell into my life. Bro. Harrell I know there are MANY that will come with stories of appreciation but may I say if it were not for the Mercy of MY GOD,the Wisdom of a Pastor and the Love of a Husband I would not be here today. We now reside in Las Vegas and God has given us a good church but this is and will always be home. God Bless
Roy and Becky Thibodeaux
Unknown said…
Bro. Harrelson,

Thank you for sharing with us your insights with Bro. Johnny Harrell! I've never had the privilege of meeting him, but was introduced to his ministry through an evangelist that preached here in Vicksburg, MS many years ago. He gave me 3 CD's of his sermons, of the which I have listened to many times. Wow, what an awesome preacher! What a challenging comfort, that I find in his messages. My question, is any of his messages available online? Thanks again!

Bill Talbert
Vicksburg, MS
I was blessed to have been a part of his church for two and a half very short years. His influence is wide-spread. I have heard his sermons across the country, from many voices. Thank you for blogging about him. The world needs this man.
John Hopkins said…
Bro. Johnny Harrell is a veritable goldmine of sermon fodder for any pastor that wants to give a balanced diet to his congregation. He is extremely well read, uses awesome illustrations and in his own homespun manner relates to all ages and cultures. A true preachers, preacher and one of Pentecost's premium pulpiteers who's only goal in life is to preach to his wonderful congregation in Bridge City, Texas, feeding the flock and reaching for the lost!

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